Friday, 14 September 2012

Frugal Friday - Preparing Our Daughters To Shop Wisely

Yesterday I wrote about "hope chests", and the modern-day equivalents that we mamas have to help our daughters prepare for their grown-up lives as wives and mothers.  One of the things that, as a mother, you can pass on to your daughter, is not so much a material item that you can put away in her "bottom drawer", but instead, it is knowledge.  Important knowledge!  There are many things that your daughter will learn, following your example, as she grows and shares in your day-to-day life.  She'll learn by imitation, but she'll also learn, of course, by instruction, and from you sharing the wisdom that you have learned, as a careful keeper of the home.  Some of this, of course, relates to managing your household income!  And that's what I am going to be writing about today.  I'll be focussing on supermarket shopping, since this is usually one of a family's most expensive weekly outgoings, and one that nearly everyone will be concerned with.

Papa Bear gives me a budget for the food shopping that is fixed each week.  That money doesn't have to all be used for our food and other household goods, but if we need it, we can use it all.  I try to manage our spending in the supermarket so that we don't spend all this money - and whatever we don't use, can go towards treats or unexpected expenses such as repairs.  This year we are using it for a special fun activity that I will share about later!  We are very much looking forwards to it.  One of the ways that I've managed to have left-over income each week from our supermarket shop, is to try to shop as wisely as I can.  I didn't learn to shop wisely overnight - it's taken me all my married life to do it was well as I am now, and even so, I get it wrong sometimes!  But I do endeavour to be as frugal as I can each week, when menu planning and shopping list writing, without actually compromising the taste, quality and nutritional benefit of what our family eats.

Shopping wisely starts long before you actually get to the store!  It begins with planning ahead.  Not planning ahead will always lead you to spend more when you are buying your foodstuffs.  Regardless of whether you shop weekly or more frequently, you will spend more money if you shop without having a clear idea of the reason for your purchases.  If you really don't plan ahead, and find yourself with nothing suitable for your meal, or that you need to prepare a dish at short notice, then you will waste money further by having to buy prepacked, fast to prepare foods that always cost more than making meals from scratch, and are also likely to be less healthful too.  The only way to avoid expensive mistakes like this is to plan your meals in advance.  The simplest way to do this is to plan your entire week (or even further ahead) of meals ahead of time, so that you know exactly what you are going to be eating and what you will need to be able to provide it. 

I like to start my supermarket shopping the week before we go!  I have our menu planned each week from Saturday to Friday (this suits us best because we shop for our food on Saturdays).  During the week I may adjust it, tweak it here and there, switch days around or change menus altogether on some dates.  And as we use up the food that we are eating during the week which I planned for the previous week before, I will also be adding those things that need replenishing to our shopping list along with the items that we need for the following week of menus.  There are various things to take into consideration when trying to ensure that your food shop is frugal at this stage of your planning.  First of all, of course, and most importantly, the meals!  I've been sharing with Little Bear for a long time now the sort of meals that a newly-wed wife will find frugal, simple and still tasty to create.  Things like chilli bean bake, corn dog casserole, taties (potatoes baked in their jackets), cheese strata and so on.  One pot dishes, things that can easily be doubled when prepared and then frozen, foods that will go for more than one meal and will work well for lunches also, and meals that use local, seasonal ingredients which will inevitably be cheaper.  When planning a menu, I have taught Little Bear to consider what we already might have available, so that the actual purchases needed to prepare the following week's meals are minimised.  And I've also shown her how to ensure that the ingredients she does need to buy, will last out the week and won't be costly to buy.

Once we're in the supermarket, shopping wisely comes down to one very important thing - a LIST!  I wrote recently about lists - I love them - and never more than when I am going shopping.  Without a list you are going to spend more money, guaranteed.  Even if you don't, the chances are you will find when you get home that you have forgotten something which will now need to be purchased closer to home, more expensively, or done without, therefore causing you perhaps not to be able to prepare a meal that you had planned for.  This is wasteful.  It's also wasteful to buy things, when you shop even with a list, that aren't on it.  This is impulse buying, and accounts for a lot of wasted pennies.  Unless it is a real bargain and you know from previous experience that you will use the items and that you can do this before they go out of date, save your money.  The only real savings you ever make are the ones where you don't spend anything at all and the money stays in your pocket.

Of course, there are always choices and decisions to be made when you are shopping, even if you do stick strictly to your list.  How do you decide what brand to buy?  Should you get the cheapest possible just to save money, or will you be compromising on taste if you do this?  These are considerations that I'm helping Little Bear to think of when we do our supermarket shopping.  If you are on a really low income (and when we were first married, Papa Bear and I had to manage on an extremely tight budget whilse we saved for our first baby - Little Bear!) then you probably won't have much of a choice.  Your few pennies will only be able to stretch to the cheapest brands, even if they aren't necessarily the tastiest.  However, you can still make some choices to ensure that although frugal, your meals are still good to eat!  It's always cheaper, as I say above, to cook from scratch.  It's often also cheaper not to eat meat (and it isn't necessary to eat meat, certainly not daily or even weekly) to be healthy.  Consider dishes like the chilli bean bake I mentioned above - which you can make with dried pulses, canned tomatoes, an onion and some mash potato.  A little chilli powder adds pep to this dish, and if you can afford to stretch to a pepper or two, some flaked chilli and some tortilla chips and cheese you can make it taste even better for not much more.  Pasta dishes are cheap and simple to prepare.  Bread can form the basis for some meals too - and you don't have to eat it as a loaf.  Consider flat breads, simple naans (which at their most basic are literally flour and water, baked in an oven until they puff up) and rolls for a change from ordinary toasted bread or sandwiches.  Yes it can get dull and it can be difficult when you are having to walk past the fancy dishes and ingredients on display at the supermarket.  But I tell Little Bear - be patient!  Be content!  You will have a time in your life when money is tight, and then, as you grow older and more stable in your finances, you will have a little more to spend.   Have fun being imaginative with your meals when you are on a tight budget.  The easier times will come, and your faith will be strengthened while you wait on them.

When they do of course that doesn't mean you should just forget about planning and shopping wisely!  It's lovely to be able to splurge occasionally, and there's no reason why any of us shouldn't, but in general, it is still sensible to stick to a budget and plan your meals in advance.  Just think of all the other ways God wants us to use His money!  There are still wise decisions to be made when you are doing your food shop even when money is a little more abundant.  For example, you may think that it is more convenient not to have to chop your vegetables, grate your cheese or bone your chicken.  It might be quicker, you may think, to buy the freeze-dried mash potato granules, and the instant soup, instead of making these from scratch.  Of course, there may be times and occasions when it is wise to purchase these.  Grandmama Bear has severe arthritis, but she still really enjoys preparing all her meals from scratch.  She finds it a little easier on her hands if she buys the pre-prepared vegetables and meats rather than having to peel, chop and dice them herself.  That's a wise shopping decision, because she is still able, through doing this, to create wholesome, home cooked dishes that if she did not have these ingredients, might be beyond her.  Sometimes you may need to buy these things.  But if you are simply doing it for convenience, why not consider whether you could shave time from your day elsewhere - and save money from your food bill by purchasing the old-fashion basic ingredients for your meals instead?  Personally as a family, we think that the packaged veggies don't taste as fresh as the ones we get loose and whole, and ready-grated cheese has a very strange texture, to us.  We are happy, while we can, to buy ingredients as close as nature intended them to be as we can get them. 

The other thing that helps to save money when you shop, is not to be "brand loyal".  Even if you can afford to choose which brand of soap powder, kitchen paper, fruit juice or tea leaves that you buy there will still be opportunities to make a saving without compromising on taste or quality.  Supermarkets carry all kinds of offers, bargains and sales each week, and it really can save to take advantage of these, if the items on sale are ones that are on your shopping list anyway.  Ignore the brand you usually buy, if you can get a similar item much cheaper because it is on offer.  Chances are the taste won't be that different, but you will have made a saving that perhaps means you can afford to buy a better brand of something you normally have to scrimp on!  Also do consider that many supermarket "own-brands", especially the ones that are not the "basics" range, can be just as good as the popular branded products, and in some cases better, although they are usually cheaper.  It's worth taking this into account too.

There are many other things that are important for our daughters to consider as they begin to think of their future responsibilites as a wife and mother.  It's so vital that as their mothers, we share our knowledge and experience with them.  Just as mama birds show their chicks how to forage for food, build nests, stay out of harm's way and find the best branches to roost on, we must show our daughters how to be the very best they can for their future husbands and families.   For, as we are told in Psalm 128, we shall all be blessed if we do -

"Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways.
For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.
Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.
Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord.
The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life.
Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, and peace upon Israel". (Psalm 128: 1-6).

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