Thursday, May 9, 2013

How to Save Money on Meat and Produce Without Coupons

Have you heard about the $1.50 a day food budget challenge that lots of celebrities are doing? They are trying to create awareness for the fact that the average household in the world, lives at an extreme poverty line with an average of $1.50 a day to spend on food. Could you imagine trying to feed your family on just $1.50 a day?! Thats hard, even for me and I'm super frugal.

I read some of the articles of what families are doing to be part of this challenge. Maybe they didnt stick to $1.50 exactly every day, but it did force them to consider how they spend and in the process they save tons of money.

So I have been reevaluating my grocery habits too. Here are some tips which I have learned over the past year for saving money on meat and produce. Why meat and produce? Because coupons on these two items are very rare, so you need to shop smart.

Tip #1: Check meat prices. Do not assume all the great deals are in the ad.
These whole chickens were 59¢ per lb!!! This deal was not listed in the store ad. Any meat $1 or less is a steal. There are so many things I could do with a whole chicken. You can roast it, grill it, boil it for a soup, or butcher it to make some really creative dishes. I am going to try to butcher the entire rib cage and spine out of mine leaving the chest cavity empty so I can stuff it with lots of delicious things and roast it. I'm not an expert butcher, but you can find tons of videos on YouTube and watch how people butcher meat and the unique things they do with it. I'm on a mission to be an expert cook with the cheapest cuts of meat. I watch tons of YouTube videos and search for interesting and delicious recipes that are not expensive.

Tip #2: The more a piece of meat is butchered, the more it costs. 
Doing as much butchering as you can will save you tons of money. And dont be scared, its actually very easy to do. You just need a good sharp knife and make sure the meat is completely thawed out. I buy fresh meat that has not been frozen yet and immediately butcher it when I get home. I butchered a huge 20lb turkey for the first time following the steps on a YouTube video and it was great! I had 2 huge turkey breasts that I cooked in the slow cooker on separate occasions, roasted the thighs another day, and I grilled the legs and wings a different day for a total of 4 different meals with the same turkey which I bought during a Christmas sale at 60¢ per lb. That is $12 I spent on a whole turkey for 4 meals, = $3 worth of meat per meal with left overs and I used the left over bones to make a ton of turkey stock. When I say a meal, it could easily feed a family of 4. Since my household is just 2 people, we usually have lots of leftovers.

Butchering your own meat will open up lots of creative ways to cook it. You can butterfly a pork loin roast and stuff it, or remove the bone from a chicken quarter while keeping the thigh and leg in tact, which leaves a space for stuffing or makes the piece of meat thinner for faster cooking and frying. Or you can pound out thick pieces of tough meat to make tender fillets for quick sauteing or stir frys.

Tip #3: Tough pieces of meat are cheap, so know how to cook them.
With meat, chicken is the cheapest, then you have pork, and the most expensive being beef, then seafood. I frequently find huge beef roasts in the clearance section at my local Krogers. I normally find them around $2 per lb. Thats awesome for beef! But the meat is tough and isn't tasty unless you know how to cook it. Or you butcher that slab of meat and pound out some slices of it for thin fillets. Learn how to cook slow and low and how to inject flavors or use spices to create nice flavor. The best thing I have found is to use the crock pot for anything that needs to be cooked slow and low.

Beef brisket at my local Walmart is usually priced at $2.19 or a little less. Thats a good price on beef. This is a tough cut of meat. If you know how to cook it, this is a good deal for you.
Tip #4: Check out your managers special or clearance sections if you have one, even if your not there to buy meat. 
There have been lots of times that I run in just for milk or bread, and I take a peek in the Manager's Specials meat section of my Kroger and find a great deal. If you cant use it right away freeze it! This is how you build a stock pile of cheap meats so your never out of meat and have to buy meat when its not on sale.
I butcher my meats, clean them, wrap meal sized portions in seran wrap, and then put them in ziploc bags. Then I stick a label on the bag of what kind of meat it is, and the date.

Tip #5: Buy meat which is in season.
During Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter whole turkeys are on sale at a crazy ridiculous price. I've seen them between 59-79¢ per lb. So I buy, freeze, and eat lots of turkey during those times. Ham also is on sale during these times of the year at $1 or less per lb. During other times of the year, they are not cheap options so enjoy them while they are.

Turkey sale at Krogers last November around Thanksgiving time. 59¢ per pound! I bought 2 of them.
Froze one and ate the other.
Tip #6: Buy whats on sale that week, then plan your weekly meal menu.
I either buy whats on sale or use up what is in my freezer. Then I plan all my meals based on what I have all ready. I decide what I have in terms of meat and what recipes that meat would work best in. Then I figure out a starch as a side and another side of vegetables.

Tip #7: Buy In Season Produce ONLY
Produce that is in season goes on sale like crazy. For example, peaches, nectarines, and plums are kind of expensive. I never see them less than $2 per lb usually. Except during the end of summer when they are in season and I see them for around 75¢ per lb in my area! I stock up on them like crazy and freeze or can a bunch of it to last me for a while. Another example is watermelon. Its super cheap during the summer but way expensive other times of the year. So I usually buy lots of watermelons and cantaloupes as my fruit of choice during the summer. End of summer I switch to peaches, nectarines, and grapes etc... During fall and winter I eat lots of apples, oranges,broccoli, cauliflower and pears etc...During spring I eat asparagus  greens, salads, brussel sprouts, green beans, carrots and lemons. I'm never lacking in fruit and veggies, I just switch which ones I buy according to the season. In a way this also makes me appreciate the seasons a bit more. Yea I know that sounded dumb but still, I feel like I have a greater appreciation and more satisfaction out of what I eat because I savor it during its best moments only.

You can try and grow some of your own vegetables like me. I joined a community garden and I found it a very rewarding experience. This was my first time growing broccoli. I harvested my first head of broccoli November of last year when it was in season. It tasted amazing! Had so much more flavor than grocery store broccoli. I harvested so much broccoli that I froze bags and bags of it that lasted me a few more months. Or just buy it at your local grocery store when it goes on sale during winter and early spring.

Tip #8: Freezer and canned vegetables is not always the cheapest nor the healthiest.
The Case Against Canned Vegetables
Yea I can find canned vegetables on sale for 50¢ per can, but its processed, lost lots of flavor, looks gross, and usually costs more. For example I easily find canned corn at 50¢ for a standard 15oz can. But During the summer when corn is in season I can buy an ear of corn for 15¢ each. 1-2 ears of corn equals one 15oz can of corn. Ok, we are talking cents here. But my fresh corn that you can cook whole, or go the extra step and cut the kernels off and can or freeze fresh tastes way, WAY, better. Last summer I bought grocery bags full of corn and cut the kernels off with a sharp knife, or you could use an electric meat knife to do it quick. Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that it costs less, tastes better, has less chemicals or processing, and doesn't take as long as you think.

OK, OK, I did buy some canned vegetables. This was a sale at Dollar General  last November around Thanksgiving when lots of canned goods go on sale. I cant remember exactly how much I paid for them, but it was definitely less than 25¢ each. It was ridiculous because I bought a ton of them. Canned corn is ok, but I refuse to eat greens that turned brownish green from being canned.

The Case Against Frozen Vegetables
If I had to choose between canned and frozen, frozen is my choice. At least frozen vegetables don't have added chemicals and preservatives to them. They also last a long time compared to fresh vegetables, and tend to be all ready cut up and ready to eat. Dont buy the vegetable mixes that have a sauce in them or added noodles or rice etc.... because then those vegetables are not pure and have chemicals added to them and cost more because the convenience factor. Anyways, frozen is not that bad. But it still costs more than fresh vegetables in the produce section. For example, frozen veggies are sold in terms of ounces. I frequently see them sold at a standard of 12 ounces. One pound is equal to 16 ounces, so the standard bag of frozen vegetables is a little less than 1 pound. I frequently find fresh produce on sale at $1 or less per pound, which is now cheaper than the frozen vegetables. Unless you find a great deal on frozen vegetables, its more expensive. If you can find a 12 ounce bag or more of frozen veggies for less than $1, then thats a bargain!

Kroger sale, 12 ounce frozen veggies for $1
I will admit that I frequently buy frozen veggies at Krogers when they are on sale for $1 each. Just yesterday I went to Krogers because they have one of these sales. BUT I noticed something. The 12 ounce bags were on sale for $1 each. But the 32 ounce bags, which were not on sale are priced at $2.19 each. This means that a bag that has almost 3 times as much vegetables, is cheaper (in terms of price per ounce) than the smaller bag which is apparently on sale. Thats like buying 2 bags of the small sale vegetables at $1 each and getting the 3rd for just 19¢.So I bought the 32 ounce sized bags instead.

Tip #9: I dare you to not buy anything that is prepackaged or boxed!
If you find anything interesting in this post, I hope its this challenge. This will force you to buy fresh ingredients and whats in season, saving you lots of money. Not only that, but you will be eating very healthy too and minimizing how much trash your household produces. I've slowly made the transition over the last few months and I'm so glad I did. I'm not 100% perfect because some things, like cereal, I just cant live without. But it made me get creative with what I decide to cook. For example, I'm trying to avoid cereal so I've been eating more steal cut oats, eggs, and homemade breakfast sandwiches which are all natural, pack in lots of protein or fiber, and doesn't have as much sugar as cereal.

If you have a local Aldi grocery store I envy you. They always have amazing prices on produce.

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