Thursday, October 11, 2012

Save Dough with the Dough in Your Pantry

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Meal Planning with What You Already Have

During my last few weeks in my college apartment, I decided to go through all of the food I had in the pantry, fridge, and freezer and create my meals around what I already had. My reasoning was solely not wanting to pack food in my already-stuffed car as I move back home. Little did I know then that this was practice for my future home-making habits.

My husband and I went on with our lives, planning our menu based on what meals we were in the mood for, regardless of prices or what we already had on hand. Man, was I naively overspending on groceries month after month! But, it was a start because meal planning alone saves a fortune when you compare it to going out to eat frequently when you can't think of what to make for dinner.

"Ooh, what's that back there? A new box of my favorite granola bars. Sweet!" I pull it out, look at the box, and then think to myself, "Aaannndd, it expired last month." I stand there for a minute, pondering the differences between "sell by", "use by", and "I dare you to eat that". This type of situation was happening too often and I was getting sick of throwing away expired food from the back of my pantry. But then I forgot and I did nothing about it.

Fast forward a bit, we were planning for a baby and living on a smaller salary. The only part of my budget that seemed negotiable was what we were spending on food. I really got into couponing and shopping the sales, and stocked up our freezer and pantry with the foods we love at prices my checkbook loved.

Our freezer and pantry were full at a fraction of the usual cost...and they were cluttered.

Then, something broke on the car and we needed to save some money to fix it. I looked over the budget, and it hit me. We have plenty of food. Let's plan a month of meals based on all of the food I stocked up on with coupons and sales and save our grocery money to fix the car.

First, I took everything out of the pantry and put it on the counters. Typically, I open up a word document and type up how much I have of each item. (This time, however, I didn't want to walk the 15 feet to get my laptop, so I grabbed my trusty dry erase board and just started messily writing it all down. Laziness resulted in an extra step for me, though, because I had to transfer my hand-written scribble onto my word document later.)

Don't be afraid of the mess. It will look worse before it looks better...unless you are one to start projects and not finish them. I tend to be guilty of that, but not today.

Then I put it all back in the pantry, organized and easy to find.

Next I took everything out of the fridge and freezer and documented what we have available. *Note: This is a good time to clean out those expired condiments and freezer-burned items.*

Then, I embraced nap time, sat down with my laptop and my coffee and got to work making a menu. Again, I just opened a word document and created a table to look like a calendar and filled it in with dinner ideas. Simple. You could also use paper and pen, dry erase board, whatever works for you. I'm a computer person.

As I used one of the items on my inventory list, I simply deleted it.

Sometimes, though, there are those certain items that I just don't know what to make with them. If you have that type of situation come up, here is what I've been doing. I put all of the leftover ingredients from my inventory into Recipe Matcher and click on "Find Recipes Now". Wow! I instantly found a slow cooker recipe for the chuck roast that's been sitting in my freezer. It's easy and free to use the website. We're trying to save money here, right?

So for the next few weeks, we will be living off of all of the food already in our home and only need to shop for fresh items like produce and milk. Do some planning and save some money, mamas!!

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