Retirement Remedies: Fighting Back

  Grocery Savings, Part II

In Part I, I shared food savings.  In Part II I'd like to share how I hope to save money on the rest of the grocery budget.

#1.  On a roll. Toilet paper, paper towels, aluminum foil, waxed paper, parchment paper, plastic wrap...If it's on a roll it's probably in our homes.  I tried years ago to cut down on paper towel and it worked rather well, to the point that now a 2-3 roll  package of paper towel might well last us 6 months unless we have a really big messy mess.  I started weaning us away from paper towel by putting a big bowl (you could use a basket as well), on the counter, filled it with dishcloths and put the roll of paper towel under the counter.  It worked very well and later when I found the vintage paper dispenser (it says paper towel, waxed paper and foil on the front of each holder) I removed the dish cloths and hung that.  Again out of sight and mostly out of mind.  I highly recommend hiding the roll and offering up dish cloths unless you are blessed to find one these handy vintage paper dispensers. (which abound on eBay though none are quite like mine...nor half as well priced as mine was either!).

It was interesting to me that this vintage holder won't hold a roll of foil over 25ft, so I buy the tiny rolls to put in it. Those big super thirsty rolls of paper towel...don't fit either.  We're back to skinnier store brand rolls. Waxed paper hasn't changed size in the past 60 years that I can tell so they still fit perfectly.  It's also interesting that not only do we now use less paper towel, but I use far less aluminum foil and when I do use it I've gotten very accurate at measuring about what I'll need, whereas with the big boxes of rolls I often pulled out far too much and just used it anyway.

In my home, I've never used plastic wrap.  All I ever did was fight those silly things anyway, and the last box I bought some 20 odd years ago I tossed right into the trash and said 'No more!'  I don't miss it, I really don't.

I use waxed paper lightly, usually about a roll every 9 months.  I mostly use it to put between anything I wrap in foil for storage.  Parchment paper is another light use item in my home.

Toilet paper is pretty much one item we're probably going to keep using.  Since we don't have kids at home we're not using loads of the stuff but that said, I have noted a tendency on my part to use more than I need. I am not referring to getting super chintzy (in the South that means stingy and cheap which really is maligning chintz badly as it's so pretty).  I won't be counting off sheets by the 1s and 2s by any means, but I do tend to wind it around and around and around my hand when I'm dispensing it and it's unnecessary and wasteful. This is one area I can address and am trying to be more conscious of need versus mindlessness.

Last, I want to say that any time I can buy in bulk and save I plan to do so.  Target has some especially good buys about once a quarter on Charmin, Angel Soft and Up brand toilet paper and Bounty, Viva and Up brand paper towels.  It's well worth the little extra time it takes to visit the store and stock up on toilet paper. For me it's  the most reasonable and insures we get a septic safe brand (Angel Soft for us) that doesn't cause an allergic reaction.  I haven't always planned my shopping to include this even when I knew it was on sale.  I will remedy that in the future months.

#2.  Building Pantry Muscle.  You'd think, since I addressed the pantry in the foods section I'd be satisfied to let it go at that.  I've done well at stocking my pantry with food despite letting it get a little low at present but I've ignored several areas entirely: stocking up on paper, personal care, pet and cleaning items.  I did one stock up this year on laundry detergent.  I used a CVS sale, coupons and ECB rewards to buy 6 jugs of laundry detergent for $2.59.  That's enough to last us about a year (I have three on my shelf at present).  And there's no reason why I should not be able to stock up on the rest of these items (with the exception of pet needs) free or at very low prices if I pay attention and work the deals.

I have made a few cleaning products that work exceptionally well.  I'll keep making those.  Other's I'm cautious of overusing as I find the vinegar is corrosive on some surfaces.  I have worked deals on window cleaner and Pinesol and have enough to last another year easily.

I've tried making my own laundry detergent.  We have very soft water here and it creates a world of problems all it's own with clogged drains which limits us in what soaps, shampoos, detergents we can use. When I find a product that works well for us, we just keep on buying it until they change the formula and it doesn't.  We can't use any type of powdered detergents at all, so I am limited in what I can buy/make but not in how I buy it.

Shampoos, razors, toothpaste, toothbrushes, facial cleaners and moisturizers, soaps...I have had limited amounts of these in stock but again, a year's worth would be nice and if bought on sale with coupons can be stocked for free or very low prices indeed.  It's all about paying attention to sales, seeking out coupons and making the effort.  And I am well aware that just consistently sitting down to attend to this will eventually net me a stock even if I don't do one huge bulk buying session.  I do believe in little steps equalling great journeys!

#3.  Storage Wars.  I have given up buying plastic containers for food storage.  The few I have now either came as packaging for a product or were given to me with food in them.

I save glass jars.  Wide mouth salsa and pickle jars are the bomb for food storage.  They are clear, so I can see what is in them, I can reuse multiples of times, they are sturdy and the wide mouth helps me get stuff in them without spilling.  I have one clear vintage stackable glass container.  It was fairly cheap ($3) but every one I've found since has been about four or five times that!

I suggest caution when freezing foods in glass jars. I've had them crack more than once even with plenty of headroom.  I generally use a proper canning jar if I'm freezing an item and make sure it says it is okay for freezing.  You can just imagine the sick feeling I had when I opened my freezer and found four badly broken (but solidly frozen) jars of milk.  Never again, I said.  And I almost made it to never but recently (stupidly) froze chicken broth in a non-canning jar and it busted, too.  Hopefully I've made my way round that learning curve.

This year I bought a dozen wide mouth canning jars at Tractor Supply and have used them for dry storage in the pantry which is very handy.  I find it prudent to repackage a good many foods since ants sometimes attempt to make inroads into my stored foods.

For John's lunch bag I often use smaller jars (about 1/2 cup) that I buy pimentos in but half pint canning jars would also work well.   I have five Anchor Hocking glass containers with plastic lids that I have used.  Those are handy but don't keep a tight seal for wet items and the lids do break down.  I'm currently researching to see if I can replacement lids reasonably. So far they are too high to suit me.  If not, then I'll look for other container options in which he might heat food and be safe.

I tend to use my lidded casseroles for food storage in the fridge too, but it does tie them up so I can't use them.  I have to plan carefully when they are in the fridge!

Zippered plastic baggies are handy and convenient but costly.  I have learned to reuse them many times, washing them between uses, which makes them far more cost effective.  I do use them in the freezer to store meats.  I do not re-use those.  Recently I've made the decision to stop buying the sandwich sized bags.  All too often those are the flimsiest and the least used size and it will net a small savings.

I am going to start saving bread sacks as well, something I did long ago.   Those will become my 'meat bags'. Typically I package meat in a smaller zippered bag then place the same types in a large zippered bag, for instance, all chicken breasts are packaged 2 to a package and then put in a zippered bag marked 'breasts'. In future I'll use bread sacks for the first packaging step.  I use labels now in the kitchen and I can put those on the bread sacks as well just in case there are strays from the bulk packaging.

#4.  Potted Garden.  I've played at gardening thus far.  A handful of peas, a few tomatoes, some herbs, lettuce, 8 carrots..that's all I've grown thus far.  I've had enough success to feel I can do this and do it better and more consistently than I have thus far.  John and I have acres of land here, at least 3 of which are clear but we don't have the equipment nor the money to buy it, to make a garden.  Rentals would entail having a truck to haul the items to the house and our truck is not the most reliable.  We're reluctant to take it any further than town.  So for now, potted garden is the way to go.  I am slowly collecting five gallon and galvanized buckets and plan to start a compost bucket or pile so that I have good fertilizer.  My goal is to grow something 12 months a year.  I live in a relatively mild climate so this doesn't seem impossible.

#5.  Gleaning.  Pecans, blackberries, wild blueberries, scuppernongs, muscadines all grow wild here.  I've noted signs for free pears this season, as well.  Occassionally a producer will allow gleaning after harvest. I once gleaned 25 quarts of peaches from a commercial orchard.  Gleaning is one of those things I used to do.  I'd put up enough of these items in the freezer (or make jams and jellies) to last us the rest of the year. I mean to return to those 'old' ways of mine and use them to expand my food storage.

#6.  The Art of Preserving.  Canning is another skill I've not used consistently in the past few years...Time to re-learn it.  I put up butter beans for the freezer this year and peaches but here's where I fail to be consistent.  I made no effort at all to go buy corn in bulk this year and put up corn.  When I glean, or purchase seasonal foods in bulk, or grow them, I'll want to be able to preserve them if I have more than we can eat at one meal.  And of course, I could can small batches.  I don't have to be big bulk buys.  Canning, freezing, making jams and jellies, are all things I want to begin to do once again to extend my food storage and to decrease my food costs.

#7.  Use What I Have.    I have a pressure cooker that will hold pint jars, which is the most we shall need for just the two of us.  Pressure cookers are also wonderful for tenderizing tougher cuts of meat...It's a tool I've had in my kitchen that is sitting there unused.   I'll learn how to use the thing instead of letting it just sit.

I have crockpots (smaller and regular size), a blender, cast iron dutch oven, a waffle iron, a meat slicer, an ice cream maker.  Every single one of these is a tool, as much as my knives and cutting boards, my pots and pans and my mixer.  I mean to learn how to use them all and let them help me with the savings they can bring.

#8.  Coupons and Sales.  I've let this skill lie fallow the past couple of years with the exception of the laundry detergent purchase at the first of this year.  Time to pull this skill back to the forefront.  True I can't use them at Aldi but I don't do all of my shopping at Aldi.  I want to apply a principle to purchases that I used to use with some success in one of my jobs: buy on sale, in bulk if possible and never pay full price.  I'm not talking about the extreme couponers sort of stocking up but I am talking about saving as much money as I can for what we can reasonably use.  It won't upset me to have a year's supply of toothpaste or worcestershire sauce.

#9. Planning Committee.  Having bulk foods on hand, combining sales/coupons with needs and building a stockpile, canning, cooking, using up leftovers means all involve planning, planning and planning.  I'm going to start planning meals twice each week, as suggested in a 1930's Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  The second planning session is meant to use up those leftovers.  I might not want to put them on my menu, but I can use my leftover makeover plan to put an entree in the freezer for a future meal.  I want to plan to shop weekly in order to take advantage of sales and coupon combinations.  I also want to know what our usage of items is so that I don't overstock and generate unnecessary waste.  I've already shared that I plan to take pantry inventory more often in order to closely monitor expiration dates.  All of this takes time and planning to make it happen.

I want to plan carefully what I'll buy.  I've made the mistake more than once of buying some new item in bulk and then we didn't like it as well as I thought we might.  I'd rather buy one and try it and stock up on next sales cycle.  My second mistake in stocking up?  Buying what someone suggested I ought to have on  a food storage list somewhere online.  I will buy what we actually eat and use, not what I wish we did, not what someone suggests we ought.

I want to carefully plan what I put up.  Many foods are not good for much more than a few months in the freezer.  So knowing what we will reasonably use is going to be very important. And I might add that actually using  it and not saving it indefinitely (a very bad quality of mine) should go into that planning process as well.

I want to plan carefully so that my time and energy are not exhausted.  It's important to me to balance work with play and rest.  I'll have to plan my time carefully for that, too.  I've watched many a woman work herself into exhaustion and then savings went right out the window.  So you see there's a savings in keeping tabs on myself as well as my stockpiles.

#10. Recycle Water.  After my current dishwashing liquid clogged our kitchen drain, I went back to the old fashioned habit of a dishpan in my sink.  I've been taking that water out to pour over plants at the end of the day.  While it might not seem a savings habit, for us it is: the more water runs the more likely we are to use electricity.  Watering plants with recycled water (from glasses, dish pan, steaming veg, boiling eggs) is a great bonus for plants and if I'm going to have a container garden I'm going to need water for sure.  So I want to get in the habit of recycling our water and keep the habit going.

Growing up here on the property some things were a lot different than they were at home.  Granny filled the bathroom sink about 1/3 full of water.  That's where all seven of us grandkids washed our hands before we ate.  A bucket of water and a dipper was our drink station.  There was no opening and shutting the fridge a dozen times nor did we run water for glasses of water that might potentially be sipped from and then poured out.  I am sure a lot of these things were hold-outs from her growing years when water was hauled to the house by the bucketful countless times a day, but Granny saw it as a savings on electricity as well.

#11. Separation Notice.  I started this about two months ago and I did it for very good reason.  I started keeping a can or two of all the food items in the kitchen and the bulk of the pantry stock items IN THE PANTRY. I found that when I had bulk portions of food in the kitchen I used more than I might if I had the mindset of "Oh I only have two cans of this."  It's a hard line to draw, especially since I mean to start keeping track of pantry stock monthly, but it's a necessary mindset for ME.  If you have loads of control then by all means, set up foods wherever and however it best suits you.  Since my pantry is located in the guest/craft room this works for me very well.

#12. How Low Can I Go?  With the work schedule John has now, we have one regular pay period a month.  The second pay period?  That is what we refer to as the 'short' one.  There are fewer hours in that pay period and unless overtime opens up and John's feeling up to taking it, it stays short.  So I'm thinking that for 1 week each month I will do a pantry freezer challenge instead of randomly doing one every few months. It should offset the 'ouch' factor of that pay period since we have about half as much money for groceries during that time.  If I can manage a "produce/dairy/bread/completely out of/" trip during that time frame, we should be able to manage far better.

I read an item by Frugal Queen this week and she suggested the questioner pull every single thing from her pantry/cupboards etc.  and use them.  Well that's my intent.  To use that pantry challenge week to use about to expire items, items that  for whatever reason I've let just hang out in my pantry, freezer, etc., use up the personal care items that are almost but not quite empty...You get the idea.  I had a moment to try my hand at it tonight preparing supper.  I needed a little onion but we have no onion in the house.  In fact, we ran out of onion last weekend.  I'd meant to buy more while out with Mama and we didn't go near a grocery.  I avoided going into town to our local grocery...I dug about and found some dried minced onion and rehydrated 1 tbsp of that to use.  It worked fine.  Well enough that I might just possibly get another bottle to keep in the pantry for future needs.

I have more suggestions but can't think of them at the moment.  This is going to be an ongoing thing, so we'll catch up and add those items I've left out at another time.


Anonymous said...

You do use only the wide mouth canning jars in the freezer don't you? The ones with 'shoulder's the food freezes and pushes up and out the shoulders and breaks jars.I bought a box of the ball plastic lids to use on the jars when I freeze or put them in the fridge. No rusting. Also the tops of the regular size Parmesan cheese containers..the ones with the 2 types of openings fit the small mouth canning jar. Make your own spice tops that way. Fits the tiny to the larger size jars. Do you have or want fruit trees for your land? Some agriculture departments or gardening clubs etc give the fruit trees or bushes out free. Keep checking and asking. At our once a year community gathering they give trees. Ask your supervisors or call the clubs etc. To pressure can you need a pressure canner not a pressure cooker. The one keeps a constant pressure high enough to can. There is one old brand that was both. check. You can make freezer jellies too. I love using the shower or dish washing water on some plants. I take it out at night and that one watering chore is done! We are on water restriction so this the way I am keeping the bushes watered at all. Also other things. You can use the cast iron pot with lid to make no knead bread. We use the L.A. Times version and it never fails. I do use the food Saver to wrap meats for the freezer if I know I will not be using them pretty soon. It really has stopped freer bush etc. But again I am not over stocking any more. Learned my lesson!! :) I wrote down several of your ideas and know there are several I am going to do too. We hardly ever get any coupons and I do not do CVS and such but have other places we can shop cheap and we garden. Each of us naturally has their own ways to reach our goals. I always love to keep getting better with our budget too and still eat so well. It is so inspiring the hear all the ideas from the ladies!! Thanks Teri! Sarah

Anonymous said...

We do not like the super size of bath towels now. Too big and too long to dry after washing. We can find the small regular size at Walmart . They are the very cheap $2 ones but they work. Only a small selection of colors and the same ones for years. I have thought of adding some lace or ribbon but haven't yet. They have lasted very well. The other day we went into Dollar General. We seldom get to this dollar store. We are stuck in a rut always going to the $1 same stores! There they had bright colors of this size towel! Yea! I got a set of turquoise ones. $2.50 each. We looked around for future reference. Silly,.. but those towel were a fun find for us! The $5 for the towels and $1 valance I found at the used store, a picture moved from another room to there and I have a new look for the bathroom! If I had $100 I couldn't be happier than I am with the look I got for $6. Sarah

Anonymous said...

I like that idea of the twice a week meal planning. I think that will help me. I have always thought when I listed my menus and used the leftovers that I knew would be there for another meal but still there are extras left. Yes, this is a new idea to me and I will definitely try that out! Don't you just wish there were so many magazines you could get now like there used to be for homemakers!! I see them only occasionally at the antique stores and they are so expensive. Usually too they are wrapped so you cannot look inside. The few I have are full of ideas and patterns and all sorts of interesting and useful information. Many of the sentiments expressed in them from say 1920, could be published today and no one would think it was an old article. Many things never change. ;)
One thing I can't get much ahead of its oils. We use them pretty slow even though I get a smaller bottle. Can olive, canola or such oils be put in the refrigerator and kept longer that way? Or part out and part in the refrigerator to keep that half longer? Can sour cream or Philadelphia cream cheese or yoghurt be frozen in your experience? By itself. The texture might be different but can it be frozen and used afterwards? I use plain yoghurt in place of sour cream a lot. As you can see again you have got me thinking! I love it!! Sarah

Glenda said...

Great post!

Sarah, I freeze cream cheese all the time. We purchase it at Sam's Club for a fraction of the grocery store cost.The texture does change to a more crumbly consistency, but since I primarily use it for Overnight Amish Blueberry French Toast, it works great. BTW, the dish mentioned above is a great breakfast casserole and lasts the two of us three mornings.

As Sarah mentioned, a pressure cooker should not be used to can food; only a pressure canner. I have not canned this year, due to a fall that resulted in a fracture this past Spring, and the fact we are in the process of moving. I love to can and if you grow your own food it is very cost effective.

As always, thank you for sharing your ideas - love your blog.

Anonymous said...

What a lot of good ideas!

I have just one quick idea ... if you eat cold cereal, save the bag and use instead of buying waxed paper. Hubs eats cold cereal Sunday morning only. The other days he gets a hot breakfast. When these boxes of cold cereal are gone, he wants me to start making him homemade granola. Much cheaper than buying it and much better tasting too!

This year the garden and apple trees produced abundantly. Yesterday I squeezed out the last of the tomatoes and made pizza sauce - canned 12 pints. Tomorrow I'll use the rest of the apples for applesauce and can it. Then I'm done canning for this year, and let me tell you, I'm glad to be done. ; 0) It's great to see the shelves fill up, but it is a lot of work too.

I see from the comments that this was already somewhat addressed and maybe you already know this, but a pressure canner has the gauge on the top so you know what pressure you are at. Tomatoes are canned at 5 pounds pressure for 8-10 minutes. Other veggies are canned at a higher pressure for much longer. Pam

Mable Hastings said...

One of the things I do so that I can reuse Ziplocs that have held meat, is to first put the meat in a flimsy plastic bag like a bread bag. Then I put the meat into a Ziploc and freeze. When I thaw the food, I reuse the Ziploc (which usually requires only a quick rinse, since it never touched the meat or poultry) with no worries about bacteria and I throw away the flimsy bag that actually touched the meat.

PatsyL said...

I, like you, have been giving my grocery purchases a lot of thought lately. I've found myself stockpiling goods that it will take us the rest of our lives to use up, and I'm not sure that is the best use of our funds. I have to remind myself that the goal is to keep my money in my pocket, which means buying as little as possible at the lowest price possible. I find that planning is the biggest part of success in that effort.
My mother always said that the only way to save money or to get anything done is to stay home. She was so right. I intend to save my energy and my money by staying out of stores and pondering every expenditure until I am satisfied that spending the money is not only justified, but necessary. I've wasted a lot of money in my day on things I wish I had never purchased.
I am really enjoying these posts. I can tell that you have put much thought into them.

Deanna said...

I haven't bought plastic storage bags in several years. I save and reuse bread bags and cereal liner bags (very sturdy). Like you, I keep a roll of paper towels hidden away. About the only thing I use them for these days is to drain corn tortillas after frying for tacos and occasionally for bacon, although most of the time I cook it on a rack over a cookie sheet in the oven and it drains itself. I think it's been at least 2 years since I bought a roll of paper towels.

Have you checked Amazon for toilet paper? I buy recycled toilet paper by the case and use their "subscribe and save" program which saves another 15%. You can easily change the schedule as needed but I have it set up to deliver every 6 months. It's awfully nice to never have to worry about running out of toilet paper. Ha!

I'm going to copy your idea of using a dishpan at least part of the time. We have a HUGE double sink which is great for large items or when doing a lot of dishes but it's overkill when just washing a few things which can't go in the dishwasher. I use a natural, unscented biodegradable dish soap so it will be perfectly safe to dump on outdoor plants. Thanks for the idea!

Vicki in UT said...

Just to expand on the pressure canner comments. The USDA says that the definition of a pressure canner is that it can hold at least 4 quart jars, and has a weight or gauge that will show 5 10, and 15 lbs. pressure. If it is any smaller than that, the processing time is off. When they test recipes for canning, they count the heat up and cool down times as part of the process, so if your pot is smaller, it will heat up and cool down way too fast, and your food won't have processed for enough time.

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