Dinner on a Budget

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I'm a really strong believer in homemade or homecooked food vs. fast food and packaged meals. If I wanted the same nutritional value as a piece of cardboard covered in salt, well then I'd eat a piece of cardboard covered in salt.

That's not to say that we don't ever order food in, but it is rare. Its usually once a month we'll decide that we really want pizza, Chinese food, sushi or something similar. On average, I make dinner 5 nights a week. Sunday is usually a meal requiring more difficulty than what goes on during the week. Monday-Wednesday includes meals that can take up to an hour to prep/cook. Thursday and Friday are my "off-but-still-cooking" days because I do the cleaning and there's no reason to spend more time in the kitchen when other rooms need attention too. Saturday is affectionately known as "fend for your damn self".

We have a pretty strict budget for the grocery store. To feed 3 people for 7 days, we have $140 a week. That is a bit high, compared to some people and I know if we stopped buying soda, juice and chips, we could stay significantly under that. However, that $140 also includes toilet paper, paper towels and misc. cleaning supplies that we need throughout the month.

I know it takes time, but each week before we go to the grocery store I plan out what I'm going to cook for the week (with input from Tom and C) and write out a grocery list with those ingredients. I look at the weekly circular to see whats on sale and sometimes get meal ideas from there. I'll also look on coupon.com and see if there are any worthwhile coupons. Doing this is 98% effective from picking up stupid stuff that we don't need at the store. And its also nice to not have to stand in front of the freezer staring at all of the stuff in it thinking "now what the hell am I going to make for dinner?" Instead, I have a little sheet of paper telling me what to cook.

Here's an example for this week:
Sunday - minestrone soup
Monday - chicken cordon bleu with french fries and corn
Tuesday - (actually I'll have to edit once I get home...I can't remember what the hell I'm cooking!)
Wednesday -
Thursday -
Friday -

Anyway, another money saving trick I have is to buy meats in bulk. I priced out our regular grocery store to a discount warehouse to a grocery store near my work. It turned out that the grocery store by work was the best. They always carry family sized packages and they even have deals like 5 for $20. Typically, their prices are 10-30% cheaper than other stores. The money for the meats also comes out of our grocery budget. When the freezer gets low, I take my $60 grocery contribution and put it towards meats. If we have extra money left over in the budget after shopping, the rest of it goes to me for extra meats. In this case, we had $120 I could spend because hardly spent anything the week before.

Here's the breakdown of what I bought today:
Family pack chicken breasts              $12.10      7 breasts
Family pack chicken breasts              $11.01      7 breasts
Family pack boneless pork chops      $11.23      10 pork chops
Custom pack fillet mignon                  $57.50       12 steaks
Family pack 80/20 ground beef         $8.65         4.23 lbs (approx. 4 portions)
5 for $20 boneless pork chops          $5.00         6 pork chops
5 for $20 london broil roast               $5.00         2.25 lbs.
5 for $20 london broil roast               $5.00         2.03 lbs.
5 for $20 london broil roast               $5.00         1.99 lbs.
5 for $20 80/20 ground beef             $5.00          2.79 lbs (approx 3 portions)
Beef stir fry                                       $3.44          1.52 lbs
Beef stir fry                                       $3.68          1.78 lbs.

Total Cost:  $ 128 and some change.

Okay so lets look at this in meal format. The chicken breasts are usually gigantic and half of the time I can butterfly them and make two meals. Say that doesn't happen at all though. Then I'd have 14 chicken breasts, 16 pork chops, 12 steaks, 7 1-lb. portions of ground beef, 2 stir fry meals, and 3 meals with the london broil. Then I divide the individual servings into meals. 14 chicken breasts will make 4 meals of 3 breasts and one meal with 2 breasts each. I only count the ones that serve 3.

So - 4 chicken, 5 pork, 4 steak, 7 ground beef, 2 stir fry, and 3 roast = 25 meals. $128/25 = $5.12 per meal. Thats not even PER SERVING!

Typically, I stay under $10 per meal and that includes the starch and vegetable...and that's for two men who eat a hell of a lot! Based off the meat purchases, you can see that we eat pretty well. Who else do you know eating fillet for that price? Honestly, its my favorite steak and I pretty much refuse to buy any other type. Any why should I if I'm getting 6-8 oz. of fillet for that price?

Once I get home tonight I'll do a complete break down of what the meals we're eating this week really cost.

I dare you to challenge yourself to this.

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