For years, I have listened to and agreed with most of what Dave Ramsey has had to say. I've talked the talk but found it tough to walk the walk. Moreso from my own lack of dedication and self-control than anything else.
With our budget tightening, it was time to start walking the walk. One of the things Dave advocates is the use of cash for things like groceries, spending money, clothing budget, etc. I'm not usually a fan of carrying cash - it tends to burn a hole in my pocket. However, with little wiggle-room in our budget, it was time to suck it up and do it. I now have three envelopes: FOOD, SPENDING, and EDUCATION. Eventually I suspect that the SPENDING envelope will break down further into CLOTHING, ENTERTAINMENT, and possibly HOUSEHOLD but, for now, I'm leaving it at SPENDING.
Our EDUCATION budget covers things like field trips, open gym days at the local gymnastics place, art supplies, etc. If there is a larger curriculum item to purchase, it will either need to come from our savings or, if there is leftover/carryover funds from the previous month, we can use those. Anything that is left over at the end of each month will be placed in a separate envelope to help offset next year's curriculum purchases.
Our FOOD budget was one place that I felt I needed to make the biggest adjustments. While I've been writing down our budgeted amount on paper, I rarely kept actual track of what was being spent - using my debit card to make on-the-fly purchases and not keeping track of what MacGyver bought if I asked him to stop at the commissary on his way home from work. The funny thing is that our food budget - even when out of control - is significantly lower than it should be, according to the USDA. Just looking at the OCT2011 figures, for our family size, our food budget is more than $100 UNDER what the USDA considers to be a "thrifty" plan. And here I thought we were eating quite well!
Because we don't eat out often, I have chosen to include any dining out in our FOOD budget, rather than SPENDING. Should MacGyver and I actually find time to break away from The Boy and The Girl for a dinner on our own, I would probably use our SPENDING money for that. So far, that has not happened!
One of the tools I'm using to help control our FOOD budget is planning weekly meals, including lunches. It's really helping and, in a moment, I'll give you an example of our weekly meal lineup but first, I want to share some of the money-saving tips I'm trying to adhere to:
- limit red meat (I LOVE a good ribeye! If I'm going to spend money on red meat, it's going to be on a GOOD cut of meat. But, because it's good, we don't feel the need to eat red meat more than once per week.)
- include at least 2 meatless meals per week (thankfully our family likes pasta and has no problem with the idea of breakfast for dinner)
- shop primarily at the Commissary but keep an eye on local retailers' deals and use our "club cards" whenever possible
- cut back on processed foods (Not going to eliminate them but my homemade chocolate chip cookies are MUCH better than Chips Ahoy!)
- double up on inexpensive recipes and freeze one
- keep juice and milk for mealtime and drink water in between meals and with snacks
- make your own if you can do it for less (bread, cookies, snacks, etc. I picked up a GREAT book - "Make This, Buy That" - that does the work of breaking down the cost of making things yourself and helps me decide what I'm going to try to make at home)
- don't waste leftovers! When I am making my meal plan, I know I'm going to have leftover chicken after having roast whole chicken for dinner so I include a meal later in the week to take advantage of that
- I love Costco!
What are your money-saving tips when it comes to your food budget?
Our meals so far this month include:
~ breakfast (homemade waffles, sausage, fresh fruit, eggs)(twice)
~ tomato-basil soup, bread, salad
~ shoyu chicken, rice, salad, steamed veggies
~ spaghetti, salad, bread (twice)
~ chicken black bean enchilada casserole (yay leftovers!)
~ leftovers (twice)
~ soup and sandwiches
~ beef tips, egg noodles, steamed veggies, salad
~ cheesy chicken tortilla soup, salad
~ teriyaki salmon, baked sweet potatoes, salad
~ take and bake pizza from the local place here (had a great coupon!)
I just did my second shop of the pay period and still have money left over for the perishable stuff that I'll need to replenish later this week. And, as you can tell, we need to grow salad fixings in our garden this summer!