Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New thoughts on the budget

So there was a day this week when I was looking at the grocery budget.  When I set the budget at $80 a week, I knew it would be a challenge.  But I thought it would be a challenge in the "just think about what you are buying this week way", not as much of a "you can have this OR that" kind of way.

I've done budget challenges in the past (at one point, more than a decade ago, $25 a week for two).  They are always challenging, but this one gives me some new perspective.

So there I sat, realizing I had $11 left for the week.  I knew I wanted to buy a 10 lb bag of pinto beans for $6, because that's a sale price.

That leaves $5.  And we are almost out of eggs and cream cheese, and completely out of yogurt and cottage cheese.

Is this a tragedy?  No.  My son likes eggs for lunch, but I can just as easily give him homemade bread and some cheese.  My kids like bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, but there is always cereal or oatmeal.  They love yogurt as a snack, but we have fruit.  But I was embarking on four days with a traveling husband, and I wasn't sure how much harder I was going to make it for myself.

So what to do with those $5?  Well I personally don't eat too many carbs these days for weight control, so how do I get my 4 servings of protein a day, if we are out of eggs and cottage cheese?  One of my servings is a smoothie and the other is dinner, but that's still 2 servings of protein needed.  And 2 eggs is one serving.  Luckily I have some canned fish and some frozen ham from Christmas.

My freezer is full so I figured that the first couple of months of this challenge would be easy-peasy.  I'd underestimated how much of a HABIT that I got into, buying the same foods to eat over and over, and only supplementing with stuff from the freezer.

So for people who are "food insecure" - on food stamps or not - this is a constant struggle.  Can you imagine how much brain power it takes to make sure you and your family are eating enough, much less getting a well balanced meal?  Day in and day out.  It is very easy to sit back from a place of "choosing" to limit your budget.  It's something else entirely when your entire life is this way.  I grew up poor, and I know that for my family, it became rote.  Everyone knew how to cook economically.  These days, many people are coming from a place of having to learn it from the start.  The knowledge wasn't passed on and learning it causes a ton of stress.

One of the forums that I am a regular at is Mr. Money Mustache.  There have been a few threads lately on food.  One of them is a paleo thread - and how do you eat cheap on paleo?  I went through and did an interesting math exercise this week where I wrote down a typical day of food for me (about 1400 calories) and calculated the cost of each item.  Rather than asking someone "give me your best paleo meal", I think it's important for each person to calculate the cost per item themselves.

The next step is, of course, to figure out how to get each item you eat for cheaper, OR to increase frequency of the cheaper items OR to find cheaper alternatives.  If you are strict paleo or even lean more towards lower carb (like me), you may find yourself eating more fat for your calories vs. protein.

For example, it's 9 cents for 120 calories of olive oil (7.5 cents per 100 calories), but it's 47 cents for 100 calories of cottage cheese.  Of course, you need protein so you wouldn't want to have all olive oil and no cottage cheese.  But instead of eating a cup of cottage cheese for 200 calories, it's cheaper to eat half cup, and then be liberal with the olive oil on your vegetables.

On the same vein, another thread was talking about food costs in general.  One of the members mentioned that for two adults and two toddlers, they budget about $300 to $350 a month (including all paper products, etc), and they cannot imagine people with $800 grocery bills.  They cook from scratch, etc. etc.  Well, grocery costs vary widely around the country, and the aforementioned member eats a lot of oats, rice, beans, and pasta.  I know that these things are very inexpensive and I used to eat a lot of them.  But these days I limit myself to 2 servings per day, so even if they are cheap, I am only saving so much money.

This week, of course, the kids were eating like horses and I fear the teenage years.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Budget

Well, as a reminder, I decided to try and hit a grocery budget this year, at $80 per week.

I am already over.  But I knew that, because I was several days in before I decided to watch things.

So here's where we are:

And here's what it tells me:

  • Holy crap, we've shopped 18 times in 24 days?  That's insane (though some of them are 2 stores in one day).
  • Costco is great, but it can lure you into buying things you don't need (ahem, a big bag of Snapeas, the snack not the vegetable).  Also, the size of the items means you eat up your budget quickly (half of this week's budget went to Costco, and $5 of that was the aforementioned Snapeas).
  • Husband is much more likely to buy snacks (like at Rite Aid and that was pringles chips), and for some reason figured that they didn't "count" to the grocery budget.  Yes.  Yes they do.
  • Whole Foods hot bar is my kryptonite (see 1/10 and 1/11).  I suppose I could count this as dining out, but I don't.
  • One of the ways I thought I'd save money is to switch to the big tub of yogurt instead of the small cups.  But then I made the mistake? of making a batch of granola. boys (all 3 of them) like that as a snack.  The granola is gone (less than a week later) and my 8 year old had 5 bowls of yogurt/granola in one day.

So, I'm at $133 per week, approximately.  I have a ways to go to hit that $80 target.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sickies - chicken soup

What do you do when you are sleep deprived, your toddler is sick, and your husband goes home sick?

You make a quick pot of chicken soup (by "quick", I mean "one hour").

Yep, the big boy was at a sleepover last night, and we were thinking we'd get a date night.  And by "date night", I mean a night at a casual restaurant with a toddler.  Then the toddler got stuffy and we thought "well, let's downgrade to takeout".

Then hubby got sick and I downgraded to stopping at the store to buy more honey for tea, and some carrots and discount onions.

Anyway, it's good to have "stuff" in your pantry and freezer.  I found some diced cooked chicken in the freezer this week.  I also had a partial bag of frozen mixed veggies, some frozen diced celery (that's what I do with extra celery), a couple of carrots, a little bit of orzo, and some chicken broth.

I also added thyme, parsley, garlic, water, and veggie bouillon.  OH! and Freeze dried green beans.  Cuz I'm prepared for armageddon around here.

Up this week is chickpea something or other (I want falafel, but probably only have time for curry).  And rosemary olive oil bread.  And kale salad and kale chips.  And hopefully granola.

How am I doing on the grocery budget?  Not so good.  I'll summarize tomorrow.  But I know I'm at about $90 this week already, at least.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A New Goal for the New Year - 2015

No, it's not weight related or fitness related.

Well, those still stand.  I still want to lose about 6-10 more pounds and stay fit and get fitter.

But this is  grocery budget goal.

I've fallen off the grocery budget wagon of late.  This started as a frugal cooking blog.  The other day, I was perusing old posts, and I came to 2009.  If you've been reading that long (maybe one of you?), back in 2009 I made it a goal to eat on very little.

My goal was to alternate months - one month $160/ month, the next $320.  That comes out to being an average of $240/ month.  That did NOT include the CSA (pre-paid at about $900 for the year).  I made it to September and then I got tired and quit.  It was still worthwhile.

The fun part and challenging parts - well, I started with a well-stocked freezer (like now).  The $160 months were really just using what I had on hand and replacing only necessities.  The $320 were much more flush - but as I ate through the freezer, I had to choose - loosen the reigns and get something "special", or restock the freezer?

Here's a snapshot of the first half: (I made it three more months):

I haven't even LOOKED at the budget in forever - we stopped using Quicken to track our finances (just don't have time to enter everything anymore).  We started using, but I didn't have the password.

So today I logged into Mint, and checked the budget for last year.  Note: certain stores always come up as groceries, even if they are not. I was able to adjust some (for example: the new mattress at Costco), but there are others I could not.  For example, Costco is sometimes food and sometimes diapers and sometimes both.  So I'm sure last year's total has diapers and other non-foods in there.  But there is no way to break it out.

I will try to break it out this year.  I have a notebook and a pencil (despite being an engineer and an Excel nerd at work, I like paper).  That will let me subtotal the Costco trips.

Here's a snapshot of our food costs up to 2010.

One other issue is that we are 4 people now, not 3.

Do you want to know the damage for 2014?  Here it is:
Groceries: $10,261.
Dining Out: $2,121

(That doesn't include my protein shakes, which are $100/month.  I'm not even sure how they are categorized.  Health and Fitness?)

So I decided to try to set a budget again, along the lines of 2009.   I'm not sure I can really do it - I mean, full time job, 2 kids, PTA job.  But I really just need to get back in the habit of cooking more "snack foods"  - buying yogurt in big tubs, not small containers.  Baking more bread (for the boys, anyway), cooking beans more often (I seem to be on the once a month trend.)

But if I even can come close for 1/2 the month, that will be savings!

Here's how I did my calculations:
2009: average of $240 a month
From 2009 to 2012, groceries have gone up about 25% (google tells me so)
I've added another family member (albeit a small one)

$240/month x 12 months x 1.25 (25% grocery increase) x 1.15 (new kid) = $4140
52 weeks a year = $80 per week

The CSA was already paid for, $935.

If I hit it (and to be honest, we have already spent 50% more than that this year, before I made this decision), then the yearly total will be $5075, about half last year's.  Oh, who am I kidding.  I'm not going to hit it.  Maybe it will be fun to try?