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: 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

Meal Planning: A Step-by-Step Guide

Handwritten Shopping ListI think I wrote before that after our housing costs, our next biggest household expense is food. Food is an important thing to me; I’m a big believer in healthy, home made food. It’s one of those things that I actually don’t mind spending more money on, but obviously if I CAN save money, I definitely want to.

In the past, while I always set a “food budget” for myself, it was really only a rough guide. I routinely went over budget and spent more than I’d planned on, justifying it by telling myself that “It was on sale” or “I had a craving” or “It looked really good.” Um…yeah. While this meant that we always had plenty of delicious food around, it also led to a lot of unnecessary food waste, which is really like just flushing money down the toilet.

In any case, when our food budget got tightened up with all the other changes that we made, I knew it would become more important than ever for me to have a solid meal planning process in place. I’ve used this plan for a while now (despite straying from it whenever it fancied my interest). For those of you who have never written a meal plan and have no idea where to start, I thought I would share my own step-by-step process with you.

Step One: Take Inventory

Before I begin making my meal plan, I have a look at what I have sitting in my freezer and pantry for meal making. I often pick up extra things on sale (when my budget allows). So before I start planning, I see what I currently have to work with. I often have meat for a meal or two as well as frozen vegetables in the freezer, and things like pasta sauce, rice and pasta in the pantry. Makes sense to start with what I’ve already got before I buy more.

Step Two: Check the sales flyers.

My next step is to check what’s on sale this week and try to incorporate those foods into my meal plan. A sale on something like ground beef or chicken means that I’ll be incorporating those foods into the meal plan. Same goes with vegetables that are on sale as well.

Step Three: Look at the week (s) ahead.

I tend to meal plan for a two-week time period, and so the next step in the process is to look ahead at what’s going to be happening for the next couple of weeks to determine if that’s going to affect my meal plan at all. Things like dinner out, having friends over, or evening activities that might require us to have a quick meal before we have to head out. Knowing what nights these things are happening help with the plan.

Step Four: Assign a meal to every night of the week.

I then write out a list of meals for the next two-week time period. As I do this, I consult my list of foods that I already have, as well as what is on sale. As I do this, I add items to my shopping list. As part of the meal plan, I always have a night or two in there that I leave open. This allows me to take advantage of “flash sales” at the grocery store that I just happen to see when we’re out there, or nights when we eat leftovers or just grab something quick and easy like scrambled eggs on toast because I’m too pooped out at the end of the day to cook anything.

Step Five: Finish filling in the grocery list.

One I’ve made my meal plan and written what I need to make those meals on my grocery list, I then continue to finish my list, with things like food for breakfasts and lunches, snacks, and any staples that we might have recently run out of. And then I always re-write my grocery list and group like things together to avoid confusion in the grocery store and having to double-back more than once because I missed things on my list the first time.

And…voila! That’s how the magic happens in terms of meal planning at our house. Do you make a meal plan? Does your method differ from mine any way?

Until next time,

~Kelly

Changing Habits to Stay on Budget

Now that 2015 has started, Todd and I are now officially in our new budget mode. To be honest, it doesn’t really look any different than our “practice budget mode” that we started back in November and December of last year. We were able to embrace our new plan pretty easily, and even managed to stay on track over the holidays (a Christmas Miracle!).

One of the things that has become necessary for us to stay on track with our budget is to make some changes to our daily habits. This has been extremely helpful to me in avoiding unnecessary purchases.

As I already wrote about, I have stopped purchasing my daily coffee on the way to work, and instead make coffee at home. This one small habitual change will save me hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. Squeee! Although, since this blog is about full disclosure I will admit that there were some Starbucks indulgences over the Christmas holidays, which came out of my own personal spending money. Not a big deal, after all, I had the money to make the purchases, but I know that this is something that I need to avoid doing on a daily basis. So now that the holidays are over, I’m back to using my French press at home every morning.

Another change I’ve made is how I spend my lunch hours. I work next to a large grocery store (complete with a cosmetics, housewares, and clothing section) and in the past, I would often wander over there on my lunch break, to “pick up a few things” and end up walking out having spent a lot more than I’d initially planned. Now that we’re on a tight grocery budget, and I’m on a stricter personal spending budget, I no longer spend my lunch breaks wandering the aisles of the grocery store. There are days when I still go there, but it’s for the specific purpose of picking up something that is required (and in budget) like fresh veggies or milk. No more aimless wandering and temptation to spend.

Another thing that Todd has started doing is leaving his cash at home during the day. Having cash on hand meant being far more tempted to pick up junk food for an afternoon snack, or ignore his packed-from-home lunch and grab something far less healthy (and more expensive). Sure, it’s easy to discount those small candy bar purchases but as we’ve seen with my own coffee example, those small purchases add up over time.

Changing habits requires a conscious effort in the beginning, but soon those habits are replaced with others. Now my lunch breaks are spent going for walks or lunching with my husband instead. Quality time with my man AND it’s free! What more could a gal ask for?

What habits have you changed for the sake of saving money?

Until next time,

~Kelly