Monday, February 04, 2008

Frugal Living

I've said that money is tight a few times. I have a budget worked out that if we stick to, we'll be okay, but as everyone knows, it's not fun to stick to a budget and you really need to have self-control and commit to it. But my current financial goal is to not only stick to the budget but even try to come in under-budget each month.

The first step was to look at the last few months' spending in every category and edit the budget to be more realistic. For example, I had budgeted $150 each month for gas, but when I analyzed what we actually were spending I was shocked to discover it was around $400 each month! Damn those high gas prices!!! So that was one spot I needed to adjust.

But now that I have a more practical budget, I need to work on cutting down any extra spending, constantly asking if we REALLY need it right now or if it can wait.

I planned out inexpensive meals for the month yesterday. The first step for me was to create a list of meals that I can make without even looking at a recipe and that the kids all eat.

I put the meals in four categories: Meat, Chicken, Breakfast, and Pasta/Vegetarian.

I decided on a category for each day of the week: Mondays = Pasta/Vegetarian, Tuesdays = Meat or Chicken, Wednesdays = Breakfast, Thursdays = Homemade pizza (we make this together with veggies), Fridays = Shabbat dinner at my parents' - I bring a hot vegetable and a side dish, Saturday = "Buffet" of leftovers, Sunday = Dinner at my in-laws'.

I'm purposely only going to do a meat/chicken meal once a week to save on expenses (and of course will only use stuff on sale). Breakfast for dinner is another really cheap way that I like to do a meal. And I'm really focusing on using what we have at home and avoiding impulse buys or "quick trips" to the store, trying to make do with what we have at home. After planning out our meals for the month, I went ahead and ordered them from Genuardi's since they had just sent me a "Welcome Back" postcard for free delivery. I bought it all for $200, minus the meat which is cheapest at Giant so I'll buy that this weekend. The groceries won't be delivered until tomorrow afternoon, so we needed to "make do" for breakfast today and tomorrow. I made a big pot of oatmeal for the kids and I with the last of our milk, the last of our raisins, chopping up almonds into it to add more protein to it, and sweetened it with the last of our brown sugar. And the kids actually ate it!!! Well, I really had to stress how much sugar I put in it and how sweet it was, blah, blah, blah, but that at least got them to try it. When DH was disappointed that the groceries wouldn't arrive until tomorrow since it contains the bagels he eats for breakfast (he feels the need to eat in the car since he leaves for work so early), I just made up an egg sandwich for him and packed it up for him to grab tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow the kids and I will go to Produce Junction and stock up on fruits and vegetables, which can usually last us for about two weeks. I'm pushing the kids to eat the fruits and veggies for snacks, which is not only healthier, it seems to fill them up more than snacking on the pretzels and crackers that I put out in their "snack box." I can usually buy produce for less than $40 that last for two weeks, so that's about $80 a month. But it's only worth it if I make sure we eat everything we buy. In the past we've bought stuff that has gotten pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten that I eventually have to toss. Last month I managed to actually use up everything we bought - no waste!

So my frugal goal for the month is to see if we can get by on LESS than $400 for the five of us, including produce, dairy (we normally go through two gallons every 2 - 3 days), and meat.

Anyone else have any frugal tips on food that don't require too much time?


Perky said...

Great goals! I'm with you on the frugal living, but I really need to do what you did and analyze my spending! I've been meaning to do it for awhile, but I think the time has come!

Some quick frugal food ideas off the top of my head:

* Chicken is cheapest when you buy it whole. Purdue oven stuffers usually go on sale every month or so for 0.69$ a pound, which is great. You can roast it one night, then use the extra meat for a recipe the next day and then make soup with the remainder. One chicken can make for a lot of meals! Freeze extra stock to use in seasoning rice, pasta, veggies, etc...

* Use half the meat called for in a recipe and make up the rest of the bulk with veggies, rice and/or beans.

* Beans are a frugal cook's best friend -- healthy, cheap, easy to prepare, yummy!

* I do the same thing when I shop at PJ. To reduce the amount you throw away, make a plan for the veggies. Salads with dinner. Fruit salad for dessert, snack, breakfast. Whole fruit for snacks. Also, try to prep the produce ahead. Obviously, you can't cut up apples or bananas in advance, but you can cut carrots, celery, peppers, onions, etc...

* Make a coupon organizer if you don't already have one. Cut out coupons for every item that you might possibly buy. I ask myself, "if I could get this item for under fifty cents, would I buy it then?". If the answer is "yes", I file the coupon. Between in-store sales, 2 for 1, special promotions, and double coupons, I can often buy items for under fifty cents. It may be something I'd never buy for full price, but for that little money, I'll buy it and use it in something!

* Check out the Frugal Menu on the Saving Dinner website.

* Also check other Frugal living websites for recipes. Google "frugal living" and "frugal cooking" and you'll be amazed at how many sites come up!

* Keep a little log book of your spending and saving. Nothing too complicated. Not an Excel spreadsheet or anything. Just something to give you inspiration.

* Finally, keep us up to date on your progress. Personally, I need all the inspiration I can get!

Anjali said...

Have you tried Mary Ann Romans' Lentil Rice casserole recipe? You can't get any cheaper! And it takes great - we all love it. (And that's what we're having for dinner.)

Oatmeal for dinner sounds yummy. You can always substitute honey for sugar - it's sweet and helps your immune system -- or get jam or jelly that doesn't have any added sugar.

We have a very cheap place to buy produce as well. I keep it on the kitchen counter, and its all we snack on. And it is SO much cheaper and healthier than the boxed stuff. I also stock up on block cheese when it goes on sale and dice it to go with the produce. It's cheaper than other prepackaged cheese

Domestic Goddess said...

I buy meats in bulk (cheaper) and divide them up. By this I mean ground turkey and chicken. We rarely have beef.
I do make tons of homemade soups and stews in the crock pot that can also be frozen for another meal. It usual costs less than $10 to make the soup/stew, less if it is a bean and veggie recipe. They freeze well and stretch far, we usually get 2-3 meals out of this! ANd, it is perfectly balanced. If I want to I can serve it with salad.
I can vouch for the lentil and rice casserole. We made it last week. YUM!!!
I love the idea of breakfast for dinner once in a while. Our favorite is "your own omelettes" which means, I cut up leftover veggies and meat and such from the fridge and make an omelette out of that.
Yogurt. Nuff said. WE make smoothies for snacks, bowls with fruit for breakfast. Nutritious and yummy.
I hate to say it, but sometimes dinner is grilled cheese sandwiches and carrot sticks or apple sauce on the side.
I buy fruit and veggies in bulk when I can, although we do organic (a variety of reasons there). When I can get it cheaply, I do. A case of clementines lasts a whole week! WIth cheese sticks, it is the perfect snack after school.
Good job setting a budget!

Sue said...

We really tried to take a hard look at the supermarket bill and went with Shop Rite rather than Acme. It is frankly unbelievable how much more the same item cost at Acme. I have not tried ordering from home but I know Genaurdi's is one of the more expensive stores.
Good luck!

O said...

Dang, skippy, you are a smart bunch of readers! I thought I had a few tricks but I have nothing on this group.
I was going to suggest this: Wawa for gas. It's 2.91/gallon today and always beats the other places by almost a dime. I don't know if there's one close to you, but if you can eke it out until a M&M meeting and go to the one on Baltimore Pike, or if you have a reason to go to Glen Mills or Brookhaven anyway...
Just a thought. I loathe paying more than $3/gallon for gas and have altered some of my other shopping habits to swing me by the Wawas instead.