I fail at so many things. Sooooo many. Oh so many. But one thing I'm good at is stretching my husband's dollar as far as it will go. He works his tail off to support our family, goes out and slays dragons for us on a daily basis. I feel like it's the very least I can do to show him respect for that hard work.
So what does that even mean?
It means to make wise choices at the store or in the marketplace. It means to seek out deals and stock up on them, so that when times are tough, your "lamp will not run out of oil" so to speak. If our country went deeper into the hole it's currently in, could you feed your family for a year with what's in your pantry and freezer? How about a month? A week? (I don't know where *I* am on that scale, just asking the question.)
I'm not saying we should worry about this, not at all. It's not about worry.
It's about wisdom, y'all. It's about being prepared for any hardship that may come our way. Our own, or someone else's! If you have a bit of back stock, you'll be able to help that young single mother down the street when times are tough for her. You'll be able to stretch out your hands to the needy like that Proverbs 31 woman did (see verse 20).
Remember the ten virgins from Matthew 24? Yes, that parable is about way more than just keeping the oil stocked. But there's also the very basic lesson of... well... keeping the oil stocked in anticipation of needing it later.
I thought I'd share some ways you can help bless your husband by stretching his dollar as far as it will go.
Canned goods Find sales and stock up. I mean, stock up in a big way. Canned beans on sale at 3 for $1? Diced tomatoes at 2 for $1? Buy all you can. If there's a limit, go back later and get more or send your adult children to buy them for you. If that's a hardship, cut something else out of your budget that week and buy $20 worth of beans (if the expiration date isn't too soon). ** Then try not to use it unless you're in a rough patch. If the expiration dates are coming on, use cans from the front of the stack, buy what you'd use that week at the grocery store, then stick the new cans at the back of the stack. Basic stock rotation.
Bulk food section Buy as much as you can from the bulk food section. Things like pasta, rice, beans, salt, sugar, oatmeal, flour, spices, dried fruits, etc. I filled a quart jar with ground cinnamon for $1.25 this week. A small 2-ounce container of ground cinnamon costs twice that much. Score!
Dried Beans Did you know that you can make 7 batches of refried beans yourself, for the same price as two cans of already prepared beans? There are tons of recipes out on the web. Find one and try it, you'll never go back to canned. Plus, you can make huge batches and freeze them for later.
Bean soup is a favorite around here, and an absolute staple in fall and winter. Start with a chopped onion, brown it in olive oil in the bottom of your soup pot. Add 3 cups of dried beans, some salt and pepper, and two or three smoked ham hocks, then fill to the top with water. Put the lid on and bring it to a boil. Let it simmer all day, checking periodically to see if you need to add water. About an hour before dinner time, fish out the hocks and take the meat off the bones, adding it back to the pot. Discard the fat, skin and bones. Add 3 or 4 diced carrots. Now make yourself some biscuits or Butter Dips (our favorite!) and have yourself a huge meal for less than $5.
You can substitute split peas or lentils (or a combination!) for the dried beans. Don't add the peas or lentils until about an hour before dinner, when you're pulling the ham hock out.
Meat Great meat sale? Buy as much as you can afford, then freeze what you aren't going to use. Just be sure to re-wrap it at home so it will survive the freezer for a while. **
You can brown your ground beef with a chopped onion and let it cool, then freeze it for later. So handy on taco night! You can double your recipe on meat loaf night, then freeze one for later.
Prep chicken breasts in the way you use them in your recipes and freeze it for later. Boiled and diced? Boiled and shredded? However you use it, prep it and freeze it.
When you boil your chicken, why not make the most out of the electricity and water, and make chicken stock to be used later? For a 3-pound package of chicken, I add 3 or 4 ribs of celery (just ripped in halves or thirds), 3 or 4 carrots (don't bother to peel, just break in halves or thirds), one medium onion (cut into wedges, don't bother to peel), 3 cloves of garlic (don't peel, just smash once with the side of your knife, about 12 peppercorns and salt to your taste. Fill to the top with water, lid on and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for at least 3 hours (more if you have the time), removing the chicken when it's done. When the stock tastes like you like it, turn the heat off and allow it to cool. Scoop off as much fat from the top as you can. Pour the whole lot through a strainer, then ladle into freezer containers. There! You've boiled your chicken, and you've got stock to use for later!
Potatoes Great sale on potatoes, but you won't use them before they go bad? No problem! Buy those potatoes, then process them and freeze them for use later. Cut potatoes into 1-inch cubes for stews, blanch in boiling water for one minute, then remove from water and allow to drain. Lay out flat on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and allow to cool, then place tray in freezer. After potatoes are frozen, put them in freezer bags (Food Saver would be handy, or these ZipLoc Vacuum Bags, they work very well too), label them and keep them in the freezer. When you make a stew later, add the potatoes about 20 minutes before serving time. They don't take as long to cook and they taste just as fresh as the day you bought them.
You can do the same with hash browns (just smaller dice, follow same procedure as with stew potatoes) and mashed potatoes. Make huge batches of mashed potatoes, let them cool, then parcel them out into freezer bags. Lay the bags flat while they freeze, then you can stack them, or stand them up file-like in the freezer. Stand them on a towel so the edges don't crack open. Just remember to pull the bag out in the morning for that night's dinner.
Corn Last year I found a wicked deal on corn on the cob, 12 ears for $1. I bought as much as I could, then blanched it all, sliced it off the cobs, and froze it. We had summery fresh corn with Thanksgiving dinner! What a huge treat, and so inexpensive.
Coffee I'm a bit of a coffee snob m'self, so I won't tell you to buy cheap coffee. If you told me you have a certain brand you'll drink, and you won't consider compromising? I'd more likely bless you than curse you. ;-) I will say, though, that making your latte at home is a wise choice, and it's generally cheaper to buy beans in bulk and grind them at home.
Cereal In short? Skip it. I thought I was saving money buying cheap cereals for breakfast, but the children were starving again an hour after they ate. Add the cereal to the constant snacking, and I wasn't saving a dime. We do oatmeal, wheat farina (Cream of Wheat), Zoom, homemade pancakes with jam, toast and eggs, anything but cereal. We do still have some sort of awful-for-you sugary cereal on Saturdays. The children love to pick out their Saturday Cereal, and that's not a hill I choose to die on.
Ditch the drinks Stop buying juice, soda, bottled water (unless yours is unsafe), Kool-Aid, etc. You don't need it, you'd be healthier without it, and it takes up so much room in the grocery budget. We do occasionally splurge on soda, but it's rare. We drink water with meals, rarely milk. I have orange juice in the freezer right now, but only because it was ridiculously cheap.
Have a limit Don't just fill your cart and let the chips fall where they may. Decide how much you HAVE, and stick to that amount. Keep a tally going while you're shopping so there will be no surprises at the checkout counter. I hate having to tell the checker I have to put something back. Ugh!
Craigslist Don't forget to check your local orchards and farms. There is free produce listed on my local Craigslist all the time. Call around and ask about gleaning programs. Sometimes an owner will be glad to have you come out and take the last of a crop for free, so he doesn't have to deal with it himself. That happened to me last year with cherries, apricots, pumpkin, squash, pears and apples. I canned enough of those items that I haven't had to buy them one time since last spring. Except apples, that is. We can never have enough apples on the counter.
But I'm broke! If your budget doesn't allow for stocking up in a big way, don't lament just yet. You really can do it! You can start slow by buying one extra of something you use on a regular basis and then putting that extra aside. Meat, canned goods, staples, bathroom supplies, etc.
Prayer! It's listed last, but it's the most important. Pray! Pray right there in the car, before you go into the store. Have the children pray with you. It will be a great way to show them just exactly Who provided the grocery money, and will teach them to show respect for their father by making wise choices with the money he worked so hard for. If your budget is so tight that you'd rather cry than shop (you're not alone!), pray as you put each item in your cart. "Lord, you know we're broke. And *I* know you always provide for our needs. Please help me see how this is a blessing. Help me to be content with what I have, and show me how to use it wisely today. Please bless my efforts as I endeavor to show my husband respect in this area. I want to do everything as unto You, Father. Please guide me in this area as well."
If I've forgotten anything, feel free to add your own wisdom in the comment section!