This years Code Orange financial lockdown has been....interesting...(yeah, that's it) thus far. To reach our financial goals for 2013, I had to reevaluate an already modest budget to squeak as much extra money out that I could. The object is, of course, to use our pennies wisely and spend them very carefully. The less we spend, the more we save.
As Dave Ramsey is fond of saying (and I am fond of quoting) "Live like no one else now so that later you can live like no one else."
We'll certainly be living like no one else. I basically cut our spending in HALF, hoping to use the other half to build wealth (by building our savings or by paying off the mortgage sooner.) Half is huge, people.
Wanna know my grocery budget? It is $100.00 BIWEEKLY. That is $50.00 a week for a family of six, in case you missed it. So yeah- huge.
Even more challenging is that I am passionate about giving NOURISHING, HEALTHY food to my family. Especially now with me trying to lose weight, I try to have plenty of good-for-you snacks to munch on. And let's face it- that can be expensive!
All other categories of spending that were able to be cut were cut in half too, some of which were already parched as it is. Our "non-food necessities" envelope is $30.00 which was used entirely up in one shopping trip the day I needed diapers, wipes and saline all at the same time. And the time before that, it was used up in only restocking the VITAMINS.
The month of January was easy sailing. I put some new strategies into play and I thought "Hey- this isn't so bad!" Then February rolled around and I was sucker punched. The thing is, I had a nice little food reserve going on~ all sorts of groceries stockpiled and a full-to-the-brim fridge of deliciousness in the beginning of the year. By mid-February, though, that reserve was GONE and the cupboards were bare and $50.00 a week barely covered our DAIRY needs for two weeks. I realized I was going to need more than just a few tweaks here and there.
I have had to become even MORE creative and even more fickle toward my purchases. I am not saying I am the authority on the subject, far from it~ but if you are hoping to cut your grocery spending, maybe it would be helpful to share?
Here are some things that have helped me cut my grocery bill in half with (a little bit) less sting and a few things I plan to implement which I know will ease the transition even more:
~ Biggest, most helpful change so far has been NOT grocery shopping every week. We get paid bi-weekly, so now I shop bi-weekly. On library day (on off weeks) I do go to a local store to pick up gallons of milk- we go through three or four a week and my fridge couldn't accomodate two week's worth.) Being in stores half the time helps me to save half the money, I can assure you.
~ Stick to the stores you must go to. I used to love grocery day. Go to Aldi. Go to Walmart for what I couldn't get at Aldi. Go to Target because it is right across the way and I LOVE Target. Maybe, if there is time and the kids are cooperating, let's go to the craft store and take a gander there. And while I am out....
You and I both know if you shop like that, you are looking for things to buy. I would walk out of each store with SOMETHING (even something small) but rarely anything NECESSARY. And I had grocery day every week back then, so I was shopping around a lot.
~ Write a list of items you need from each store and do.not.deviate.
~ From the above, you'll probably guess this one: Plan your menu! I make a two week menu plan and stick with it.
~ Use from your 'stores'. If any of you "puts up food" (freezing, canning, dehydrating) you probably already understand this dilemma. Sometimes you forget you have something. Five years later, you find a freezer-burned ham at the bottom of your freezer. Even if you don't often freeze or can, I am sure you have found something at the back of your cupboard that you had long since forgotten you had. While I make up my menu plan, I try to use up things I know I have stored up. You don't need to buy hamburger and beans for chili if you could whip up some zucchini soup instead, from ingredients you already have on hand.
(This, incidentally, helps immensely as I am also trying to be more hospitable having company over for supper. Before, I would look for yummy things to make and buy ingredients for it. Now, I have been looking at what I have on hand and making meals based on that. I can tell you, the company hasn't minded one bit!)
~ No Leftovers Left Behind. Food is precious once you have so little money to spend on it. DO NOT LET IT GO TO WASTE. Have leftover nights. Eat leftovers for lunch. Use any little bits of leftovers up in other ways- add them all up and make soups. Even freeze them. Also- go through your fridge often so nothing gets lost and forgotten about until it is too late.
~ Bring a calculator and use it. Maybe it is dorky to walk around at the store with a calculator- but I am a dork and proud of it. It is the only way to stay within budget.
~ Use cash. Debit cards are beautiful things. You can decide last minute to pick up dinner on your way home- or add a bag of chips or a half gallon of icecream for a 'treat'. Yeah. They are beautiful, dangerous things.
The only thing I use my debit card for now is for buying gas so I don't have to 'prepay' every time I am at the pump. (The gas, too, has its own virtual "envelope".)
~ Buy in bulk, when it saves you. (But make sure it does!) And when a sale is great, buy as much as you can afford. When 3# bags of carrots go on sale at Aldi for 79cents, I buy five bags.
~ Don't spend money on boxed foods. A box of Rice-a-Roni is cheap, sure, but it only feeds your family once (if you are lucky.) Buy a big bag of rice and it will feed you much longer. This is true for pretty much all convenience foods.
~ Eat lots of cheap, healthy foods and often. Rice, dried beans, pasta, bags of potatoes, popcorn, and bananas are all CHEAP to buy AND filling. (SCORE!) There is nothing wrong with eating potatoes several times a week because that is all you can afford. In fact, I think if instead of food stamps, our churches gave out rice, bean and potato certificates, the world might just be a much better place!
~ Make homemade yogurt, instead of buying it. We eat this a lot and would save so much making it! (This is one of those TO-IMPLEMENT things.)
~ Make your own hummus, instead of buying it. We eat this a lot too! And laziness has made me pick it up at the store instead of making it like I once did. (Another change to implement soon.)
~ Buy popcorn kernels in a large bag- not in those microwavable pouches or worse-already popped! If you don't have an air-popper invest in one- OR, you can use lunch bags to make homemade microwavable popcorn bags. But then you have to buy the bags...
~ Make from scratch. This is huge. Bad for you food SEEMS cheaper but it really isn't. Instead of bread, buy flour. Instead of canned soup, buy cornstarch and bouillon cubes. Instead of cookies, buy sugar. Then, make them at home.
~ Avoid the snack aisle at all costs! Don't buy chips, bagged popcorn, fruit snacks, cookies, candy, etc. You know, all those delicious things! Most of these aren't good for you and when you are on a tight budget, there is no room for them anyway. The only "snack" foods we buy anymore are crackers (for peanut butter crackers, hummus, cheese crackers or soup.), marshmallows and raisins. Once in a GREAT while I will get honey pretzel rods from Aldi. Oh- I always try to have a bag of tortilla chips to eat with our home-canned salsa.
Some of our go-to snacks are air-popped popcorn. (Homemade) Cookies. Raisins. Marshmallows. Granola bars. Bananas. Banana and apple chips (from our dehydrator) or the aforementioned crackers. ;-)
~ Use coupons- only if it is worth it. There are plenty of coupon guru's who can get free or more-than-free stuff all the time. I was one of them, once upon a time. I do it less often now because I don't want to go to store after store after store every week, hauling four children behind me, but I realize it can be worth it. BUT. Just because you have a coupon for it doesn't mean it is worth it. Don't buy things you wouldn't ordinarily buy and don't buy name brand (with a coupon) if you can get a store brand cheaper anyway. Coupons take plenty of time and plenty of wisdom but they can be helpful.
~ Cereal can be SUCH a rip-off. We have it once a week, on Sundays when there isn't much time to make a home-cooked breakfast before scurrying off to church. Our usual weekday breakfasts- eggs (in all their many forms), scones, oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, toast, muffins or cornmeal mush. All healthy and all much more cost effective (and filling!) than a box of cereal.
~ Fix soups. A LOT. In the summer I fix salads often- having a big garden outside my door helps make beautiful salads. In the winter though- there is nothing better to warm you up, use up leftovers or create INEXPENSIVE meals that to serve soups. Think about it- it is mostly water! I try and include two soups a week, once for supper and once for lunch. Eating it more often, will save you even more money.
~ Who needs paper towels? Dishrags work fine. I do have some leftover paper napkins from a party once-upon-a-time, for the odd case of the throw-ups. Anything else gets a towel.
~ Eat vegetarian at least once a week. Our freezers full of our home-raised beef and pork are fast dwindling. In order to conserve until the next batch, we are eating more vegetarian than ever. Adding vegetarian days to the mix really lessens the financial load- meat is expensive! It isn't that bad- if my meat-and-potatoes man can do it without compaining- anyone can!
~ Eat Seasonal. I am not going to try to convince you (or myself, for that matter) that eating "seasonally" and "locally" (the two big buzzwords these days) are somehow more holy than eating otherwise. I like my bananas too much. I will say, though, that there is something to be said for being without for a time- it makes you appreciate it when you have it that much more. Strawberries never taste so good as the ones in June, after a winter without. And garden tomatoes- don't get me started on those. Not to mention- strawberries in January are seriously hefty prices for seriously cardboard taste. Am I right or am I right?
~ Prepare in advance for Lean Times. Finally- as any reader of this blog for any length of time knows, I do a lot of "putting up". Just take a gander at my sidebar over there ----->; and you'll see I have a lot of sweat equity put by. Having a large garden is a saving grace to the summer food budget and freezing/dehydrating/canning the excess is the saving grace to a winter food budget. It is how we can have huckleberry pancakes in February and summer squash gratin in March and pesto at Christmas and fruit, in some form or another every single day of winter.
I simply COULD.NOT.FEED.MY.FAMILY on this tight of a budget without the preparations from last summer. PERIOD.
It's a lot of work, sure, but there is a whole lot of reward (and peace of mind) too.
Now it is your turn~ do you have any good suggestions for how you keep your grocery bill down?
Even with all these strategies in place, it can still be a challenge to stay within our grocery budget. I would certainly love to hear about things that have helped you. I have 10 more months of this- I could use all the help I can get!
Come garden season, come!
Come garden season, come!