Monday, February 23, 2009

Dinner for $15, A Frugal Moms Journey (after 3 pm even)

At the end of my day, like many days, I wanted to know "what's for dinner?” I pride myself on being the organized one in my social circle (at least I am known for it) -- but dinner eludes me more days out of the week than I would publicly admit to.

This day was no different, and bored with dinner -- and having watched some television with fast food looking so easy and so good -- I challenged myself to taking the "better road" I wanted something better than burgers -- and I wanted it for the cash I had in my pocket.

Kids in tow, I was on a budget for both time and money. 3:30 in the afternoon is past my shopping curfew -- my kind with coupons and averaging unit prices aren't too welcome at this time of day. Shopping today, after my better hours, I was unarmed.

It nearly hurts me physically to pay full price for anything. This day, even with kids and without my coupon file, I would stay within budget - and eat well tonight.
Produce came first, as I wanted a salad. I'm the only one in my family who eats salad on a regular basis. I like to "up-do" a bagged salad with any fixings I can find for a reasonable price. Right away, I see that Fresh Express Salads are BOGO (Buy One Get One Free) -- and I do happen to have one coupon for them in my wallet (I carry coupons for my favorite things).

Avocados are $10/10 (an ingenious marketing tool by most grocery retailers-- and so easy to match with coupons when they're name brand products). I snag one to top the salad. I pass by all of the other vegetables, but I compliment myself when my kids beg to buy apples. We've already got apples at home (bought cheaper at a competitor store earlier in the week) -- but I like to mentally record the price of produce to compare to ads later. It's a good idea to know what items of produce sell for store to store.

Fresh Meat, up next. No, I'm not describing myself to the manager -- It's the department I find myself in. I want something “good”, but I have walked into the most expensive store in my city. No problem, I say. I walk past the "premium beef" displays, visualizing my husband's falling lower lip, and head for the meat’s clearance department. On first glance, and between refereeing the kids, I don't see anything of great savings. I do see though, that family packs of pork chops are $1.99/pound.

I do love pork chops -- and, they're not chicken. Chicken is the least favorite of my career navy sailor husband who tells me frequently how on "on the ship, it's all chicken...chicken this and chicken that..) Pork then, so far, has been the great compromise. I tell him, ‘It's the other white meat’ -- it's meat, it's lean and it's better for you than red meat -- so eat!” I grab a package large enough for two meals. Only my husband and I eat meat at our house (unless it's breaded or on a stick, the kids choose cereal or soup.)

I quick glance back to the clearance meats. A roast catches my eye. I picture it over the potatoes and onions I already have at home, with steamed carrots and just the right amount of hubby's "poor man gravy”. It's 30% off? No, wait, it's 50% off! My money savings-brain instantly calculates the sale price of the roast and figures out that for the original price of the roast; I'll get nearly everything in my shopping basket.

I shopped, and I saved -- and I spent under $15 and brought home at least 4 meals for the price of a roast! Only one coupon, two kids and a shopping challenge after 3 in the afternoon.

My advice, if not plain in this narrative already, is to look for the savings and look twice at them. Calculate your budget and what you can get for a fast food price that will feed you well for a meal or more. I could have filled the basket with fast, expensive food - or bypassed the grocery store completely and just ran through the drive through. But, then I'd have heartburn, both fiscally and physically.

I bring my kids along to make things interesting and to entertain the older couples who think my kids are fun. While we're entertaining the public, I hope to be teaching my kids something about making good choices and making the most of their money. They raid the coupon feeders in the aisles (that always gets the "looks"), but they also have learned to read the labels and count for themselves how much money we're saving. They're on board with eating a balanced diet and taking part in the choosing and enjoying of a variety of meals. Granted, they don't eat roast or salad (their dinner was waiting at home), but they can tell their friends (and Grandma) that they helped me shop smartly. That makes them feel pretty smart too.

The roast was delicious; the pork chops were enjoyed for two later meals. I loved the thought that I was eating a $15 roast (and got all of dinner for that price) and husband loved eating a $15 roast. Add to that he had something to brag about at work the next morning. I had money for the next "need" the kids came up with. I think it was ice cream.

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