$100 a week · food · money

Money Talk: Curbing Spending

Back at the beginning of June, I let my employer know that I’m not returning now that my one year maternity leave is over. They already knew, and in fact, knew from before my maternity leave began, but at the beginning of June, I confirmed it. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing I am on to new and exciting things, but also knowing that I am officially unemployed and that I would not be returning to that office where I spent the first four years of my career.

Now, here we are, halfway through July, and my maternity benefits have stopped. Here in Canada, we are incredibly fortunate to receive a full year of paid maternity leave. It’s not your full income, and for many it’s not even half, but for us it was enough to help us feel comfortable. Now, it’s gone. We’ve crunched the numbers more than once; we’ll be fine.

But, we have to be careful. We need to keep a close eye on our frivolous spending and make smart decisions where we can. Over the weekend, the husband did even more playing around with numbers – it’s essentially a hobby for him – and came up with some numbers that kind of surprised us, and not in a good way. In most areas, we’re doing ok, but when it comes to groceries, our spending has been a bit out of control.

So, for my last few weeks of my 5 month summer break, we’re starting a new project. We want to shave $200-300/month off our spending on food. This includes eating out. This includes the Starbucks grande caramel frappucinos – no whip – that I have a major weakness for. This includes the food that goes to waste in our fridge because exhaustion calls for take-out instead.

Here’s the plan:

We will spend $100/week on food. It seems like nothing, especially considering we’ve been spending double that on a regular basis. I know it’s going to be a difficult number to stick with, especially since it’s important to us to eat a variety of nutritious food. At the end of the first two weeks, we’ll reassess this amount and see if it’s actually realistic.

We will follow meal plans. I have tried many many times to create and stick to weekly meal plans. More often than not, they fail and fail in a way that results in even more waste than when I don’t follow a meal plan. Just last week, I threw out a zucchini purchased for a new recipe I never ended up making.

On a related note, we will waste as little as possible. It happens far too frequently that I find myself throwing out large quantities of fruits and veggies that have been languishing forgotten in the back of the crisper. Not only is throwing out food financially stupid, it seems so wrong in a world in which not everyone has enough to eat. Meal planning will help with this, if I can actually stick to it.

We will avoid take-out and eating out unless the budget allows for it. This means we aren’t opposed to delivery from The Friendly Thai completely, but only if we’ve managed to save the cost of it from a previous week.

I will keep my coffee habit in check. You’ll notice that I say ‘I’ in this case and not ‘we’. Coffee is not a big thing for Mark. He’s ok with the free coffee he gets at work, or making coffee at home. He doesn’t care for fancy coffee, and I’m not sure if he’s ever had a craving for an iced coffee. I, on the other hand, love a good $5 frappucino, and when so many park playdates begin or end with a trip to the coffee shop, it’s so easy to give in. I don’t want to say that I’ll give them up completely, but I will limit myself, and maybe begin to explore cheaper, at home options.

We will make as much use of our garden as we can. Our garden is producing well. Some years, we’ve gotten to this point and let it go to weeds, salvaging tomatoes as they come ripe and a bean or two from the stalk just after they get hard and tough to chew. This year, we want to make as much use of it as we can, knowing that, if done right, a garden can save us money.

I will blog about all this while we go through it. I know, I know. You’ll believe it when you see it. I will too. I know this blog has been very quiet over the past little while. I have struggled with how exactly to keep it going with Isabel in our lives. On one hand, I want to share everything about her life, our life, our little shrunken world. On the other, I marvel at how small it has become and how little there is to say. On yet another hand, I struggle with limits, knowing how much is mine to share and how much is hers. This project though, is something I can write about freely. Blogging about it will keep me accountable, will remind me to stick to the meal plan I’ve put together and provide me with an outlet to talk through difficulties and issues surrounding budgeting and feeding a family. It will give me a chance to gather tips and recommendations from all of you, to learn something from my community along the way. And, maybe someday, this little project will help someone else who is also going through their own season of shifting finances.

So, tell me: does $100/week for food seem reasonable for a family of 2 and a baby? Can you share all your tips and tricks for saving money on groceries? Do you meal plan? How do you remain consistent and stick to it? Give me all your advice!

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