Friday, November 4, 2011

Making your food bill stretch

In this economy we are all looking to make our dollar spread a little further than it used to, especially as it relates to food. I’ve got a few tips for you on this and I’m assuming you already cut out excess luxuries and have budgeted. So, here are some ideas for you:

First of all, if you’re looking to make the most out of what little money you have, you need to PRIORITIZE. For my family we have 3 people and 3 different ways of eating due to varying health concerns. So our priorities lie with what we can all eat first, followed by specialty items. What does this look like? Well, we all eat meat, veggies, cheese, and fruit in varying degrees so these come first. Then comes our specialty items: the hubby gets bread products, sugar products, and milk products; I get coconut products, nuts/dates, special sugars and flours, and seasonings; and Gorgeous gets special snack foods she can eat like jerky and dried fruit as well as special milks.

Next, you need to MEAL PLAN. Most people are groaning at this point but it is a necessity. If you meal plan then you have a list of the items you will need to use for the week. Once you have your ingredients list you can look in your cupboards to figure out what you already have and how much. After that you have your “to buy” list and can head to the grocery store with this, any coupons you have, and a calculator.

Thirdly, check your sale ads. Not only will checking your sale ads allow you to see what sorts of things you can save on, it will allow you to see where it is truly less expensive to buy the items when full price. For example: I know that if I have a choice between Safeway and Rays I will go to Safeway for the milk and milk alternatives but will go to Rays for eggs and cheese. The other thing you need to figure out is how much it will cost you to go to the store.

The cost of heading to the store is very important. I live in an outlying area and know that it costs about the same to buy sugar at the next town over (where the in-store price is much less) vs. buying it in the town I live in (which is expensive when just looking at the store price and not gas). When figuring out how much it will cost you to go get the food a good estimate to use is 55 cents per mile. This is the estimate the IRS figures it costs per mile to run a car when you total maintenance, loan payments, insurance, repairs, gas, and all other things you associate with a car. If you use the bus then consider the price of the bus trip and if you bike then you need to figure out your per mile cost (I’m not quite sure of a good estimate so if you figure this out please let me know!).

Now, it’s time to shop! Grab your list, coupons, and calculator and head to the store on a full stomach (you’re less likely to impulse buy on a full stomach). As you grab your items keep track of them on a calculator to make sure you don’t go over budget. Some people find that keeping a set amount of physical cash on hand also helps. Keep your blinders on when you hit the registers as the candy there will only serve to tempt you (why do you think they put it there, anyway?).

Once you get home and put it all away you can finally relax, right? Wrong. Now it’s time to go back over your budget and make sure you kept on track. If you were as tight as a swollen door then you can only trim other fat off your budget (say the TV bill?). In the long run food is less expensive than you may think. While you are trying to trim your budget month to month you need to remember that if you nourish your body now you won’t have as much health care costs later on in life between meds, doctor visits, and insurance costs.

So pat yourself on the back for feeding yourself and your family the best that you can with what you have. You have done well! Oh, and tell me any tips you may have for me, I’m always looking for good budgeting advice!

Christmas gifts

Christmas isn’t about the gifts. We all know this. And yet, despite this fact we will be inundated from now until after Christmas with ads and posts about what is the “best” gift for that hard-to-buy for person. How are you supposed to deal, especially if you are a parent who hears “you’re not a good enough parent if you don’t get your kids a gift” every time you watch a commercial?

Turn it off! Seriously, until you can remember that having you is the best gift you can give them you need to look away from the screens and magazines. Stay away from the mall, especially. It will only hurt.

As a parent I know that all we want to do is provide the best we can for our children and it is so easy to be pulled into the marketing scheme designed to push this exact button! But if your kids have a roof over their heads and food in their belly then all they need is you.

The most frugal, minimalist, primal, whatever sort of gift you can give anyone, ESPECIALLY your kids, is yourself.
If you feel you MUST get them a gift once this sinks in your brain (has it really sunk in yet?) then get them something that they can use with you.
We can’t afford toothpaste half the time but we have extra fabric and wood at our disposal so we’ll be making our own version of the Kitchen Helper and matching aprons for mom and daughter. We can’t buy her anything but we can make her these things to provide a learning environment for her and the experience of cooking with mom (or dad!).

So, I beg of you this holiday season to NOT buy ANYTHING. Seriously. And, on top of that no-buy Christmas, anything you make should encourage time WITH you.
And if you are still skeptical, think of this: What message does it send to your kids if you sit back enjoying watching them open all of these things you made/bought for them and then you go off and do your own thing, thinking that they are happy now and know they are loved? They aren’t getting you; they’re getting the things you got them. Are they worth more than those things? Are you?