Friday, July 31, 2009

Let the challenge begin!

We all have our weaknesses... that one area that quickly gets out of control if you don't keep a close watch on it. For us, it's our food budget. I've been mostly using E-mealz for the past several months, but I've gotten lazy. It's amazing how a quick trip to Subway, a simple DQ treat, casual lunch out with friends, etc can quickly add up. We have to confess, we've gotten off track on more than just food this month. I think it's a matter of "celebrating" our DEBT FREE scream. After working so hard to pay off all the debt, we needed a little breather. When I look back at the numbers, though (yes! I still tracked every penny), I was utterly disgusted at how much we spent on food this month. It's insane! It's sinful!

So, I'm setting myself straight. I'm setting our family straight. It's time to tap in to my competitive side and give myself a challenge - get my grocery budget under control! I'm actually off to a good start. This past week I absolutely REFUSED to buy a single item from the grocery store. We have been using up things in the pantry, things in the fridge, and all those freezer things collecting ice crystals. We're far from bare, but I'm considering doing a bit of a clean sweep. I think it might be time to make a good donation to the food pantry so that we can start with a fresh plate.

It probably sounds odd to talk about a challenge to cut my bill and the fact that I'm clearing out my extras (before starting the challenge) in the same paragraph. For me, though, I need a fresh slate. I think we waste a lot. I think I get caught up in buying things because they are a good deal and not because I plan on using them. I think we spend too much on convenience and snacks. I find myself losing track of what we have and what it's for. Even with E-mealz, I'm finding things in the pantry that have no purpose. I think what is happening is that I'm planning more meals than we really need - or the ones I'm buying for are too complicated. Either way, there is a lot of waste.

So, here are the goals:
1. Plan our meals and stick to the plan - search for easier/quicker meals if necessary, but get back in the process of putting thought in to it and following through. I might actually go as far as to write the meals on the family calendar so they have a specific night. We'll see.
2. Eliminate (or at least reduce significantly) our morning convenience foods. This will be hard for us, especially Troy. He asks for the same breakfast every day and likes to help put it in the toaster. This is not only inspired by our budget, but by the fact that I just found out boxes from your freezer are NOT recyclable. They spray them with a special coating which prevents them from breaking down properly.
3. Reduce our grocery budget to $100/week. I know this will seem like a lot to some of you, but it's actually a decent reduction for us. I would say we spend closer to $150 on average right now. This does include diapers, soaps, shampoos, cleaners, etc which is why it's so high. Things like batteries and light bulbs usually get lumped in there too. I think I need to make more of an effort to put these in our household category, but for now I just need to be realistic with the number.

In order to reach our goal in #3, we're going to have to change some habits...
- Re-think & re-evaluate our snacks. This month I've really noticed how much snacking we are doing - chips, candy, treats, etc. It's not only bad for our budget, it's bad for our health. I need to spend some time researching and planning healthier, more affordable snacks.
- Just say NO! There is no need to make a quick trip through drive-thru if I have supplies at home for lunch. It's just sheer laziness. I also need to say no to eating out with friends. We tend to socialize around food. I'm not sure the best way to change this, but I'll be keeping this in the back of my mind this month.
- Buy smarter. My mom recently found block cheese in a nearby community bulk store for $1.99 less PER POUND than at our local grocery store. It freezer great, so why waste money on the already shredded bags in the store. I need to do more prep work myself. I might test some things - like shredding and freezing for quick use, but am not sure. Mostly I just need to plan ahead.
- Make our own. I know a lot of you already make your own cleaners. It's time for me to start. I have a lot of the supplies, but really haven't done much of this yet. I'm still using up my stash and then I hope to dive in full force. While I'm using up what I have, I plan on surfing for some ideas and inspirations.
- Freeze our extras. To avoid the left overs going down the disposal, I really need to get better at freezing 1/2 of the 6 serving meals I fix. I always keep them with the intention of having them for left overs, but you can only eat the same thing so many times before you get sick of it.

There's a lot more that we need to do, but it's getting late and my brain has shut off. It might take some time for me to get back in the swing of writing, especially since my computer keeps distracting me.

Please share your favorite budget saver for your grocery bill! Do you buy in bulk? Do you plan your meals first and then look for bargains or do you plan your meals around what's on sale? Do you have some good (healthy and affordable) snack ideas to keep us away from Pringles and Oatmeal Pies?


Trish said...

Dude, you can so do this! :)

RE: #1
We're definitely in camp "meal plan." If we know what's on the menu, we can get it on the table that much faster. I know we talked about this on Sunday, but I love google calendar for menu planning (ala Simple Mom). When I print a copy at the start of the month, I already know what's for dinner AND if there are any events we need to shop around.

RE: #2
Can you make a huge batch of waffles or pancakes and then freeze them? He might not even notice the change plus you'll save money AND the environment in one move. :)

Lastly, FWIW, I also purge in order to save. There is something very nice about giving yourself a fresh start when you need to get back on track.

Johnnal said...

I am a list/ menu maker! I plan around the sales and keep a master list of favorite meals and their approx. cost to make. The list is divided by protiens, soups, sides, snacks and desserts. This list is a lifesaver when you realize that you only have a certain amount of budget money left and you're at a loss for what you can fit into that amount of money.

I also pick one day a week (usually Monday) and then I make a couple of batches of cookies, brownies or some other snack bar. These will last us all week for snacks and I can really play with sugar content, etc. This a big box of microwave popcorn and/ or a bag of apples (for apples and peanut butter) and I can feed 4 hungry kids after school snacks, etc. for the week. It's also SUPER inexpensive.

FYI: I like to purge as well and I buy in bulk. I never buy less than 50 lbs. of sugar and flour at once. HUGE money and time saver! I just keep it in huge 5 gallon buckets in the pantry. Anyways, good luck!


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