Thursday, August 29, 2013

Whew!!

Been gone for forever, I know.  Here's an explanation and really long post to hopefully make up for it.  Also, I wrote most of it on the way home last Tuesday, so the formatting may look little different since I'm copying and pasting from Word.

Wow!  I was anxiously waiting for August so life would slow down but August is almost over and I’ve got my Disney trip in September and in October we have Robert’s birthday (plus we want to re-do our bathroom at some point this fall) and November is Thanksgiving and December is Christmas and I hope to be training with my new business and traveling for that so slowing down doesn’t seem to be in the future…
To recap this last week: Late last Tuesday, I flew in an airplane (!) to be early for my training at W.E.E. School, visit some friends, set up for the training (extra set up because we recorded it), and teach the training.  (Go to branalyndailey.com to see the post about the training.)   Then I flew back Saturday evening.  When the plane landed and I turned on my phone, I got a text message that my grandma’s husband had died.  So we went home, cooked supper, and I went to bed.  Sunday we went to church, I unpacked, did laundry, and did some cleaning.  Monday I did some more laundry and cleaning, re-packed (Robert worked a half day) and headed out for the funeral.  We stayed with my aunt Monday night, Tuesday attended the funeral, graveside, and meal, then stretched our legs at the ranch for a little while before driving back to West Texas.  I think I’ve racked up more miles this summer than all of last year!
And now, I have pretty much an entire week to catch up on.  One of the things to do this week is go grocery shopping.  I’ve had a couple people question this (in real life, not here) because I go once a month and spend $270-290 for all our groceries and HEBish items for the month.  Mostly, they don’t believe me and then they want to know how I do it.  Honestly, there are lots of blogs and Pinned ideas out there, and I did not reinvent the wheel.  But I will tell you what I do. 
First, let me explain why we shop once a month and endeavor to spend so little money.  We live in a parsonage with utilities paid, we own both our cars outright, have very little debt (and what we have we are working down), and we have a set budget that’s mostly cash operated, so because of how our lives are right now, there’s not many corners that can be cut.  Groceries, however, is one place we can save some money.  We allot $270 for groceries (including household stuff) but we often end up stealing $20 from eat out or gas money.  We do grocery shopping and “big city” errands once a month and it is a long, exhausting, often frustrating day but then we are done for the month!  Since we do pretty much all of our shopping in the Big City near us, both for lower prices and more availability, we spend way less gas plus the grocery savings when we do it all at once. 
Second, we pretty much eat all our meals at home, R comes home for lunch, and our eat out money is $50, including the lunch we eat in town when we shop, the Sonic drinks we get every Wednesday during Happy Hour, and any eating out we do until the next month.  So really, this leaves very little room to eat out!  
Third, let me say that it took quite a few months for me to get this right and there have been some emergency trips to the (expensive, limited selection, kinda gross) grocery store in town, but for the most part, after some practice I think we have this down.  This method does require some discipline and sometimes creativity, especially near the end of the month, when we have to deal with what we have and not go running to the store for something.  You may prefer the Pinterest ideas that involve major meal planning but I just cannot bring myself to quite do that.  I like planning and organization, but I cannot seem to plan an entire month’s meals at one time.  I feel like it puts me too much in a box and how will I know what I will feel like cooking/eating on any particular day a whole month in advance?!  The bloggers I’ve read have said they like planning because it takes the stress to have it already decided.  I get stressed out trying to plan that much so the following is my method!
The prep: Like I said, I don’t sit down and plan out our meals for an entire month.  But I do have a general idea of how many meals we will be eating at home that month, and then I have a few basic meals we repeat most months.  If we are doing something new or something different, I make sure the ingredients are on my list.  I especially think through any company or meals I may need to take to someone or somewhere for whatever reason.  Then I buy ingredients that can pretty much be made into most any meal.  I use a free app on my phone called Grocery IQ.  I love this app because I can look at my past lists and use them to jump off each month.    It also lets you enter specific information like grade of meat or volume of milk, etc.  and you can enter the amount you want to buy.  (This is awesome both for knowing what I need before I leave the house and because at the store I enter the prices of each thing as I put it in the cart so it keeps a running total for me.)  The last cool thing about Grocery IQ is it helps you find coupons for the things on your list.  I do not go searching for coupons anywhere else and there are many months that I have no coupons at all before walking into the store.  (We shop at HEB so there is usually at least one item that we buy that ends up having an in store coupon.)  I try to use coupons where I can and I do buy store brand for nearly all of our items (certainly for all the “staples”) but I do not go out of my way or scour the internet or even get a paper.  Also, since we go to town the last Friday of the month, I cannot shop based on sales, etc.  I make my list at home and I shop my list unless there is some glaringly awesome sale at the store.  Lastly, I don’t buy many readymade or quick to make items.  My system works because I buy ingredients.  Nearly everything we eat is made from scratch, which is (usually) healthier, but I mostly do it for the cost savings.  Usually, since we will be going to the store on a Friday, I spend a few hours the Thursday before making my list, cleaning out the refrigerator (we eat a lot of leftovers and we usually finish them and we only buy things for one month so, usually, by the end of the month, the larder is looking pretty bare.  But it does help to have everything out before we get home with so much stuff the next day.), making my list, finding and printing any coupons, making sure the bags (I’ll explain this better in a minute), cooler, cooler bag, and collapsible box thingy are in the car, deciding what stores we will visit the next day and making sure I have the list for each store.  (The last part is because we run all our errands that day.  For example, tomorrow, we will go to the bank, go to Tractor Supply for dog food, go to Home Depot for a sheet of plywood-so we will have to take R’s truck to town, and go to HEB.  My HEB list will be on Grocery IQ. Make sense?)
My grocery list usually looks something like this:
1.      Beverages:
a.      Coke (enough cans that Branalyn has one for each morning that month…does it help if I claim it’s my only vice?)
b.      Dr. Pepper (not every month, only when R wants some and he goes through it slow)
2.      Bread
a.      Large white sandwich bread (1 package, we use it for toast or sandwiches and we haven’t had a problem with it lasting the whole month, if we want bread to go with the meal, I bake it from scratch)
3.      Breakfast and Cereal
a.      Whichever cereal R wants for that month.  A box a month is about normal.
b.      Pop-Tarts (ok, I have two vices?)
4.      Canned Good and Soups
a.      Tomato Sauce (29 oz. cans, usually 3, these can be made into just about any Italian meal, are cheaper than the “spaghetti sauce” and, as long as you season your meat, they taste better in my opinion)
b.      Tomato Sauce (8 oz. cans, 1 or 2, I generally get these flavored with garlic and use them for making pizza or to add when I need sauce to stretch just a little farther)
c.      Log Cabin Syrup (I think we’ve bought this once, maybe twice in a year, a little goes a long way, but I think it’s worth buying name brand and we do have breakfast for supper about once a week, though not always with pancakes)
d.      Olive Oil (I’ve tried several grades and really do like the extra virgin the best, even though its more expensive, I buy store brand unless there’s a coupon that makes name brand cheaper)
e.      Rotel (rarely, usually to make queso in colder months)
f.       Tea (a big box, R drinks this A LOT, but we get the bags and he makes his own and it ends up being extremely cheap)
g.      Vinegar (I usually buy a gallon a month, I keep one gallon that usually lasts for a very long time in my baking items and then I generally have one gallon under the sink to use when I clean or make cleaning solutions and one extra in the big pantry, its cheap, it cleans great and we go through quite a bit)
5.      Cleaning and Home
a.      Borax (every other month, maybe every three, used to make laundry detergent and in cleaning)
b.      Super Washing Soda (same as Borax)
c.      Dishwasher detergent (OK, so I’ve tried several times and I just do not like any homemade version of this…)
d.      Charcoal (we grill at least twice a month and buy it most months)
e.      Lighter fluid, see above
f.       Dawn soap (I get a HUGE thing every 3-4 months and use it for making my own cleaning solutions and on its own)
g.      Downy Unstoppables (for homemade febreeze and laundry detergent)
h.      Jet Dry (our dishwasher needs it, but does go through it slowly, one tiny bottle lasts at least a month and we run the dishwasher daily)
i.       LemiShine (our dishwasher needs this stuff with the way our water is, I usually have to buy at least 2 of those refill bags.  And this stuff ain’t cheap.  But it’s one of those things we just have to have.)
j.       Oxygen Bleach (same as borax)
k.      Shout color catcher (I buy these rarely,  but I like to always have some on hand)
l.       Swiffer Dusters (or store brand when I can find it, I have bad dust allergies and using these means I can actually dust without getting sick or having an asthma attack so I cough up the money to buy them, I do not buy them every month, usually every 3 months or so  because I generally use one per week)
m.    Toilet bowl cleaner, hardwood floor cleaner, scrub sponges as needed and its rare
n.      Baggies (we keep a stock of freezer gallons and quarts for meat freezing and storage gallons and quarts, though I try to use reusable containers instead of baggies when I’m not freezing something)
6.      Condiments
a.      Honey (rarely, a little goes a long way!)
b.      Ketchup (every 2-3 months)
c.      Salsa (this is on R’s time table, I’m not sure how often we buy it but I know I don’t eat it!)
d.      Jam or Jelly (maybe every 3 months, for R to use on sandwiches or biscuits)
7.      Dairy
a.      Cheddar Cheese (usually a small bag)
b.      Butter (2-4, depending on how much baking I think I’ll do and how much is at home, it freezes nicely)
c.      Heavy whipping cream (for baking or ice cream making, any leftover gets turned into butter before it goes bad)
d.      Italian cheese (lasagna and pizza, small bag, not every month)
e.      Mozzarella cheese (same)
f.       Provolone cheese (same)
g.      Parmesan cheese (same)
h.      Milk (2%, 1 gallon times 4-5, R drinks this stuff A LOT)
i.       Milk (Whole, ½ gallon times 1, maybe 2 if I have none in the freezer, since R drinks so much milk, I have to buy a separate fat content just so he won’t drink my baking milk, also, I often use it for ice cream, in which case I need the whole fat content, I buy it in half gallons because I do not go through it very fast and whole gallons tend to go bad before I can use them up)
j.       Sour cream (if I’m going to make sugar cookies… but it’s better to not have this in the house because we only ever use it to make cookies and I have an unhealthy addiction to them when I do make them)
8.      Deli case
a.      Bacon (though we buy it off the shelf and not deli cut, this is just how its categorized on Grocery IQ, we usually get a medium size pack that costs around $10 and divide it into 8ths at home)
b.      Pepperoni (again, prepackaged, and only if we are out and planning pizza that month)
9.      Frozen food
a.      Ice (but at the end from the front, every month, for the ride home)
b.      Pizza (if we have no leftovers to eat that night because we do not cook on shopping day!)
c.      Grape juice (you may be wondering about fresh fruits and veggies and our once a month shopping, we eat them at the beginning of the month, juice and canned take us through the rest, we do try to be healthy…)
10.   Fruits and Veggies (this really depends on the time of year, also, see grape juice above, we are also attempting to garden for some of this…)
a.      Apples (no more than 4, they’ll go bad before we can finish them)
b.      Garlic (every month or every other, we use it pretty much anytime we cook meat)
c.      Potatoes (2-4, they last a good part of the month, but it depends)
d.      Strawberries (when in season, again, only one package because, as much as I love strawberries, they’ll go bad before I can eat too many)
e.       Yellow squash (seasonal, 1-2, again with the going bad)
11.   Grains, Pasta, Sides
a.      Lasagna noodles (one package per time I anticipate lasagna, usually 0-2 per month)
b.      Macaroni and Cheese (usually 1-3 packages, one of the few things we buy somewhat ready-made, we generally have one supper a month that we use it for, the other boxes are for lunches if we get it)
c.      Noodles (usually I get a package of “fun” noodles-like bowtie or shell-and a big package of spaghetti noodles)
12.   Meat
a.      Chicken (a big package we slip up)
b.      Fajita Meat (sometimes treat)
c.      Steak (even rarer treat)
d.      Hamburger meat (aka ground beef, we like to get 90/10 but usually the budget dictates we settle for 80/20, I get at least 5 lbs., maybe 6 or 7)
13.   Paper Goods
a.      Toilet paper (a huge package to last the month, HEB brand actually is nice but we used to be snobs about this)
b.      Paper towels (HEB brand is good but you have to be careful and get the right ones)
c.      Tissues (this may seem silly, but the Kleenex Cool Care are the best tissues ever and I keep a box in every room and in my car because I have allergies!  They don’t go bad if you don’t use them, but they are awesome to have when you do need them.  I usually end up buying 1-3 boxes per month)
14.   Personal Care and Pharmacy (this is another section with some variance, but here’s what we get most months)
a.      R’s deodorant
b.      B’s deodorant (usually more like every other month, I guess I don’t lay it on as thick!)
c.      R’s body wash
d.      B’s body wash
e.      Floss (more like every 3-4 months)
f.       Toothpaste
g.      Toothbrushes (2 every other month)
h.      Epsom salt
i.       R’s shampoo (every other usually)
j.       B’s shampoo
k.      B’s conditioner
l.       Ivory Soap bars (laundry detergent, see Borax above)
m.    Prevacid (30 pills)
n.      Razor blades (more like every 2-3)
o.     Cotton balls (every 2-3)
p.      Cotton rounds (every other)
q.      Zyrtec (60 pills)
15.   Snack Foods
a.      Hershey’s syrup (big bottles, 4-5, R drinks chocolate in his milk)
b.      Popcorn (loose popcorn, every other or so)
c.      Popcorn oil (every other or so)
d.      Popcorn salt (every other or so)
e.      Tortilla chips (sometimes)
16.   Spices and Baking (we buy A LOT on this aisle, but most of what we buy here is extremely cheap, remember, I’m planning to make things from scratch-bread, rolls, breadsticks, biscuits, pancakes, tortillas, cookies, ice cream, cake, etc.-also, my trick is to make my own mixes for many of these things)
a.      All Purpose Flour (1 or 2 5 lb. bags)
b.      Bread Flour (same)
c.      Baking soda (used for cleaning and baking, I do this like I do vinegar above)
d.      Baking powder (usually a can every other month)
e.      Eagle Brand (when I am planning ice cream)
f.       Yeast (a jar for the fridge every 3 months or so)
g.      Pizza yeast (a 3 thingy every 2-3 months, one package per pizza)
h.      Instant dry milk (I keep it on hand for baking when R has drank all the milk, also, there’s some mixes I make that call for it, but it’s an every other month thing at most)
i.       Chocolate chips (when planning chocolate chip cookies, I do like to keep them on hand)
j.       Powdered sugar (as needed, I like to keep it on hand)
k.      Sea salt (I recently discovered the iodized version and that is the salt I prefer, as needed)
l.       Shortening (as needed, every 2-3 months depending on how much I baked/am planning to bake)
m.    Sugar (1-2 4 lb. bags, R uses quite a bit for his tea and I use it for baking)
n.      Grub Rub (greatest seasoning ever)
o.     Italian Seasoning, Pepper, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Cinnamon, as needed
At the store:
OK, so we both go to town on these crazy errands-and-grocery-shopping-days and we run all the other errands first so we don’t work our cooler too hard before we get home (when it’s not so dang hot we sometimes change this) and then we go to HEB.  We each take a basket and one of us will end up with cold items and the other will end up with room temperature items.  We attempt to keep like things together as we shop and put them on the conveyer together at the end, but if there’s an actual bagger (i.e., not one of us) then this is usually in vain.  (I really don’t understand why it’s a difficult concept for the store’s employed bagger, but whatever…)  Another cool feature of the Grocery IQ app is that I can tell it which aisle everything is on, which makes for a much easier trip to the store.  We do go down nearly every aisle and get what we need, trying to get the cold stuff last.  Then we check out.  Like I said, we attempt to keep like things together on the conveyer and if it’s a store employed bagger we make sure to tell them we want cold things in plastic HEB bags (because these items will end up in the cooler), meat separate (it will end up in the cooler bag and EWW!), and everything else please put in the bags we bring in (they hold more, things fit better in our car this way, and they are easier to take into the house-also, when we do the bagging, we can bag by where things get put away which makes things at home so much easier).  Usually they end up having to put some room temp things in HEB sacks (either because we don’t have enough bags or because they do something inane like put two boxes of Kleenex in one huge bag that we brought in…) and we put those in the collapsible crate in the car.  Oh, and we always add a bag of ice when we check out.
At the car:
We put all cold items, except meat, into our cooler.  It’s not a very large cooler and, with all the milk we buy, we really could use a slightly bigger one, but it works.  We put the meat in a cooler bag from SAMs and we split the ice between the cooler and cooler bag.  Then we pile in the bags we brought in and put loose items and HEB bagged items into the crate.  At this point, we usually rejoice we are done, get gas, and go home. J
On the way home:
We stop and buy eggs from our friend who raises chickens.
At home:
R takes the cooler and I take the cooler bag and we put them in the middle of our kitchen floor.  Then I unpack the cold things while he unloads the rest of the stuff into the middle of the utility room floor.  (He will also put things straight in their home if it’s something outside like dog food or a tool he bought, etc.)  I will immediately freeze packages of cheese, butter, and juice concentrate.  Milk and meat I will put into the fridge for right then.  Then I unpack the other groceries while R drains and cleans out the cooler and cooler bag.  We have a piece of furniture we use as a small pantry in the kitchen where baking items go.  We have a large piece of furniture we use as a large pantry in the utility room where extra baking items and all other cooking and cleaning items go.  And we have a rather odd but large closet in our bathroom, so bathroom items can go in there.  While one day, I’d like to get to the point where I can have a little bit of a stock pile, right now we usually buy just enough to get through the month.  Right after shopping, things are nearly overflowing but, as I said before, by the end of the month, the larders are pretty bare.  Once Robert has the coolers clean and out of the way, he will pour a little out of each gallon of milk (either into an almost empty gallon or into a cup to be drank later that night) and freeze the milk.  Then he will separate the meat into meal sized portions and bag, label, and freeze that.  Sometimes I will do this with the cheese, also, but it’s usually not any more expensive to buy already smaller bags.  Bacon gets cut in half, then separated into fourths (so there’s actually 8 portions in the end), hamburger meat gets separated into 1ish pound portions, chicken gets separated into 3-4 pieces per bag, and any steak or fajita meat (rarer treats) gets separated into meal sized portions as well.
Our general month looks like this:
Spaghetti twice, eaten for lunch as leftovers till it’s gone
Lasagna once, eaten for lunch as leftovers till it’s gone
Breakfast for lunch or supper a couple times a week, usually with homemade tortillas, sometimes with homemade biscuits, rarely with homemade pancakes
One or two “daddy suppers”-ground beef and mac and cheese, eaten for lunch as leftovers till it’s gone
Chicken on the grill once or twice, with squash or canned veggies and made from scratch bread, leftovers for lunch
Chicken in the oven once or twice, with some type of potato side and/or canned veggies and made from scratch bread, leftovers for lunch
Hamburgers no more than once a month-not enough leftovers!
If we have fajitas or steak, it’d take the place of one chicken or breakfast meal.  Again with the not enough leftovers.

The rest of this is where the discipline and creativity comes in.  I generally refuse to go to the store (and all our grocery money is gone anyways) to buy things unless there is a true surprise or emergency (like last month I got sick and we bought some cough medicine and tissues, but that was medicine money without even having to justify it) so sometimes, by the end of the month, our meals are a little silly.  Like breakfast for supper for a whole week.  But we have never gone hungry and we stick to our budget!

Clear as mud? : )

Branalyn