Thursday, March 6, 2014

$100 a month grocery budget update

When we transitioned to basically a one income household, we tightened our belts a bit and committed to a $100 a month grocery budget.  We knew this would be tight, but we were committed to it in order to make our other savings goals a reality.

So, now that we're about eight months in, we can definitely say that it's tight, but do-able for us.  We've been diligent about keeping grocery receipts and entering them into our budgeting spreadsheet, so we know where we stand.  There have been a few months that we went over budget, like around the holidays, but there are also months where we were significantly under budget.  January was one of those where we tried to eat from the pantry, freezer, and use gift cards to purchase food (such as Panera cards for a dozen bagels for breakfast for a week instead of one lunch out).  We came in under budget for January by $40, which was awesome considering it was really six weeks since the December paycheck that came in before the holiday break.  But on average, we're sticking to our budget, and it's allowing us to continue saving for retirement and for emergencies.

How are making it work?  We've decreased our "extra" spending, so there are no more chips, crackers, store-bought cookies, or convenience items like frozen pizzas, in our pantry or fridge.  Our snack food of choice is now popcorn popped in our air popper.  Any beverage other than milk or water is not something we purchase.  We have been given some juice by friends and some beer and wine around the holidays, which have been nice treats for family pizza nights and dates.  Pricey dairy products like cheese, sour cream, and yogurt are carefully portioned out to last.  So, when I purchase a bulk package of mozzarella cheese for pizzas, I know that it needs to make eight pizzas, and we make it stretch for that.  Yogurt is only something I purchase for 15 cents a carton or less, so by carefully matching coupons and sales, I can get a few cartons a month.  I'm also contemplating making our own yogurt in the crock pot, which will make organic yogurt a lot more accessible to us and not as cost prohibitive.

Keeping pantry staples on hand is important too.  By having powdered milk, flour, sugar, flax seed meal, yeast, and corn meal, I can always whip up bread or corn bread, even if I don't have the eggs.  (You can substitute one tablespoon of flax seed meal and three tablespoons of water for one egg and get most recipes to come out just fine, and they even have more omegas than some eggs do.)  We always have canned tomato sauce, canned diced tomatoes, and lots of dried beans of various types.  This way, we can always come up with a soup, chili, or sloppy joe recipe from the pantry.

We also try to be very intentional about meal planning, and because of that, grocery list planning.  Going to the grocery store once a week, if that, cuts down on the opportunity for impulse spending.  If we can go two weeks, so much the better.

We've found that eating this way can be a challenge, but it's also forced us to be more creative.  We've found a fabulous lentil sloppy joe recipe that we might not have otherwise found.  We love our new recipe for lemon poppy seed muffins and recently found one for coffee chocolate chip muffins that both make great week day breakfasts.  We've had some great pizzas and stir fries with whatever we have on hand in the freezer.  By adding barley, rice, or pasta to soups, we get more nutritional content and can stretch the stock and veggies a bit further.

How are your budget challenges going?  Do they force you to be more creative?  Any creative meals you've come up with just cooking from the pantry and freezer?  I'd love to hear from you!

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