About four years ago, our family was on a mission to become debt-free (other than our mortgage). It took a lot of hard work, pinching pennies and learning the difference between “needs” and “wants”. And, I’ll be honest and tell you, “It WAS NOT easy!” But, WE DID IT!
At the time, my pastor-husband was on staff at a church in the Denver metro area, as well as a full-time student pursuing a masters degree in Worship Theology. I worked part-time teaching at a local university, as well as maintained a private piano and voice studio in our home and taught a few classes at Children’s Music Academy, a music school for young children. All total, I worked about 30 hours a week.
While I loved my jobs, with two children under the age of three, I knew I needed to cut back a bit. So, I opted to cut back my hours. In order to do this, I had to make up for the lost income in other places. In order to continue to pay off debt at the rate we desired, this meant we had to take a serious look at the grocery budget (groceries, out-to-eat/take-out, household items, diapers for kids, etc.), which was an area that had quickly gotten out of control.
Although, I love to cook (my kitchen is my creative space), I didn’t realize how much we were eating out. Seriously, we were eating out around three nights a week, not to mention the numerous Starbucks trips that occurred during the week. On top of these excursions, we were buying groceries we weren’t using and wasting a lot of food. Something had to change.
Up until this point, I did most of my shopping at Costco–one stop shopping. Granted you can get some great deals at Costco (and I still shop there every couple of months), we always wound up spending more than we intended to because of impulse buying. These sorts of purchases weren’t going to help pay off debt, or allow me to cut back my hours at work. What did we do?
In about one year, using the Grocery Game, we cut our grocery budget from $600-$700/month to around $500/month. I began clipping coupons and shopping at local grocery stores, who had the best deals each week. However, I found out, although I was saving money on groceries, I was purchasing things that I would normally not purchase, just because it was a good deal. My college students benefited from this. We’d have them over a couple of times a semester for dinner, and before they left would have them go “shopping” in our basement storage area! What we had accomplished was good, but not enough.
Knowing we needed to do more, I began researching online. I was on a mission. I found many websites discussing frugality, stockpiling (buying food at its lowest price, so you can shop from your own shelves, not the grocery stores), menu planning, stocking a pantry/freezer, cooking from scratch and eating in more healthful ways. I learned a lot. No, like REALLY, I learned A LOT!
We began planning our meals, and eating at home. We purchased an espresso maker on sale and began making froo-froo coffee drinks at home, which saved tons of money. As well, we began making more things from scratch (pancake/waffle mix, cookie mixes and large batches of soups for lunches, instead of eating out, etc.). And not just food. I began making home made cleaning products, and using more natural ingredients to clean with (i.e. water, vinegar and lemon juice).
“[Jonni McCoy’s] Miserly Guidelines will help you save thousands of dollars a year on everything from groceries to electricity to insurance and household cleaners—as well as reveal the hidden costs of holding a job and common money wasters. Her practical, proven cost-saving techniques, strategies, tips, and recipes will help you live frugally without feeling deprived.”
I was convinced we could do this. We could slash our grocery budget even more. (Oh, and our grocery budget still included diapers.)
Several websites, I visited daily to gather resources, information and encouragement:
While living in Colorado, I created a price book, which includes prices for items purchased at two or three stores. Basically, it’s a guide that helps me to know what is really the BEST price on food and household items. Over the course of the next couple of years, we were able to reduce our grocery budget a bit more, as well as pay off all of our debt (other than mortgage). That was totally rockin’ cool!
Since moving back to Washington two years ago, I have tried my best to keep our grocery budget to $250-$300/month. Some months it is a bit more, especially since we try to eat more organically now, as much as possible. Yet, it still hovers around the $300 mark most months.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you in on a little secret: the biggest tool I have in this quest to slash our grocery budget is my family. They eat 99.9% of what I make, and I cook a wide variety of foods. One night we might have Cajun food (Jambalaya, Gumbo or Etouffee), another Middle Eastern cuisine (Mujadara, which is a lentil dish) or Indian Food (Curries and Roti) and still another might be down-home Soul Food (i.e. a big ole pot of beans and cornbread). I am very thankful they are adventurous eaters. This helps out a lot, especially when I am purchasing groceries.
Now, it is not uncommon for me to purchase a 25 lb. bag of lentils or dried beans (pinto, garbanzo, or black beans) to use in a variety of dishes. This saves a ton of money, and dried beans last a long, long time. Not to mention are healthy and are economical to use in recipes. As well, we have learned to enjoy a wide variety of whole grains, such as quinoa, bulgur and even polenta. In this area, there are great deals to be found on organic food items, too, especially produce and dairy products.
While I am frugal, our family has our splurges. We are coffee snobs. We enjoy going out to eat at nice restaurants; however, we use certificates from http://www.restaurant.com. As well, we enjoy having folks over to our home several times a month. So, even on a slashed grocery budget, we still entertain, and are able to be more generous in assisting others, as well as invest in causes that reflect our family’s mission.
It’s all about balance and finding what works for your family. Going “frugalista” on your family, without them being on board, is probably not the best idea. Take baby steps and make changes slowly. Do little things to help reduce expenses. Trust me, it can happen and will bring about an amazing sense of freedom.