Retirement Remedies: Brainstorming In The Kitchen
I've been thinking again! Yes, indeed I have and I've been thinking specifically about the food area of my budget this week. A number of things prompted this. For the third month in a row I am over budget. I have allowed myself $300 a month for foods which is more than ample for two and two pets with plenty of room for stocking up, as well. However, here I am finding myself constantly spending a bit more each month and the freezers are dwindling as is my stock. There's no good reason for it and I mean that!
Storm #1: Recently I was speaking with my niece, who had taken my advice and taken her grocery budget to Aldi. She said she'd given it the one month trial I'd suggested and done so well on her budget of $200 a month that she's kept it up for two and half months now. That's for two adults and two under two years of age....And it made me think that just possibly I really need to look harder at my budgeted amount and make it work a whole lot more for me than it does! Now this amount does not include the bulk of our meats. We both shop at the same meat market for good quality antibiotic free meats and purchase in bulk about once every four months.
I was also looking online at Pinterest this week and came across a blogger who purchases food for her family of four for about the same amount my niece spends. It's really made me want to look hard at my grocery money and bring my spending more in alignment with theirs.
I have struggled with this for quite a few years and really I've felt that lowering my budget to somewhere between $325-$400 each month was a big deal. I'm convinced I can go lower and we can eat as well as we do now, if I simply put a bit more effort into it. As far as my household budget is concerned I really need to be at $300 or less each month.
Storm #2: I was supposed to have a lot of company this past weekend and that prompted me to have to rethink my planned menus and go to pick up produce, bread, and a few necessities. I went to a store about 15 miles from home which is a discount grocery. I am not complaining about the cost of this trip which pushed me even further over budget this month. I was expecting the company and needed the items to manage the extra mouths I was to feed. But as I shopped I discovered a staple product I keep in my home was far, far less expensive (part of that 10% non-Aldi spending) than I'd been paying at another store. I never even knew this store carried the product! For the cost of one small package at the big name store I could buy almost two and one half times as much for the same price at this discount grocery in the next town, saving time, money and gasoline.
It made me more aware than ever that I really do need to scout for better prices on those things that I typically don't purchase at Aldi...and watch hard for sales on those items that I do, taking advantage of the sales that are lower than Aldi's prices. I can do this by looking at online ads, checking product websites for locations where items might be sold, and just get out and do some scouting in stores. I used to, when we had malls near enough to visit, go out to window shop...well this is the same principle. I need to just get out to the stores in my area now and then and do my window shopping for products and prices.
Storm #3: In the same discount grocery, I decided to purchase two packages of boneless skinless chicken breasts. I felt safe doing this because the poultry brand this store carries does not contain carageenan (an allergen for me). Two packages with a total of 7 breasts in them cost about $8. Not cheap. Far less expensive than picking up takeout or a family sized prepared frozen entree which frankly was where I'd meant to go. Out of that $8 purchase of meat I made a casserole for Saturday's dinner, shredded chicken for BBQ sandwiches and enough chicken leftover to make fajitas for a third meal. It made me think hard about how I choose to spend my money when I'm tired, overwhelmed and stressed, and how I might make better choices, if I'd stop and think. Honestly, the trip to the store took no longer than the trip over for takeout. It took me exactly 20 minutes to prepare my lunch dish and I put the rest of the breasts in the crock pot to cook while I visited with my company. It made me feel really good to know that essentially I'd ended up spending $3 for a main dish and produce for the salad, and I had bonus rounds of chicken.
Storm #4: For the past two weekends I've made some big casseroles. I did so for good reason. We were supposed to have company. However, we ended up not having company. I also made a big dessert in a 13 x 9 pan which would easily serve 16. In the end, my company didn't come and I had a lot of food in 13 x 9 pans.
John enjoyed all of these items but a 13 x 9 pan for two is too much by any one's standards. I realized as I served dessert to the two of us that had I made it in two pie pans instead I could have frozen one and not had so much food leftover. The dessert recipe crust will not allow me to take it up and remove from the pan. I've made a note on these recipes to use multiple pans rather than the large size suggested.
Storm #5. Getting the Cost Per Serving information down is important. This is a step I've had on my list for quite some time. I tend to assume, because I typically buy food items on sale, that I am getting a good value from the portions I serve, but I couldn't tell you that for sure.
I made a cheese lasagna last weekend and ended up with two 13 x 9 pans of lasagna. I figured the cost of BOTH pans at $10.05 or about $.87 a serving/ for six servings each and if I'd serve with two sides and bread instead of just a salad, we could have gone 8 servings each pan which would further lower that cost.
I put together a Chicken and Wild Rice casserole for the weekend meal and I figured that cost me about $.74 a serving for a 13x 9 pan (served 8). Had I bought a whole chicken instead of breasts I'd lower the cost of this dish still further.
It was easy enough to figure the cost of these two entrees because I'd just purchased the bulk of ingredients in the past two weeks.
I plan to try and put together a cheat sheet of sorts with dishes we typically eat and try to figure the cost per serving of each. This will help me in balancing the budget, making sure we're in line each week with our food costs. Which leads me to...
Storm #6: I need to set a dollar amount on our weekly meals. I realized as I was figuring out the costs per serving that it really doesn't matter what I figure costs at if I have no meal budget. It's one thing to say I want to have our food budget come in at $300 a month but all of that is not going to be food costs. Some of it is going to be paper, pet foods, personal care items, cleaning products we use in our home. All of those things fall into the grocery budget in my household. So what portion of my spending will be applied to our meals and what portion to the stocking up and what portion to those other things? One of my friends limits her food spending to $25/week. They garden and hunt, raise chickens for eggs and meat, so her costs would be a bit different than mine since I don't do those things.
I don't know if any of you are familiar with an old Yahoo! group run by a lady named Jo who had her food budgeted at $3/per day. I can't recall at the moment if that was per person or for the whole family but that was her goal each day to spend $3 or less. Well that is the sort of thing I mean. I need to know what my cost per week (or day) is going to be and plan meals that fit my budget instead of getting by with a hopeful look and a promise to do better next pay period.
As you can see, it was a 'stormy' weekend in my home! I am sure if I apply these ideas correctly and diligently I shall see an increased savings and find my budget really does fit my need instead of finding myself constantly mourning that I'm over budget once again.