Saturday, July 25, 2009

thoughts on budgeting

After I added up our grocery reciepts from this month and had my own personal freak-out time, it was time to bring up budgeting with Dan. We had a long talk this afternoon about grocery shopping, budgeting in general, and our finances, (both bleak -- Dan's unemployed in a few weeks, and I've been underemployed since the end of April.) We've agreed that our goal is to get our grocery spending down to about $400 per month, with an attempt to avoid compromising our values of buying organic, fair-trade, local, and healthy.

I did some web research tonight, and I must be honest with you, I'm doing almost everything that people are suggesting. I cook dried beans from scratch, we stick to whole foods, (not "food-like substances,") we shop the Farmer's Market, we stock up on things when they are on sale, etc., etc., etc. I've been working pretty hard at this for a month already, and was able to reduce our grocery spending by $100 in one month, but we still have room to go.

Dan and I decided that we were going to work on this using "baby steps" -- we're going to try and get our budget down to $500 next month, see how that feels, and maybe try to reduce it again the following month. You know, Rome wasn't built in a day or anything. :)

We did make some decisions about our grocery spending that hopefully will help.

We're still working on completely eliminating processed foods from our diet, but still love and sort of rely on jarred pasta sauce, sandwich bread, salsa, canned artichokes, olives, and some condiments. I'm going to work on making homemade pasta sauce from now on, (and stocking up on canned tomatoes when they are on sale,) and dig out an old sandwich loaf recipe I haven't used in years. Let's hope these cool temperatures stick around, so I can turn the oven on periodically!

Coffee is a definite expense, especially when you buy organic and fair-trade. I'm willing to try to give up coffee completely, especially since we get no nutritional value from it; Dan is not. Dan is willing to by "crap" coffee; I am not. Our compromise? We're each going to cut our consumption in half. I'll cut down to a half-cup per day, Dan will cut down to a cup. Hopefully, this alone will save us $20 a month.

We're going to go to a cash system for groceries, as well as for a very modest "date" fund. We've agreed that we really can't afford to go to first-run movies right now, or out to eat, for that matter. We also can't afford to buy popcorn at the movies, even at the budget theatre. (That's what backpacks are for, right???) ;)

I'm going to start taking a calculator to the store with me, and adding up as I go along. No more "treats" either -- soda, cookies from the bakery, prepared deli salads, etc. Dan's also going to try and come with me more, so he can actually see how much food costs.

We're going to try to plan ahead and have some meals stashed away in the freezer for times when we don't feel like cooking and/or are in a huge hurry to get a meal on the table. Again, we can't afford to go out to eat. I'm thinking soups and homemade frozen pizzas might be a good place to start. One can only eat so much pasta.

Dairy is expensive, and I feel like we've been eating too much cheese and yogurt lately anyway. Beans, beans, beans, here we come. Oh, and all that jam I've been making? Whole new relationship with the PBJ.

I've been making my own alternative milks for years, but even so, homemade soymilk is much cheaper than homemade almond milk. We'll make the switch when the supply of almonds I have in the fridge runs out.

We had a talk about sweets/baked goods/ice cream/etc. I pretty much make all of this from scratch, but I'm sure it still adds up. (Sugar, chocolate, and Earth Balance are all fairly expensive.) I've considered dropping out of Daring Bakers for financial reasons, but have decided to stick it out. I'm going to have to get smarter about halving (or even quartering) recipes of baked goods, and we're both going to watch our treat portions. We agreed that it was more important to have small tastes that were satisfying, rather than "depriving" ourselves and splurging like crazy later.

Speaking of Earth Balance, I've already switched to canola oil in the granola. And I'm going to have to price out Earth Balance versus butter.

Oh, and no more cherries. (I accidentally spent $15 on cherries this week!) In general, I'm going to try and keep fruit around $2-$3 a pound or less, given that it's mostly all organic that we're buying.

Soooooo . . . there we have it, at least for now. Any more suggestions are more than appreciated!


Anonymous said...

No advice, just wishing you guys good luck. Our food budget has been reduced to about $350 a month out of necessity, which I find so hard to stick to. Unfortunately my desire to buy organic is frequently trumped by trying to keep enough food in the house for myself and a bottomless pit of a husband. Our organic purchases have been only dairy and eggs pretty much, all the more reason to eat more vegan meals I guess. I'm interested to see how it goes for you, because I'm constantly trying to come up with new, CHEAP meal ideas.

Regina said...

I'm curious, have you ever heard of this website? It probably isn't a ton of new information, but the author has lots of good ideas anyway.
Again, good luck - I admire your dedication and thoughtfulness :)

Catherine Weber said...

Regina, thanks for that link! I haven't heard of that website, but again, it is a lot of the same information I've learned over the years. I think the kicker is going to be making our sandwich bread -- I think we can save over $20 per month!

Catherine Weber said...

Victoria, I feel the same way about Dan! I swear, sometimes he eats twice as much as me, and THEN asks for popcorn, too!!! Yowza. :) I'm fond of saying to him, "you wonder where our food budget goes?" and then pointing to his plate. He thinks it's funny, thankfully!

aTxVegn said...

I feel like I do all the right things too. It's just hard! I do think baking your own bread will save you a lot, and cutting down on dairy. Good luck!

Liz said...

The cash method is smart, smart, smart, Catherine! While it wasn't long-lasting, I was able to last about 2 or 3 months on $300 per month for our family using the cash method and still shopping at the co-op. I found that we really need to spend closer to $400-450 to make things work and not feel deprived, though. I know you can do it!

Judy's Nutrition said...

Budgeting sucks. I hate trying to figure it out, and I hate following the 'rules', and so I have no advice for you. However, this blog may help you out - she sticks to a pretty rigid budget, and still eats great looking food.

Judy's Nutrition said...

Woops, I think I forgot to post the blog link I mentioned -

Anonymous said...

I have some budgeting tips on this page --->

I think that you do most of it already, but just in case it might help. It works out really well for Long and I. We don't normally buy organic, but we try to look for the freshest produce possible while supporting local stores.