Tips to Reign In An Out Of Control Family Budget: Let’s Start in the Kitchen!

707538835876fc5c438018d57701bc2f.jpgUntil the end of the year, I’ll be posting some articles with realistic tips and methods to save money and reign in spending. None of these are going to the same old “Clip coupons, grow your own garden, etc.” that’s all over the internet- and honestly, here in Southern California, the old, standby advice isn’t going to help you. Grow a garden to save money? Water is so expensive here!

Clipping coupons and shopping grocery store sales/circulars will save you a fraction of the amount that it used to. In years past, I was saving 60-80% with coupons and store sales. Now, I’m lucky to save 50%.  With all of the restrictions on coupons (example: limit one like coupon per day- LAME), stockpiling to save money isn’t always possible without a lot of work/trips to different stores (and that’s not saving time). We’re moving past that, and delving into other ways to save money and take advantage of opportunities that are out there.

Today we are going to start with my pet project: Saving in the kitchen! If you feel like you’re spending too much money on food and groceries, here are my recommendations for getting the grocery spending under control:

  1. Go through your refrigerator/freezer and pantry. Make a note of the food that you have on hand. I like using the kitchen inventories here. This will also give you an opportunity to clean out food from the kitchen that has expired or that you won’t eat. Unexpired food that you won’t eat, can be donated to a local charity.
  2. Now that you have a handle on what you have in your kitchen, take a look at the list and come up with some recipes or meals that can be created with what you have on hand. You’d be surprised by how many meals you have in your kitchen! Make a list of the meals that you can make with what you have. And plan on having one or two of those per week. This will help keep grocery spending down. Make a list of meals that you can make but require one or two ingredients (like fresh vegetables), and add those ingredients to your next few shopping lists. By relying on what you already have in your home, you will be keeping your out of pocket down.
  3. Before you head to the store, take a look at the sale flyer which is available online, and see what is on sale. Plan meals around food that is in season and on sale. Continue to use coupons, but don’t go out of your way to subscribe to multiple newspapers per week to get a hold of lots of the same coupons.  Don’t forget rebate apps! Use of these apps gets us $10-$20/month cashback, sometimes double that, depending on what bonus offers are available- Fetch Rewards and Ibotta often have Bonus offers.
  4. Track your spending over a few weeks to see how much you are spending, and what you are buying. If you still find that you’re spending a lot of money on food, I would try shopping at a different store. I find that even with club card sales, and rebate apps like Fetch Rewards, some grocery stores (like Vons) are just too expensive to do my weekly shopping. I love starting my shopping at $.99 only. I am able to get a lot of snacks, name-brand treats, and fresh fruits and veggies there, and I am still able to stay on budget. Another fun place where I save money is Grocery Outlet. They have great prices on cheese, fruit juice, coffee, and frozen meat. They also have an interesting selection that changes weekly: snack food, protein bars/cookies, and cereal. If you are in the military, a military family, or a veteran, consider shopping at the commissary. Here is my article about saving money at the commissary. 
  5. Consider cooking more from scratch. It is healthier, and pantry stables are generally pretty cheap (the ingredients for a batch of chocolate chip cookies runs about $3.00 and yields 4-5 dozen cookies, while a package of chocolate chip cookies from the grocery store is about $4.00+ and is usually 3 dozen or so).  I buy fruits and veggies whole and break them down and pack them into serving size bags. You can learn more about that and Batch Cooking here.

If you are still having a hard time keeping your grocery budget in check, or if you are finding that the ends don’t meet, consider the San Diego Food Bank Neighborhood Distribution Program. No documentation is needed to receive food assistance from a
Neighborhood Distribution site where people can receive fresh fruits, vegetables, and bread, based on availability. Families are encouraged to bring reusable bags or
a cart with them to carry the food items.

There are programs out there to help those struggling to feed their families here in San Diego County. Here is my list of San Diego County Food Resources.

I work very hard to keep my family on a budget, I work very hard to make sure that we are saving money and taking advantage of as many deals and opportunities that present themself. I know that this is not something that everyone wants to do or something that everyone can do. There are so many programs and discounts out there available for various groups of individuals.

Tomorrow, we’re tackling saving money on the entertainment budget.

Buy Nothing Week: Frugal Living put to the test!

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I love the Buy Nothing Movement, in fact, I’ve hinted and written about it in a few of my posts recently.

Part of their movement is to try a buy nothing week, in fact they have an entire Facebook Group dedicated to it.

I started it this week with mostly successes, but we’ll be doing it again next week and I’d encourage you all to do it too!

It’s easy. Taking into consideration all of your financial obligations (rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, gas, etc.), be mindful to not spend any funds that you don’t HAVE TO. Skip the morning drive thru in favor of setting up the coffee maker before bed the night before and making yourself a quick to go brekkie before you hit the road.

Instead of cruising the aisles of Target to combat boredom, take a walk at a local park, or visit with friends.

There are so many small ways you can save money. But this challenge is more than saving money, it’s about being more self-reliant and helping others too.

  1. Clean out your closets (maybe one per day), and instead of throwing the unwanted items away, try posting them in your local Buy Nothing Group, or on another local group (like Nextdoor, Craigslist, or even a local facebook group like a mom’s group).
  2. If there is an item you need, seek it out on one of the free venues listed above. Earlier this week, I needed a new car booster seat to replace one that was damaged in my recent car accident. I asked on our local Buy Nothing Group, and a friend and neighbor offered me one that her daughter had outgrown. It had never been in an accident and was still in date! Score!
  3. Institute substitutions! Going to bake a cake, but you’ve run out of oil? Substitute applesauce, butter, canned pumpkin, or baby food (seriously)!  A quick Google search and a search of your pantry may lead you to a surprising switch. And who knows, it may be a new favorite!
  4. You may learn a new skill! I learned to sharpen my kitchen knives using the sharpener that came with the knife set, instead of taking my knife set to the sharpener (saved $50!). I watched the video on the knife company website, and read the manual.
  5. Barter or trade. You may be surprised! My mom trades her homemade jams and jellies for fruit, veggies, and eggs.

During our Buy Nothing week, I will still have to buy milk and bread, and maybe some fruit (depending on how much we go through), but I am committing to buy only what is on my list. I will also offer up unwanted stuff from our home to my neighbors. Books, clothes, kitchen gadgets, toys, games, even pantry goods.

But don’t think we’ll sit at home staring at each other, there are tons of fun, free things for us to do! Well, we’ve got some play dates near us planned for a few days during the week, and we always get out each day to the YMCA, or the lakes (also close by) for a walk, and to feed the ducks and play at the playground, and if it’s warm enough, we go in the pool at the YMCA (our HOA pool isn’t warm enough in the winter). We’re never want for activities to fill our days.

How can you participate? Pledge to have aBuy Nothing Week! Meal plan, pack your lunch, take your coffee from home. Find free/inexpensive activities to occupy your free time. Visit a park, go to the library. Take a week off from shopping. It’s a great way to spend more time connecting with family and friends.

I do this a few times a year. It really helps us take stock of what we have, both in the physical sense of what we have in our cupboards, but also how lucky we are to have the option to say, “This week we will not spend any money and our quality of life will not suffer.” I recommend that everyone have a spending freeze week or even a day and see how much money you’ll save.

I’ll be reporting our activities and money saved this week, and for those of you who will be having their own spending freeze (or even a modified one- try going a week without the coffee shop or drive-thru), I can’t wait to hear about your savings too!