At the center of our home you will find our kitchen. It's small and narrow, not the kind of space you'd envision for maintaining well-stocked pantries or the latest in kitchen utensils and supplies. It continues to keep us humble. To keep our portions filled only for the week before us and no more. Each home we've lived in, each kitchen I've stewed, sauteed, and baked in has been the same. I've grown to find these spaces enduring.
Each small kitchen, with just enough space for our needs, has taught me how to plan our meals, how to budget our finances, and how to prepare our food in a manner that leaves nothing for waste. Three years ago I was a newly married wife who had never before held herself to a budget. I thought budgeting $75.00 a week for groceries would be an incredible challenge. And it was for a time. It was painfully difficult.
Now three years later the budget I've decreased to $55.00 a week. Not out of necessity, but because I've realized we have plenty and no need to spend or have more. Even while spending less the food I purchase has not decreased. I have simply grown more wise in my purchases, more aware of the food and the processes they've gone through in getting to my table, less amused by the flashy sales and coupons shouting at me to purchase, and no longer paying more for the fancy carpets or new and smooth carts.
On that note, here are a few notes I've scribbled down about our shopping:
01 | We meal plan. My rhythm has been to plan our meals for the next 7-days after church each Sunday. I plan for 4 meals most weeks knowing that we always have leftovers that will carry over to later nights. Then when I shop I go with my list and only purchase off the list. Not only does this save money, but it's saves time that I can be spending doing other things than wandering the grocery market.
02 | We purchase small quantities of meat and enjoy them for 1-2 meals a week, leaving the remainder of our meals to be vegetarian. We've both actually become very accustomed to this rhythm and have enjoyed exploring a variety of protein rich vegetarian meals such as this recipe and this.
03 | We choose to purchase quality over quantity. Eighty-five percent of our shopping cart is vegetables, fruits, cheeses, yogurts, beans, rice, oats, and meat. I've found that our small budget stretches tremendously far with these ingredients and from these ingredients we have hearty breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Our meals leave us full preventing us from midday hunger and snacking throughout the day.
04 | We said goodbye to fancy grocery stores and their high prices. I admit I love the feel of high-end grocery stores - they are truly lovely, but you pay for the look. So today we shop almost solely at Trader Joes and Aldi. Between the two I'm able to find most everything we need. Aldi has been great for basics and produce while Trader Joes has the spices and ingredients I'll use on occasion for ethnic or "fancier" dishes. Today both have excellent organic selections at reasonable prices.
05 | We don't buy or buy very little packaged/processed foods. Even though they may save time, I know I can stretch our budget farther when I am preparing our meals from scratch. I set aside one-hour a week to prepare many of our ingredients for the week. I slice 3-4 different kinds of vegetables for lunches, prepare a batch of homemade granola for breakfasts, and look ahead at the dinners we have planned and prepare any necessary ingredients. It takes me one-hour, but it really pays forward in our budget.
I feel it necessary to say our number will never be your number budgeted for groceries. We each have different mouths and diets to feed and depending on our locations we each have access to different resources and opportunities. The tips I share work for our family, but may not work or even be options for your own.
I'd love to know, what are your tips for grocery shopping and preparing meals while maintaining a budget? Share in the comments below.