Ten Things I Learned from the All You Grocery Challenge

Forgive the lack of pictures with these first few posts. I wanted to find something new instead of the same images I've used over and over again.  Give me time and I'll have some newer images.

Thank you to those of you who are coming along for this new journey.  I admit earlier today, just after I'd hit 'publish' and submitted the final PennyAnn post, I was talking to Samuel (aka Alan) and told him I'd just 'killed' Penny Ann.  His initial shocked reaction of "WHY?" made my stomach sink.  Had I made a huge mistake?  Had I really spent enough time making this decision over the past two years?  Yeah.  That's the way my mind works.  Then he said, "Well, I can see why you might feel you need a change after ten years..."  Whew!  Katie was more to the point with her remark.  "It's about time!"  My girl never wastes words or fears sharing her opinion.

In honesty, it was a hard decision to make to walk away from a fairly popular format with a good following.  John and I talked about it at length, I spent a lot of time in prayer.  I didn't make this decision lightly.  I think it says something of my current mindset that I was so quick to worry about the decision once I'd sent the final post.  I note a certain lack of confidence that no doubt needs to be changed.

While the main focus of this blog is not to be solely frugal living, I did want to share what I learned from a recent challenge. I've just finished participating in the All You grocery challenge.  I didn't submit my entry but did follow the guidelines. I spent an average of $52 per week, which is close enough to $50 to suit me. I did the challenge to see if I could manage.  Truth: I wanted to see if I still had Ninja Savings skills.  I think the most revealing thing about this challenge was not how to trim costs but what I discovered as I participated. 

1.  I don't know how much to cook.  All of my life I've cooked for five or more.  It was hard to adjust to our smaller family of three and it's been hard to adjust to cooking for one and two.  With John's work schedule I often end up cooking just for me during the work week.  I've tried to cope with this by making half recipes, freezing the main portion of a recipe and simply holding out a single portion for myself, or making foods that will adapt well to his requested salad/sandwich work lunch.  Some days are easier than others in that respect.  Most days are a fail.  I grow to loathe a recipe by the time I've eaten it two or three or four times in a month.

2.  My current method of menu planning doesn't work well for us. The meals I plan are nice, but seldom morph into real meals.  Especially when John is off work the menu plan pretty much goes out the window.  This is due to his 'spontaneous' nature.  We may be in another city come dinnertime or he might decide he doesn't care for the planned menu after the food is thawed.  It's not a problem...but I often don't have quick to prepare things on hand to make up for lack of prep time.  I need more impromptu meal plans to be better prepared.

3.  I'm an insecure shopper.  Sales come in cycles...but I feel very much that I need to buy NOW rather than just a portion now and a portion later.  So I overspend more often than not.   Because I buy so much at once, I often don't pay close enough attention to what I'm stocking in our pantry.  Little things like checking an expiration date and determining how much of an item I can use before it expires would be helpful.  I did catch on to this after the first two week shopping cycle and bypassed a supposed savings on an item when I realized that it expired before we could ever hope to use the products.

4.  I need to rethink how I shop.  I've been saying for years that the Big Shop is too much and it is. It's hard work and the sheer volume of stuff brought into the house every two weeks is overwhelming. I often can't buy enough fresh and frozen foods to last two weeks due to lack of storage but there's no money left to buy more after a Big Shop. Foods get lost in the fridge or spoil before the two weeks are up, so it's costing a bit more to do the Big Shop money-wise.  Big Shop takes a full day of prep and shopping time.  I'd rather devote a half day a week to food shopping. 

5.  Time to rethink how I spend my budget.  I've had a hard time with this because of how we're paid (every other week) and my tendency to spend the full grocery budget at once.  I feel very comfortable with the idea of spending about $85 a week.  That should allow plenty for food, a little for stocking up and personal care/pet/household items.

6.  I need to rethink 'stocking up'.  I have good intentions in buying foodstuffs for storage but I don't take into account how we really eat.  We eat more seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables than canned or frozen.  Obviously I want to have some storage worthy foods.  Striking a balance is what I need to be concerned with.

7.  I want better foods  I have a tendency to 'think poor' and buy cheap rather than quality foods.  Honestly, I want the best quality food we can afford.  So why am I buying cheap imitation maple flavored syrup when I can buy Grade B Maple syrup?  Granted the cheap imitation stuff is $1 but the maple is only $5...And honestly I can cut out $4 somewhere in my budget and make up the difference.

I make perfectly good bread, but John has asked me to buy a couple of loaves of sliced bread each pay period.  I have been buying the least expensive whole wheat loaves I can find.  Result: we're tossing a half a loaf of bread each pay period because the bread was already beyond day old when I bought it.  I'd rather buy a couple of good loaves of bread and eat all of them than buy the older cheaper loaves and toss half in the trash.

On the other hand, I also noted with regret this week that we had a goodly number of sweets on hand and yet again I must delay making a longed for summertime treat.  Then it occurred to me here I'd spent money on some store bought sweets that are okay, when I could have a good homemade item (with a lot less preservatives and additives).  It was a light bulb moment for me.  Good tasting homemade treats vs. spending cash on items that were just 'okay' and nothing special?  I think I'm due to make a change there too, don't you?

8.  I am bored bored bored with the foods we're eating.  I have at least 2 dozen cookbooks in my home, 12 mos worth of recipes on file in my favorites bar.  We eat the same foods over and over and over again and I'm sick of them!  This past week, Katie made Beef Wellington.  Sam (aka Alan) made some elaborate recipe, and my young friend V has been experimenting in the kitchen all week long now that she has B to cook for on a daily basis.  I have had food envy for two weeks past.  It used to be that I attempted new recipes more often, that I felt inspired in the kitchen.  I think I need to stretch myself a little and try some of these recipes in these cookbooks.  I wouldn't mind having some new go to recipes. 

9.  I miss the fresh garden produce I grew up eating.  I can buy reasonably fresh foods but really fresh...Not at the grocery.  Purchasing and eating our local peaches helped drive that point home.  I think gardening is in my future.  And more local purchases during the seasons.  Hello farmers market.

10.  I could have done better with spending even with the purchase of better quality items.  I didn't use Ninja skills, I just used my usual everyday shopping skills.  Hence we still had deli cheeses, steak, etc. while staying within budget.  I see lots of room for improvement in this area.

I learned a great deal more from this challenge than I expected to, which made it more than worthwhile to have attempted.  I'll definitely be using what I learned as goals for the next month.


Susan in SC said...

Excellent points that you brought out that you learned. I agree that it is indeed harder to cook for 2 after cooking for a family. It just looks like such a small amount, doesn't it? Your Maple Syrup is how I feel about real butter. We are worth the extra cost and I don't use that much - a little goes a long way. We also use real maple syrup as well. Great post Terri!

Rhonda said...

Hello Terri
many of your conclusions fit our situation the same. I have a very hard time resisting good sales as I think those items will never be priced low again. I am also wanting some new recipes!

maybe you should start a new recipe a week challenge to get us going.

hope you have a nice weekend.

Kay said...

I agree with this as well. Our pantry/cooking skills/desires are very similar.

JD said...

I would love to say that my cooking skills were up to par. but your talking to someone ruined homemade chili. You could try one of Grandpa's favorites; Limburger cheese and horse radish sandwich.

Mom2fur said...

Hopped over here from Rhonda's blog!
Wow, you wrote the same blog for 10 years? I'm impressed!
Two of my four kids have moved out already, and the 3rd one is looking. So pretty soon it will be me, my husband and youngest son (who, at this rate, will be with us 'till is 42), which means much smaller meals. I'm really at a point where I'm not much in the mood for a lot of cooking, anyway. I even went so far as to copy recipes from a Southern Living annual that have less than 6 or 7 ingredients or take 30 minutes or less to cook!
I'm so happy to have a farmstand near my house, and I can't wait for local tomatoes!

Mom2fur said...

Oops, I meant to write "'til he's 42."

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