Tag Archives: frugal living

Advice on Saving on Food Costs for Families with Teenage Boys & Men

The Barfield Family, Pam, Richard, Luke, Logan, and Bradley.  James also lives in the household, but is not pictured.

I often see blog posts bragging about feeding large families on a tight budget. When I look, the kids are all 3, 4, and 5 years old. While that’s a challenge on a low income, as a mom of a 17 year old, I know it is heck of a challenge to feed teen boys! I still wonder at times where my son PUTS it all, though overall his appetite is starting to level off somewhat as he’s reaching full maturity. When he was growing so fast, at 14 and 15, there were times I wondered how I was going to be able to afford to feed and clothe him if it got any worse!

I recently talked to Pam Barfield, who is a homeschooling mom with 3 teenage boys, and 2 grown men to feed on a daily basis. I asked her how she manages to afford to cook every day for 6, with 5 of the 6 being either growing teens or men! Her sons are 13, 15, and 16 years old. She often puts 2 stoves to use at once to cook daily meals!

Here are some of her tips:


  • With training in accounting, one of the first things she did when she started trying to save was to take a notebook with her as she shopped, and she listed the prices of her commonly bought items at each store, so she could determine who had the lowest everyday price.
  • Likewise, she started noting how much food was leftover as she cooked, and noting who preferred what dish. Then she started planning her meals around family activities. For instance, if she knows most of her family will be home on Tuesday, she will plan a meal that will yield extra leftovers on Monday. If, however, the family is going to be busy with social or church activities the next day, she will plan a meal that will be just enough for that night.
  • She uses lots of rice, dry beans, and spaghetti to round out meals. This is a great tip, because all these foods contain lots of protein. Rice and beans, together, form a complete protein set with lots of iron, vitamin B, fiber and some minerals. You still need some fresh fruits and vegetables, and a solid source of calcium to get complete nutrition for growing kids, but this is a winning combination for sure.
  • She stockpiles. I do this too. We both find it is an amazing way to save on food costs. When combined with coupons and sales, you simply purchase extra items that you use often during the sales, when you get rock bottom low prices. You buy and store enough to hold you over to the next sale cycle, which runs about every 2 months. Pam has 2 nice cabinets that she keeps stocked with dry & canned goods so that she doesn’t have to pay full price.
  • She does shop multiple stores. She focuses on 3-4 stores that are all within 2 miles of where she lives.
  • She shops The Dollar Store. She finds that the best items to buy there are juice, jelly, cleaning supplies, spices, and aluminum foil. Don’t forget, Dollar Tree now takes coupons too!

  • The Barfields are also home to several fur babies. She tells me that contrary to what one might think, Kroger is actually cheaper on pet food than Walmart, so she buys her pet foods at Kroger.
  • She likes to buy store brands, but only if they are good. Two items that she does NOT like at Kroger are the Kroger brand chicken noodle soup, and their pop tarts.
    (I agree with her on the chicken noodle, I don’t like it either. I do have a list of GOOD generic Kroger brand items here.)
  • She notes it is very important to compare per ounce price. That sometimes smaller is cheaper. I know I’ve noticed this at Walmart in particular. Be very careful buying the larger size, it is often more expensive! She says that if there is a sale, to STILL look at the price per ounce. Sometimes a larger item will be on sale, so you’d naturally think it is the best buy, but if you check, the smaller item is cheaper per ounce!

    I know that conventional wisdom has it that the larger pack is the best deal, but that’s just not always true, you really need to check COST PER OUNCE on everything!

    Meat costs, she says, are especially tricky. At times a recipe has called for 3 pounds of ground beef. She cautions to never grab the 2 pound back and the 1 pound pack, but to instead, look at your cost per pound. She says it is often cheaper to go ahead and buy 5 pounds, and freeze 2, than to buy a 2 pound and 1 pound package. If you notice, the one pound packages are VERY expensive. When I was last at Kroger, they had 1 pound packs for 3.69 a pound, but the 5 pound backs were 2.97 a pound. Watch the price per pound!

  • She prefers instant potatoes to fresh. She says that for her family, if she bought a 10 pound bag, she’d have to use 5 pounds of it at one meal. For a family her size, it’s just easier and cheaper to buy instant potatoes. She says that storage becomes an issue with potatoes, and she likes that the boxes store easily, and how convenient they are. Her family likes them fine, and it is a lot less expensive than fresh.
  • She likes to buy a whole turkey when she catches one on sale. One turkey will feed her crew for at least 2 days. Pan turkey and dressing is one of the options that she uses for leftovers.
  • She said she uses the Kroger website to get good digital coupons there, or sometimes free coupons when they offer free items. She also called 1-800-576-4377 and asked that she be put on coupon mailing lists so she could get coupons mailed to her home. She says that now she gets coupons almost weekly from them. While at the store, she notices if the meat is nearing an expiration date, but has not been marked down. She will take it to the employees of that department and ask them if it is eligible for markdown, and says that often they will mark it down if the date is getting close. She’s done this for dairy, meat, and vegetables.
  • There’s a few snacks she keeps around for the boys. They like the Kroger Brand microwave pizza, which are usually about $1.00. They like corn-dogs, and ramen noodles. I laughed – are there teenage boys that do NOT like these things? I don’t know of any!

    She also always buys up tuna when it is one sale, and makes tuna salad for sandwiches.

Now’s the Time to Stock up on Bell Peppers

This last week I’ve been busy filling my freezer with bell peppers. It seems a lot of the dishes I like best have bell peppers in them – Italian, Curries, Mexican – like fajitas, and Cajun. Yes, I like spicy food!

I get so tired of paying over $1.00 each for bell peppers, and who can afford a red bell pepper for $2.59? That’s how high I saw them last winter. The local farmer’s markets recently had a lot of bell peppers 2/$1, and the beautiful colored peppers 3/$2. I grabbed a bunch. Kroger in the Southeast has them for .59 cents each now as well, if you don’t have access to a farmer’s market or need to be able to pay with food stamps.

They are actually very easy to store and freeze, and I find it not only more economical, but also a good time saver. It’s so nice to just be able to reach in and get what I need, pre-cut, and ready! That’s why I cut my peppers in a variety of shapes. Some I dice, some I cut in long strips, and others I cut in bigger square chunks.

Select large, unblemished peppers at the lowest price you can find. Late September, early October is a great time to buy them.

First wash the peppers:

Then pat them dry with a paper towel and cut them in shapes that you cook with.
Lay them in a single layer in a shallow pan or on a cooking sheet. I use wax paper to line mine.

Then simply place in the freezer for an hour or two. Take them out, and place them in a resealable container. I use the Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids.

That’s really all there is to it. Now when you’re ready to cook, just open your container and take what you need. Freezing them this way keeps them all separate so they don’t clump up.

They taste great in cooked food and are a real timesaver. Over the winter, we’ll save a lot by having a good supply of bell peppers in the freezer, so we don’t have to pay twice or more when we need one. The only exception is when fresh peppers are needed, but for us, that’s pretty rare.

Onions can be frozen the same way. There are other ways of storing onions, so for me the main benefit of freezing them is to save time in food prep, or for saving onions that are leftover, for instance, when a recipe calls for half an onion. IF I don’t think I’ll use the other half soon, I go might go ahead and cut the whole thing, then freeze half of it.

What’s Cooking? Johnsonville Italian Sausage

This week my ‘big buy’ was Johnsonville ® Italian Sausage at Kroger, which I stocked up on. I bought 6 packs because I have a limited, $30.00 grocery budget this week. That’s ok – by stocking up and utilizing my stockpile and garden, we eat well and have plenty! I purchased some portabellas too, because I have several packs of imitation crab, and the seafood portabellas are looking good! They call for crab and Italian sausage. Recipe for Italian Seafood Portabellas

We’ve discovered that Italian sausage is often much less expensive than ground beef, and tastes as good, indeed, better, in many dishes. We use it in lasagne, spagetti and other pasta dishes, on pizza, and as a stuffed bread dish using the 15 minute a day breaddough.

Italian Sausage freezes well and it is easy to work with, and I find that there is much less fat than with 80/20 beef. I also like how it is easy to use a couple of links at a time, and freeze the rest. Often I only need a couple for pizzas. I remove mine from the casings, I just take a sharp knife and cut down the side – the sausage comes out cleanly and easily.

Johnsonville Italian Sausage is on sale at Kroger for $3.99 a pack this week. Locally Kroger doubles (many do) so after .50 coupons it was $2.99 a pack. Ronzoni Garden Pasta is $1.00 a box, and with the 1.00 off coupons that are out, it was free. I found both of these great coupons on which is my favorite coupon site.

Also, Carolina Pride ® Bologna is $1.00 a pack, and is free if you have the .50 cent coupon from the 7/31/2011 SS Insert and your store doubles. I’m not a huge fan of bologna, but I do like it on Subway’s ® Cold Cut Combos, which can be easily made at home.

So that’s how I’m stretching my dollars this week. If anyone has a good Italian Sausage recipe, please share it!

Savings Braindump 4 – Using Leftovers

Leftovers can often be frozen. Barbecue is something I love to make a HUGE pot of, and then I freeze it in small portions. I buy the 10 pounds of legs and thighs and cook it all. They usually run about $6.00 around here. Then I drain the meat and debone it and turn it in to barbecue. Sometimes I might set some aside for a chicken pot pie. Then I freeze several small batches for quick lunches or for dinner when I don’t want to cook.

Some people find savings in doing Once A Month Cooking. I tried it, but it didn’t work well for me. There are websites devoted to it. Mainly you cook like crazy for one day and you freeze meals or meal components so it’s easier the rest of the month. I really like cooking and would miss it if I did that. There are cost savings though, and the recipes are often easy. You save money with this method because you buy large cuts of meat to use, and the recipes are arranged so that everything you buy is well used between dishes, so that there’s not a lot of waste.

Lo Mein is another really cheap, delicious dish that I make a ton of and then freeze.
I freeze left over ham for seasoning beans. Extra turkey is frozen for turkey pot pie or turkey fajitas. (They are actually very, very good!) Leftover roast or steak becomes beef stroganoff. Leftover chicken often becomes chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, or Fettucine Alfredo with chicken. Chicken is so versatile, it should never get thrown out! Good bread is dried and becomes salad croutons, or bread crumbs for meatballs.

The point is, find ways to both ENJOY and USE your leftovers. Don’t think you HAVE to eat the same thing tomorrow night unless you want it. You can re-invent it by putting it in a new recipe, or freeze it and have it next week.

Also, remember, if you’ve got plate scrapings or waste vegetable matter, like corn husks or salad that won’t really keep – turn it into natural fertile soil. Compost it if you have a yard. You don’t have to have anything fancy, just always put it in the same place in a little pile with leaves and such, and keep it strictly vegetable matter.

Savings Braindump 3 Food Preservation

Food preservation can be as easy or as hard as you make it. For me, my goals were to minimize food waste and to save money. I’m not going to pretend that I can tell you how to do it all in one blog post, so I just want to share what works for me.

DRYING FOOD

I used to hang bundles of herbs up to dry them. One day I wanted to make beef jerky, because I really like it, and it’s expensive. I got a food dehydrator that cost about 20.00. The jerky was great but I started learning more and more about drying food.

Today I dry a lot of foods. If I use half an onion, I might dry the other half if I don’t think I will use it. Dried onions make THE BEST onion powder if you have a mortar that you can powder them in. I dry herbs, okra (It’s great to buy it cheap in the summer, and then throw in gumbo in the winter!) and tomatoes. There are lots of books and websites on drying food.

Ask on Freecycle for a food dehydrator. Lots of people get one as a gift or buy one and never use it again.

HOME CANNING
Personally I don’t find home canning to be that big a savings strategy for most things unless you already have the jars, equipment and perhaps a garden or source of free food to preserve. One exception is if you like a specialty food that is more expensive to buy. We have chickens. I have a lot of eggs. I think they are pretty gross, but my husband LOVES pickled eggs. Have you priced pickled eggs lately? 18.00 or more A JAR?

I can salsa, peppers, pickles, tomatoes, muscadine jelly (Muscadines are great for inflammation!) and blackberry jam. I grow everything but the muscadines, which I pay just a bit to pick. If you like peppers, buy them in season or grow them and they are a lot cheaper than the small cans in the stores. Canning is something that is a POTENTIAL money saver – you have to weigh costs of equipment and what you actually LIKE to see if it is worth it for you or not. It’s also more time-consuming and takes a lot more work than drying and freezing. Sometimes it is much more efficient and it costs less to just BUY a can of tomatoes on sale.

FREEZING
The freezer is easy and that’s where it’s possible to really save serious bucks. I have a chest freezer and a side by side and both of mine are packed. Things can be frozen that you probably never dreamed of – cheese, milk, cooked meats.

So many foods are so easy to cook. I freeze bell peppers and onions already sliced, so when I cook, I just grab a container and pour some out. No prep! Freezing can save you TIME as well as money. For instance – have you priced a red pepper lately? 2.29 EACH? Well I found a bunch of HUGE beauties 3/2.00 at the farmer’s market and I picked out the best, and I froze them. The following week I got yellow peppers for that and froze them too.

When I get a great deal on meats or cheese or dairy, I freeze them. It helps me to never have to pay full retail price. Ask someone in your grocery store’s meat department when they put out the marked down meats. Walmart is supposed to put them out at 3, but it’s not always what happens in reality. I find most of the clerks are in the same boat as I am and understand my needs when I ask. It can be very helpful just to say “My family is on a super tight budget-about 30.00 a week for all of us – can you tell me anything to help me save here, like could you package me half pounds of meat so I can use these coupons or tell me when you put out marked down meats or order me –insert what you want—?” Most people want to help. Use that.

Here’s some trivia for you: Freezing has another advantage for people with active, raging allergic conditions – as my friends all know, I have autoimmunity to my blood serum that causes almost constant hives. Well, freezing meats help decrease the level of histamine that’s in it. It helps those of us who have these bad sorts of allergies that have high levels of histamine to freeze our meat before we cook it!

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