Wednesday, August 14, 2013

how to live within your means: in the kitchen

2013-02-01 13.30.16

In case you missed it, I'm posting a series this week called how to live within your means. You can see the intro to the series here and how I really became convicted to start living within my means. Let me just clarify, when I say "live within your means" I don't necessarily mean live frugally or be cheap. We all have different incomes and needs. But our lifestyles should reflect what those incomes and needs are. For my family, that does mean living frugally. And I'm willing to bet that it means the same thing for a lot of people, especially right now. But, in average America, we don't really know how to live with just what we need and put off our wants and desires. That is why I wanted to do this series.

Today I want to talk about how to live within your means in the kitchen.

This one took me a long time to master. And I'm still working on it all. the. time. When we were first married I had no idea what a "meal plan" was. I never even considered writing a shopping list before I went to buy groceries. Dinner was always something I threw together at the last minute and a lot of the time, since I didn't have all the ingredients, it meant running to the store to get what I needed or just giving up and getting take-out. I grocery shopped at least once a week, but usually more. Bottom line: I wasted a lot of my time and a lot of our money.

Over time I learned about meal planning and grocery lists. I learned how to write them at the same time and reduce the number of trips to the store as well as the amount of money I spent on each trip. How I meal plan is nothing fancy. I came up with a system on my own and I'll be sharing that this week in a vlog (it's probably too much to type out in a blog post, plus I want to share all of my "tools" with you as well!)

Aside from meal planning and using a grocery list, here are a few other tips to living within your means and saving money in the kitchen:

pack lunches
I know what you're thinking, "this is a no-brainer." But really, it isn't for everyone. We have wasted a lot, a lot of money over the past 9 years for not doing this. There were times I would send Ben to work with a lunch, but most of the time I just didn't want to get up at 5:00 in the morning to pack one and it never occurred to me to pack it the night before.

Recently, however, we haven't really had a choice. And you know what I found, once you get in the habit of doing it, it becomes second nature. And easy. And it saves you money. A lot of money. We are fortunate enough that Ben works close enough to home that he can come home for lunch most days. He calls as he's leaving the office and I have something ready for him when he walks in the door. Lucky man, he usually gets a homemade hot lunch every day.

use everything you have and only buy what you absolutely need
My mom was over one night to watch the boys and after peeking into our fridge she said, "you guys aren't going hungry, are you??" That's how barren the refrigerator looks on the last few days of a pay period around here. And it gets like that on purpose. When I make a menu plan and a corresponding grocery list every pay period,I stick to them both. Almost to a fault. That means we use everything in the kitchen. Everything. Food doesn't get tossed in our house. If there is something that doesn't fit into a meal, I figure out a way to use it. Usually it ends up in a very eclectic lunch made up of random leftovers. We just don't have the luxury of wasting food.

The Lord has shown me in all the areas of my life that we are to be good stewards. That doesn't apply only to our money. It also applies to the food we purchase and eat, our time and our talent, our children, the possessions that we have and the list goes on and on.

wash and reuse containers
This isn't anything to write home about, but it's something I started doing a few years ago and it really helps out. I have a set of really nice Rubbermaid plastic containers. They were a gift and I use them all the time. But it's also nice to have some junk containers around that I won't cry over if they get left somewhere. They're also good to have for kids to run around the house with snacks, and again, if they get lost it's not a big deal. But instead of paying money for said containers, I wash and reuse containers that our food comes in. Most commonly it's the clear plastic container that pre-packaged deli meat comes in. But I've also been known to wash out sour cream, parmesan, cottage cheese, coffee, ricotta cheese, you-name-it containers. They can also be used for children's toys. Isaac has a big basket full of random containers that we use to pour dried beans in and out of. He also plays with them outside with water.

make it, make it, make it
If I can make it from scratch, chances are I won't buy it from the store. I have 2 reasons for that: 1. if I make it at home, I know what's in it. 2. it's cheaper.

Some examples of things I make at home, rather than buying in a box or can are:
chicken stock
enchilada sauce
stewed tomatoes (when tomato prices are good)
salad dressing
teriyaki sauce
fajita, chili and taco seasoning mixes
I also grind our own beef.

dinners are basic
I plan dinners from the same list of recipes every 2 weeks. That means we eat the same thing over and over again. When I meal plan, the dinners are just copied from the previous months' plan (but I mix up the order of course!). I will usually throw something different in just to mix things up and so we don't get tired of our meals. But for the most part, we eat a lot of the same dinners a lot of the time. If we do get tired of a specific meal, I bench it for a while.

It just makes dinner easier for me to prepare (it's something easy, something I've made before and something I can make with 2 children running around my feet) and it keeps my grocery budget predictable. If we eat the same sort of things all the time, I buy the same ingredients every time I go to the store.

Does that seem boring? Yeah, probably. But it saves time, money and sanity. And that's what I'm all about right now.


Check back tomorrow for a meal planning vlog and a few more kitchen tips. In the mean time, what are ways you live within your means in the kitchen?


  1. Love this girl!! Being a newlywed stay at home mama I am always looking for ways to stay in our means. :) Thanks for this!

  2. This is so great Jessi! Also... I'm gonna need your recipes to all those homemade items. Kthanks :-)