No Buy August: Using What’s In Your Cabinets to Save Money

I’ve been struggling to save money on my grocery bill for a long time. Actually, probably my entire adult life. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first” you’ll know that I’ve written about this before and that I use to spend upwards to $700 a month on my grocery bill. This is crazy to me now, especially considering I am still in student loan debt. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve pared my grocery bill down to a mere $265 a month, but I still have a stock pile of food in my pantry.

So with the intent to save money on my grocery bill, while also utilizing the groceries I already have in my pantry, I’m starting a “No Buy August”. This effort is mostly to help reign in my overspending, while also addressing my food hording problem. Hopefully when I’m done, I will have an empty pantry just waiting to be filled with fresh, new foods.

I’m starting this journey in August, but this post will probably be published sometime in mid-late August. You can start this challenge anytime you like. It just so happens that I was $125 over my grocery budget in July and wanted to do something about it next month. Hope you’ll Join me : )

The Goals, Save Money, Use Up Old Food Items

In recent months, you’ll be happy to hear that I’ve been much better about my grocery buying habits. That being said, I still have a jar of potato starch that has been in my pantry for a few years. I most likely bought it for one recipe and used it ONLY for that recipe. Then the rest has been sitting in my pantry, waiting for the day it will be put back in the game.

So the first step for me was, to go through my cabinets and find what needs to be used. I started with some easy ingredients. I have two jars of shitake mushrooms that need using. So it looks as though vegetable ramen and risotto with caramelized shitake mushrooms will be on the menu. Risotto is another ingredient that made the list as well which means I’m finishing off two ingredients with that recipe.

So ingredient by ingredient, I’m going through my pantry, finding what needs to be used. Then I take those items, go to my favorite recipe sites and search their site by ingredient. A pretty straight forward plan. Full disclosure, I did go a little over my food budget this month knowing that I wouldn’t be going to the grocery store next month at all if things go as planned. I made a Costco run and got a few extra items at Market Basket in preparation. But it’ll be worth it to save almost 2/3 of my grocery bill next month. Money that will go straight to paying off my student loans : )

Search for Recipes, AKA Plan Ahead

The next step for me was, to look up recipes I had with the limited amount of ingredients I had on hand. I use Minimalist Baker’s site for most of my recipes. But Love & Lemons is also a great site and one my boss swears by. But cooking is as unique as the individual. So find a site you like. Or maybe you have a favorite cookbook or some family recipes. The point is to find what makes you happy. Cook from a book, site or recipe that you know you’ll enjoy the food you make.

Yeah, we want to save money, but we also want to enjoy what we’re eating. So searching for recipes by finding your favorite recipe sites and cookbooks is essential to making cooking for yourself an enjoyable experience that you want to keep coming back to. For example, I have my grandmother’s baked beans recipe that I’ve been making for years. I had to make them vegetarian, but they’re something I keep coming back to.

Also, I have a few staples from the restaurants I’ve worked at in the past. Recently I’ve been making a black bean soup recipe that I picked up in a Mexican place I’ve worked. I got the idea from Dave Ramsey when he says to eat, “beans and rice, rice and beans”. The recipe is fantastic and the price of rice and beans are super cheap. So if I eat black bean soup with rice every other meal, it only costs me around $10 a month. That’s half of my months grocery cost and is kind of incredible.

But Where’s the Varity?

People have gone to some extremes, all in the name of saving some money. And I suppose that eating half of your meals in the form of beans and rice is up there. But it’s not something I plan on doing forever. As soon as I pay off my student loans, I plan on cooking more of the foods I enjoy. Eating well will come with being debt free. After all, I got into debt by spending money at restaurants in the first place. It only makes sense that I now reign in my spending on what I used to have poor boundaries around.

But there are also other places in my meal plan where I work in some variety. For example, my self-care dinner is usually a new to me recipe. Something I find during the week that looks appealing. Also, family dinner Fridays are usually a pleasant surprise. We take turns choosing recipes for the week to keep the meals fresh and new. As I’m writing this, we are currently preparing a lentil curry dish that I found scrolling through my bookmarked recipes.

But even while I’m picking new recipes, my goal still is to save some money. So I’m choosing ingredients from my pantry first, while also seeking out recipes with cheap components. You’ll notice that the above lentil recipe has frozen peas and lentils as their staple ingredients. Both are cheap buys at the grocery store, making this meal budget friendly. So just because you’re looking for variety, doesn’t mean you need to spend loads of cash.

What am I Eating

Maybe you’re looking at your cabinets or eating habits and came to the same conclusion I have. That something needs to change. Also, if it’s one thing I’ve learned from dating site profiles, it’s that people spend a lot of time thinking about what they’ll be eating next. Which raises the question, what will I be eating throughout the day? Below I’ll go over a short list of the meals I usually prepare for myself. Or what a usual week looks like for me. Let’s start in the morning.

Brekkie

Coffee

A sure way to save money while deciding what you’ll eat for breakfast is, stop eating out. Yes, even the coffee you grab on the way to the office. If you were like I was, I was drinking upwards to 7 lattes a day. That’s a lot of coffee! I did work at a bakery where coffee was free at the time. So I wasn’t paying for all of my coffee consumption. But even if you’re only getting one coffee a day, the money still adds up.

Let’s say you buy one latte a day at $6. Even if you only get one a day for five days a week, making coffee on the weekends, the total for the year would add up to $1,560! That’s a lot of money for coffee. But if you make your own espresso, it’s about 45 cents for a double shot. using that math, the same amount of coffee would cost you $117 annually, not including the cost of milk.

If you add a gallon of milk a week to your shopping list at $3.19 a gallon, you’d still only be spending a grand total of $282.88 a year. Coffee and milk. That’s 1/5 the cost you would be spending if you bought out every day. And if you drink tea, it gets even cheaper. So stop buying coffee out! Buy a quality coffee thermos, I like this one by Yeti, and make your own. You’ll be saving loads of money in the long run. Also while cutting back on your plastic or cardboard waste consumption.

Breakfast Foods

If you’re not on a liquid diet, (and I definitely recommend that you not only drink coffee for breakfast) then you’ll be needing some solid foods to compliment your coffee. Processed cereals cost a lot of money. And we’ve already covered eating out. So for the price, you can’t beat oatmeal for the most cost effective meal.

I usually make overnight oats. I mix a large batch of the dry ingredients in a container and make them each night before work the next day. They usually consist of oatmeal, flax meal or chai seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, a pinch of salt, maple syrup and then I top it off a plant based milk (I add the flax or chai seed after so it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the container). I shake it all together in a pint sized mason jar and refrigerate overnight. I could use water and save some more money, but I like the creamier texture it gives. Also, you can add whatever you’re craving or what’s in season to the oats. Giving you some variety to your first meal of the day.

Lunch & Dinner

I group lunch and dinner together because I usually end up eating the same dishes for both meals. Whatever I’m eating for dinner, I usually eat as left overs for lunch. This way I don’t have to buy meal specific ingredients other than for brekkie. So what am I making for dinner?

As I said above, I’ve been making black beans and rice for half of my meals. But I find that I usually have a jar of lentils in the cupboard. Or like this month, for some reason I have two jars of cornmeal. So to save money in No Buy August, I’m making polenta.

This meal hits all the right notes for me. It’s cheap, simple, I almost always have cornmeal on hand and it pairs well with roasted vegies. And with the variety of veg you can roast, there are loads of possibilities to try. While we’re on the subject, simple, for me is usually best when it comes to preparing meals.

Minimalism in the Kitchen

One of the reasons I like Minimalist Baker so much is, Dana doesn’t use a lot of ingredients. And to make great tasting food, you don’t need a lot of expensive ingredients. Simple is usually better. Lately, my favorite combo of flavors is ginger, garlic and onion. If a dish has these three, I’m more than likely going to enjoy it. Throw in some coconut milk and in my opinion, there’s nothing better.

That was one of the reason the above lentil dish was so appealing to me. Curry, mixed with the magic three and lentils, that’s a win in my book. Plus I save money because all the items on my shopping list are super cheap. Or I already have them on hand, helping me to clean out my pantry. Win win.

And this is something I plan on making a new habit. I want to do a No Buy month maybe twice or three times a year. This way I can make sure I’m rotating through my food stores, but also save money while doing it. This way nothing goes to waste and I’m also finding new recipes and enjoying the food I’m making.

I’ll leave you with a burrito recipe that has the black beans I’m making in them. The burrito is great if you’re a meat eater. The beans are even better : ) Peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: Adam Sergott

Heading Image Credits: “Colorful veggies for sale in Daley Plaza” by wsilver is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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