Well, we made it through the holidays with only a few extra pounds and lots of chocolate on hand to show for it. Today is all about taking down the Christmas decorations and trying to get the house back in order from the chaos that is the holidays and moving my mom into her new house. Things are still in transition somewhat upstairs, as we totally convert what was once the office to the nursery and make the guest room an office also. But we're getting there...
On to today's topic. It's January again, which means it's a long month for teachers in NC since we get paid prior to Christmas break but don't get our next paycheck until the end of January. It's even more stretched around here as Benny's on winter hours at the store, but we always make it work, and are totally grateful to have the abundance that we do so that it's not always such a shock.
For the grocery budget, we try to only purchase the things we really need, not the wants this month. This is made easier by the fact that we almost always get some fun pantry items in our stockings at Christmas (nuts, specialty dried fruits, coffee, herbal teas and sometimes a grocery store card or two). I totally get that nuts and dried fruit may not do it for everyone, but for those of us who love to cook and bake, they're the staples of winter breakfast muffins and salad toppings. We also try to make sure the the freezer is already stocked with butter, frozen veggies from the CSA or garden this past summer, and meats. (Butter and meats almost always go on sale around holiday time, so we stock up then.) We always snag the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving or Christmas to make stock and soup (we've discovered most people in our family don't want to mess with this step). And of course, we always have dried beans, lentils, rice, barley, and pasta on hand in the pantry to make meals come together quickly.
So, for this month, here's the rough breakdown of menu items:
Soups: smoked turkey and wild rice soup, potato and veggie chowder, split pea soup, chili verde with sweet potato fries, black bean soup, chili con carne, corn chowder, barley and lenil soup
Mexican meals: smoked turkey and winter squash tacos, sweet potato quesadillas, black bean nachos, chicken tortilla soup
Asian meals: egg and veggie fried rice, spicy Thai noodle dish with linguini
Family go-to meals: pecan crusted chicken with baked potatoes, quiche with bacon, sun dried tomatoes, and onion, beef and cheddar pie, whole wheat waffles with frozen fruit syrup and nuts, jambalaya, pasta with pesto or tomato sauce
Side items: mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, okra corn bread, homemade whole wheat yeast rolls or bread, winter greens salad with dried fruit or citrus, braised cabbage
Breakfasts: muffins/scones with dried fruit and nuts, homemade bread with homemade jam from summer fruits, oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts, cereal
Lunches around here are always leftovers. When we're done with fixing a dinner, we portion out the meal into lunch size containers so they're easy to grab and put in a lunch box for the next day. We never buy specialty lunch items from the frozen section, but do occasionally purchase granola bars or individual yogurt cups to help round out lunches or provide an afternoon snack. (Of course these are always purchased with coupons and on sale to make a buck go further.)
So, for the most the only items we need to purchase this month are the occasional fresh produce (we like to have grapefruit on hand for breakfasts and there are always a few veggies we don't have stockpiled in the freezer), cheese (watch for sales and coupons and freeze it if it's going in a casserole or soup where it'll be melted), milk, flour, and eggs. And we'll go to HT this week to get some other staples (cereal, yogurt, etc.) because it's super doubles with coupons.
We also really try during this month to not buy things that are wants, but just needs in other areas of our lives. For instance, the car registration info and bill just arrived for my car--definite need. But the cute Christmas stuff that's 75% off at Michaels right now, not so much. I know that I have enough Christmas wrapping supplies to get us through next year, so there's no point in stocking up now. This is generally our strategy with lots of stuff throughout the year, but we really try during January to cinch the belt a little tighter to make things stretch.
The quote "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without," has really become our
mantra as we try to live frugally so that we can truly live green and save green. It means finding things in the basement that we can revamp with paint for the nursery rather than buying new (picture frames, lamps, furniture), reupholstering the old chair rather than buying a new one, making do with the cars we have and repairing them rather than purchasing a new one, and on and on it goes. And, in the end, it makes us feel good to know that we're not sending something to the landfill or junkyard (though we always try to donate things first if we really can't use them anymore). It also allows us to be more generous with our charitable giving, which means a great deal to us.
So, how are you living and saving green in the days after the holiday season? I'd love to hear from you!