Firstly, let me give a warm welcome to all of you who have found your way here from Rhonda’s wonderful Down to Earth blog. I am honored and grateful that she has sent you my way. Please make yourselves at home and I hope you find something of interest among the posts here.
Budgeting for food to feed our households is a very personal thing. We all have our priorities when it comes to where the food dollars are spent and some have more dollars to spend than others. Whatever the size of the budget, we all want to get the most value from those dollars and the best quality food.
I think we have a realistic monthly budget for two adults and two teenagers (my teenage son counts as at least three adults). We could eat for a lot less if all we ate was processed food. As our household CEO, my job is to spend our money wisely and I do that by planning ahead and staying organized.
After my last post about my winter stores, I thought I’d share with you how I manage our food and budget, especially going into the winter, where local fresh in season food becomes more challenging and I’m trying to balance the budget at the end of the year.
I work my household budget by averaging out expenses over the course of a year. I then track these expenses, either over or under for the month, then work towards balancing the line item by the end of the year. I do an audit at the end of June and readjust the money if needed. After working this way for many years, I’ve become good at using last year’s numbers to estimate this year’s expenses.
I find my food expenses go in cycles. January through April the expenses are higher as I have little growing in the garden and the stores from the previous year are low or gone. May through September, expenses drop as the garden is productive and seasonal produce is cheap. This is when I preserve and store up for the winter. October through December the expenses rise again as I have to buy more as I grow less. I am also trying to balance the budget for the year at the same time I’m cooking for the Holidays!
This year has been challenging due to crop failures and disappointments, especially the sauce tomatoes that just didn’t produce, and rising food prices in general. Having a teenage son that eats constantly doesn’t help the bottom line, either! I’m hopeful that my budget will balance December 31.
One change I made this year that I regret is joining a membership club. You know the kind I mean. Buying in bulk seems like a smart move, but for us it was not. These clubs sell mostly brand names, which I don’t usually buy and saving a little money on a brand name is still more expensive than buying generic, even with a coupon. Secondly, I quickly found that the more I bought, the more we ate (teenage son, remember). I bought food thinking it would last a month and it lasted two weeks. After six months of watching my food budget go up, I have pulled the plug. The store had good prices on organic meat, but once the cost of membership and the gas to get to the store, which is not close by, is factored in, the savings are negligible.
I love lists. I have lists for every part of my life. I have a long term goal list, a monthly goal list, a weekly to do list and a daily to do list. Crossing something off a list is very satisfying. Mission accomplished! Part of my strategy for staying on top of the food budget is keeping accurate records of the food I have on hand. I have a list of contents for the chest freezer, the fridge freezer, fresh fruit and vegetables and a list for the pantry. I update these lists as I use or add items. This system was a little time consuming to set up but once started it makes meal planning so easy.
I food shop at several places, but not everywhere, every week. I buy staples such as oil, flour and sugar at Aldi, going at the start of the month and returning for a second trip only if needed. I do a small shop at the local supermarket each week for perishables such as yogurts, and will visit farmers markets or local farms as needed. Once a month I’ll go to Whole Foods to buy a few things I can only find there and to buy meat.
I plan my menu each weekend for the following week, using my lists as a guide. I plan not just the evening meal, but breakfasts and lunches, as well as the baking I will do. If I have time constraints on certain days due to activities, I’ll designate quick meals for those days. Once I started doing my thinking up front, it made preparing food each day a lot less stressful and we started eating out less, as I was prepared. I find deciding which meal I will cook that night before lunch, helps me to plan the rest of the day and I know when I need to start thinking about food prep.
Going into the winter months I have a good idea of the food I have on hand, including the fresh and preserved foods I have prepared, frozen meats, beans, grains, pastas, baking supplies and canned goods in the pantry. My challenge is to use these raw materials to create nutritious meals in combinations that will reduce my food bill for the next few months.
Next post I’ll share how I transition from cooking with fresh fruit and vegetables to using more dried and frozen produce during the winter.
See you in the kitchen,