February went especially well despite some challenging situations. We were required to pony up more money for preschool (summer) program fees. Which I absolutely do NOT mind doing but it was hard after the big property tax hit, increased pre-tax deductions for dependent care from my check, waiting for reimbursement, and then finding out, indeed, we overpaid out the wazoo on our taxes this past year with changing jobs, moving states, and becoming a single-earner household, life was complicated for a bit. It wasn’t until this week we could even believe we would get our refund in this century. Thank you, IRS agents, for being awesome despite that shutdown!
As I’ve said before on here, our greatest struggle has been to rebuild our savings post-house. We had worked so hard to save up prior to our move and had had more than 1 month paycheck saved up plus some down payment money prior to moving but moving takes it out of us – on top of tons of end-of-year expenses – and our savings was sad. However, we were proud of ourselves to once again fall into austerity measures (albeit with some grumbling at first) the last two months. Squirreling away that extra money has been worth it. We hadn’t had takeout for a month which definitely helped our waistlines and actually wasn’t as hard as I had assumed. Again, I’m the only cook. It’s been hard! My husband has also been our dishwasher all this time. It takes a toll. We planned meals and cooked a lot in the crock pot and pressure cooker. It made life so much easier this time around!
At this point, I think we can pat ourselves on the back. Thanks to shopping like a goddess and meal prep and meal hacks, I feel like I need to share our spending on here to show you what is possible for a family on a budget (albeit in the Midwest where stuff is cheap). We did not suffer atrocities or have to deal with bland, sad food. We incorporated curries, chicken marsala, fantastic soups, and a beautiful roast. Into this We ate really, really well. Your mileage may vary but we were creative for cheap meals, minimized our damage, and saved our expenses by not eating out. I also baked a ton, which my kid always appreciates. A later post is going to focus on how you can get your kids involved in the kitchen.
I had mentioned before we try to strive for $400.00 a month. This month, our grocery bill was less than that! Woot!
Week by week, here is the damage:
- Costco – $94.00
- Aldi – $142.00
- Lucky’s – $42.00
- Kroger – $8.00
- Kroger- $32.00
- Kroger – $18.00
TOTAL: $336.00 for February
This did not include our beer spending which was only about $100.00 last month. We like craft beer but tend to buy in bulk.
I’m going to link to our menus for February and March. I plan the week ahead of a month and write up lists for weeks in advance, trying to estimate our spending (generously). This month, we came in about $7.00 under my shopping list estimates which was great! I highly recommend this approach because it will answer that “what do I need to prep ahead” or “what should I buy in bulk for this specific month”. The day before I plan to shop at Costco, Aldi, and our local natural grocer, I pour over our menu to see if I need to switch something out because of a great deal or if I should really be buying something in bulk I hadn’t before. I highly, highly recommend this if you do not coupon (I do not). Do not buy something you won’t use this month. Seriously, it will just fill up your freezer, you will forget it, and it’s a waste of money. If it’s a staple that’s cheap (rice, pasta, bread flour), go crazy because you will want to use those for months to come. But stay away from prepared foods you won’t remember.
What is it you should take away from this rundown?
- You can do a really budget-friendly menu with only a bit of planning.
- Incorporate some routine into your recipes. Tacos, Fend for Yourself Nights (FFYS), soup, and roasts are all ways we do this.
- Try to plan your first week based around what is on sale if at possible.
- Front load your purchases. It will make every grocery run after the first week so easy!
- Do a monthly plan and stick to it. Place it in a prominent location so you can direct all household members to that schedule. If you have picky kids, invest in quick meals they can make themselves (sandwiches and such).
- DO NOT WAIVER. You will be resolute here.
- Give yourself some grace the first month. Maybe your original budget was too unrealistic. Adjust as needed month-to-month. If there is a big holiday, plan for that cost and know your budget will be higher if you are hosting people.
- Add recipes as they come. Maybe try a new recipe each month and see if it flies but don’t feel the need to be super ambitious. See if you can make recipes that your family already loves in the crockpot or pressure cooker (scour pinterest). Overall, choose winners that are low-stress. This past month, I used my pressure cooker and crock pot for more than half the meals I cooked.
- If takeout is something you plan to incorporate, set that budget at the start of the month. Share a running tally of cost with your family as you go. Plan what days you will be need it the most! This will hold everyone accountable.
I feel like with older children, some of this could be incorporated in your discussions. My parents did include us in the budget and reminded us of budget. It has made me a much better steward of money as an adult. My credit score and saving habits have been saved by this. We are not perfect by any means and will never be debt free until we’re 100 thanks to student loans and a mortgage (yay being a millennial!) but we strive to payoff credit cards and large purchases as quickly as possible and set monthly goals if we buy something on credit.
Sometimes sticking to “austerity measures” is a struggle for awhile but I can say, it pays off! We reflected on the last two months of these changes in our spending habits and acknowledged that we were happy with the work we had to do. We didn’t felt deprived. My husband even marveled that he was fine not eating out all the time and since he’s trying to be healthier, he felt it was good for him.
Saving money does not need to be a sad thing. Don’t approach it that way! Approach it as teamwork. Approach saving as a challenge. Win as a family at saving money. Set financial goals based on your savings. For us these goals were:
- Payoff our credit cards (ah the joys of buying appliances)
- Double our savings by the end of March (already done!)
- Save for vacation. We are going on a family vacation for real this year and we’re really excited!
- Decide to buy a new car before the summer’s end (think this will happen sooner).
These ambitions have brought us closer together. We’ve felt more in control this month. We’ve felt we are stronger for it. And by incorporating my daughter in my baking and cooking, I’ve felt like I’m bonding with my kid more and more.
Is it easy? Not at first. But stick with it. Give it at least two months. I promise you that by month, if you make your life easy with meal prep, simple recipes, and playing to your strengths at dinner time, you will make it!
Have any tips? I would love to share them on a future blog! Comment here or tweet and I will be glad to link to you in your comment when I post it.