One of the easiest, cheapest and healthiest snacks I make my kids is dried banana chips. My son absolutely loves them! We buy a couple of bunches of bananas at Costco for $1.39, slice them up and put them into the dehydrator and at the […]
A little while ago I wrote about how we have been working on our budget and how I use Quicken to track our finances. I love the Savings Goals category and it has helped us tremendously the last few months to keep track of how much we have available for our bigger expenses that happen a few times a year. Another way we have been trying to wrangle our budget is by cutting back on our food spending. We rarely eat out. We stopped many years ago when we first started looking at our budget and now that we have food allergies it is nearly impossible to find something that works for everyone. Mr. Oscoey is also an excellent cook and usually when we eat out we are left with the feeling that the money was not worth eating food that we could have made better at home so now we just eat out maybe 5 or six times a year for special occasions.
When we first started looking at our expenses many years ago about the time of the recession of 2008 we did what most people were typically doing around that time. All of our focus went towards paying down debt and getting ahead in our careers. We cut out many things. All of our remodeling plans were on indefinite hold, vacations had to be done on the cheap and we brought our own food for lunch, new clothing was something that required great discussion and personal reflection as to whether it was necessary and we rarely spent money on family activities. We kept our grocery budget tight and managed to spend about $400 for three people and two small dogs. Our food got a little predictable but we got really good at making meals out of whatever was in the fridge. We followed these simple rules to keep our grocery budget in check.
Frugal Food Spending Basics
- Eating out should be saved for a few special occasions a year. (Birthdays do not necessarily count)
- Shop sales and buy frequently used items in bulk.
- Plan you meals around what you have in the house.
- Buy produce that is in season and buy a lot of it to can, freeze or dehydrate.
- Buy meat that has not been cut into convenience sized pieces and cut it yourself. (whole pork loin, pork shoulder, bone-in/skin on chicken thighs)
- Spend a limited amount of money on junk food and cook/bake the rest.
- Going out for coffee counts as one of your rare “eating out” times and should be avoided if at all possible.
- Learn how to cook your own food, believe me it is worth it!
- Keep portion sizes under control.
- Pack your lunch every day.
- Planned leftover dinner nights help prevent food waste.
I look back on that time with my husband with fondness. We really worked together as a family to make things work. Our oldest daughter swam competitively and we spent our family time in the cheapest hotel room we could find wherever her competitions were located. The three of us spent a lot of time hanging out at home and going on walks with the dogs. Life was pretty simple and even though we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room with our finances we still had a bunch of fun.
Everything changed when we had our second daughter. Our grocery budget doubled when she started solid foods and we were still buying whatever was on sale, mostly non-organic foods that were not processed. Slowly our super tight budget began to slip as our expenses grew. We moved a couple of years ago and then promptly had our son who was super high needs as a baby. Let me tell you when you are up all night with a screaming child and then trying to stay awake all day with kids that do not nap (even your six month old) it is really easy to give in and buy whatever you can microwave for the kids to eat. By the time dinner rolled around I was too exhausted to cook and since our kids needed to eat before Mr. Oscoey came home from work he could not cook dinner either. Needless to say our grocery budget went out the window and one day after the one year old started sleeping through the night I looked over our budget and was shocked by how much we were spending.
The first thing I did was to focus on what we were eating and when we were buying our food. It turned out that we were not really paying attention at all to what we actually needed but buying things willy-nilly when we were in the mood for them which resulted in a lot of uneaten food and things being buried in the back of the pantry. We were going to the grocery store almost every day to pick up one or two items and ending up with a basket of food. This my friends is not a good way to keep your grocery budget in check!
Once I figured out why we were spending so much I started to try and figure out how to fix it. I spent some time on Pinterest building up my Frugal Living board where I got some great tips, started paying attention to prices when I went to the store and started working on a grocery list every week. We buy most of our groceries at Costco so I when I pre-entered my scheduled transactions every month in Quicken I started adding my weekly grocery budget in there as well. This way I had a rough idea of how much we could spend every week and I definitely adjust it based on the previous week. Some weeks we only buy meat and a starch and others we stock up on most of our basics so it really varies but it is ok as long as we stay within our monthly budget.
What has worked for us so far is to have a rough idea of what we are eating for dinner that week and I try to buy as little as possible and make it work. If something is on sale I will stock up and most of our grocery money will go towards that item. We are mostly dairy and gluten free and the kids can’t have nuts packed in their school lunches so it gets a little tricky when I am trying to figure out what to send. I am required to send milk with the littlest one and he will only drink chocolate soy milk so I have been watching the prices on the individual Silk Soy Milk cartons and when they are below $1.00 each I buy as many as possible. Fred Meyers had them on sale a few weeks ago for $4.49 for a pack of 6 when you bought four so I bought four of them and got an excellent deal! I would have bought another four but I bought the last four they had. We also base what we are going to eat off of what is on sale. This week we bought a whole pork loin at Costco because they had them on coupon. It is much cheaper to buy the whole loin and cut it up yourself than to buy the pre-cut pieces. We have done this for many years and it is a great way to save money on meat!
Once I figured where our money was going I spent a couple of more months slowly building up our pantry so that we had items on hand when we could not go to the store due to either time constraints or when we had reached the end of our budget. This readily available stash of basics also serves as our emergency food supply. Everyone should have a couple of weeks worth of necessities stocked up! Here in the Pacific Northwest we worry about earthquakes and windstorms primarily but your emergency food supply can also be used in times of financial stress such as if you lose your job or are injured and paying large amounts of money for medical care. I buy one or two items a week to add to the pantry for leaner times. This week we bought some pre-made Spanish rice packets on clearance at Target. They were about $1.50 each and we bought three of them so our total was about $5.00. We also bought some sardines on sale at Costco which my husband and kids love to eat for lunch with avocados. To stock up we just bought two packs instead of one. They should last until the next sale and we can use them if the power ever goes out for a quick meal. It is really important that you stock your emergency food supply with items you will actually eat in every day life otherwise you will end up with a lot of food you will never eat. If we happen to buy something that we don’t end up eating I usually donate it to the local food bank or to someone in need on our Buy Nothing group.
When figuring out our monthly food budget I also looked at what type of things we were eating and tried to add more cheap carbs such as potatoes, cereal, beans and rice to make our dollar stretch farther. We now do a vegetarian/low meat meal at least once a week and usually it consists of a soup (lentil, bean, or noodle based) with vegetables that are needing to be eaten and home made chicken broth from leftover chicken bones, spaghetti with leftover meat and extra veggies added to the sauce or burritos made with rice, beans and leftover meat. I try and have the kids eat cereal or oatmeal a few times a week and they eat eggs almost every day for breakfast as well. We stopped buying junk food and are all eating healthier as a result.
Another way we tried to save money on our grocery bill was to grow a garden. This year was our first year so we had to buy a lot of gardening supplies such as plant boxes, soil, trellises and hoses so we definitely spent more than we saved but I think over time our costs will go down and we may begin to save a little money. It was well worth it for us to see the magic in our kids eyes when they eat the food they helped grow and we are eating more organic foods because we do not use pesticides. Every day my kids ask to pick ground cherries and that is their afternoon snack. All of our ground cherry plants are freeloaders that sprouted from last year’s $3.00 plant sale find so that was definitely money well spent! We haven’t really had to buy vegetables for a few weeks and we are overrun with tomatoes at the moment so I have really been enjoying the savings on our grocery bill! I would recommend starting out small if you haven’t ever grown a garden before and be mindful of how much water you will be using since that is a hidden cost of gardening.
Overall our quest to reduce our groceries has mostly been about awareness and working on not overspending. Every time we go to the store we ask ourselves if we really need whatever item or if we could just use something on hand. We are really working hard at not wasting our food and building our weekly shopping trip off of what we already have, not what we would fancy at the moment. Our bill has gone down a little and we still need to work on that but we are headed in the right direction and now that we are more aware it is becoming so much easier to keep track! My focus over the next few months is to reduce our grocery bill by about 25% which is a lot going though the holiday season. We host Thanksgiving, birthdays and events for our friends over the next few months so not going overboard with the cooking will be a welcomed challenge.
How are you cutting back on your grocery bill?
Banana bread was one of those things I always meant to make but never got around to. We would put bananas in the freezer and inevitably forget about them. I have tossed so many bananas into the yard waste I can’t even remember. Part of our plan to be more frugal is to waste less food. Food waste is a huge problem, especially in America with up to 40% of all food produced wasted according to the National Resources Defense Council. Many people buy more than they need and a lot of it gets tossed out. We have always gone through the pantry a couple of times a year and donated what we are not eating but that is harder to do with the lettuce you fully intended to eat but has now formed a mushy mess in the bottom of the vegetable drawer. I have been really working hard at lowering our produce waste lately and only buying enough fruits and vegetables for us to actually eat.
Our efforts have been working and we no longer have several bananas in the freezer or mushy lettuce in the fridge but we do run out of fresh fruit and vegetables sometimes but you know what? It is completely fine. I keep frozen fruit and vegetables in the freezer and when we run out I make sure to go to the store the next possible day. We have gotten much better about buying only what we need and now that our berries and squash are beginning to ripen I don’t really have to worry about running out. We just head out to the garden and see what we can find. Right now we have blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and huckleberries ripe and my kids have been out there daily munching away.
Finding a good banana bread recipe was a difficult task. We don’t like it very sweet and it needed to be easy enough for me to put together with the kids running around. I found this one at Mr.Breakfast.com several months ago that I absolutely love. We have since gone gluten and diary-free and I have been able to adapt it easily with pre-made gluten-free flour and coconut oil. I also cut the sugar in half because we are trying to reduce our sugar intake in our house.
I found some gluten-free flour at Costco that I thought I would try it with this banana bread and so far I have been really pleased with it. I can’t taste any garbanzo beans and unsuspecting family members haven’t been able to tell the difference so I may branch out to something else. I have been hearing about this butter flavored coconut oil for months in my mom’s group and I used it with the banana bread. I am not sure if it is worth the extra cost yet. The container is not very big and using 8 tablespoons for the banana bread recipe made a huge dent in it so I might just reserve it for recipes where it really matters. Ha ha don’t look at the salt I used. We have been out of Kosher salt the last couple of weeks and my husband and I kept forgetting to buy it. He is a huge salt lover though so we have many different kinds stashed away in the cupboard and the sea salt made the cut as our temporary substitute. Do you guys ever do that? A box of Kosher salt lasts us many months and we never remember to buy it when we are out. Somehow since we rarely need salt it slips our minds every time we are at the store. I should probably start buying two so we have an extra for our emergency kit.
First things first measure out your coconut oil and your sugar.
Cream them in a bowl. I am fond of the hand mixer for smaller jobs but you could use a stand mixer as well.
Beat 2 eggs into a bowl.
Mash up your bananas. I did them one by one in the egg bowl to save on dishes.
Add your flour slowly. I split it into 2 1/2 cups and 1/4 cup and slowly mixed them in.
Yum! If you like nuts or chocolate chips in your banana bread you can add them here. My son is too young for nuts so I leave them out. We also don’t eat a lot of sugar so I leave out the chocolate chips.
Pour your mixture into a greased loaf pan and tamp it down. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
There you have it! Yummy banana bread fresh out of the oven. The hardest part is waiting for it to cool!
Gluten-free Dairy-free Banana Bread
Quick and easy banana bread easily made gluten and dairy-free.
- 8 Tablespoons Coconut oil (or butter)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 beaten eggs
- 3 bananas
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 and 1/4 cups All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour mix
- Optional 1/3 cups Walnuts
- Step 1 Grease a standard loaf pan and set oven temperature to 350 degrees.
- Step 2 Cream the coconut oil and sugar together in a large bowl.
- Step 3 Beat two eggs together and add them as well as two mashed bananas to the bowl.
- Step 4 Mix in salt and baking soda. Add flour, mixing slowly.
- Step 5 Bake for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean in the center of the loaf.
My daughter loves to play with baking soda and vinegar. She always helps me deodorize the garbage disposal by pouring the vinegar down the drain and making bubbles. Today my son got to watch and he was fascinated.
We were talking about how much she loved helping me and I remembered that last year she was obsessed with this activity I found on Pinterest (but unfortunately didn’t pin for some reason) where you put a bunch of baking soda in a dish and let the kids squirt different colors of vinegar on it to make a rainbow effect. My son was interested so I though I would let them out on the deck to play with some baking soda and vinegar for a bit. I opted not to use dye since I had no idea if my son would actually play with it or if he would decide just to dump everything out and I didn’t want to deal with dye in clothing today.
This activity is super simple. I just grabbed a couple of Tupperware containers, poured some baking soda in and leveled it, poured some vinegar into another Tupperware container and we were ready to go. I got my plastic eye droppers off of Amazon last year. They are super easy to clean and I ended up giving some to a friend since the 12 pack was more than we needed. Since they are plastic there was no worrying about the kids dropping them and breaking them. I just rinse them out in the sink and we are good to go.
The reaction goes pretty quick since the eye droppers don’t hold a lot of vinegar. My daughter loved to make patterns in the baking soda and systematically covered her available space. She is very focused when she works and it is always fascinating for me to watch her thought process.
My kids love bubbles so they had quite a bit of fun with it even without the dye. I am probably going to let them use a lighter color like yellow next time since my son was pretty good about it. It makes the bubbles much clearer and if you give them primary colors it can help teach them the color wheel.
My son always tries to figure everything out and if there are other possible ways of doing them. Part of his process today was grabbing a handful of baking soda and dumping it into the vinegar container. He was really pleased with the extra bubbles it produced! Most of his time was spent trying to scoop the baking soda with the eye dropper since he wasn’t quite able to squirt it with the vinegar.
We had some pretty patterns in the baking soda when we were done and the kids got to dump the rest of the vinegar into their baking soda containers which my daughter really loved to do! This baking soda and vinegar activity is one of the easiest and cheapest science experiments I have found to do with my kids. I buy baking soda and vinegar in bulk at Costco (maybe $10 total for both) and there is enough for hours and hours of bubble making fun. If you were really creative you could even fill a bottle with baking soda and a balloon with vinegar, mix them together and see how the balloon fills with gas. I may have to try that next time!