Gas. Groceries. And Growing Price Increases.

I’m sure you have seen the rise in gas prices lately. They started out slowly, increasing gradually, but this past few weeks how can you miss the bright red lights showing a price increase as to almost $0.40 to the gallon! Oh, and then the $0.30 increase over night two weeks ago?!?! One contributing factor we can thank for this price increase is inflation. The US Inflation rate in January was 7.5%, which is a 40 year high, the largest move up since 1982.

And the gas station isn’t the only place you can see pretty high price increases. Have you been to the grocery store lately? (Curb side pick-up counts too!) Because if you have done any type of grocery shopping in the last year, I am sure you have seen the steady increase in prices as the price of groceries have jumped a record 7% in the past year according to a News Release from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The main contributing factors for driving the inflation increases this past year have been rent, food, and energy.

And with inflation rates not looking like they are going to decrease anytime soon, budgeting, meal planning (and some creativity) are the key tools you can use to make your dollars count the most right now.

Put your budget to work for you.

Now is when we need to call on all of our budgeting skills to make sure every dollar is being accounted for, and being used to its most potential. At Whitaker-Myers Wealth Managers, we suggest using a Zero-Based Budget. But budgeting may not be the only trick you need to pull out during these times. Below are some ways we suggest saving a dollar to two on your grocery bill this month.

Meal Plan

At the start of each week, sit down with your spouse, roommate, kids, or even your dog, and think through your week’s meal needs. Plan out your menus for each night; each meal should include your main entrée, and sides. Make sure you’re accounting for if you know you are doing anything one night of the week (i.e., eating out for someone’s birthday, or at a family members house, etc.) as this will affect how you meal plan.

Also, don’t be afraid to account for a “leftovers night” later in the week. This is where you take all the leftovers from the week and have a buffet from all the previous nights. If you and your family do not care for warmed up left overs, as you think through your week’s meals, are there ways to use the leftovers for another meal, but in disguise that you wouldn’t even think they were leftovers?

Or does one night’s menu have the same ingredient in another menu for a different night you can use up before it goes bad (think veggies and herbs here! - things that don’t have a long shelf life).

Then as your complete the menu, create your grocery list with the items for each meal throughout the week. Meal Planning is a great way to create a targeted grocery list so when you go into the store (or click the online order buttons), you’re not just aimlessly browsing. You have a purpose and know what is needed for these meals. The temptation of impulse buys decreases as you know where to go, what to get, and this also helps cut down on time in the grocery store.

Meal planning also eliminates the hassle of the daily question of “What do I/we make for dinner tonight?”, and decreases the mid-week grocery store runs. And with gas prices increasing, the fewer trips made, means fewer trips to the pump hopefully.

Double up on Ingredients

As I mentioned before, using some of the same ingredients for one menu to use in another for a different day is a great way to save on groceries as well. Get creative here! You don’t have to have the same meal three times just because you have the leftovers.

Here are some examples of doubling up on ingredients we use in our house to liven up leftovers by using a pork shoulder roast, buns, BBQ sauce, and a red onion for multiple meal options:

  • Meal idea one – Traditional Pulled Pork Sandwiches
    • All you need is a nice toasted bun, and any sauces you want to top your sandwich off with. Personally, I like to enjoy the flavor of the smoked pulled pork and go plain!
  • Meal idea two – BBQ Pulled Pork Pizza
    • You can either buy a premade crust, or I’ve found at our grocery store has a $0.99 bag crust you make by just adding water and some oil, then letting it rise. We keep a few of these on hand in our pantry for a weekend pizza night!
    • Add BBQ sauce as the “pizza sauce” (from meal idea one), dice up a red onion, sprinkle cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, add pineapple if you are one of those people that believe pineapple belongs on pizza (It’s me, I’m “one of those people”), then layer on the pulled pork. Top it off with a quick swirl of BBQ sauce and bake!
  • Meal idea three – Pulled Pork Cuban (inspired) Sandwiches
    • Pull out the toasted buns from meal idea one dinner, add your pulled pork, slice your red onion from meal idea two, put on some pickles, layer it with some Swiss cheese slices, and top it off with some mustard. We like to add peppers to ours too, there are no rules here – just have fun with it!

Have lots of veggies laying around that need used up before they go bad? Here are some ways to use them differently throughout the week other than just steaming them or making a veggie tray:

  • Roast them!
    • After you have cut them all up, lay them on a sheet pan, drizzle olive oil with some salt and pepper to taste, bake on 375* for about 15-20 minutes and you have a healthy and tasty side option.
  • Go Asian and make Stir Fry!
    • Just add some beef, or chicken (or shrimp for my seafood lovers) along with your stir fry sauce and skip the takeout costs! For this we typically use celery, bell peppers (any color will work), onions, mushrooms, broccoli, water chestnuts, and carrots.
  • Taste the rainbow of your vegetables and make Pasta Salad!
    • You don’t have to wait for a summer picnic to make this colorful side dish. Plus, you can use up a lot of vegetables if needed for this yummy side dish.
  • Lastly, veggie soup…..hello!
    • “Veggie” is in the name! Through in all the veggies that are about to go bad in your fridge and save them from the garage can. Add some ground beef or turkey, vegetable stock, tomato sauce, and let all those flavors simmer all day.

All these ideas are ways to help you use the same products but in various way throughout the same week. So, as you plan your meals for the week, think of the items you need for one meal, and how can you then turn around and use them in another capacity later that week. This way that one thing (or multiple items) doesn’t go bad because you forgot about it in the back of the fridge, or can’t think of how else to use it besides as the initial meal idea.

Go Food Network Channel on your Pantry (and Freezer!)

What does this even mean? So, if you are like our house, Food Network is one of the like 6 channels we watch. Some of the shows they have had on lately are premised around the idea of the “creating something out of nothing” idea. Meaning they tell contestants at the supermarket to make an upscale dinner, but by only using frozen food. Or make the judges a burger not using any type of bread. Another show has contestants buying groceries from unknowing customers as they exist the store to make their themed dish for that round, and whatever is in that grocery haul is what they have to make the meal.

For some, this is probably anxiety overload. But the idea I’m going for here is to take a deep dive in your pantry and freezer and try to “make something out of nothing”. What’s in there that you have over looked for a while now, or never thought of using it in “that way” …. And, try to make it fun! If the meal doesn’t work out, you’re only out one bad dinner night, right?

Have iceberg lettuce in the fridge, and tired of salads? Use the large leaves as your hamburger bun or go Mexican and make it your taco wrap! We’ve used the frozen cauliflower rice not only for our “rice” in our stir fry, but have also added some grated cheese and egg to it and made pizza crust out of it! *Bonus* did you notice these were all HEALHTY substitutes?!? You can thank me later.

Have bread, cheese, lunch meat, various condiments and toppings? Make a “Build your own Panini Bar” for dinner. Kids love to do this and gets them involved in making choices about food. You can make this a fun weekend dinner night option for them too. All you need besides your food ingredients is a griddle, or pull out the George Foreman. Many of my college grilled cheeses were made on the Foreman grill and it works great for this!

You can also settle the old age debt on if Manwich or homemade Sloppy Joes are better (team homemade here). For this, you need ground beef, diced onions, and you can get a $0.99 seasoning packet from the store. OR our family prefers to use just KETCHUP! Yup, you heard me. Just ground beef and ketchup (salt and pepper to taste).

Don’t Skimp on Dessert

Just because you’re on a budget and watching the grocery bill doesn’t mean you can’t indulge on dessert. Some money saving tip desserts I’ve used before, often start with just one simple ingredient.

Boxed cake mixes. Of course, you cake make cake. Or cupcakes, and even cookies with this mix. But you can switch things up by adding different ingredients to it to change things up. I love making seasonal dump cakes or even cobblers by using boxed cake mixes!

Also, remember instant pudding just doesn’t mean plain pudding. Put it in little dixie cups, add a popsicle stick to them and then freeze. Now you’ve got yourself a puddin’ pop for a summer day treat! Also try layering multiple kinds of pudding with some fruit, whipped cream and crumbled graham crackers, and you have a fancy trifle.

Does Grandma’s famous cookie dough recipe make like 7 dozen cookies that you know you can’t eat all at once? Freeze the dough in individual balls and pull out a dozen (or just a handful) at a time as you need cookies. Saves both time, and money so you don’t have to buy frozen, store bought, cookie dough!

Try to Out Budget Yourself – Make it a Game!

I have heard of people on tight budgets who play a little game with their grocery budget. If they are under their targeted budget, they get to treat themselves to have a coffee or a snack. If you are a competitive person, this game is for you! Or if you are a snack driven person, this game is for you too! Who doesn’t like coming in under budget, but also an afternoon treat? Sounds like a win-win to me.

For more ideas, check out this article from our friends at Ramsey Solutions How To Save Money On Groceries | RamseySolutions.com for even more money saving tips and tricks when it comes to grocery shopping!

Author: Lindsey Curry