The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eat. Cheap. Well. On A Budget.

I grew up being taught the importance of budgeting. I never remember a time when there was frivolous spending. That said, I also don't recall having felt restrained by the comment "oh, that's not in the budget"...well, perhaps when I wanted an article of clothing as a teen that was completely absurd. My parents always spent just what was necessary and taught us to do likewise.

So, here we are now a single income family (we can count Parental Leave if you'd like as it is definitely factored in the budget, but it will run out and seeing as we don't live in the same province as we did when it started, there is no job awaiting my return). We've always lived so that I don't have to work (though I always have up until this point) but the additional income is good and definitely helpful.

And now we are five: using more power, kids in school (we pay tuition - not sky high fees but definitely not public school rates - and can I just say that pre-school in Alberta will rob you blind), sports activities, and well, we eat more. Boys eat a lot, people. And five people eat more than four. I know, intelligent statement of the year right there.

While we cannot manipulate certain aspects of the budget such as the mortgage, schooling (the school/education route we have chosen for our children is very important to us), insurance and gas, monthly savings and investments etc, there are certain areas we can shave and we do have choices as to how we will do just that. Our kids are currently each in one sport which will possibly overlap into two, for a short period of time in the spring. But that's one way we can save a little. We do lots of free, family (or after school) activity without spending money. We spend a lot of time outside, on bikes and at the park. We have our own soccer ball, hockey sticks, ice skates, legs (yes! we use them a lot) get the point. While it may not all be on organized teams, as long as the kids are getting out and working out the energy - and socializing and skill building - we're happy with that.

Another area we manage is food. We have a date night budget which is used from time to time when we (the Mama and Daddy) eat out, go for coffee together, rent a movie, etc. We try to keep this just for the two of us and it isn't huge. However, if one month we go for supper as a family we may dip into this as eating out obviously cuts way into the grocery budget. Obviously.

Speaking of the groceries. I've had many conversations this past week with friends and acquaintances about the grocery budget. It would seem - based on other families of either 4, 5, or 6 members - our monthly food spending is often half of that of other families. Whoa. That's stopped me in my tracks several times. The looks I's actually kind of funny. I think though, it's such a simple area to cut back and save. And so, if you're struggling to spend less or wondering how on earth you spent that much this month, I'll give you some of the rules and tricks we try to live by from month to month. Little bits each month could make a huge difference on the year...especially in a growing family (currently or anticipated!). Because while EI (parental/maternity) is helpful, it certainly doesn't replace the salary.

Keep in mind my frugal, well planned, food budget spending is genetic. It's a personality trait long worked on. Ha ha. That said, we do eat well and there's always plenty to go around and these boys (and actually the wee girl) eat a lot. Some days I truly believe in the hollow leg concept.

Some of our food budgeting strategies...

We do a lot of our shopping at Superstore and some at Costco. I try to purchase items in large quantities (or bulk) when possible. That doesn't mean I'll buy the most dirt cheap item or 'no name' brand simply because the dollar amounts the lowest (quality is very and definitely more important!) but if the cost per gram is less on the no name oats or the bulk oats over Quaker then yes, I will buy the no name. On that note, items in the bulk section are often more costly than if you were to purchase the large "family" pack size in the aisle. True story. This happens more often than not and I'm always surprised when it does.

I always have a list. I stick to my list.

We eat a lot of fresh produce. (You can get lots of it, often organic, and for a great price frequently at Costco...try to buy seasonal, too - that will always stretch a buck.)

I don't buy pre-packaged. Period. We don't buy juice boxes, mini chip bags or granola bars (that falls under the unhealthy category anyway and you know my feelings on that), or other pre-packaged items. We don't have crackers (such as Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Ritz, etc) around here. Those, along with so many other pre-packaged items are not only costly per box but they are also not really all that great for you. We do buy rice crackers from time to time. Often from Costco.

We don't have juice at all. We drink water and milk and...ah hem, and an adult beverage from time to time...that adult beverage will often come out of our Date budget line.

We minimize the condiments. Not because of wanting to pinch a penny but you get used to things based on past habits, right? Our boys have had ketchup once in their lives. Yep. One of us doesn't like it and the other could care less so we don't buy it. We use mustard as a main condiment (when necessary) and it's dirt cheap. We don't use jam. We don't need it. It's expensive-ish, has sugar, and we substitute berries (picked for free locally) or bananas in our sandwiches. We only use honey in baking as one of our substitutes for sugar (the other being apple sauce...home made and unsweetened). We don't buy dips and and have dressings for salad only. That said, there's a smokin' awesome recipe below for hummus which is a fantastic dip.

We eat a lot of nuts. Almonds and Walnuts mainly. Whole. Skin on. Not salted. The omega factor alone is enough to make you nearly want to live on them. And, while a large bag isn't cheap they last forever and are so good for little (and hopefully bigger not-so-much) growing bodies.

We buy our shampoo and other toiletries in big boxes. (We do like our certain brands though.) If an item is on sale for a discounted price if you purchase multiples, and especially if it's something we can freeze or that won't go bad, then we will purchase multiples. I make all baby food from scratch and it's fantastic how far a butternut squash really will go.

Snacks include nuts, raisins, home made granola bars, muffins (I fill them with all sorts of filling ingredients such as oats, flax, raisins, coconut, whole and spelt flours), loaves, cheese, pretzels (these, I consider one of the more 'junk food' options we purchase but it's a filler and we do buy them in bulk often and the kids think they're a treat).

We do eat meat. Often. So don't go thinking we're livin' on a dime and eatin' veggie.

I make hummus. It costs about $1.25 - $1.50 for me to make about 2 1/2 - 3 cups worth. It costs double, if not triple that at Superstore for not as much in quantity. Hummus is such a versatile, healthy (!) snack or addition to a snack and we love it around here. I'm rather kamikaze in the kitchen (what?! I know, right). So, to make this uber complicated dip try to follow along...

Grab blender. Into said blender pour: 1 can of chickpeas (or 1 can of white kidney beans...they are a new fave) with all but 2 tbsp of it's liquid. You can just get rid of remaining liquid. Add 3 pinches of salt, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/2 clove of grated garlic, 1/4 cup tahini (sesame) paste, 1/8 cup oil. Blend. Taste. Enjoy. We like ours with veggies, taco chips, or rice crackers. Makeda often enjoys it mixed with sweet potatoes and Balkan yogurt.

Speaking of treats, we buy popcorn (the actual kernel to pop on the stove - again, this concept is derived from both the pre-packaged no-no and the health factor) for movie night treats. Taco chips for our layered dip supper nights. And, from time to time (seldom) a bag of potato chips - those won't really set you back though, will they. I make cookies for the Daddy who, from time to time will indulge. We never buy them. All these items are very inexpensive. We don't buy cookies, cakes, muffins, donuts, others "baked" or ready-to-make treats. I'm pretty sure they are mainly edible oil products aren't they?

We buy whole grain any and every thing. It fills everyone up more quickly and for longer.

If I know I'm going to make muffins or a loaf with them, I will always look for overripe bananas which are always priced 50% off. Why not?! They're just getting mashed up anyway. Tricks like this can save a bundle - and they add flavour to the baking.

We use coupons from time to time but more so, look over flyers at the start (or end) of a week. I won't run all over town for a single item from one store and another from another store (that would kill the gas budget) but I'll try to plan it into my week.

So there you have it. Perhaps it all makes sense and seems obvious. Perhaps there are a few tricks and tips in there to help you shave a buck or two this month. I hope so. Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? We don't live near the US border so crossing over for gas, cheese, or milk isn't optional. Coupons in Canada don't look anything like coupons in the US...though from time to time we do definitely cash in on those.

I don't menu plan because, while I'm crazy ornery for some reason this carries zero appeal to me. We do have a pretty good meal rotation/repetoire which I draw from so when making that grocery list I mentally figure a couple of our go-to's into that.

And, I make it a bit of a game with myself little can I spend?! How much can I save?! How well can we eat while putting some aside to add to the food budget for the following month?!

It's actually rewarding.

Who doesn't like a challenge right?!


Lola said...

yes, I love this post. I agree totally. if you make everything from scratch, even soaking dry beans instead of buying cans, you can save a fortune. We were at the health food store the other day and those "natural" kraft dinner thingy's were on sale for a ridiculously cheap price (they were probably expired) so I bought two (I definitely would need two to feed my kids lunch). My kids thought they had won the lottery even though I put peas and broccoli in it :) It was pretty funny.

Anyway, we would spend an absurd amount of money on food if we didn't cook everything from scratch and if we didn't raise a lot of our own meat and eggs. I believe in the importance of real, naturally produced food. But it's much cheaper to grow it yourself or buy it directly from your local farmer rather than going to planet organic and blowing an entire months budget on a tiny chicken breast :)

Lola said...

oh, also, I find that when you buy bulk or local sides of meat, it's much cheaper but your budget will run on a once or twice yearly schedule with meat and a two or three month schedule with dry goods. Our monthly budget can vary from 100 dollars, if we've already stocked up on rice and nuts and things all the way up to 500 hundred if we need to restock on all of that but it balances out in the end. We store a yearly supply of apples, onions, potatoes, garlic and squash (squash doesn't quite last a year) and we can our own tomato sauce in season. But, my life revolves around food production and storage which can be a bit annoying at times. definitely not for everyone.

Ashleigh said...

Ah, yes...dried beans. That's my goal this week is to buy them and no longer buy canned. I know I can save more!! It really is a game, isn't it?! I know you get that. :)
I wish we could have chickens and, while we debated that in Crofton somehow I don't think the neighbours (or bylaws) here would be appreciative. Miss you my friend.

Katie said...

You know I love a good budget post! :) I so admire the way you feed your family wisely. Way to go Ashleigh.

Ashleigh said...

Katie - I actually did think of you as I wrote it! :)...and Dave. Though I've never actually read any of his Dad is kind of a built in Dave :) I think we have already naturally implemented many (most?!) of his strateies, I think he and I would get on nicely.