Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On Being Frugal and Budgeting

I have received several budget questions lately. Economizing is a high priority these days. Realistically, we have to balance our desire to be healthy with the resources we have available.

I don't know how I want to approach these questions yet. I hesitate to share my specifics... yet. I think it would be most appropriate to share some of the strategies that I use first.

Let me start by saying that I am no Budgetary Queen. We got through grad school with two children and no debt by God's grace and by this rule: "We don't have it, so we won't spend it." These days the accolades for budgeting in our family go to my brilliant husband who can shuffle numbers in his head so quickly it makes my head spin... and I was a math major in college!!! But I digress...

Here are a few thoughts to get this topic started:

Buy food in bulk or from co-ops. We buy our chickens, beef, milk, cheese, butter, grains, popcorn, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, beans, honey, oils and other baking items this way. Unfortunately, this will require larger sums of money up front. In order to make this possible, we have a separate bulk food budget. This way, a $300 meat order doesn't immobilize the grocery budget for the month. We set aside for the big bulk purchases. That being said, our grocery budget is smaller. I buy less at the store, so I have less allotted to spend there.

When you grocery shop, keep a lookout for Sales, Closeouts and Manager's Specials. Because natural foods have a shelf life, they are marked down more often than heavily processed foods. If possible, pair these specials with coupons for an even deeper discount. Here's an example of this. Last time I was at the store, I saw that the quarts of Organic Stonyfield Farm Yogurt were a week from their due dates. They were marked down to $2.19. I had coupons for $1.00 off each quart, so I bought a few for $1.19 each. I usually make yogurt at home, but this was even cheaper than I could make it! And I needed a new starter anyway...

Besides the extreme specials, stick to your meal plan and grocery list. It is very tempting to pick up a few extras each time you go to the store. These will add up dramatically. Just buy what you need. If you plan for snacks, you will not be as tempted to pick up the extras.
I say stick to your list, BUT, as mentioned above, always keep your eye open (and a margin in the budget) for amazing deals. I always meander through the natural foods, produce, and organic meat section looking for deals. If I notice a good price on something I know we will need, I will go ahead any buy up as much as possible. I do not do this with items we do not regularly eat. But, for example, when I saw organic apples for $1.49/pound, I bought 10 pounds. Apples keep for a long time and we eat them almost every day. Every time I went to the store for more than a month, I didn't have to buy apples at the higher price.

Plan a whole foods, budget meal night. (More on this in a future post.)

Make as much as possible from scratch. It seems that there is an organic equivalent for almost every boxed food on the market. These products may be preservative or chemical free, but they are often loaded with organic sugars. And they are not cheap! While sometimes, like tonight, convenience is necessary, organize your week so that you have the time to cook and bake. Doing so is healthier and cheaper... even though it requires diligence... which, I remind myself is a virtue to be highly sought after... so, I continue to remind myself, DON'T give up!

I have just scratched the surface here, but these are my top strategies for balancing health and a budget. As I turn this topic over in my mind, I will come back to this subject. Thanks for your comments!

Oh, and a note on last night's Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos. I was amazed. First, I was amazed at the flavor... this was GOOOOOD (and EASY) food! I used dried cilantro instead of fresh, and I used soaked beans instead of canned. But everything was perfect. Then, I was doubly surprised at how my children loved them... my children who don't like sweet potatoes :)


Noel said...

I was able to order your rave review books today for under $20 together. I'm really looking forward to reading them :)

amy said...

okay, ae, the apples example shows me that you would LOVE the farmer's market. you can regularly find organic apples for that price or less. :)