Friday, April 27, 2007

Frugal Fridays- Eating Well On A Very Small Budget

Updated on 1/30/09: We were able to eat for $100 a month for about 6 months in 2007. During this time, we experienced some unexpected financial difficulties. By cutting expenses wherever possible such as the grocery budget, we were able to save for these bills and pay them off without me needing to work full-time outside the home. Keep in mind that we started with a well-stocked pantry and freezer and utilized lots of free garden produce during this time. God is good! Although I currently spend around $250 a month on food, I still use many of these principles in my cooking and food shopping. My hope is that this post will encourage you to always look for new ways to save and to stretch the resources that God has given you to work with.

Today, I will be sharing some of the ways I have been able to feed the two of us for $100 a month or $25 a week. I have only been doing this for two months now, since finances have been tighter than usual. This is half of what our regular grocery budget usually is and I thought it was tight before!

Now, I know everyone has different situations, incomes and lifestyles. I am sharing what is working for us. To some this may seem really high for groceries and for others, it may seem extra low.

All of our married life(well, all two and a half years of it!), I have worked on a $200 a month grocery budget. This includes all cleaning supplies, paper products, personal care items and of course, groceries. Prescription meds come out of their own budget category as do clothing and office supplies, such as stamps. I have found this to be rather tight at times, especially as a new bride who was not only figuring things out, but also working full-time. One of the first things that I discovered when I stopped working outside the home was that while I may not be able to lower my grocery budget much further, my $200 was stretching much further. I was able to do more with the ingredients I had on hand, cook even more from scratch and more creatively use leftovers, because I was at home to do it! My pantry and freezer shelves were much better stocked as I was able to include sale items and a few extra canned items each month.

Living well on a very small budget has become a real passion of mine. So when we were cutting our budget 2 months ago, I was almost excited about the challenge of grocery shopping and cooking good meals on $25 a week or $100 a month. I knew it would be difficult at times, but I was pretty sure I could pull it off-at least for a few months or until we were able to put a little more money into the grocery budget each month.

One advantage I have is that I was starting with a well-stocked pantry and freezer. So the first month, I hardly had to buy anything except fresh items. As the months go by, however, my pantry will not be as full, so I'm interested to see how it all plays out.

I already cook and bake almost exclusively from scratch. I am continually looking for new recipes to utilize ingredients that I have on hand and learning to make all kinds of different breads and baked goods for variety. This really saves money in the long run and can be fun and keeps me from getting bored with the same old-same old.

I am used to and actually prefer buying the bulk of my groceries at one time, usually toward the beginning of the month. But I am finding that working with a very small budget, it is helpful to shop each week for that week or the following week(whichever it turns out to be!). This way, I "shop" from my pantry first to plan my menus around what I have and only buy the items that I need to round it all out. I can also take into account any great sales and coupons and either use those for my menus or to stock up if I have a little extra money.

I use the Walgreens rebate system and always get my rebates on gift cards so that the money gets "recycled" over and over. I am able to get almost all of our personal care items this way. We are not brand-specific for the most part, so I've been able to stock up on the different items when they are free-bates or nearly free with great sales and coupons. This really helps when we are in a tight spot to be able to go to my extras shelf and get another bottle of shampoo instead of having to go to the store and buy another.

I have really cut back on my use of disposables. Toilet paper is a necessity in our house(and more than one square, Sheryl Crow); paper towels are not. I will probably buy another pack of paper towels soon on a good sale, since one pack will last me for months, but for now, I am getting along fine without them. I've been using newspapers to wash the windows and mirrors and it is working great! We already use cloth napkins and I limit the amount of ziploc bags that I use. I do wash out some to reuse, but I am careful with those that have held meat. I try to use more reusable plastic and glass containers instead of bags all the time. Of course, there is a time and a season for using disposable plates, napkins and so-on; each family is different in this regard. I use the plastic grocery bags to line my small trash cans and I buy regular garbage bags for my kitchen trash can. One large box lasts me at least half a year! I have found that even without trying to save money, it is much more responsible and a better use of my resources to limit the disposable items.

In the past year, I have learned to use many home made cleaners instead of buying so many. I have changed them many times as I am still learning what works best for me. Maybe one day I will have a great post about it! I buy a large bucket of laundry soap at Sam's Club. Cleaners for me include bleach, borax, ammonia, dish detergent, vinegar, baking soda, Windex(I've been using the same huge bottle from Sam's since we got married!) and furniture polish.

I think that pretty well covers most of the non-grocery part of the budget, so let's get on to the food!

We try to eat pretty healthy, so that has been my main concern with such a small budget. I am not apt to buy hot dogs, baloney, processed cheese, ramen noodles and lots of boxed mac and cheese dinners. Even though these foods are "cheap", I try to buy wisely, spending our money on foods that are the best quality and are as healthy as I can afford. While I would love to buy as much organic as possible, unless organic produce is on a really great sale, it is really not possible on my small budget(in my area, anyways). So I buy the best stuff that I know how on my budget.:-)

Some things that I don't scrimp on are whole grains(flour, rice, pasta), olive and canola oils and some fresh veggies and fruits. While these items are more expensive than their more-refined counterparts, the health benefits are much greater. Now if white rice, pasta or bread is all I have, then by all means we will eat it, but that is the exception, not the rule! I try to have a small selection of salad fixings and fresh fruit on hand at all times. Like I said before, I cannot afford all organics right now but I choose the best looking stuff for the best price, and try to buy in season produce, if at all possible. Bags of fresh spinach from Aldi's and loose bunches of dark green leaf lettuce are not expensive and provide awesome nutrition. Cabbage is also cost-effective and so good for you! I have found that celery, carrots, onions and potatoes are almost always good buys, so I keep those on hand and have many main dish recipes that call for these vegetables. Every time I shop, I choose 2 or 3 veggies to put in salads. Our local Aldi's has very nice produce so I usually get grape tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms and cucumbers at very reasonable prices. Sometimes, I may only be able to afford 1 or 2 different veggies, and we just deal with it.:-)(We are planting a garden with friends this year, so I hope to harvest plenty of fresh veggies this way for a small price!) For fruit, I like to have bananas on hand. If they get over-ripe, I can freeze them for baking. I usually choose one other fruit,too, to have on hand. Often that is apples. Or something on sale or in season like grapes or strawberries.

Both my husband and I are extremely non-picky eaters. We have just never been picky and we'll try almost anything and actually like it! I am blessed to have a husband who will eat anything I fix. When money is tight, this is a trait that is very helpful! I have had to make a few changes as to what we eat to stay in budget and he has been willing to go along with it and appreciative of my efforts. I still take into consideration what his preferences are and try to accommodate them. He doesn't like black beans, ranch dressing or beets, so I don't force those things on him.:-)

During this time, I have been using a lot of whole chickens and ground turkey as these are inexpensive and very versatile as well as healthier options. I use other meats, too, as they are on sale, but the bulk of our meats have been the chicken and turkey. I have incorporated more bean-based meals into our diet. Dry beans are a better buy and healthier than canned beans. I cook a whole pot of one kind of beans at once and freeze them in meal-sized portions to make my own convenience food. I cook a pot or two of beans every couple of weeks to keep a good variety on hand. Frozen veggies are also a good buy and are convenient, too. I have not been buying milk, but rather using powdered. We are not milk drinkers and I had been finding that a gallon of milk would go bad before we could use it anyways! Milk is too expensive to waste at $3.59 or more per gallon and even though I would use the sour milk in cooking, I've found that powdered works just fine for cooking and baking and it had a long shelf life. I do buy some cheese in big bags at Walmart and then freeze in 1-cup portions. It lasts longer this way. I try to limit the extra-cheesy recipes as these can get quite expensive.

Our breakfasts consist of oatmeal, pancakes, eggs and toast or homemade granola. On weekends, I often have something fresh baked for breakfast. Boxed cereal is expensive and again, most are not that healthy. We love yogurt, but I haven't bought it since cutting the budget. It is pretty sugary, anyways. (I would like to try making my own healthier version sometime soon!)

We drink water all the time. We have a Brita pitcher which we love. I fill the empty water bottles with our own filtered water, so we have a cold drink to grab if we are going somewhere. We occasionally drink juice and sweet tea, but not often. Water is a good drinking habit to establish, not just for the great price, but also for health's sake!

I don't buy many snack items, except a bag of tortilla chips to use with a meal. Rather, we have popcorn or sliced fruit or perhaps a cookie for a snack. Since we eat three regular meals per day, we really don't snack much.

Lunches are usually leftovers or something quick like peanut butter and honey sandwiches or pasta with spaghetti sauce. (I do have plenty of sauce on hand!)

I find that it is cheaper and easier to buy various baking ingredients than to buy mixes or already baked items from the store. With a few basic ingredients such as flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda,etc. , I am able to whip up almost any kind of baked good that doesn't call for unusual ingredients.

We don't eat out much at this stage of our lives, and when we do eat out it is either some leftover money scraped together at the end of the month or from a gift card or a small money gift from family members with instructions to treat ourselves. I also keep on the lookout for free coupons to different fast food establishments. 'Buy 1, Get 1 Free' coupons are also a great way to feed 2 people when you only have a few dollars to spend and want to go out. Some months I order a box of food from Angel Food Ministries. This is a large box of food, mainly protein, for $25. Much of this food is prepared and more highly processed items, so I choose carefully as to which month I order, as the menus are always different. It can be a cheap way to stretch the budget, though, and the prepared meals can be good options for busy days or weeks when I would be tempted to just go out to eat! Another option to us going out is to keep a couple of homemade pizzas in the freezer ready to bake.

Knowing that God is interested in even the littlest things in my life-like a small grocery budget- brings comfort and confidence that I can make this work. Praying before, during and after I shop helps me to be aware of God's provision. In James 1:5, we are instructed to ask God for wisdom when we are lacking it ourselves(which is most of the time, here!:-), and He will give us wisdom generously. I believe with all my heart that even small details, such as triple coupon sales and free eggs are not mere coincidences but tangible ways that God is providing for us and helping me to be able to stretch my budget.

I hope that by sharing what I am doing within my grocery budget will hopefully inspire someone else who either is going through difficult times or just needs new ideas or encouragement for lowering their own food bills each month.

For more Frugal Friday posts, please visit Biblical Womanhood.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Frugal Fridays- Cheap and Easy Basket Filler

I love the crinkled paper shreds that you can buy to fill gift bags and baskets. Yes, they're messy, but they look cool-especially when they are going to someone else's house!LOL!

I keep all the tissue paper, shreds and stuff that I receive in gift bags and baskets to re-use. But when doing my husband's little Easter basket last weekend, I really wanted some green "grass" shreds to fill it up. I didn't have any and I wasn't about to run out to the store to buy something like that!

So I used my paper shredder(the one you use to shred important documents). I cleaned it out first and then shredded some old green paper of a couple different shades. It filled up the basket and worked great!

You can use any leftover paper for this. Used colored envelopes, scrapbooking paper, construction paper, tissue paper, even the newspaper if you so desire.

It's a great way to use something you already have on hand!

For more Frugal Friday posts, please visit Biblical Womanhood.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Spring Cleaning: Bedroom

The spring cleaning saga continues...

I completed the bedroom (master bedroom, only bedroom, whatever you want to call it!) last weekend. This was not a hard job. I was so thankful!

Here's what I did:
  • washed sheets, blankets, all linens and curtains
  • washed windows
  • cleaned blinds
  • swept cobwebs
  • scrubbed base boards, walls, window frames and doors
  • vacuumed floor
  • dusted all furniture, and picture frames
  • washed strands of ivy that are draped over each window
Things I didn't or forgot to do:
  • clean the ceiling fan-OOPS!
  • change out seasonal clothing (with the cold snap that's been through the South, I figured it wouldn't hurt to leave the winter clothing in the drawers and closet for at least one more week!)
I still have not gotten to spring cleaning the bathroom. Last week turned out a little differently than planned. I'm not sure if I'll get to it this week or not! We'll see!

The good thing is- I only have two rooms left to clean.

Eggstra Great Deal

We were able to get free eggs from Super Target last Friday after I read this post. Yeah! I ran right out and bought 6 dozen. :-)The price of eggs has really gone up here, so I haven't been using as many lately. But now... we will eat creamed eggs, quiche, custard,deviled eggs, eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Along with lots of eggs, I made little loaves of white bread for communion on Sunday. Only a little was torn off of each loaf, so I've been creatively trying to come up with ways to use bread cubes and crumbs. So far, I've made 2 breakfast casseroles to freeze and a batch of homemade Stovetop stuffing mix. I still have 4 loaves left to use. Maybe I'll make some croutons, and I'm not sure what else right now. Any ideas?

Using leftovers creatively and planning meals around what I have on hand and can get inexpensively is one of my favorite things to do as a homemaker!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Spring Cleaning:Kitchen

I finally got to the kitchen today! Yeah! I'm so glad to have the worst and dirtiest rooms in the house behind me. :-)

I cheated a little and did a few of the kitchen jobs along with dining room and laundry room tasks. such as- cleaning the trash cans at the same time I cleaned the laundry trash cans and laundry baskets and washing the window, blind and curtain at the same time I did the dining room's. It just made more sense that way!

Here's my finished list for the kitchen:
  • washed out trash cans
  • cleaned woodwork, doors, walls, base boards
  • cleaned out cabinets and drawers-not many so this was an easy job!
  • cleaned outside of refrigerator, stove and dishwasher
  • wiped counters
  • cleaned sink
  • cleaned above stove
  • cleaned stove top, burner coils, burner pans
  • cleaned oven
  • washed window and blind
  • washed curtain
  • swept and scrubbed floor
  • washed rugs(with bathroom rug for later in week)
This really didn't take me that long; it's a small space and a room that I try to keep up with throughout the year. Sometimes I do better than others.:-) It's amazing how much better these rooms are smelling after being thoroughly cleaned!

Rooms I have scheduled for spring cleaning later this week:
  • bathroom
  • bedroom

Spring Cleaning: Laundry Room

BeforeI cleaned the laundry room last week. This was a tough room to work on. First of all, this room serves as a combination of laundry, pantry, storage and general catch-all. Don't know where to put it? Throw it in the laundry room! This results in a very cluttered and generally crowded and messy room.

Second, I hadn't ever really done much more than general cleaning in here before. The windows, walls and blinds were in sorry need of deep-cleaning. These before pictures don't show the worst of this clutter, especially since the best shot turned out way dark. But, I'll be glad to tell you all about it!
BeforeI probably don't need to tell you that this room took me a full day to complete. :-) I was exhausted after tackling this. Here's a general list of what all I did:
  • washed windows
  • washed blinds
  • scrubbed baseboards, walls, window frames, doors and door frames
  • moved washer and dryer and cleaned underneath the best I could-you do not want to know what I found under there!
  • cleaned off the freezer, washer, dryer and water heater
  • cleaned all shelves and counter spaces
  • reorganized pantry, cleaning supplies and all other variety of extra supplies I store in there
  • reorganized tools and gardening supplies
  • swept cobwebs
  • put all clean clothes away!
  • swept and scrubbed the floor
AfterI did decide to leave the blinds up on the high windows. It lets so much more light in that way and since they are high, no one can see inside. Seeing this room sparkle makes me want to decorate a little with some bright curtains! I'll have to see what I can come up with.
AfterIt looks weird to have a big bucket of laundry soap on top of the freezer, but since I still do some part-time child care, I prefer to have an open bucket out of reach. This one is not even half-full, so it's not that heavy. I love how the pantry looks now that it is freshly organized.
AfterMy husband was impressed with his neat shelf of tools and equipment. We do have a shed for most of this stuff, but the smaller tools that he uses are just handier to keep in the house for easy access. The weed-eater and hedge trimmer are kept inside so they are plugged in and charged.:-)

So far, I've done the laundry room, kitchen, living room, dining room and hallway. Left to clean are the bathroom, bedroom and office. (I'm glad I tackled the worst rooms first!)I definitely am on the home-stretch here-if I can just keep going!