Tips Here, Tips There

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This post is dedicated to tips on food budgeting and reducing our impact on the environment.

Food Budgeting:

I am very, very meticulous about how I spend money and manage my finances. I also love grocery shopping, cooking, and baking (and eating, obviously!). But it can be difficult not to overspend on groceries, especially when you don’t have a plan or a shopping list ahead of time. When Tim and I first moved to Portland, we lived off a very small combined income and I budgeted our groceries to around $40 per week. It wasn’t easy, but we managed. Over the years our cooking abilities have grown and so have our lifestyles (we went vegan together just over three years ago). The cost of food has increased, the economy is a messy rollercoaster of nonsense, and we are both severly underpaid in our careers. Yet, we still manage to eat the most wonderful meals every week without stressing over funds. How? Several years ago Tim came up with the best plan for budgeting our grocery expenses (and I am sure many other people do this as well): We sit down together the same night each week with a stack of cookbooks and choose seven meals to have for dinner over the next week. We write down each recipe and include the cookbook and page number and then clip the list to the refrigerator for reference. Then we build our grocery list around those meals and add to the list any staples we might need like milk, apples, toilet paper, etc. Using this method ensures that we use the numerous cookbooks we have and buy only what we really need at the store. We shop at a few different places so I also code our list so we know what to purchase at each store. That might sound nerdy and overly organized, but it really works. Planning ahead makes a huge difference!!! And, because we aren’t tossing stuff willy-nilly into our cart, we can buy organic produce and special treats. Sometimes we do fall victim to the “that’s not on the list but I want it” situation, and that’s OK – I don’t want to live too strictly!!! But overall this method has worked for us for the last five years, at least.

Reducing Our Impact on the Environment:

There are a million and one ways to reduce our impact on the environment (check out a previous post on the subject here) yet our planet is suffering more and more every day. Here are a handful of my favorite tips (food-related) for treading lightly (I know many of you already do these things, but its still fun to share):

1. Use canvas/cloth/fabric shopping bags instead of plastic. Not only are they roomier than plastic, but they  have nice straps so that you can carry them over your shoulders. They are prettier, last longer (sturdier!!) and can be washed. Most importantly, they don’t end up in landfills or as litter on the street like plastic bags do. If you want more information on how terrible plastic bags are for the environment visit this website (you can purchase reusable bags from the site as well). Or, check out Jessica’s post on how she made her own bags from old t-shirts!!! Crafty, crafty!!!

2. Stop using plastic produce bags at the grocery store. Tim and I made a bunch of our own bulk food and produce bags last year.  You can also buy some pretty nifty bags online if you aren’t a sewer. Here are two of my favorites: Qwerty O and Kootsac. I understand that not all grocery stores will allow customers to use their own produce bags, but I’ve never had any troubles. If you shop at co-ops or other local stores, you could try bringing in clean containers for purchasing liquid bulk items like agave or maple syrup. Lots of places will even let you bring in jars to fill with dry bulk goods. Just make sure to tare the weight of the container first!!!

3. Reuse  packaging. When Tim and I buy packaged cereal, we save the inner sleeve and use it to store raisins or other dried fruits. We will also wrap sammies in them for packable lunches. The cardboard box becomes scratch paper or packing material for mailing gifts. Bread bags become a way to store kale or carrots in the fridge. You get the idea. We try really hard to avoid plastic packaging, but it isn’t always possible. Just do the best you can.

4. Buy foods in bulk. This tip is a combination of the last two tips. If you buy in bulk, you save money and eliminate wasteful packaging. Plus, there is such a great variety of bulk foods – it’s so much fun to cruise down bulk food aisles!!!

5. Save veggie scraps (ends of carrots, tops of onions, leafy celery bits, mushroom stems, etc) in a container in your freezer. When your container is full, you can make veggie broth! I don’t do this enough, but I should!

6. Buy local, seasonal, and organic whenever possible. I know this is a tough one, but it is incredibly rewarding. Shop at farmers markets! Buying locally means less fuel wasted in transfer = less pollution. You are also supporting local farmers which is mighty nice! When you buy what is in season, you get yummy, fresh, happy produce!!!

Those are my favorite tips! What are some of yours?