I have been committed to a $400/month budget since January but as I look back over the year I realize I haven't hit that mark in a single month. In February I was $50 under only to go $50 over in March.
Since my overall goal is to spend even less than $400 spending more than $400 is frustrating. In September I tried Angel Food and while it did help some the meals were small and not that great and I felt like the price was right but the rest was not. Beyond that I feel like I might be able to do even better on the price.
For October (and the remaining week of September) I have a new plan. It's not new per se but it is new to me. I am doing a month menu plan rather than week by week.
I found 2 things in my shopping that I think are the reason I am overspending:
1. I focus way too much on the "deals" and overbuy without thinking about what I need.
2. I often begin my week not having an idea of what we will eat at the end and go to the grocery store again for necessities after having shopped the sales.
To date for the month of September:
I have spent: $403.50
And saved: $497.29 (55%)
And earned: $20 back in ECB's, +Up Rewards from Rite Aid and Catalinas
I would be happy with that if today were the end of the month but it's not. We have 4 more days to go and in those 4 days we need to eat. I didn't have the ingredients to make meals - I had the meat from Angel Food but not the rest of the ingredients. I didn't have milk, I didn't have produce - meaning I would be way over budget before this week was over.
Enough is enough. I'm frustrated and intending to fix it.
I can do 1 of 2 things:
1. Increase my monthly budget to meet what we seem to be spending.
2. Try again with a new plan to rein in my budget and spend less.
Before I concede to option 1 I must try option 2 :)
So, the month plan.
It's not my ideal because I like to make new things and try new ideas as they come to me rather than having this huge master plan but I have to do something drastic to fix my budget issue so I'll try it.
To get started I chose one place to get all my recipes from: the internet. Sounds endless but I kept my searches narrow. I subscribe to quite a number of food websites: Betty Crocker/Dinner Made Easy; Kraft Foods; Campbells Kitchen to name a few. Each one of these places e-mails me newsletters on a regular basis with brand new meal ideas. Sometimes I try a recipe but usually I just transfer it from my inbox to my "recipe" box for later.
In order to get a variety of meals I just went over to my "recipe box" and scanned the e-mails. I quickly found a number of meals that looked interesting and added them to my list.
Using my monthly calendar I got an idea of how many meals I would need between now and October 31st. I was aiming for 30 but only found 29 meals that sounded good enough to make so I settled for that.
As I looked through recipes for this month I chose, for the most part recipes that used ground beef, chopped or diced chicken or no meat at all because I know these recipes will use slightly less meat and cost me less over all. That means a lot of casseroles, chilis and soups and for October that sounds just perfect.
After narrowing down my meat I also narrowed down the number of ingredients. Four-cheese fettucine sounded great but buying all those cheeses did not so I opted against that.
Once I saved all of my recipes I went through each one and wrote down what I needed to buy to make them all - I came up with 15 pounds of ground beef and about 12 pounds of chicken. One recipe needed ham and 2 will use pre-made meatballs but I'm okay with that :)
I then made a 2-page shopping list taking note of how much meat, how much cheese, canned goods, produce and frozen foods along with "other" items that I would need.
I also made a list of my meals in a Word document, printed it out and cut out each dinner so that I could place the desired meal on my calendar. Some of you may not need to be so visual but it helps me a lot to actually see it laid out. I moved meals around based on what we have going on each week and tried to avoid having 2 chilis in one week or too much ground beef in any particular area. We have a wedding in October so our meal will be taken care of. I also have 3 consignment sales and won't be home to cook a few times so those will be take-out nights. My parents are coming into town and I had to figure out which meals they would eat and which they wouldn't.
Maybe I didn't choose the best month to start this :) Or maybe I did. Now rather then hitting these nights were I'm tired or have family in town trying to figure out what the heck to make and then going out I now have a plan.
I have been to Wegman's and Harris Teeter over the past 2 days and already spent $100 of my October budget (and the month hasn't even started I know!) but for the first time it's going towards our dinners and not towards more crackers or cereal in my pantry.
My hope is that I will get all my needs items for the meals for about $200 or half my budget leaving the other $200 to be split up over the next 4 weeks and devoted to milk, eggs and produce as well as the sales that I love to pick up.
Rather then grabbing all the sales I plan to focus on only the best sales with the hopes of keeping my pantry well stocked (it currently is VERY well stocked for kids snacks) as we move in to November.
I know I will have to be strict on myself to stay within budget each week and keep myself from overbuying the sales but dinners are important to us and so is my budget.
We will see how my new plan works out come the end of October :) You know I'll keep you posted!