Okay, so we’ve been trying to pinch some pennies around the ol’ TeamPerk clubhouse. I may or may not have recently totaled our car, and the new one hit the savings account pretty hard. Ugh.
So, we’re tightening the belt on the budget…which was already pretty darn tight!
One way we’ve found to do so is to start buying a lot of out “staples” in bulk. (Usually on red-eye trips to Winco to avoid the horrible crowds…)
The only problem for me, as the cook, was that I ended up with a dozen plastic bags of stuff (rice, oatmeal, couscous, beans, etc.,) all piled together on a shelf.
NOT a fan!
Luckily, I also shop at Costco for a few items, milk being one of them. Now, to be honest, I hate the new milk containers when it comes to pouring milk. And usually end up grumbling as I wipe up spills at least half the time.
However, I also discovered that those new milk jugs happen to fit perfectly on the shelf that I keep the bulk foods on…
The following recycle project was born!
DIY Bulk Food Storage
Wash the empty jug with soap and water. Allow it to air dry for a couple of days. (Btw, the label is very easy to remove when the jug is full of hot water.)
Take the “recipe card” (these are usually in a rack on each bulk food aisle) and tape it securely to the front of the jug. I used packing tape and covered the whole label. That way it remains water, stain, and wear proof.
As an added bonus, I’ve found that it’s REALLY easy to pour the contents into a measuring cup! (As demonstrated here by my lovely assistant.)
All my bulk foods can be stacked side by side for easy access, and easily refilled. If you wanted to be REALLY picky, you could fill the container a cup at a time and make hash-marks on the side. That way, you’ll know how much you’re using on a weekly/monthly basis.
Also, I’ve got my recipe right there with the food and never have to go find it!
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
Plus, given the truckloads of milk my daughter goes through, I always have a ready supply. And a little more room in the recycle bin each week is nice, too.
NOTE: If you need smaller containers and need to optimize your space, the plastic ½ gallon milk containers are shaped just like this and take up a lot less room.
Now, if I can just figure out how to sell a totaled car…
A note on “buying in bulk”: It’s a great idea, and I do it myself, selectively, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Growing up in a home with a severely limited budget for anything, including food, buying large amounts of any one item, regardless of the long-term savings, would have meant no budget for any other foods. I still run into this issue with the “big box” stores.
You Can’t Eat Toilet Paper
Saving 50% on giant bags of beans, rice (or toilet paper) is great, but if it takes half of my weekly budget to buy those 3 items, it’s just not a reasonable option. A lot of folks are on such a ridiculously small budget, that it becomes a cash-flow issue, and the only option is to find the best deals on the amount they need THIS week, and, believe me, I get that.
In this situation, I recommend trying to set aside a small portion of the budget towards these items, even just a couple of dollars a week. When you’ve saved enough to buy that 50lb bag of beans, do it! Then, start saving for the next bulk item.
This is not to speak of the “bulk food” section, which is exactly the opposite situation, in that you can purchase as much, or as little, as you need.
As we talked about in “The Home Chef: Transforming the American Kitchen”, you can add a lot of variety to your meal planning, for very little money (and save on storage space), by sometimes just buying the exact amount of a dry-good or spice, that you need for that recipe.
This is especially true of ingredients that you’re not likely to use up in a timely manner.
Food You Don’t Eat Costs More
This is a trap that many of us fall in to, including me, and it’s the main reason I stopped buying produce at Costco, unless I was using it all at one time.
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Let’s say I buy 4lbs of grapes at the box store for $6.00 ($1.50/lb), and they’re $1.99 per pound at the produce store. In theory, I just saved two bucks, right?
Woo-Hoo, good job me!
However, if I get through the first 2lbs, and then the grapes get pushed to the back of the fridge, or I leave for the weekend and forget about them, or I just eat them slower than I thought I would, and the next thing I know, my beautiful bargain grapes have grown soft and fuzzy.
I paid $1.50 a pound for the whole container, but I paid $3.00 a pound for the grapes that I actually ate. Which means I paid 33% MORE for the bulk container than I would have by just buying a pound or two at the produce store!
Have a Plan!
This is why the most important element of saving $$$ with bulk foods is to Have a Plan!
Plan your meals and snacks, before you shop (or let us do it for you), and stick to that plan! Food waste is at epidemic proportions in America, driving up the cost of our groceries, wasting our resources, and filling our landfills. Be part of the solution.
And finally, make a list…and stick to it! The bulk food section is a cornucopia of new ingredients, and the imaginative home chef can quickly fill their basket (and empty their wallet) in the excitement of trying new things. Guilty as charged! The most proactive step you can take to keep your inner “Iron Chef” on a leash, is knowing what you’re going to buy before you walk through the doors, and buy ONLY what’s on your list.
Am I saying don’t experiment with new foods? Of course, I’m not (I think you know me better than that!)
I’m a sucker for a new shape of pasta, and a variety of beans I’ve never tried, of some exotic style of rice, and I encourage you to be as well. BUT (and I always have a big butt…) make them part of your plan!
When I find something that’s looks interesting, and that I want to try, I jot a note down on my list to add it to my NEXT shopping trip. This ensures:
I’ll have a chance to research the item, and learn more about it, and if the price a good value.
I’ll have a chance to make sure I have ROOM for it at home.
I can find a recipe or two using it and make it part of my PLAN.