Monday, August 25, 2008

Budgeting: Part II

So I've learned to do without a lot of things- to make do, use it up, or do without. (I admit that this is easier to do when you are blessed by many generous people who appoint you with things you would otherwise not have.) However, one thing I have not yet learned to do without is food. I think that food is the category that I have the most control over in our budget, the most flexibility and opportunity to save money, yet it is so hard for me. Always.
For instance, when I am dieting- or eating well rather, I want/need to be able to buy plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to have on hand. I cook more regularly when I am conscious of what I eat, so I make out menu plans and want to be able to buy the required ingredients, which are never exorbitant. I like to have a few little diet treats, frozen things for instance, that make dieting easier. In short, I like to have options and variety and not feel too constricted in what I am able to eat based on what I can afford.
Or now for instance, when I am pregnant. I want to be able to indulge my whims of what sounds good at the time. Unfortunately this is usually a wide variety of things, and it seems like I usually don't have it on hand. You feel entitled to be able to eat what you want and pamper yourself during this short period of your life.
Regardless of how I am eating, I always have to eat- thus, I always have this dilemma. Shopping a few days ago I was taunted by all of the wonderful late summer produce available. I love fresh fruit. I bought some plums, peaches, and grapes because they were all on sale, but I was reluctant to leave without watermelon, pineapple, and Fuji apples. All of these were too expensive to buy- I always have apples on hand, but haven't been buying them because they've been too expensive! I love love love fresh cherries, but never buy them due to cost. The same is true of most berries, save my favorite, strawberries when they're on sale. I love bell peppers- but at least $2 a pepper? Forget about it. I would love to have fish at least once a week, and know there are great health benefits, but that is rare to never.Is it too much to ask to buy fresh produce and feed my family well at least in one regard?
I'm not a food snob- I love twinkies as well as fine balsamic vinegar. I want to be able to have various cheeses on hand for salads and cooking. I love to bake, and want all my basics stocked. I love to make smoothies, but frozen fruit can be expensive, and yogurt as well. Bella loves yogurt and wants 2 for breakfast every day- while it is good for her I can't always afford that! My last trip to the store, they had a crazy sale on 12-packs of soda that I couldn't resist, even though I've been delaying giving it up due to cost and nutritional value. So I got 1 12- pack each of Diet Code Red Mountain Dew, Diet Sunkist, Light Lemonade, Pepsi One, and Cherry Diet Pepsi- for $11! That's only 18.3 cents a can, people!! Tell me- do you really expect me to pass that up? I implore you.
I am not an ignorant shopper- I watch the ads, I buy on sale whenever possible, I always compare the cost per unit in everything I buy, I buy generic in many instances- most even. I am admittedly a sucker for a buy one get one free offer, which my favorite grocery store does quite often. At my most vigilant, I perused the online ads of 3 different grocery stores before making my menu plans for the week. Based on what was on sale, I made a menu using sale meats and other ingredients. I would go first to Aldi, a great discount store that carries limited items. Then I would go to my other 2 stores, Food Lion and Harris Teeter, buying the best deals at each one. Then I made a goal that I would not step foot into a grocery store between weekly visits- if we were out, we had to make do. Some of the books and websites I've read endorse crazy coupon-ing that I just can't get behind. They're going to 5 or 6 stores every week, using all kinds of discount and incentive programs in combination with many coupons to whittle down the cost. I am just not willing to go to that level! (For instance, in one week-or day- shop at the Dollar Store, CVS, Wal-Mart, local grocery stores, CVS again, etc.)
Somehow Timm and I also got used to eating out more than we should. Which is, never actually. (The amount of times we can afford to eat out-) That, like most things in life, is simply a discipline issue. I blame most of it myself and my laziness to plan and cook. If I were more on top of that we wouldn't have to resort to eating out because we 'had nothing to eat', or Timm was gone all day and night working at various jobs and had to stop to eat somewhere between jobs. Again, this is where I am failing to do my part in this budget thing. So between my desire for cheap and good food alike, packaged snacks and plenty of fresh produce, specific items for each of the 3 of us, in short a variety and flexibility of food- and my recent unwillingness to plan and cook I am screwing us over. I may have to suck it up on the first part of this equation (being able to have the freedom to just buy what I want) but I've gotta do something about the second- cooking. This has led me to consider something I haven't done in at least a year and a half: Return to 'Once a Month Cooking'. I think it would save us considerable amounts of money because we would always have something in the freezer, and could cook fresh things when I felt like it, avoiding the excuse to eat out. I would make much fewer trips to the store, avoiding impulse buys, which are many. My family would have the benefit of having nutritious meals every night, and I wouldn't be stressing every day about what to feed them, or the fact that it is cold cereal again. So- am I ready to do this again? No, not really. But I've still reserved 2 books at the library on the subject matter and am starting to peruse my old freezer recipe collections. Given some time as I adjust to a new baby, I think we may have to go back to this method to curb some spending and feed my family.


michelle said...

I think refusing to go to the store in-between weekly visits is a great idea to reduce spending. I would have a hard hard time with that -- it seems I am always having to run out to get bread, or milk, or something. And every time I go in, I come out with more than just that one item!

I would also have a hard time with once-a-month cooking -- such a time commitment and I don't have that much freezer space! I want to look into a method I heard about once when you cut up meats and produce when you get home from doing your shopping and put them in ziplocs together by meal. Then your meal prep is drastically reduced on a day-to-day basis. That I think I could get behind!

I frequently pass up fresh produce that I would like to buy because of price. I was just thinking today that it is sad that you can eat on the cheap if you are willing to eat junk. (today's example: Little Debbie packages of mini-donuts 3/$1. Too bad apples aren't 3/$1!)

Amy said...

Yeah, what's up with the price of apples? Crazy!

I just wanted to recommend Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals cookbook. There's also a show on Food Network. All of her meals have a stopping point for freezing for later. Also, she has a lot of "meal kits" which are what Michelle described, where you do the prep before hand and put the ingredients together in a plastic bag in the fridge for later. The good thing about Robin Miller is that she tends to be a little more health conscious because she's also a nutritionist. Not always, mind you, but you can find good stuff with her.

Good luck! I find the rising cost of food to be incredibly depressing. It's getting harder and harder to save money these days, but I know it's still possible. It may take a little creativity, but you have that in excess!

Rin said...

I struggle with grocery shopping too...I would love to be able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at will, but I can't afford it...and since I don't have a car, I really have to plan on what I can carry out of the store and onto the bus each time I go. I miss those days when my Mom would send me into the grocery store (as early as 8 years old) with a blank check and have me do the family grocery shopping; buying whatever I wanted plus our usuals.

Anonymous said...

I remember how happy you were back when you were doing your freezer cooking. I think if that style works for your family and would save you money, then go for it! You could even do a bunch before the baby so you have it ready and waiting for that first month of transition.

Do they have a lot of produce stands there? I get most of the stuff I need in the summer from the farmer's market type places and it is cheap. And from my garden- something to think about next year?

Did you know that most WalMarts' price match on sales? Call and ask, but if you look at all the ads and make your list and then at the register you price match. It is way easy- and if you have coupons on top of that, you could save even more. I don't do the coupon thing- I tried but I just never remembered to bring them or would forget to give them etc. It is all what you are willing to do.

I think I have mentioned it before, but having a menu plan and paying with cash helped me a ton. You just don't put the extra non-essential crap in your cart for fear of not having enough and having to put stuff back!

Anonymous said...

I hit publish...wasn't done...argh! With the cash, if your budget is $100 and you only spend $85 of it from stuff on your list, I always feel much better about spending that $15 on the indulgences because of my "smart" shopping.

Diana said...

It's hard but it looks like everyone has given you good suggestions. I have set goals to only spend x amount each week on groceries. I've done it the last 2 weeks. Also Lou and I have talked about only using cash for groceries. I love having good healthy food in the house and some treats. Dang I miss the days of food stamps :)

Denise said...

I would not have been able to pass up the 18.3 cents per can soda deal!

dh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dh said...

farmers market's are a great way to get less costly (you are not paying for it to get shipped across the globe) organic produce while also supporting local business.

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