This week for the first attempt at reaching the $50 bar - is $50.26 close enough?
Lessons for the week are, of course, commonsensical:
Scour the grocers' ads
Plan your meals by the cheapest items you can get (not by your cravings...sigh)
Use coupons - but only for item you really would normally get or want to have on hand
Keep a $10 around for 'stock ups' - when you see a good deal, pounce
The majority of my shopping this week was at Harris Teeter - for the double coupon values and big deals. I scored free ' Texas' garlic toast, free Kraft parmesan cheese, free fettucine noodles, a free liter of Pepsi, Quaker oatmeal for $ .65 with double value coupon and two jars of peanut butter for $1.34 after sale and double coupon value. All told $36.74 was shaved off my purchase price here at this store. Gotta warn you - two out of the four free items advertised in the Super Meal Deal were off the shelves one day after the promotion began. Be sure to visit the Customer Service Desk to determine your store's preferred method for substituting items. I also placed those substitutions at the front of my cart and let the cashier know first thing (if you've ever worked retail, you know how frustrating it can be for the cashier to sort out these kinds of kinks after everything has been rung up).
I also shopped at Game's Farmers Market on Harpersville Road in Newport News. This is a no-frills, no-nonsense, great people, even better prices kind of family operation. No one in town can touch the quality or the price on their meats. Today I picked up a pork picnic cut for slow cooking for $5,87, ground beef for $1.81 and chicken thighs for $1.73. Game's also has Chex brand cereals at $2 a box. Once an item is placed on sale here, it stays on sale until all that particular stock is gone - a nice touch.
Will the meals really be any good?
Outside of any limitations found in my cooking skills, the menu is looking good:
Breakfasts: Baked oatmeal with fruit and cream, scrambled eggs western style, cereal, potato, cheese and egg frittata
Lunches: Homemade cream of celery soup, homemade onion soup, PB&J sandwiches, pimento cheese sandwiches, tuna salad and egg salad
Dinners: Pork barbecue with coleslaw, spaghetti with meat sauce, stuffed cabbage rolls, pork fried rice and vegetable stir fry, onion, mushroom and cheese quiche, baked chicken with roasted vegetables, chicken pot pies
Desserts to tide over the sweeties in the house: brownies, homemade vanilla pudding, homemade cream puffs (filled with cream and leftover pudding), bread pudding, cuccidatti cookies (fig and date filled pastry cookies; my aunt sent us a dried fruit plate for Christmas)
Always available: fruits and vegetable for juices as well as raw for nibbles
The biggest expenditure just may be time. I like to spend a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen - it's a warm, welcoming world on a cold day. I also work a second job and an afternoon free can be difficult to schedule - as I'm sure it is for many Savvy Readers with children and other responsibilities.
When your weekly budget is $50, that so-called bargain $10 pizza doesn't seem like such a good deal - doesn't stop the cravings, but it's tough to part with 20 percent of your money for a one-time taste treat. Here were some of the other 'missed' items and what I am substituting in their place:
Sodas - That cola craving doesn't just go away. However, a cup of tea in the morning and mixing fruit juice with bubbly water (a discounted bottle at $1) took care of both the caffeine and bubbly requirements for the day. It also probably cut back my sugar intake a bit.
Chips - Toasted bread rounds with some chopped tomato and cheese gave new meaning to before-dinner snacking. A handful of nuts midday took care of the afternoon salt and crunch needs.
Butter - When you're making much of your meals, breads and desserts from scratch you can go through a pound of butter faster than a hot knife can cut it. I am using some shortening and margarine in cookies, more olive oil cooking and trying to find the most economical and tasty balance here.
Steak - $10 for a steak? Probably not going to happen. But using meat more as a taste addition rather than main course is not appreciably affecting this household. Meaty-flavored soups, stews, stir fry have plenty of protein and flavor; cheaper cuts of meat work well in a variety of recipes.
What's not missing so far Satisfied customers - everyone's tummy is full and we're not running to the fridge for snacks as the meals have been pretty filling and tasty, too.
Time - will this make-from-scratch attitude persist? Will there be enough time in the day to get everything done and keep this $50 limit intact? No problems to report so far, but -
Will this project last? We'll be checking in every week to see just how this experiment pans out. Also over the next few weeks, Savvy will look at ways to keep the budget to the $50 mark while using some prepared foods and/or finding additional shortcuts to cooking.
We will also be reporting expert advice from professional chefs, retauranteurs and others who make a living creating delicious dishes with a minimum of waste. Our first call will be with Lidia Bastianich, known to many from her cookbooks, restaurants, children's book and PBS series, 'Lidia's Italy.' Check in weekly for updates to this adventure in budgeting.