Just yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend with an attachment from Johns Hopkins on what to do if pandemic strikes in the form of the swine flu. It says to stay home, easy enough. And it says to be sure you have 16 days worth of food stockpiled. Not a problem. I’ve become quite the believer in stocking up. That wasn’t always the case.
I used to make frequent trips to the market and buy “only what I needed” in the firm belief that this was better for our budget. The problem with that logic is that I was forever running to the store for “just this one thing” I needed and coming home with a cartload of stuff because it was on sale or I was sure we were out of it. Let me be clear here – the less you go to the store the less you spend. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out. I don’t “need” many of the things I buy, but that doesn’t stop me from buying them.
Here’s a better plan, and one that saves me money.
1. Stock up.
I try to keep my shopping trips down to one trip to the Amish Market and one trip to the grocery store each week. Some weeks I can even skip the grocery store. I can almost always accomplish this by keeping my pantry and freezer well stocked. It stands to reason if you know you eat pasta at least once a week, you can buy all the pasta you need months in advance (it keeps). Stocking up on staples like pasta, pasta sauce, chicken broth, ketchup, syrup, cereal, jelly, peanut butter, beans and other items that will store well saves you the last minute trip to the grocery store with cranky kids in tow that not only costs money, but costs time. Fill your freezer with the things you need and always have an “emergency” kit in your freezer for “emergencies” (avoiding a trip to the grocery store for that one thing): 1) loaf of bread (even if you make your own bread fresh), 2) a pound of butter (will freeze for the duration), and 3) hot dogs (easiest meal to fix in a pinch that will please nearly every kid).
2. Shop less.
Before you rush off to the store to get one crucial ingredient do two things. First, if it stores well, add it to your list of things you keep stocked up on. Second – think of something else you can serve instead. I’m telling you – flexibility will save you hundreds of dollars. It’s really nice and supremely organized to have the weeks menus made up ahead of time and posted primly on the fridge, but if you haven’t got exactly what you need to follow the plan – improvise or serve something else. That’s why you’re the mom – you always have a Plan B.
3. Centralize your shopping list.
My list is a magnetic pad on the side of the fridge. Everyone knows that if you open the last of anything (oatmeal, peanut butter, ketchup, olive oil), you must write it on the list or Mommy may wig out on you. It’s my system, but it does take a little enforced guilt in the beginning to get everyone with the program. This works for us because then it’s not up to me to inventory the kitchen to make up my list or rely on my ever-decomposing memory to remember all the things we might need.
4. Shop alone.
Under no circumstance should you be taking your kids to the grocery store. Not unless you’re doing math homework that requires that you go there. I know, I know, I’m usually all for the teach the children by example thing, but honestly, if I take my kids to the grocery store I leave stressed out and laden with things I didn’t come there to buy (like Cheezits in every flavor) and almost always missing at least one item I planned to buy but left behind in the interest of my children’s safety and my sanity. There will be time to teach them about shopping for groceries (like when they come home from college). I’m here to tell you that if you are serious about living a kid-friendly organic life on a budget, don’t shop for food with your kids.
5. Organize your cupboards. Clean them out. It’s about time for that at my house. We have a pantry that is so deep I must stand on a high bar stool to see the back of the top shelf. Things could be lost back there for decades. It’s important to know what you already have before you end up buying yet another package of cornmeal (we currently have three) you think you need because you haven’t seen it in awhile, but in reality is happily molding in the back of your cabinet. This is a case of do what I say not what I do, (a line that never works on my kids) but I’m going to try to be better at this. I know how happy I felt on the few occasions when my pantry was organized. Most times it was because the house was for sale (I even faced all the labels out – amazing how that makes a cabinet look truly organized). It takes time to organize. You need to have a garbage can, a recycling bin, and a give away box handy. I’m putting it on my to-do list. Knowing what you have saves you money.
I’m going to expose our food budget for the last four years on Friday’s post and I know that stocking up has played a big part in the numbers. So, just in case the swine flu is headed your direction, consider stocking up. And even if you’ve had your flu shot, stock up to save money. You’ll be amazed.