Food for thought

I definitely started this post Monday. It's been a busy week.

Ashley, on her Onward and Upward blog, wrote about learning to grocery shop and cook, now that there's two mouths to feed in her household. She got some tips from a series on the Biblical Womanhood blog about budgets and grocery shopping (see her blog above for links). I've blogged some about specific kitchen experiments, but recently we've made some higher-level changes that hopefully will help us save money and eat healthier-- or, rather, eat IN, which is, generally, healthier and less expensive (For more on that topic, check out a fabulous post at Get Rich Slowly, asking Is Eating Out Cheaper than Eating In?). I thought I'd add my two cents worth to the conversation.

Starting two weeks ago, Josh and I took Dave Ramsey's advice and decided to keep track of where all our money is going by spending (pretty much) only cash. We made a budget for different areas like gas, groceries, eating out, etc, got those amounts in cash when paycheck time came around, and put our budgeted amounts in separate envelopes. Now, if Josh is headed out to get gas for the cars, he'll grab money from the Gas envelope, or if I'm going to the grocery store, I'll make sure to have enough cash from the Grocery envelope to cover the things on my list. Speaking of the list...

Another thing we're doing is making a meal list for the week. From this list, we look at our current food supply and decide what we need to buy for the week to make those meals happen. Then we go to the store and get only the things on the list. This avoids impulse buys and the grocery store, which are very tempting for me, as I have gotten more creative with cooking and am looking to try to make new things left and right. More on that later. As we use up staples- stuff we want to have around the house regardless of the meal list- they go on the shopping list for the following weekend. We always have a few extra meals around the house to make in case nothing on the list we made sounds good, or unforseen time constraints require something simpler. Which brings me to our third strategy...

This is the newest and yet-unproven strategy. A while back, I mentioned I cooked an Italian Sausage Soup that went over well. It made 4 servings, and we ate two immediately and froze the other half of the meal. A couple weeks ago, I got the ice cube out of the freezer, heated it up, and it was as good as ever. Last Saturday morning, I cooked up another batch of the soup, froze both meals, and made a pizza crust recipe I had tried before as well, which made 6 crusts. These crusts freeze well, and are pretty easy to spead out, put sauce on, and pop in the oven. So, over the course of a couple hours in the morning, before my husband was even awake, I had made 8 meals to have on hand when we decide nothing else sounds good. This week, while waiting for dinner to cook, I made another recipe I wanted to see how it would taste (veggie burgers? what am I thinking?), but, because dinner was already cooking, it got frozen for later.

Now, I don't want you to think we have a huge freezer for a month's worth of food- we don't. These are small things I'm freezing, that still require preparation. This is a downside to living in an apartment and trying to save money on groceries. Many tips say to A) buy in bulk or B) buy alot of something you'll need when it's on sale. In our cozy little apartment, we don't have the space to do that.

Another note: doing all of this isn't hard, and it is having a big impact, especially the envelope system. It's letting us see where our money's going, and makign me not worry about it at all. I know we have X to spend on eating out, and so I know we aren't spending too much this week, and I know that what is in the bank will stay in the bank, and not get spent. I like it, and I appreciate hugely the effort and attention Josh has put into figuring all this out.

What other tips have worked for you guys?

Speaking of 'busy week'... I have to go to work now. Yeah. Saturday.


Ashley said...

I think we're going to try the cash thing too when we get our act together. I am a horrible impulse shopper - you can tell by the number of DVDs on my shelf!

And I totally agree with you on buying in bulk and stockpiling - I just don't have the room for that!

Making a menu and grocery list has really helped for us. It cuts down on my impulse buying a lot, because I try to keep myself to the list.

I had read that article by Patrik Jonsson about Americans opting to eat out more, and I didn't really agree with it. I know time is money but I don't think calculating how much you spend on a meal by figuring out your hourly wage is necessarily a good way. (It's an excuse!) If you would have been working otherwise, but you weren't able to because you were cooking, then that would be a good method. Anyways. *shrugs*

Matt said...

Hopefully the "work on Saturday" thing doesn't happen too much. I definitely try to avoid working on the weekends, although it does happen.

Here's what we do for budgeting: we get money from the bank once a month for groceries, "fun" (eating out, concerts, etc.), and "allowances" (money that Lisa and I can spend without consulting the other). Everything else (generally stuff that's inherently budgeted (like gas, music lessons) or special things (gifts, home improvement projects)) is paid for with check or credit card. We pay off the credit card every month (except for when I leave the bill sitting around for too long :P). We went to cash for allowances and groceries and fun because those were the things that we had the hardest time controlling. Basically, we had picked $300 as our grocery budget, and were regularly spending $330-350 instead. With cash, the total budgeted amount available is much more obvious.

I'm also a relentless bookkeeper. I use gnucash, and track anything that I can (except for cash once it hits the envelopes). I try to take a look at how much we spend on stuff a couple times per year, although the last few years we've gotten into a good groove and I haven't paid as much attention to it. Our good groove has been to build up a savings that we're comfortable with, and spend everything else, leaving the savings in accounts that we mess with very infrequently. I may start paying attention to it more closely once the baby's born.

Also, we try to eat home-cooked meals as much as possible. L and I both enjoy cooking, so I wouldn't count the cooking time as a cost. The food is almost certainly healthier, even when it's loaded with stuff like bacon. We also make a large percentage of the junk food that we eat, which I assume is good, also. We drink water a lot, because it cuts down on the amount of beverages we buy, and it takes a huge bite out of the number of calories we consume (leaving more room for yummy homemade junk food :). We garden, too, which probably lightens the load on the grocery bill, again in exchange for a little labor.

We don't go in for the bulk purchases too much (except for toilet paper, which I find annoying to try to find the best deal on at the store ... let's see ... 12 rolls of 500 yds for $30, or 24 rolls of 400 yds for $40 ... which is better? can I get a 5th grade math class to come and do the arithmetic for me? the same applies to dental floss, but for that I've started just buying the same brand that the dentist gives out samples of because I figure $0.50 is NOT WORTH THE EFFORT.) We also have gotten into the local/organic thing, and I've been surprised that it hasn't squeezed our budget more than it has.

DEBTective said...

Dollface, I'm big-time proud of you for making a budget and using the envelope system, like Dave Ramsey says. His plan makes tons of sense, doesn't it? Great job, baby, and good luck with the dough. www.debtective.com


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