The Beauty of Budgeting

budgetI’ve long since been a big believer in budgets for managing personal finances. For me it started when I was back in university, trying to figure out how to pay tuition and rent and still have money left over to eat. It wasn’t always easy, that’s for sure. From there, I just sort of naturally continued to keep a budget in one form or another.

Todd, on the other hand, doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to managing money. That’s part of the reason why we continued to have separate finances up until about a year ago. Combining our finances and putting me in charge of things was one of the best financial decisions we’ve made as a couple. I realize that this may not be the answer for all married couples; but for us, it just works.

For the most part, for the past year, we’ve been following the same budget, tweaking things here and there as we discovered what was (and wasn’t) working. And then…we were thrown an unexpected financial curveball, that required we throw our entire budget out the window.

…or did it?

The beauty of having a solid budget in place meant that I was able to, rather easily, sit down and figure out where to start making cuts. I knew exactly how much money I had to squeeze out of the current budget, and began chopping away at any non-essentials, and lowering the amounts allotted to variable spending amounts, like food.

Without a budget, “finding” several hundred extra dollars every month would have been an overwhelming task. However, already having a solid budget in place made this task manageable, and I daresay easy.  We’re now working with a temporary modified budget, that we can easily modify again when our financial situation improves once more.

Dealing with financial curveballs and unexpected life changes doesn’t have to be as awful as we’ve always been led to believe. Todd and I are definite proof of that. So if you needed one more reason to come up with a solid, realistic budget for your household finances, this would be it.  We’re very quickly learning that feeling in control of your finances, even if they kind of suck at the moment, is a very good feeling indeed.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

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The $21 Challenge: The Parts That Sucked

CaptureSo it’s been a few weeks now since we (successfully) completed the $21 ChallengeThe final verdict, if you recall, is that it wasn’t all that difficult, really. Thanks to my tendency to food hoard stock up when things are on sale, we had a pretty good stash of food items that we were able to rely on to get us through the week.

To be honest, though, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. There were some parts about the $21 Challenge that kind of sucked.

  • We ate fewer vegetables than usual. Veggies – especially fresh veggies – aren’t always budget-friendly. I lucked in and was able to get some things on sale (i.e. super cheap broccoli) but normally in the course of a week, we eat more fresh fruits and vegetables than we did during the challenge. We also try to do a fair bit of shopping at the Farmer’s Market, which our plan also didn’t allow for.
  • It was time consuming.  Participating in this challenge meant spending more time than usual hunting through the flyers for sale items, digging through our freezer and pantry to assess what we had on hand, and carefully meal planning. Running around to several different stores to get only the best deals. I also lost most of a Sunday on food prep – making pizza, soup, cookies, baking rolls, etc. for the week ahead.
  • Being forced to stick to the meal plan. Now, I’m normally a meal plan kind of gal anyhow, but there are times when I just don’t feel like preparing (or eating) something that’s scheduled for a particular day. When days like that do happen to pop up, it’s not an issue, I either make something different, or pick up something else from the grocery store. Staying on a strict budget doesn’t leave room for that. Of course, we did end up cheating while doing the challenge, on the night we decided to throw the plan out the window and have ice cream for dinner.
  • It didn’t allow room for a lot of fun. I’ll admit it – I like cake and cookies and ice cream and potato chips as much as the next person. I try not to indulge in those kinds of things very often if I can help it, but there’s something about being told that I “can’t” have these things that makes me want them even more. I may have spent more time thinking about Doritos over the course of the $21 Challenge week than I would have ordinarily.

So yeah…the $21 Challenge wasn’t perfect. But…and a very big ‘but’ – is that it ultimately saved us a lot of money. Sure, we ate fewer vegetables and it took a lot of additional time and effort, but I daresay that it was worth it. Especially considering the fact that this obviously isn’t meant to be an every single week thing. As a once-in-a-while thing, I’d say that it was definitely manageable. Manageable enough than in another month or two, after we’ve re-built our pantry and freezer, I think I’ll do it again.

…though next time I won’t blog about it nearly as much. Promise. 😉

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

The $21 Challenge: The Final Verdict

So, the $21 shopping challenge is now over.  Maaaan….a week just flies by, doesn’t it?

Now that’s over, let me sum it all up in one single sentence: It wasn’t that tough.

A bit of a letdown, right? I know. I kind of feel the same way.

I have some important takeaways from the week, though.

  1. We have WAY too much food in the house at any given time.  I was honestly looking forward to getting rid of a lot of food that we seem to have, particularly in our pantry cupboard and upstairs freezer. While our larger freezer downstairs took a definite hit, the rest of the house still seems bursting with food.
  2. The food that I do “stockpile”, however, has almost all been acquired on sale or marked down. When I was going through all the stuff in my freezer and pantry, I realized that most things I rarely pay full price for. So perhaps having a bit of a stockpile isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  3. Sticking to a strict food plan is great it theory, but not always practical. I carefully planned out our meals for the week for the purposes of shopping, but we ended up straying from the plan a bit, and didn’t use everything that I bought this week, surprisingly enough.
  4. Sometimes adulting means having ice cream for dinner. So here’s where we ‘fess up. We did actually cheat over the course of the week, just once. Tuesday was kind of a crap day for  me and I came home that night, really not feeling like making dinner, even the simple one that I’d had planned. What I really wanted was some comfort food. So off to the grocery store we went…and picked up ice cream. Yes…we had ice cream for dinner. Because some nights it’s necessary. The good news is that we got it on sale at least. I gladly paid for it out of my own personal spending money.
  5. We actually need less food than I think. I spent Sunday baking and cooking up a storm in preparation for the week ahead. Now that the week is over, I’m looking around and still seeing a fair bit of leftovers. The baked goods can be tossed in the freezer no problem, but the rest of it we’ll have to make sure we eat in the next day or two.

All in all, I would call the experiment a rousing success. My biggest concern was that I would bounce back the next week and buy all the food when I hit the grocery store again. I did another meal plan for the week based on what we still have in the house, and made a careful list. We went shopping last night for next week and I’m happy to report that we spent a mere 50-ish dollars. That means that we spent just a bit over $70 for two weeks’ worth of groceries, when normally we would spend close to $300 for that same time period.

I’d call this a definite win. Woo!

I still plan to write about exactly what we ate over the course of the week, so keep your eyes open for future posts. Did we eat Kraft Dinner and ramen noodles all week? Tune in and find out…

Until next time,

~Kelly

The $21 Challenge: Our Shopping Adventure

So $21 isn’t a whole lot. Particularly when you consider the challenges that are facing us.

For starters, I am a gluten-free girl. And if you’ve never taken a look a the price of things like gluten-free bread and pasta, you’ll be in for a shock. I normally spend more than $21 per week on things like gluten free bread, English muffins, pasta and muffin mixes.  So from that perspective alone, this is going to be a challenge.

We do, however, have several things working on our side. Because of my 50/50 custody schedule with my ex, this particular week we only have my girls with us on Monday and Wednesday nights, meaning that there are only two days’ worth of school lunches we’ll have to provide. It always seems like school lunches cost a lot more than eating at home for some reason. Of course, I do get caught in the trap of picking up convenience items for their lunches like granola bars, which aren’t cheap. None of that this week, however.

Also, we have the ability to do our shopping in several different locations. Now, I know what you’re thinking — if we’re running around getting only the best deals from a number of places, are we really saving money? I’m going to answer a big ole ‘yes’ on this one, since this is something that we do normally anyhow. So we’ll be spending the same on driving to these places, but saving big time on the food we won’t be buying, and getting the best deals on the little food that we do buy.

Another big advantage is that I’m a pretty decent cook. Not to toot my own horn too much here, but I’ve got kitchen skillz. This definitely helps in terms of keeping food costs low if I’m able to make things myself from scratch.

I looked through our pantry, fridge and freezer, scoured the weekly fliers and came up with a meal plan. Then, on Saturday morning, with my careful list in hand and Todd and I headed out to pickup our $21 worth of food.

We went to 3 different places and this is what we scored:

  • 1 dozen eggs ($1.99 on sale)
  • White vinegar ($1.49)
  • Vegetable Thin crackers ($1.44)
  • 2l milk ($3.69)
  • 2 heads of broccoli (scored an amazing deal – 0.99 each! – $1.98)
  • 2 big bunches of bananas (also another great deal at 0.27/lb – $1.15)
  • Bag of oranges ($3.97)
  • 1 English cucumber ($1.47)
  • 1 head of romaine lettuce (0.97)
  • Fresh garlic (0.89)
  • 3 avocados (from the discount shelf – 0.99)

Grand total – $20.03. Well…$20.05 after it gets rounded. Leaving us with 95 cents left.

Food

This is what $20.05 worth of food looks like, if you’re able to score some really good deals.

Then, I made the very conscious decision to cheat. Full disclosure, right? I made up my mind to pick up a bag of chocolate chips. Not exactly a necessity, but I figured that if we got desperate later in the week, I could at least whip up a batch of cookies for a treat. I went into the store, picked up the chocolate chips and saw that they were on sale! $1.94. I figured that going only one measly dollar over budget was no big deal.

And then…the grocery store gods smiled upon me. I rang the chocolate chips through the self-scanner and realized that they came up as $2.99. I flagged down the cashier and pointed this out to her. She confirmed this was the case and guess what that means? I got the chocolate chips for free. Y’see, according to the scanning code of practice here in Canada, any item under $10 that scans at the incorrect price will be given to you for free.

freeSo…though my intent was to cheat on the challenge…just a little bit…I still have that .95 cents in my wallet. Sweet!

All in all, I would say that the biggest challenge when shopping was steering clear of those great deals on things that didn’t need for this upcoming week.  Temptations were everywhere, but I managed to stay strong.

Later on in the week I’ll be sharing our meal plan and maybe even a recipe or two.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

The $21 Challenge: The Rules

So here are the rules behind The $21 Challenge:

  1. The week starts on Friday, and runs until end of day on the following Thursday.
  2. The $21 is to cover all meals during that time period (i.e. no eating out to “save” our grocery budget).
  3. Anything other than food falls outside of the $21 Challenge and will not be counted. For example, we need laundry detergent this week, and conditioner. No way that I’d be able to work that into such a meager food budget.
  4. No “stocking up” on the day before the challenge starts. Though believe me — the thought did cross my mind. heh.
  5. There will be full disclosure here on the blog to keep me accountable.

To be honest, last night when I was having a look over everything that’s in our fridge, freezer and pantry cupboard I’m wondering how much of a challenge this is really going to be for us. Apparently I have a bit of a food hoarding problem. Well…..maybe hoarding is the wrong word. Let’s call it “stocking up” instead. In some ways I think the biggest challenge for me will be to pass up on all the great deals I see while we’re spending our $21 food allowance because they won’t fit into our budget. 😉

As Friday draws closer and I plan out our meals for the week, I have to admit, I’m actually getting a wee bit excited about this challenge. I’m nerding out on being thrifty! You may have send help. 😉

Until next time,

~Kelly

The $21 Challenge

CaptureMonths ago I came across a book while I was browsing at the library called “The $21 Challenge”. The idea is that for one week, you challenge yourself to spend only $21 on groceries for your family. The idea is to rely on the food that you already have in your home to come up with meals for the family. The goal is to save money and to challenge yourself in the process. Of course, the idea isn’t to do this every single week, but rather, every once in a while.

Full disclosure: we spend a lot of money on food at our house. Despite the fact that my daughters are only with us 50% of the time, our regular grocery budget is a whopping $640 per month. Now, I will add that this grocery budget also includes toiletries – soap, shampoo and the like, as well as extras like cleaning supplies and laundry detergent. Also, we almost never eat out or order in. Still. This seems excessive.

So I read through the book and was intrigued by the idea. Could it really be possible to feed my family on just $21 for one week? I put some serious thought into giving it a try, more than once, and then honestly, I kind of chickened out. I thought about the amount of effort required behind this kind of experiment and I honestly just wasn’t feeling up to it. And to be honest, I like eating well. So while I may toss an inexpensive meal into our regular rotation now and then, for the most part I prefer to eat better than that.

Now, with the financial curveball life has thrown our way, it feels like the perfect time to finally give the $21 Challenge a try. I checked the book out of the library again, and this week, I’m going to tackle this challenge head on. And of course, I’ll be writing all about it. Is it possible for our family to survive the week on just $21 worth of grocery money? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I would love to hear if anyone has any special tips and tricks for cutting their grocery budget. Sure, this $21 Challenge might save us money in the short term, but I’d love to hear some more long-term solutions.

Until next time,

~Kelly

When Life Throws a Financial Curveball

curveballSo. Without going into a whole lot of details, I’ll do my best to fill everyone in on where things stand with us. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, I know. The truth is that I’ve been feeling rather frustrated with our financial life at the moment, and quite frankly, I haven’t really wanted to talk/write about it all that much.

In a nutshell, I will say that Todd and I have had a financial curveball thrown at us recently. Not a devastating one, but one that has caused us to completely re-evaluate and re-vamp our financial plan. The good news is that it’s only temporary; the bad news is that we don’t know how long we will be operating under these news rules and restrictions.

What this means is that for the time being, we’re basically in financial emergency mode. Our goals of debt repayment are temporarily on hold, with the goal of simply not adding further to the debt. This also means that we’re likely going to have to get creative in terms of finding ways to cut expenses and save even more money. Which, come to think of it, aren’t bad skills to have to hone.

We’ve faced financial curveballs in the past, and we’ll face this one, too. It’s a part of life that most of us have to deal with at one time or another.

I’d love to hear your stories of any financial curveballs life has thrown at you, and what you did to deal with them.

Until next time (and I promise it won’t be so long before I write again),

~Kelly