Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Pantry Plan Wrap Up...Or Not?

Here we are folks, September 2nd and summer, while not officially over, sure feels like it is over as the kids start back to school full tilt and my office has ended our summer hours. I'm really going to miss the half day Fridays. Yesterday also marked the official end of The Pantry Plan.

Seems like I just declared the start of my plan to not purchase any substantial groceries between July 1 - September 1 but rather live off my pantry and well stocked freezer.

My Pantry

Just to remind you about the rules for The Pantry Plan, the only groceries I would allow myself to buy from July 1st until September 1st were:
  • Perishable dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese, half and half (got to have my coffee!)

  • Cat food (LB doesn't understand the meaning of "pantry plan" and requires his Fancy Feast)

  • Cat litter (See LB's understanding of the "pantry plan" and his consumption of Fancy Feast)

  • Items needed for any Daring Baker challenge not already in my pantry (I'm setting a self imposed limit of $15.00 for any special ingredients for challenges)

  • Items needed to fulfill any baking orders or catering jobs (paid for by clients)

  • Items needed to teach my bread baking classes at the local community college (reimbursed by college)

  • Corn on the cob from the farmer's market. (I can't grow this in my container garden)

  • Fresh fruit from the farmer's market. (I have no berry bushes or fruit bearing trees in my yard)

  • So, how did I do? I did pretty well sticking to my plan with a few exceptions, one completely in my control and the other not so much.

    My plan to only purchase corn and fruit at the Farmer's Market and let my garden supply me with my vegetables for the rest of the summer did not work as well as I had hoped. My tomato, cucumber and zucchini plants along with all my herbs were wonderful producers throughout the summer and I am happy to say I did not have to purchase any of these once, with the exception of a few tomatoes at the very beginning of the season. However, the rest of the garden was not as productive as I had hoped, at least not productive enough to prevent me from having to expand my Farmer's Market purchases beyond corn.

    I had planted several varieties of lettuces and spinaches in the spring and early summer, including some heat and bolt resistant varieties. In Cambridge, I had good success with growing these in containers and having enough lettuce produced throughout the summer. However, this year I was not successful in this area. By the first week of the start of The Pantry Plan, both large containers of lettuce had given up producing anything but bitter tasting lettuce and quickly bolted.

    Also, I once again did not have success in growing Thumbalina carrots in a container despite this variety being specifically developed to produce small container friendly carrots. After four years of trying to get carrots to grow in containers I'm officially done and will either find a way to grow them in a patch of earth next year or purchase carrots at the Farmer's Market/procure them in my CSA. Pepper plants also proved to be a bit troublesome for me this year, producing only three or four very small peppers. They too may find themselves in a patch of earth next year.

    Where I had another problem staying 100% true to the Pantry Plan was towards the end of the plan after I was introduced to the devil in disguise Whole Foods Chicken Italian Sausages. To my defense, if you have ever had one of these you will understand what I'm about to say. These things are addicting and thankfully are fairly inexpensive. But, I felt guilty purchasing them not once but twice while on the pantry plan. Especially knowing full well that I had in the freezer a package of three regular Italian sausages. My rationalization while I was standing in line at Whole Foods was "yes, but these are better for you". None the less, these slips did add $6.31 to my total grocery amount.

    Another purchase I did not anticipate was the re-introduction of Hydrox cookies during the month of August for a limited time. I won't go into to many details here as I have a post coming up this week discussing this but let's just say two packages of these, the one and true sandwich cookie, did find their way into my house during The Pantry Plan, on sale I might add. Can I plead supporting the cause of bringing these back as an excuse? (Sure you can Mary, especially after this post earlier in the month. After all you can't be considered a "flip flopper" can you?)

    A few things about this endeavor surprised me. Even though dairy and perishables were allowed, I found myself each week seriously considering my purchases in these departments. I have been known to go a bit crazy in the cheese department and at the cheesemongers. Once I started thinking about the amounts of money I was spending in that area, I found that I would often pick up a piece of Gouda, Brie, or Stilton, look at the price per pound and then ask myself if the purchase was really necessary or could I settle for a domestic or less expensive variety. More than once I would buy no cheese at all.

    The same went where milk was concerned. I am a big milk drinker but not as much during the summer as in the rest of the year. I found that part of my milk buying was more psychological than necessary. I liked the idea that if I wanted a glass of ice cold milk it was in the fridge. After throwing out bad milk once or twice from half drank containers, I decided to not keep milk in the fridge and that if I found I wanted a glass I would walk down to the convenience store and buy a pint versus a half gallon.

    Daring Bakers challenges proved not to be a factor at all as with the exception of heavy cream, all the ingredients I had on hand. I think I spent less than $5.00 in total on both challenges that occurred during the months of July and August for ingredients for Daring Bakers. The same for the Bread Baking Babes, I spent no money at all on the breads we made.

    The Pantry Plan also helped me make the most out of my cookbook collection, forcing me to explore long unopened volumes to find recipes that fit the contents of my pantry. My RSS reader was also a big help as I would find myself marking recipes from my fellow food bloggers and tried several recipes I typically would have not marked because the ingredients matched my inventory. Let me tell you there are some super talented folks out there in Food Blog land. Thank you one and all!

    When it was all said and done, here is what my grand total grocery bill for the months of July and August came to:

    A whopping $77.28 including Farmer's Market, non-home grown vegetables, and dairy/perishable goods and my chicken Italian sausage habit! That is a little more than 3/4 of the former weekly amount I was spending on groceries and averages to a $9.66 a week grocery bill. That weekly savings from not spending over $90.00 a week for groceries is paying the hotel room bills for my upcoming vacation to Gettysburg and the Shenandoah Valley. Looking back at my Quicken reports, prior to The Pantry Plan a full 28% of my monthly disposable income was being spent at the grocery store. Since The Pantry Plan, that amount has fallen to less than 4%.

    Where do I go from here now that I've discovered how much money I am saving and how easy it really was to stick to The Pantry Plan?

    Amazingly, my pantry is still rather full and frankly, I think I'm going to unofficially continue to use the Pantry Plan in my weekly shopping and menu planning. I am, however, going to give myself the leeway that if I see a recipe in one of your blogs that I want to make that I don't have on hand all the ingredients or I have a craving for Cornish game hens, I'm not going to feel guilty about deviating and purchasing those items. But, that said, I am also going to try and keep my weekly grocery bill under $25.00.

    So, while The Pantry Plan is officially over and I won't be updating the grocery tally, the new way of shopping and cooking will continue and I will mention from time to time recipes and interesting tidbits I glean from working more closely from my pantry.

    Speaking of new ways of cooking, keep your eye open here. Along with some visible changes to the layout of The Sour Dough you will notice in the upcoming weeks, there will be some food changes as well. I'm about to launch into a new phase of my cooking/baking life and I'm going to take you along for the ride. I hope you will join me!

    Pantry Plan Final Totals:

    $77.28 including Farmer's Market, non-home grown vegetables, and dairy/perishable goods