Saturday, February 28, 2009

March Madness

I’m conducting our own version of March Madness in our house this month. We’re eating out the freezer and pantry contents. Why? Because I, in an effort to keep our food costs down, have followed what all the experts have been telling us to do. Buying items on sale with coupons and buying those items in bulk. Buying generic items on sale in bulk. Doing a weekly menu based on what I have on hand and what is on sale. My downfall - when something is on sale that we eat on a regular basis, and I have room, I buy it. I also hate being caught short – stuff for dips and brownie mixes, things that can be quickly thrown together for drop-in guests or that 9:30 announcement the night before that your child volunteered to bring in some nut-free item for the classroom party the next day (store-bought, for the most part due to warnings, is then out, not to mention the stores are CLOSED at that point!). And last, I'm a New Englander who lived through the Blizzard of '78 - a forecast of substantial snow instinctively drives me to the supermarket for food (fighting the instinct now even – have you seen the New England forecast for the next two days?). As a result, I have a packed freezer and shelves overflowing with stuff.

My goal? To spend only $25 a week on essentials – milk, eggs, fresh fruit and veggies, bread, and cold cuts – things that have short shelf lives. I’ve allowed an extra $15 midmonth for our traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef and cabbage, but if I shop the sales, it shouldn’t run that much. Diapers shouldn’t be an issue as Target had a sale and we stocked up. Since we average between $125 and $150 a week on groceries (including shampoo, paper products, diapers, etc.), I’m looking to not only clean out everything and start fresh, but to save a few hundred too. The kids have been motivated to help by being promised a restaurant dinner at the end of the month if the goal is met. Even one meal out still leaves a substantial savings.

The freezer, pantry, and kitchen shelves were inventoried last night, and I was shocked at how much we have on hand. I dare everyone to do it. Write down every item you have, even the half-used items – you’ll be amazed at the amount of food actually in your home. The half box of the-only-food-that-your-child-would-eat-for-the-last-month, now the one item that will not pass through their lips. The baking goods left over from never getting around to baking all those cookies for Christmas. The nine boxes of Annie’s Mac*n*Cheese that were on sale – the one thing guaranteed to be eaten in your house, but now taking up half a shelf in your pantry.

I’m about to pour myself a cup of coffee and sit down with said list. Meals will be determined from what it on hand and will be written on the calendar now. A new meaning to the word “Spring Cleaning” will be realized, I’ll be able to start fresh, and a few hundred dollars will be saved. Wish me luck.

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