What If There Is No Stockpile Of Food?

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Empty Refrigerator
Photo Source: humusak2

All over the world people are struggling to put food on the table. For some it is a temporary situation, for others, it’s ongoing.

When I refer to temporary, it’s longer than a month or so. For the folks that have an ongoing struggle – it’s a daily challenge to provide for their family.

For those in a temporary situation, they’ve probably got a stockpile to eat from to hold them over temporarily. The stockpile I’m talking about is excess food in their pantry, refrigerator, and freezer that’s been acquired over time through sales and/or coupons. It may not been what they want to eat, but it will suffice until things turn around.

But, what if there is no stockpile?

What if you are one of those folks that don’t have anything in their pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to eat, and no extra money in which to buy food?

What should you do?

• If you have family or friends nearby, ask for help. Take whatever kind of help they are able to give you. Even if it’s hard to do, put your pride aside and ask.

• Call your church and ask for help. If you don’t have a church, call a local church (or churches) and ask for help. Not all churches have food pantries, but do have phone numbers to local agencies that will be able to help. Call several churches because one might have a food pantry to provide you with something to eat.

• Contact your local food bank or banks and ask for help.

• Check Freecycle for offers of free food. Post your need on there as well.

• Go to your local government office, and see if they can provide you and your family with some kind of assistance.

After exhausting the above options, there are some ways you can make some fast cash so that you can buy groceries:

• Sell your blood/plasma. Find out if your area, or a larger city near you has a facility (http://www.dciplasma.com/donors_find.html) www.dciplasma.com/donors_find.html that will pay you for your plasma. Here in my town you can make about $175 per month donating your plasma, but I believe you get paid each time you donate (weekly). They may have age and health restrictions so call and check and also find out how they pay you.

• Do you have any silver, gold, or platinum laying around? Maybe it’s jewelry, or silverware, or an old tea set that belonged to your great grandmother. Gather it together and take it to your local gold buying dealer. Do not hesitate to shop at two or 3 places to get the best price, either. Be sure to check out their web site to see if they offer a coupon that will give you additional money if what you bring them is over a certain value (Example: Earn an additional $10 when your gold, silver, etc., is valued over $100).

• Do you have some items in the house that still have the sales tags on them (clothing)? Most stores today will take the item back without a receipt. The store might not give you cash back, but you’ll have a store card to use and hopefully the item/s were purchased, from a store that carries food.

• What about scrap metal – copper, aluminum (from cans), steel? Your local scrap metal yard will pay by weight for these things and more.

• This may not be immediate cash, but look around your home and see what you can sell on craigslist, thredUP, Tradesy and download the apps for Yard Sale Treasure Map, PoshMark, Vinted, and ThreadFlip. (You might think about keeping it for sale locally so you don’t have to spend money to ship the item or include the cost of shipping in the price of the item.)

• If you live in a place that permits yard/garage sales, gather some items from your home and sell them. If you don’t live in a place that permits yard/garage sales, perhaps there’s an area in your town where you’ve seen people along the roadside selling things. Box up some of your things and bring them to one of those locations to sell.

• Some towns have flea markets. Rent a space at your local flea market to sell your items.

Do you have any additional tips on places people can get food now, today or other ways to make some fast cash? Please share them in the comments below.

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To Coupon or Not

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Now that you have taken inventory of your pantry, refrigerator, freezer, and created a menu plan from what you have on-hand – it’s time to make your grocery list of the items you need to complete any ‘partial’ meals on your menu plan.

As you can see from my example, I have a few meals that are incomplete, so I have created a grocery list of the items I need to complete those meals:
Using Coupons or Not

Once you are finished adding those items to your grocery list, go through the sales circular* to see if any of those items are on sale. If they are – f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c ! Then check your coupons to see if you have any to use for the items on your grocery list.

What’s that? You don’t use coupons? No worries if you don’t, but did you know that you could save a ton of money if you did?

*(If you don’t have a circular to thumb through just go to your grocery store website. Most have them posted online so that you don’t have to buy the paper to get them, or drive to each store to pick them up.)

Coupons are not for everyone, and I will be the first to admit that I only started using coupons a few years ago.

It all started because I was grumbling to a colleague that food prices keep going up. I must have complained quite often because one day she asked me if I could meet her at the grocery store after work so that she could show me the art of couponing. I told her I had used them every once in a while but to me $.25 wasn’t worth the trouble. She told me that my world was about to change – and was she right!

That evening she had a short list and a short stack of coupons, but the items I remember specifically were yogurt, and Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner. She told me that both were on sale that week, the store doubles coupons up to $.99 and she has coupons for those items. She also informed me of the store’s coupon policy, and told me that every store has their own policy and to make sure I know it before handing over coupons.

With coupons she got the yogurt for free, and the cleaner for $.50! I was sold on couponing and started buying the Sunday paper and printing what I could online.

In the weeks that followed I noticed that there is almost always yogurt coupons, and usually a sale somewhere on them (that’s why it’s important to know your prices). When you see that item for sale, and you have a coupon to go with the sale – by knowing your prices you’ll know if you are getting that yogurt for a rock-bottom price! If there is an off-brand (generic) that’s cheaper, than you know the coupon and sale on that other yogurt is not a good deal. Stick to the lowest price, the cheapest of the cheap – be a frugal shopper and I promise you that you’ll slowly start to feel more in control of your food budget!

If you don’t use your head when you use coupons, you will end up with products you don’t normally buy – a lot of them being processed food. When being tempted by a coupon because with a sale you can get it for next to nothing, you should really decide if you can get the generic version cheaper, or if you can make it yourself (which is always the healthier option). I am a big proponent of why buy it, when you can make it yourself?!

Before my colleague taught me about the coupon world as she knows it, I was always embarrassed to use a coupon to save a quarter off a product – I really didn’t think it was worth the effort of cutting them out of the inserts for a quarter, either. My mom had the same thoughts until I grabbed her hand and pulled her into the coupon world – now she loves her free or almost free yogurt if nothing else. It also made me feel good to be able to help her save additional money – finally I taught her something! 😀

I have to admit it’s been fun to check out with people online behind me, I have 12+ bags of groceries and the total after coupons is around $23. My savings averaged 66% every week – I loved it and loved seeing my husband’s face when he’d carry the groceries in the door and I’d tell him the total cost.

I used to love handing a coupon to someone in an aisle that was checking out an item that was on sale that I just happened to have a coupon for. I would hand it to them, tell them how much it would cost after coupon and sale price and they were thrilled! I was thrilled to teach them a little something about couponing too! I loved it even more when I was able to purchase many items for a food pantry (items on the list they provide) that were all on sale and that I had coupons for!

I am not as hardcore with coupons as I used to be mainly because I ‘try’ to only use coupons for healthier, unprocessed foods – and if you are familiar with them you know there are not as many healthier options. But that’s okay, because shopping smarter by buying only what’s on sale (and if you can – focus on the loss leaders), you are still ahead of the game!

Wow, I wandered way off….

Okay, so you’ve made your grocery list, and you’ve checked your circulars. Now is the time to try (if you have a few extra dollars) to do a little stocking up, and that’s where the first page of the circular comes in handy. For example: Let’s say that Food Lion has chicken leg quarters on sale for $.69/lb this week (know your prices – THIS is a GREAT PRICE!). They come in a 10 lb. bag – and I know I am out of chicken leg quarters that my husband just loves baked with my secret seasonings! You’re thinking, 10 lbs? Is she crazy? Actually, no I am not. Here’s why:

I buy a 10 lb. bag (have never had the extra funds to purchase two – but one day!!!) bring them home, cut/separate the leg from the thigh, and then bag 2 legs/2thighs per bag, label, date and freeze them. That’s a lot of dinners for hubby and me for very little money!!! If he had it his way, he would have mac-n-cheese with this meal every time, but it doesn’t always work out that way if cheddar is not on sale – so often it’s chicken flavored rice, and broccoli.

I can’t emphasize this enough – know your prices. Even though it’s on the front page of the circular, it may not be the lowest price they sell it for. Eventually you will know what the best price is for a certain item and you can take advantage when they sell it at that price and stock up. Every so often one of my local grocery stores sells split chicken breasts for $.99/lb. That’s a steal and I would purchase that over boneless, skinless chicken breasts that go on sale for the rock-bottom price of $1.99/lb. any day of the week. It’s so easy to cut the chicken from the bone if I must have it boneless, but more often than not, I’ll dump a batch in a large stock pot of water and cook them that way; making broth and cooking the chicken for additional meals.

Okay, so you’ve made your list, checked the circular, looked to see if you have coupons for the items on your list, added additional items to stock up on and now, if you have some time to spare, check out your grocery store aisle-by-aisle. Because a lot of times they have unadvertised specials, or items marked down and labeled with a clearance price. You might have a coupon for those unadvertised specials, so bring them all with you, so you can get the cheapest price possible for every item you buy – you frugal shopper you!

Our Sunday newspaper costs about $1.50 (and I used to buy it for the coupons) – did you know that you can go to Dollar Tree to purchase your Sunday paper (with all the inserts) for $1.00?! Did you know that if you just want specific coupons, you can just go online and order any amount of the coupons you want from a coupon clipping service?

More information on Coupon and Savings Resources online in tomorrow’s post!

Don’t forget to sign up for your free 30-page booklet that includes a menu planner, pantry, refrigerator, freezer inventory, etc. You can find the sign up in the upper-right corner of the web page!

How do you feel about coupons – do you use them or not, and why? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Creating A Frugal Menu Plan

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Creating A Menu Plan2
I never used a menu plan until I started my leaner journey. I realized that knowing exactly what I have on-hand helps me put together (in my mind) the meals we would eat for the week, or for the next several days if that’s all I had left in my pantry or freezer. I got very creative, and was able to shop from my food storage and not have to spend money at the grocery store when I didn’t need to.

You know best what your family likes to eat, and chances are, even what you have on-hand in your pantry are food items that your family eats (even if it’s not regularly).

A frugal mindset takes practice. It means changing a habit such as stopping for take-out on the way home from work, and instead, cooking a meal at home.

The last thing you want to do though is try and figure out what you are going to fix for dinner while you are at work, or as soon as you walk in the door. Frugally speaking, this should be a well thought-out plan that you’ve written down a week, or even a month in advance.

Planning your meals reduces the stress and cost, and by doing your own cooking you know exactly what ingredients are going into your meal making for much healthier options. Another nice feature of having a menu plan is posting on one of the kitchen cabinet doors or the refrigerator door – no one will ask you what’s for dinner anymore because they’ll have easy access to the menu to check for themselves.

Start with going through your inventory to see how many meals you can create from what you have on-hand. Next, write down those meals that you have almost all the ingredients for and make a grocery list of the items you’ll need to complete those meals. You might have enough on-hand for more than a weeks’ worth of meals, or more.

Before going to the grocery store with your list, go through the weeks’ sales flyers (in your Sunday paper), or look them up online. I actually have 3 grocery stores within a 1.5 mile radius in which I shop – so I check all 3 sales flyers. If I happen to need Milk or Eggs, I’ll also check my local pharmacy flyers such as CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid as I can often get eggs for $.99/dozen, and a gallon of Milk for about $3.27 (in my part of the country Milk is around $4.08 per gallon).

Don’t forget to check your coupon stash or check here and here (if you use coupons) to see if you have any to match up with what’s on your list and/or what’s on sale (for bigger savings).

Every week when the sales flyers come out, make your menu from the items in the flyer. Try to focus on items located on the front page – which the stores refer to as their “Loss Leaders.” These are the items they will be losing money on when they have them on sale, but are put on the front page in hopes to lure you into their store to buy more than just what’s on the front page. That is how they make up for taking a hit on the items on the front page.

There was a period of three weeks not far into the distant past in which we had no money for groceries. We had food to make it through but the only meat we had left in the freezer was chicken, and let me tell you that by the end of the second week I was running out of ideas/ways to make chicken. I told someone a long time ago that I could live on chicken for breakfast lunch and dinner, but after that 3 week episode of nothing but chicken – I am not so sure anymore. :-/

Don’t forget you can request free my 30-page booklet that includes my menu plan, 3 different inventory lists, and grocery price list just by entering your email address into the area in the upper right part of my web site.

How have using menu plans helped you? What advice would you share with the rest of us?

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What Meals Can I Make With The Ingredients I Have On-Hand?

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These sites are great when your freezer and pantry items are getting low and only have a little bit of this or that left or your food budget has been depleted and payday isn’t for a couple of days.

You simply type in the ingredient(s) you have on hand, and the search engine will match them up with recipes that have those ingredients in them.

These have been a great lifesaver for me and my family when funds are low and there are slim pickings to choose from!

All Recipes – Search

Super Cook – Search

My Fridge Food

Recipe Puppy – beta

RecipeLand – Search

My Recipes – Search – (You can search this site by main ingredient, such as chicken.)

Recipe Matcher – Search

Taste of Home – Search

Good Housekeeping – Search

Cooking – Search

I will be adding meal ideas and tried and true recipes, as well.

Have you used any of these search engines, or do you use one not mentioned here? I’d love to learn about it in the comments!

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Taking Inventory

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Pantry Inventory(Photo source: Sofi)

It’s a great idea to start out by taking stock of what you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.

While you are taking an inventory of what you have on-hand, it might be a good time to make sure that none of your pantry food items have past their expiration date, also to move the items closest to expiring to the front of your cabinets so they get used up first, and the items that won’t be expiring for quite a while to the back.

I was horrified when I did this at all the wasted food I had to throw away. I am too ashamed to tell you just how much of the food was tossed in the trash but I felt so sad about it I asked God to forgive me for wasting so much food.

That was life changing for me.

When you have finished taking inventory, create a separate list of everything you can make only from what you have in stock. Hopefully you’ve got enough in your pantry for a few days, a week or more!

Did you notice while you were taking inventory it was easier to put together some meal ideas? Meal planning becomes a snap when you know what you have.

I know that what we have in our pantry is not always what we want to eat. Sometimes it’s more often than not. But to save money, I use up what I have. Other times, there is no money to save, so I just thank God for the food we have on-hand to eat.

One of the meals that I discovered I could make was a pot of vegan split pea soup with what I had on-hand: dried split peas, carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. I also had 1.5 cups of chopped ham in the freezer if I wanted this meal non-vegan (so that my husband would eat it).

Sometimes though looking at the list – it wasn’t so obvious. I would sit and stare at my list and the creative juices for meal planning had dried up. There’s a simple solution for this, and also for those ingredients you can probably make some type of meal from, but aren’t quite sure what to do with them to create that meal. I’ve got the solution for you, later on in this post!

To make it easier for you to take inventory and plan your meals I have created a free 30-page booklet filled with forms for tracking prices at the grocery store, food inventories, and menu planning. Just enter your email address in the upper right portion of the web site and I will send it to you in an email.

Once you’ve finished your inventory lists, I would recommend attaching the pantry list to the inside of the pantry door, and the refrigerator/freezer one on the door of the appliance itself. Start creating the habit of marking them when you use an item, or when you add to your inventory – that way you will always know what you have, or, what you need to purchase soon.

Now for that solution I mentioned earlier for meal ideas using what you have on hand? Click here.

Do you currently use an inventory system for your kitchen? Would love it if you would share any helpful tips in the comments section!

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Knowing Your Prices

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Price Shopping
(photo source: Ben)

It wasn’t more than a handful of years ago that I didn’t pay much attention to what things cost in the grocery store. I would go to the grocery store armed with my list and just grab the items needed from the shelf and put them in the shopping cart. Often times I would put additional items in my cart that weren’t on my list.

*Gasp*

I know, I know. I am sitting here shaking my head, hanging it low in shame.

I cringe now when I think about how careless I had been with the money I had earned and the food I had wasted. It was bad enough that I didn’t price shop, but I think it was worse that a lot of that food sat on the shelves in my pantry or buried in the refrigerator or freezer well past its prime eating date and I would end up tossing it. Whenever I had to throw away uneaten food I would visualize taking that same money out of my wallet and just throwing it directly into the garbage because that’s what I was doing.

I can hear my mother’s voice in my head right now saying, “always go with a list, and never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.” I should add that she told me buying generic was always the cheaper alternative, however, I have discovered it all depends on what part of the country you live in. It’s not always the case, which is why it’s so important that you know your prices.

How else will you know if that split chicken breast you are buying at $0.99 per pound is a good deal or not? And YES, that’s a GREAT price, but better still is when whole chickens or leg quarters go on sale at $0.69 per pound.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember all the prices for the items I buy on a regular basis, so I created my own grocery price list. Sometimes I bring it with me, other times I flip through it at home and transfer the info onto my grocery list. I’ve also added more items to that list that I don’t buy every week, but often enough to want to know the best price for them as well.

Keeping a grocery price list will also help you see the sales cycles of your local stores – eventually you’ll see a pattern emerge to be able to predict when a particular store will have whole chickens on sale again at the lowest price or some other item that you buy most frequently. That is when you want to stock up on that item, if you are able to. If you are unable to stock up, at least you’ll be able to purchase it at the cheapest price possible.

Along with keeping a grocery price list is being flexible enough to shop at several stores. The area in which I live has 3 grocery stores all within a 2-mile radius. In fact, 2 of them are directly across the street from each other. Try to wipe out the attitude that only 1 store in your area has the cheapest prices because I can attest to the fact that mindset will not get you the cheapest prices.

For example: the priciest grocery store in my area has the cheapest eggs (per dozen) than any other store and between them and one of the local drug stores I can often get them on sale for $0.99 per dozen. I can also purchase saltine-type crackers (a 4-pack) there more cheaply than anywhere else, and half-n-half as well. Most of the time I purchase Milk at Costco as it’s often the cheapest price around, but lately the price has been fluctuating, so there are times when my priciest grocery store offers a sale that makes milk a more frugal purchase with them then at Costco.

I remember a discussion with my husband one time when I sent him to pick up half and half. He made the remark that it’s only $.10 cheaper than the rest of the brands they offered. I told him that if we go through 2 quarts per week, that’s $10.40 per year we’ll save.

I thought I grew a second head with the way he looked at me, but I explained that the bigger picture is that it all adds up: we save $21.00 to $54.00 per year on Milk alone, and the savings on eggs are $26.00 – $52.00 per year. That’s only 3 items that I mentioned where the max savings will be about $100 per year. Add Bread to that total and the savings jump up to $217 per year. (I make our bread – it’s cheaper, healthier and tastes so much better than the breads purchased in the store.) He understands what it all means now.

Starting a grocery price list is easy. The hard part is remembering to take it with you, or, recording your purchases in it when you return home. Once you’ve established the habit, it will become second nature to you – I promise!

I created a grocery price list that I use for my household that I’d love to share with you along with some other forms that I use regularly. To get the 30-page packet free, just sign up by email and the forms that I have created will be emailed to you!

Do you keep a grocery price list? Do you have anything to share about knowing your prices? Please share your feedback below! Thanks!

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