Monday, July 20, 2015

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!

Also, this needs a hashtag. Suggestions?

11 comments:

  1. I think $100 a week is reasonable if you shop smart. Start getting flyers and look for sales and plan your meals around that. Also, meal planning will reduce waste because you can plan to use more perishable items before they go bad (ie- you buy an onion for one dish, but only need half, so plan another meal that uses the other half for the following day!). You can also make little challenges of surviving what is in the cupboards for a few days a month

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  2. I think it depends on what's included in the $100. We try to stick to $100/week (same size family), and usually do OK, except on weeks that we're loading up on staples or buying pet food, etc. I guess because the grocery store sells so much more than food, sometimes it's hard to track exactly how much was spent on food and how much was spent on other stuff. The food waste is the biggest thing we've tried to curb (it bothers me for the same reasons you outlined), and I do think joining a CSA has really helped us with that (which is perhaps where your garden can come in). We paid for our CSA in a lump sum at the beginning of the season, so that also makes is easier to stick to the $100/week budget. I think it's harder for my husband, because he tends to want to eat (or make) what he wants, whereas I find it easier to say, 'this is what's in our food share so this is what we're going to eat'. Anyway, I look forward to reading your insights, tips and tricks as you experiment!

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  3. tammi@northoftaborJuly 20, 2015 at 10:54 AM

    This is so interesting to read! I started tracking our money about seven years ago. After tracking for a full year to see where it all went, I set a budget. There were separate line items for groceries, beer/wine, personal products (shampoo/tampons etc), take out, eating out, pets, healthcare, house, and on and on. Lots of items can't really have a budget (like healthcare for example), so I just continue to track the money for my own knowledge. But we did budget $400/mo for groceries, $40/mo for beer/wine, and a total of $130/mo for eating out or take out ($65 for each, but the money can be used for either). We also are two adults and one child. This budget worked until about two years ago when food prices started creeping up. These days we are spending around $550/mo on groceries - on GOOD food, not junk. We are pretty good most of the time with the other categories. Our biggest expense goes to meat/fish (we buy local/organic when possible) and dairy (also organic). For fruits and veggies I check the 'dirty dozen' list often to remind myself what is ok to by conventional. Sometimes conventional doesn't cost less anyway. Sorry this got so long! Keep us posted on whether the $100/wk works for you!

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  4. milkandcookiesplzJuly 20, 2015 at 1:03 PM

    A little off topic, but you mentioned struggling on how much to post about Isabel.... I've quietly followed your blog for a couple years now I think ("lurking" sounds so creepy). I have a daughter, too, eight months old. For what it's worth, I would love to know more about her and how you've handeled any issues (and successes!) But I think you have been doing a great job with respecting her privacy. I follow other blogs that seem to share way too much. I can only imagine what their kids will think when they're older. I know I wouldn't have wanted my mom to publicly post photos of me ill on the couch or not fully clothed, even as a toddler.

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  5. Ok we are SO IN THE SAME BOAT. my Lawd, food and money is just one of those things. One trick that has helped us with coffee is deciding on our coffee treat budget ($25/month) and we bought my husband a gift card to Timmies and me to Bux. When it is gone it is gone for the month. Then just reload the next month. I also limit my exciting new recipe trials for days when I can realistically make them. I have a "want to try" folder and when the mood strikes me I go buy the ingredients and make it that night. I too have thrown out random ingredients cause I cant get it together to make it in time and we end up ordering pizza.Then we have spent double money on a meal and I want to scream

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  6. Also--get the Flipp ap for your phone. You can search items to see where they are on sale. and can compare prices and items between stores!

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  7. Totally doable! We do a loose meal plan every week. We don't plan like Meal A on Day 1, Meal B on Day 2. It's more like, we'll make these 6 meals this week. And then we cook what we're in the mood for that day. I find it also helps to have a list of stock, go-to meals on my phone. So, if we're meal planning, we have a quick list we can turn to for meals that we know we love and are in our wheelhouse to make quickly. We're up to about 30 recipes on that list and it's a great place to pull some old favorites from each week while still trying a new recipe or two. We also try to plan meals that reuse some of the same ingredients. That saves us a bit and makes prep a little easier. During planning, we also consider what our 22 month old will eat and make sure to incorporate at least something for him to eat in each meal.


    I also keep a list on the chalkboard wall of what meals we have ingredients for on hand. That's been super helpful, especially for lunches. Looking up and seeing that we have everything for burgers or tuna sandwiches or something quick has been a lifesaver and cut down on fast food for us.

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  8. Books for babies can definitely be *very* boring. I take a fair bit of time choosing books for family storytime at the library for this reason! My general rule is that if I don't like the book, then I don't read it. It doesn't always have to have a really good story (sometimes it's best that it not be too complex), but if the story isn't interesting, it has to have *really* good pictures or be interactive in some way (pop-up, sensory, moving parts). And I've never had a hard time finding books! I think there are so many baby books these days that are total crap, though. If the text is boring, at least have good pictures!

    Books for toddlers get more interesting with the stories :).

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  9. $100/week is definitely doable! I do the lion's share of the groceries and all of the cooking and I'd say we spend about $300/month on groceries with 2 adults and 1 baby. I don't meal plan or budget, but we go grocery shopping 1-2x/week and spend $30-80. We *rarely* go over $100 in one visit and if we do it's cause we're in WalMart and are buying non-food items (razors, cat food, etc).

    For eating out, I'll grab a bagel or donut at Tim's, but I hate ordering in. If I'm not making the food, I want to eat it at a sit-down restaurant where they serve it and bring it to me and I don't have to clean anything up at the end.

    In terms of coffee... I lol-ed at the play date mention. Guilty! I only go to Starbucks with you because I'm too cheap to get it on my own. Although I'm addicting to their chocolate chip cookies. mmmm! I know it's not the same, but I will gladly make you a coffee here whenever you like!

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  10. I think $100 a week would be hard but worth trying! An interesting take on it would be to check out the 'Nutritious Food Basket' results for your area. It's an estimate of the cost of eating nutritiously for your area which is completed annually.

    Good luck!

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  11. Julianne Van't LandJuly 24, 2015 at 9:15 PM

    When we were living downstairs we kept our budget to about $80/week - pre-toddlers, of course. 100 sounds totally doable! I would meal plan about 7-8 meals for the week with the intentions of actually making 4-5 of them. We'd usually end up at a friends or eating out one night on the weekend and the other nights we just ate leftovers. But, planning for extra meals means you can be flexible with what is on sale at the store. I would do most of our shopping at food basics but got almost all our produce at the little asian market right at the end of the street on paper. Such good deals there! I could fill 2-3 grocery bags with produce for less than $30! Occasionally I would pop into Loblaws or Sobeys for a special ingredient but I'd always end up buying extra things there that were cheaper elsewhere, so you definitely have to be careful!
    I'm definitely having a hard time sticking to $100 now that the twins are eating so much, especially fruit. Lately the two of them will eat a pint of blueberries a day, so even when they're on sale I can't keep up with the demand!
    I'm excited about the garden space we'll have at our new house in lexington, I'm hopeful about planning a good garden next summer with the goal of lots of canning to use next winter! Looking forward to following this series!

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