“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.
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.