New Life, New Grocery Budget

“Of course, changing our food customs means changing our cooking customs to some degree, but we ought to be thankful to be jostled out of our old notions, now and then, to wake us up and set us thinking.”

on saving money on food, 1919

When I lived in Wisconsin, I had the best-case scenario when it came to a grocery budget. I had Connections and Sources. We had a large vegetable garden, an herb garden, and fruit trees. I bartered handmade soaps for maple syrup, ground beef, honey, and oyster mushrooms, bought organic milk and eggs from a farming friend and foraged for black raspberries, wild grapes and plums. Through some Mennonite friend connections, I got short-dated refrigerator goods like yogurt, meats, and cheese for a fraction of retail prices. My husband usually got a deer and several hauls of fish throughout the year. We had several bent-and-dent stores where I bought shelf-stable products, and Amish stores for baking and bulk ingredients. Essentially, our grocery budget was so minimal it was barely a line in the budget and I had no idea what groceries in a supermarket really cost.

And then I moved to Texas. It’s a whole ‘nuther world here. Bargain anything isn’t part of the vocabulary and I’m buying everything at full retail price. The local grocery store doesn’t even discount bruised produce. The nearest Aldi is 20 minutes away, but I’m grateful there’s one in the area at all. Happily, we discovered little raised beds underneath some brush in the backyard of our rental house. We’ve planted them but we’re a long way from harvesting. At the moment, my harvestable garden consists of two rosemary plants and one barely alive peppermint plant. All that plus living in an economy where grocery prices are jumping up by the day and it’s been a culture shock.

I’m not complaining; I enjoy the challenge. It will take awhile to get ourselves established, but here are some strategies that I’m implementing in the meantime.

Maximizing Less Expensive Options

We’re eating carrots, cabbage, and potatoes, lots of them. They’re good, versatile, and a great value. Fresh green peppers and cucumbers are a better price here than they were in Wisconsin so those are in the regular rotation right now. I’m sprouting radish and mung bean seeds to add some greens to sandwiches, an option I never remembered to use back when I had fresh greens galore. It only makes sense to change our eating habits to the produce that’s seasonal and readily available in a new region.

Cooking from Scratch More

I can no longer buy baked goods for cheaper than I can make them. It’s not a bad thing; I know homemade is more nutritious but I’ve gotten out of the habit the last several years. With good recipes, the time invested is minimal. Also, I’m making more sourdough bread products and while I haven’t conducted any comparisons, I’ve read that sourdough is more filling than regular, yeast-raised breads. (Plus, capturing the free yeast in the air is cheaper than buying yeast!)

Doing a Recipe Refresh

I’m searching my cookbooks for recipes that use less expensive, more easily accessible ingredients. I’m loving the variety. It’s giving me a new interest in cooking. Instead of making chocolate chip cookies last week, I made a new-to-me recipe for lemon cut-out cookies. Of course cookies aren’t hardcore frugal, but everyone appreciates a little treat. Gluten-free flours can get expensive, but cheaper, naturally gluten-free cornmeal makes a number of delicious alternatives, like cornmeal pancakes. Popcorn is our new snack of choice, as opposed to those very expensive bags composed of potato chip fragranced air with a few chips at the bottom.

Minimizing Waste

Consistently making broth from chicken bones, saving bacon grease to fry eggs, adding onion peels and wilty celery leaves to broth for extra flavor, making bread crumbs from loaf heels, regrowing green onions…none of these little tasks are tedious or time-consuming. Do they make a huge difference in my shopping expenses? It’s negotiable, but the little things do add up and I feel more responsible and efficient when I don’t let anything go to waste.

All in all, it’s good to be “jostled out of old notions” and get a little creative. And if you suspect there’s any truth to the many warnings of shortages, supply chain interruptions, and other gloomy predictions out there, a little jostling could turn out to be a very good thing.

5 Replies on “New Life, New Grocery Budget

  1. Here in Australia things are getting very expensive as well. We had doctors appointment at our closest big town 1hour away today. My husband wanted to stay in town for lunch, however I suggested we buy some minced meat (I think you call it hamburger mince) and make hamburgers when we got home. I had not defrosted any meat this morning. The minced meat was $20. a kilo. ( about 2.2lbs). That’s Australian dollars and would be about $14 US dollars. That will do us for several meals and I think with our home grown fillings and our bread they probably would have cost us about $4 each. In a cafe they would cost about $12. A great saving and actually much tastier than shop bought..

    1. So here that would be about $7 a pound-yikes. Depending on the grade, I’m seeing hamburger between $4 and $6 a pound. Either way you’re right though, it’s still WAY cheaper and tastier than a restaurant!

  2. Yes, that is quite a change of scenery! I remember gasping aloud when I realized that citrus fruit was priced per piece in Kansas instead of by the pound like when I lived in Cali! What?! 75¢ for ONE orange???? The other thing that was shocking is that there are no freebies here like turkey or ham during the holidays. In Cali, I could spend $50 and get a freebie. When I asked here about the free turkeys, the clerk looked at me like a lobster was crawling out of my ear!! Alas, I’ve adjusted and found a lot of great things here on the plains. Way more pluses than minuses. I hope you do, as well.

    Food is quite the challenge, isn’t it? Every trip to the market is a surprise, and most are pretty rude ones!
    I’m finding lots of nearly expired dates on fresh food and the produce isn’t so perky. And $3.99 for a little head of romaine?! Thanks, I’ll wait for mine to grow! Don’t forget cabbage steaks on your menu! So tasty!

    I look forward to hearing about your adjustment to Texas! I hear the bluebonnets are spectacular!

    1. I always love your thoughts, Debby! 🙂 It’s easy to forget about the different climates in this country until you shop for produce, isn’t it? Your comment about citrus reminded me that I canned all the rhubarb sauce and jam I could last spring because I knew I couldn’t bring myself to buy packages with a few stalks of rhubarb in the produce department here…I just can’t.

      Yes, the bluebonnets are gorgeous! They’re in full bloom now and I can’t resist taking pictures every chance I get.

  3. Yes all those little things add up over time. I have been married almost 40 years and have done them almost the entire time. It is the mindful paying attention.

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