Almost 10 years ago, I received a gift that would change the course of my life forever. It was just a few weeks before my now-husband Brian and I got married, and we started receiving lots of wedding presents in the mail. Towels- yay! Pots and pans- awesome! An electric griddle- eek! Those were exciting times and we were thankful for so many wonderful gifts that would help us as we were starting out and setting up a home together.
One day after work I opened up a box and pulled out a Dave Ramsey starter kit from one of my dad’s childhood friends. Ungrateful, indignant and ignorant, I tossed the books and DVDs aside thinking, “This wasn’t on our registry!”
A few weeks after we returned from our honeymoon, we were led to watch one of the DVDs and we were hooked. Though we both had college degrees and worked in professional jobs, we had mountains of student loan debt, car debt and credit card debt and knew we didn’t want to live like that forever.
We got on a budget, worked extra jobs, sold a brand new car, skipped Christmas and sacrificed any luxuries for three years to get rid of more than $100,000 in debt. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. We were able to save up and buy our dream house, I was able to quit my job to stay home with our kids, we’ve paid cash for cars and money isn’t something we have to stress about, which never would have been possible without Dave Ramsey.
Since getting out of debt, we’ve loosened up A LOT. Back when we first started budgeting, we had $30 a month budgeted for dining and entertainment which makes me laugh a little now considering we can barely go to a burger joint for under $30 these days.
We’ve gone through phases of being strict about budgeting each month or not tracking our expenses and we’ve realized that we both feel better when we have a budget, stick to it and discuss it together. During the periods when we haven’t paid enough attention to our budget, we’ve seen money literally vanish because we somehow spend more money on more things and can’t even remember what we spent it on.
Last year I began tidying up our house and as a direct result of our tidy home, we had a strong urge to tidy our finances. We sold our home last fall and are currently living in an apartment while our new home is being built. As we are planning for our new home and trying to make sure we put down as much money as we can, we’ve become serious budgeters again with almost the same intensity as when we first got married.
One area of our budget that is always a challenge to manage is our grocery budget. In a span of 10 years, my grocery budget has gone from $150 a month for a family of two adults to a completely outrageous number that I’m not comfortable admitting to!
But in my defense, my husband is a human garbage disposal and eats three full meals, snacks all day long, juices and makes smoothies and drinks fancy coffee. I also have two little ones who can easily eat more than me some days. We try our best to eat real, unprocessed food with high quality ingredients which means we eat almost all organic foods and choose grass-fed beef and dairy and pastured meats and eggs when possible. And we’re also dealing with food allergies and eat a gluten free diet.
While I’m thankful that we can afford to choose to eat the way we want to and the way we need to to keep my daughter healthy, I don’t want to let these factors be an excuse to let our grocery budget get out of hand. I know that we will likely spend more than many families of similar size, but I want to make sure we’re not spending more than we actually need to just because I’m not paying enough attention.
I came across this blog post last week about a family who eats real food for less than $350 a month and I decided to start focusing on my grocery budget and see how I can make sure we’re eating the best foods we can without spending more than we should.
I contemplated signing up for Frugal Real Food Meal Plans but then I thought that I might as well try to meal plan on my own first. I typically plan out dinners using a system of menu rhythms I learned from Simplicity Parenting (fish on Mondays, soup on Wednesdays, pizza on Fridays, etc.), but I usually decide on breakfast, lunch and all of our snacks on a whim, which means I buy lots of extra groceries to have items on hand to for those meals.
So I sat down with pen and paper and wrote out breakfasts, lunches and dinners as well as extra snacks for a week. I planned out seven breakfasts, seven dinners and five lunches so that we have a few days to eat leftovers for lunch.
I kept a few guidelines in mind when meal planning:
- Shop the pantry first. I went through my pantry (and refrigerator and freezer!) to see what ingredients I already had on hand and tried to plan meals around those items. I’ve had a box of grass-fed hamburger patties from Trader Joe’s in my freezer for months and finally put it on the menu.
- Keep it simple. I learned my lesson recently about keeping it simple in the kitchen when I spent three days making a gluten free bubble up pizza that my 4 year old refused to eat because it didn’t look like pizza. I’m sticking to basics and trying no more than one new recipe a week.
- Plan for the extras. In addition to our main meals, I usually bake a few times a week. My kids love muffins, breakfast breads and granola as snacks. I’ve never planned these menu items out before, but they usually involve a lot of ingredients so if I’m tracking my budget I need to take these into account.
- Be realistic. My family eats three home cooked meals most days of the week, but that doesn’t mean I’m in the kitchen cooking up breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. I do a lot of cooking on the weekends when my husband can help with the kids or in the morning when they have the ability to play independently (this ability strangely dissipates throughout the day and is completely gone by dinnertime!). Most of my meals need to be able to be made ahead of time and heated up just before serving.
- Remember the season. My kids love strawberries all year long, even when a quart of organic strawberries costs almost $6 in the winter in Texas. There are many reasons to eat in season, but for now I’m going to focus on my budget and resist the strawberries! I’m adding more winter vegetables like leafy greens, brussels sprouts and butternut squash to the menu which adds nice variety and helps keep the budget down.
I made my shopping list based on the items I needed for each meal and went to the store determined to buy only items on my list. It was a major challenge! But, I’m happy to say that I made it through Costco and the grocery store without buying any extra groceries.
I bought everything I need for the whole week and only spent about half of my weekly grocery budget, which means I am probably over-budgeting and over-spending some. I still have six days to go and that’s a long time for me to stay out of the grocery store, so I’m not going to rush into making any budget changes quite yet, but I hope that I’ll be able to reduce our overall budget at least a little bit sometime soon.