Back in January, I mentioned that Greg rigged up a spreadsheet for our expenses. Now that we were on a fixed income, I wanted to make sure there'd be no surprises.
We had asked our money manager for a reasonable stipend out of our savings--well above what I estimated we'd need on a normal monthly basis.
This does two things: It allows us to have ready cash for emergencies. And if nothing happens, it builds up a nice nest egg--already earmarked for a future trip.
The good news: We came in under budget on gasoline, groceries, and dining out.
Promising news: If we ever sell Casa South, it'll be enough to pay off the balance on Casa North, giving us back a big chunk of change every month.
The bad news: It's VERY EASY to spend thoughtlessly. December taught us that. It was a lesson that haunted us throughout January.
Counting every expense is the key, especially the small cash trifles. It's the candy bar, lottery ticket, and the tips we leave that add up.
Dining out has always been our Achilles heel. We were a two-income couple with no children, save the dogs. We ate out almost every day while we were working for the man.
What helped us make the transition was our willingness to cook at home and only dining out when we had coupons or eating off the 'lunch menu'.
As some of you know, cooking is not my favorite activity, but Greg has made it fun. He's found some great recipes and we cook together. We're eating better at home than we ever did eating out.
The other thing that helped greatly is long-range planning. For the last couple of years, I've been slowly stocking up (particularly on non-perishables) but also staples we regularly use.
Budgeting is a big subject so I'll touch on different facets from time to time. Today, I'll list the tips I use to save money on groceries.
• Go meatless. Pasta dinners go far, and they're very cheap. Try different pasta sauces besides tomato. We do pesto, spinach and Parmesan, and just plain olive oil and garlic. And don't forget mac and cheese. Very filling and satisfying.
• Use less meat. Chinese stir-fry is a great way to eat meat without using a lot of it. Big salads are also go-to meals for us. Sometimes
I just fix a dinner plate of salad greens and veggies with homemade
dressing, then I'll top it with thin strips
of steak or chicken.
• Make your own snack foods. I'm no saint. I like sweets on occasion. Rather than buy cookies or pastries, make your own. The basic cookie recipe is stupid-easy. You can even make extra and freeze the rest for next time.
• Speaking of sweets, always buy chocolate after Valentine's Day, Halloween, and Christmas. I freeze those mega-bags of single-serving chocolates and pull them out whenever I have a sweet tooth.
• Buy produce in season. I'll admit, I'm bad at this, but I'm getting better. Recently my local store put cauliflower at a ridiculously low price and I bought several heads. Cauliflower freezes well and keeps well in the fridge too. It's a veggie I can't grow easily where I live because it stays hot for too many months.
• Meal plan. This is another one of my weaknesses but cooking with Greg has made me a better meal planner. I find if I can plan a week ahead, my grocery bill is smaller because I buy foods I can use for more than one meal.
For example: I might buy a pot roast. A big hunk of it will go in the crock pot as a traditional pot roast. Another piece I'll save for fajitas later that week, and a few strips I'll save as a topping for our full meal salads.
• Use your freezer. Taking that pot roast example, I might opt to make a giant slow-cooked pot roast complete with veggies. We'll eat one meal and then freeze the rest in meal sized containers. Now I have 2-3 future meals already made. All I have to do is put them in the oven to reheat.
• Stockpile: I cannot stress this enough. A lot of my success comes from small but continuous efforts to add to the larder. If something I use regularly is on sale, I buy in bulk. It will save you money in the long run. I guarantee it.
Our monthly grocery budget is $300. This isn't just food for us, but for the dogs too--who eat pretty darn good, let me tell you. From this money, I buy fresh produce, food for stockpile (on sale, of course), dog food, food I can't grow/raise like fish and shrimp, and indulgences, like sweets and savories. And although it's not food, nonperishables like paper, plastics, foil, and cleaning supplies also go on the grocery budget.
We listed every expense on our spreadsheet, no matter how small. It kept us honest. If you know it's going on the spreadsheet, you're less likely to fudge because it makes you accountable.
There are some big expenses coming up later in the year, so it'll be interesting to see how we do as the year progresses. So far, so good, but the fat lady hasn't sung yet. The real result comes at the end of the year.
Do you use a budget? Out of curiosity, and if you care to share, what's your monthly grocery budget? I know food is a lot cheaper where I live than some place like Chicago, so that's something to take into account too.
Is there anything you try to do to keep your bottom line down?