Friday, March 8, 2013

Operation slash the food budget...

 I've gotten a lot of requests for more information about my casually mentioned "Operation slash our food budget in half" comment.  I had to laugh.  I didn't really have a plan until two days ago.  Well, other than knowing the previous plan of buying whatever food, whenever, had to change.  But here it is, in all it's glory.  Let's all cross our fingers that it actually works for my family!  I will be sure to report back in four weeks and let you know!  Or else I'll be lamenting this dumb system and asking for help.  Either way, I'll be back. (Not a threat.)

First of all, there are hundreds of ways to do food prep and budgeting and I don't claim any expertise at all, here.  So we're clear on that.  (I mean obviously right?  If I was an expert, I'd have been doing something different all along, and I wouldn't be writing this post.  Ya know?) This plan worked for Adrain and I before, ages ago, when my babies were little, but I adapted it a bit for this stage of life.  
I began by identifying my challenges.  
1) Obviously, the fact that we have been spending double what our budget called for was the main issue. We are gluten free and that can be pricey.  We don't buy all the "gluten free" items in stores because they are crazy expensive... however, eating clean is gluten free, that's what we do for the most part, and THAT is expensive. Also, I haven't really been paying attention and keeping track.  It wasn't on purpose... it just kind of happened. I bet a lot of life mistakes are made, previous to those exact words.     
2) I knew that this month in particular, was going to be challenging due to a few birthdays, St Patrick's day, and Easter. But I've never been one to back down from a challenge. 
3) Two tween-agers that are beginning to eat all. the. time.  

Defining our problem: (which may or may not be relateable, depending on your situation.)
1) I found that we were most often overspending due to the quick dash into a store for things like apples.  $50 later, an exit from the store found us packing a bit more than apples.  (Note to self, do not bring husbands or children into the store with me. ha!)
2) Busy evenings + tired Mommy= a few unplanned take out meals.  We don't do it often, but I'd guess we average three to four times a month and we can definitely eat IN for a lot less.
3) The "fun-food-is-all-gone" syndrome.  I can tell you for sure, this one is the culprit of the apples-turned-$50-shop spree problem. "But Mom... can't we please get this for our lunches?  All we have left are boring foods!"

My solutions (I hope. Ask me in four weeks, mkay?)
1) Before I began my shopping flurry, I prayed over the whole thing.  I literally needed a few things that I knew would be pricey but I prayed and scored several of them for big time deals.  I don't believe that was coincidence.  
2) Cash only- as in the green, papery stuff. Y'all know it works.
3) Monthly menu planned out, and all non-perishables purchased and divided up.  I actually organized by plopping everything into bowls with their recipes, then spent time chopping veggies, then put everything into the freezer that could freeze, and the other things into a pantry box, separated from our other foods to avoid confusion.  Years ago, I would have done a big "meal prep" day, creating all the recipes.  This isn't that stage of life.  I just got it off to a good start and trust me that's what I needed.  I spent two full hours making a huge mess.  Now I can pull out the freezer prepped bag, pull out the coordinating pantry bag, and whip up dinner.
4) RATIONING.  Seriously. Snack-y items FOR THE MONTH purchased, and divided up by weeks.  We also created a snack bin in the fridge so there are ready-to-go options at our fingertips.
5) Going meatless more often.  It worked in WWII. 
6) This one was hard, but I decided it wasn't the hill I was personally going to die on.  Allowing inexpensive "filler foods" such as popcorn and cereal for starving kiddos after school.  They are eating us out of house and home at 3:30, every single day.  For every day life (not special occasions where I make cupcakes etc) I am a non-chemicals seeker, organic supporting, whole food promoting, kind of mama.  But... that costs a lot of money and it's expensive enough to be a gluten free family on top of that.  You do what you've got to do.  (Bring on the Costco sized box of microwave popcorn.)  They get lots of healthy options the rest of the day so I don't feel too bad about this choice.
7) Coupons.  I don't fully buy into the couponing craze for myself.  I know a lot of people who swear by it and I adore those people.  It's simply not my thing and that's okay.  My style is more of the "find what I need right now, and get the best price regardless of coupon deals.  However, I did pay attention to my coupons and actually BROUGHT them (I am notorious for forgetting them when I actually WOULD have used them) and used a few.  I think I saved about $15.00.  I'll take that.

Here is my rationing system. Weekly "fun food" stashes for lunchboxes and weekend movie nights, etc.  That way, when the pantry is empty, we can restock every Sunday, for another week. 

This will either go down as one of the most boring posts I've ever composed.... or it will be of some use to those of us slashing our food budgets. Just in case you yawned your way though it, I promise to bring you a recipe that will knock you on your rear, it's so good. Stay tuned for it, next week!

Happy Weekend friends!


  1. Now you KNOW you just REALLY put the SUGAR in my lemonade!! I've said for years we are "sisters" but this sealed the deal! I'm a couponer for SURE and have 2 boys who are NOT tweeners that are already eating me out of house and home. I LOVE to tweak my grocery system ! It makes me feel good! I love that you have tweaked yours and feel good about it! I'm SO happy for you!!! You will LOVE having a menu too--I've done this for years and it helps so much! As far as after-school snacks--i love that you have "picked your battle". I've had to do that too on some things. Do the kids like string cheese? THere are always coupons for string cheese and it's not THAT unhealthy? Not sure if they can have that or not though. xoxo --

  2. Wow -- good luck to you in this endeavor. When my kids were little I was a great planner. But, I've gotten lazy about it, and DO make those frequent grocery runs. And you're right... if only we grabbed only what we went there for, rather than $49.00 more of stuff! I've never had any luck buying in bulk, because... if it is on the shelf (at home), we will eat it. But, I like your ration bags -- a LOT, and may have to try that!

  3. Not boring at all. I've been trying to figure out a way to cut down the excessive food bill. Not to mention all the food that goes to waste. Thanks for this post!

  4. I ALWAYS can use advice and tips when it comes to groceries. We have six kids and my goodness, I still can't figure out where all the food goes. I get so tired of going to the grocery store and I know I don't plan as well as I should. Thanks for your help and I would definitely love to hear more of your ideas!

  5. I loved this post and your "rationing" idea! You are very creative and do a good job and being REAL. Write more as the month goes on. Tell us what worked, what didn't, and maybe even specifics about keeping your foods organized each week.

  6. Love this post! I always love hearing ideas on saving money at the grocery store. I've been thinking about making snack bags/containers for my kids because they are always starving when they get up from naps. And I love your idea to put meals together in boxes/freezer. I need to do that.

    I can't wait to see what you have in store for us that will knock our socks off! It MUST be good!

    Happy Weekend!

  7. Great post, no yawning here!



  8. So love this rationing bag idea. I keep toying with the idea to do once a month shopping and just picking up milk as needed. We go through that a lot! So, what do you do with most of your produce? Do you freeze? That's always been my challenge. We definitely are working on eating cleaner for my own health reasons and just to be a healthier family in general. I just feel like my produce is going bad before I can get to it and I'm only doing shopping every two weeks. I can't wait to see how this worked out for you.

  9. We have been going meatless more often, too. I am trying to use the money I save not buying meat to buy more organic food. We totally cut out processed foods a few years ago.

  10. The outfits tutorial, menu of what you guys ate and this post are my FAVORITE kind !! I learn and am A!WAYS inspired!

  11. I love your tips, especially the rationing the "fun' & "snack" things out by week. That would definitely help around here. Now I wanna know what's on your menu plan! :-)

  12. you are so amazingly organized. i swear! i'm just a mess. we eat cereal, eggs, sandwiches or frozen waffles most nights...that's one way to stay on budget i guess;) lol!! now i'm just cracking myself up!

  13. My son loves popcorn too and so I started to do the jar of pop corn popped in a brown paper bag. Simple. Fast. And you can add reall toppings and limit the amounts. Super cheap.

  14. I like it!! I especially like the rationing idea on snacks. We have two teenagers and two tweens and we seem to be running out of food so fast these days - especially the snacks!! I do believe if it is within their reach they will eat it. :)

  15. I recently read a blog that talks about this very same thing. Only she shops just once a month. Oddly since we've cut pout processed foods by 80% I'm spending less money and getting more actual usable food and the kids are less hungry for snacks, go figure. I'd still like to get it down a little further, but it's a science, takes experimenting. Here's the link to the blog I referred to above if you are interested.

  16. We love our air popper and use it a ton. You can also do microwave popcorn just in a brown paper bag. Popcorn kernels are cheap and there are a ton of creative topping ideas. Just a thought cuz that microwave popcorn is fully of icky stuff. (Last weekend we served some air-popped with butter and salt to some friends and on the way home they swung by a store to buy their own air popper!)

  17. I had to laugh at your #1 - praying and then finding lower prices on the large ticket items. I wouldn't consider myself a pray-er per-say (mostly due to being raised in a vastly different faith, long story), but I totally do this too! for me it is more of a conscious, please, I really need to buy cheese and i know it was on sale 2 weeks ago and unlikely to be on sale again, but there is no way I can pay 2 dollars more a package for it than the sale price! Sure enough, this afternoon as I stopped by to get a few other things to round out our weekend meals and check to see the price of the cheese, it was on sale! I totally got 2 bricks to last us the rest of the month! :)
    I rarely (never) comment, but read your blog all the time, but as cash for groceries is totally saving my budget these days, I just had to comment today :)
    Oh, and I love the idea of splitting things up by week. We totally need to do that here - the last week in the month is always pretty sparse, 'restocking' every monday from the pantry sounds perfect!

  18. I wouldn't consider popcorn anything but a healthy snack. We bought an air popper at a thrift store, so we can pop it ourselves (not fans of the microwave stuff) and put whatever toppings on it we like (or not).
    We also found a local farmer to buy our produce from (we don't live in the country, either). We cut out the middle man and save a ton on pesticide-free veggies and fruits that are seasonal. Same for eggs-we found a farmer who sells us a dozen free-range eggs for $2.50. Can't beat it.

    I'm sure you'll do a great job of saving money this month! Keep the faith.

  19. Great post. I'm looking forward to seeing how operation food slash works and hopefully implementing some of your ideas into my food shopping.

  20. wow what an awesome idea! I love the rationing idea, too....we have that same problem...snacks vanish~ quickly. thinking maybe possibly of following in your footsteps..those $50 quick trips could save some serious cash!

  21. Oh, not a boring post at all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's just Hubby and I now, so I'm not all that careful any longer, but probably should be. After all, HE does expect us to be good stewards, no matter our age or position in life. Great post and a happy weekend to you!

  22. Good stuff Sasha!!! Can't wait to hear about how it works!!

  23. Oh Sasha, how did you think we would be bored. LOL, you opened up a can of worms girl. What woman doesn't want to save money on the grocery bill ? I was hoping you would post "you plan." Our kids are in college now, but we menu planned , wrote a list for groceries and stuck to it. No exceptions. We paid cash for groceries. We used the Dave Ramsey envelope system and still do. : ) one big thing we did if the whole family was going was to make sure we ate before we went shopping. Full bellies meant there was less sneaking things in to the cart.
    You are on track with less meatless meals. I found that is where I spent a bulk of money. We ate more soups and salads during the week. For the nights we were at church more we would have breakfast for dinner. The kids loved that.
    I am a whole foods mama too as well as gluten free. We cut out stuff like granola bars, pop tarts, cereal, microwave popcorn and exchanged it with more fruit, oatmeal or steel cut oatmeal, and yogurt. Plain yogurt that you can put your own stuff in. We also purchased popcorn kernels in jar and pop on the stove.
    With the Dave Ramsay envelope system it allowed us to enjoy an occasional ice cream cone out for example. When the entertainment money envelope was empty then that was it. Now mind you we didn't put a lot of money in that envelope, but ice cream cones on e a month for a family of four these days can be expensive and when we went it was a great for sure.
    Looking forward to seeing what else you share. I love cutting corners whenever I can with the grocery bill.
    Please share your ideas for meatless meals. : )

  24. Okay. I'm very impressed.
    this is far from a boring post...i'm so in love with this post, i could marry it. :)

    i'm always trying to find better ways to save money with our grocery budget. it sickens me how much money we spend on food every month.

    these boys (and their friends) eat us out of the house....
    and i'm like you, i try to shop for about 90% of our food at trader joes....we're not 100% clean eaters, but we're closer than we've ever been.

    I cook 5-6 nights per week, and we always end up grabbing something at least once per seems inevitable not to with soccer for two and gymnastics for the other one.

    be sure to follow up with us about how it goes...the prepping part was especially helpful. i don't ever do that with my veggies...what a help that would be.

    also, i love the idea of putting snacks/lunches in a bag in the pantry. did I get that right? you're putting everything they can eat in a TJ bag for each week?

    love helpful!

  25. Orgaization to the max, you are amazing,I so get after a full days work and having zero insporation it so easy to go out.
    My go to meatless meal is sauted mushrooms with cherry or small diced tomatoes, shallot/onion with a little broth or wine to make a sauce laddle over quick cheese polenta so easy and quick love it a little differant then pasta.
    Can't wait to see how it all turns out!

  26. Please post your menu, and what's in those snack bags!!!

  27. If your kids eat popcorn as fillers, why not save even more money and use the brown lunch bag trick instead? It's just as easy as microwave popcorn, but way cheaper. I make it about every other night. Here are the instructions:

  28. Your post inspired me to get in gear with getting my menu planned for this month. You are so right, those quick trips in for just a thing or two seem to be budget busters for us, too. I've had success sending my husband to pick up the one or two items we need on his way home from work (so much easier than hauling 5 young kids to the store). I've found that menu planning really helps us a lot and reduces my grocery shopping time and expense. I'm thankful that I've finally hit some kind of routine where I do the bulk of our food shopping before 8am every other Saturday, first stop is a produce pick-up, then a quick run through Safeway for anything that is a great deal that week or that I need to fill in the meals (after I see what came in the produce basket). Everything else comes from Costco when I can go in the evening sans children. Sadly, no TJs here.
    Love great to see God's providence in the little details of life. Your rationing system looks great, too!

  29. I left you a message earlier, but I don't think it posted because of computer trouble. I always love each and every post you write, but this one really hits home! I feel like I need to pick up the phone and chat with you about this! Do you go shopping every week? And what is in those snack bags? I love how you packed snacks for each week! Awesome idea! I have to adjust my grocery spending as well. One pay period goes to the mortgage, which leaves the other pay period needing to last until the following month. I just want to let you know how much I appreciate you! Thanks for sharing Sasha! XO

  30. oh man, this post is kind of like my reality check.
    since having baby #4 couple of months ago we have been eating out
    way too much. it's just so much easier but such a bad habit to pick up.

    see, here's the thing.. i like meal planning and picking recipes and going grocery shopping but i hate hate cooking. i'm not good at it and i just don't enjoy it. i missing the key ingredient.. and thats LOVE. there's no love in my food/cooking process. it's just so stressful for me. i wonder if there's anyone out there that meal plans and does not like to cook? (if that even makes sense) because most of everyone that enjoys meal planning seems to also enjoy cooking. definitely not the case with me :(

  31. In our house it's just us 2 starting out as our own little family, and lots of people know how that goes, you definitely try to cut as much costs as you can. Plus we are learning that those 20 boxes of Mac n Cheese at Costco can be cheaper than the fruits and veggies but you can definitely feel the difference between eating healthy and not eating healthy. Now we are trying to replace our eating habits with better ones, and I have never thought about going meatless every once in awhile to cut costs. I love it! Thanks and we will definitely be trying some of these!

  32. Love this post!!! As a family whose sole provider for the family is employed by the Dept. of Defense, we are facing a 20% pay cut in our paycheck every two weeks! I've been looking at ways to whittle our food bill more as I pretty much cook everything fresh. Funny that popcorn is such a "hot" topic as I just bought a bag of popcorn kernels to pop in a brown paper bag in the microwave.