A few weeks ago Mary Ostyn joined us! Mary is the mom of a busy family of 10, and she's written a number of books on how to juggle that many kids and still have an awesome family life.
One of the things that I'm always amazed at in our Twitter conversations with all the friends I have is how many of you moms out there are so frugal! You know where to get the best deals, and you know how to stretch a dollar. So you're going to really appreciate this interview today. So let's get started.
Mary, you’ve written a book that many of my readers will just drool over, called Family Feasts for $75 a Week. Are you serious? Can you feed that many that cheaply without resorting to all lentils and dried beans?
The $75 a week quoted in my book is for a family of 4. With 10+ people to feed, I spend more like $200 a week. But most of them eat like adults—I don’t think many people could feed the numbers I do for that amount. And we eat really well—lots of good tasting food, lots of variety. I could get by on a little less if we needed to—in fact, one month every year I challenge myself to spend as little as possible. Last year I fed our whole family for a month for $350. But it would be hard to feed that many people every month for that cost, and I don’t think our diet would be as varied
I think if more people realized that if you plan your meals and plan your shopping, you could live for so much less, there would be less of a need for two incomes. Do you think that groceries is one of the main ways that people throw money away?
Absolutely. If your budget is tight, look at your grocery spending first. I wrote my book to help the ‘average’ family waste less money. But I’ve had confirmed tightwads tell me they learned new tricks from my book. I think that just goes to show that most of us could be spending less, whether we realize it or not
I have to admit, Mary, that I have expensive tastes. I like salmon, but it ain’t cheap. What do you do with foods that you just can’t afford? Do you ever treat yourself?
I love salmon too, and I splurge once a month or so. (It’s generally cheapest in the freezer case, by the way!) The trick is to balance your splurges with affordable meals. For every splurge meal I serve 2-3 vegetarian or almost-vegetarian meals. For example, potato corn chowder and pasta carbonera can both be made with a dollar’s worth of bacon, and yet the flavours are very rich and satisfying.
Another trick is to incorporate a flavor you love in a more affordable form. We eat steak maybe 4 or 5 times a year – it’s just too expensive to be a regular at our house. But I make a wonderful steak fajita with caramelized onions and bell peppers, served in flour tortillas with salsa and sour cream. That meal offers the flavour of steak for half the cost
Restaurants are so expensive, especially with large families, but it’s hard to cook all the time. Do you have a plan so that on those nights when you just want a treat or a break, you can get one inexpensively? Do you make up frozen meals for that purpose, or do you have another trick up your sleeve?
I love to cook, but I have days where I’m burned out too. At least once a week I make a pot of soup big enough to last two meals. Once a week I also double a casserole recipe, and stick the second one in the freezer. I try to have 2-3 casseroles in the freezer all the time, for variety.The crock pot can be a time saver on a busy day. And almost every meal, I make 2 or 3 servings extra. Then a couple times a week I serve ‘pot-luck’ for lunch. I pull all the leftovers out of the fridge and let kids pick what they want to zap in the microwave. Like you mentioned, planning really is at the heart of keeping the grocery budget in check.
You have a daughter who is married now. Is she frugal, too?
I think so. Once before she and her husband were married, they went to the store for candy. They opted for the bulk food bins and their entire purchase totalled 37 cents. I laughed when they told me that story. Of course that they’re buying more than candy they’re spending more. But they’re doing a great job being careful with their money. Last summer Amanda canned fruit and made jam. And she’s always trying out new recipes, expanding her repertoire. I think that’s a big key to being content with eating at home: mix it up, keep it interesting, both for the cook and for the rest of the family.
I know you'll love this book! I'm excited to get my hands on it, and Mary has generously offered one as a prize to a commenter! So leave a comment, and in one week, on April 12, we'll draw for a winner!
While you're busy leaving a comment, though, why not leave us your favourite frugal grocery tip, too? I have a couple that I'll leave for you:
1. Don't buy cereal. It's horrendously expensive. Make up your own pancake mix, or choose smoothies for breakfast instead.
2. Make lots of soups. They last a long time, and you can use leftover meats to fill them out. They're cheap and filling! We often do a potato-leek soup with homemade buns and salad as a vegetarian meal.
Now, what are yours? And good luck on the contest!
UPDATE: Do read the comments! Great tips there! Here's a really good one from Charline, that I try to emulate, too:
I cook something big and prepare extra potatoes, then I stretch it as long as I can by using everything up in very simple recipes. For example: Roasted chicken with sides of potatoes and carrots on the first night; using the liquid, some leftover chicken (with fresh potatoes), I can make a soup; using half of the leftover potatoes (with cream corn and hamburg), I have sheppard's pie; using the second half of the potatoes with leftover chicken and carrots, fried together in a pan with salt and pepper, I have what we call hash; and then with whatever chicken that's left, we can make sandwiches. So, with only a few extra ingredients, a very large meal can make an additional 4 to 5 meals.
Now read the comments, and remember to leave one if you want to win!
About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.