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I've decided to increase our budget $25 a month to $300. This amount includes non-food items like toilet paper, shampoo, etc. We are a family of 9.
Several readers have asked me what I will do about rising food prices. I know that not everyone has an increase in income in order to cover food prices--in fact, I don't think most do. I do not. Raising the budget $25 a month will not even come close to making up the difference in the increase in food prices that we have seen. In addition, as my children continue to grow, so do their appetites. While I would be really happy to raise the budget to $500 (ad buy the same things I used to buy with that amount), it just isn't feasible. I have made changes in the past to our menus to help us make the most of what we have, and I will continue to do so.
The extra $25 needs to come from somewhere. I am continuing to make cuts in my utility usage, which will help me come up with that $25 for a while (until rising utility rates eat up the difference).
I expect that I will serve even more soups with homemade bread, and beans and rice (and less meat). I will serve more salads with lettuce from our garden during the seasons when lettuce grows, along with homemade dressings.
My garden plans for this year:
I've been saving money in my Paypal account from taking surveys to buy seeds. I still have many seeds left from last year, and I harvested many seeds of my own last year to plant this year (some, like lettuce and Swiss chard, are growing right now in my garden). I will be growing almost all open-pollinated seeds, so that I can collect seeds from my garden to plant again in years to come. I am working to eliminate my need to buy seeds, but this year, I still need to buy them. I expect to spend between $25 to $100 this year on vegetable seeds (including shipping).
This year, I want to do an even better job of making the most out of my garden. I plant to do more succession planting to have continous harvests thoughout the year. I will focus on more looseleaf lettuces, which can be harvested 2 to 3 times each. I will plant more parsley, as I use a lot of it and I want to have enough to not need to purchase it (I was successful in growing enough basil and oregano for our needs last year, both in the front yard. My parsley grew poorly last year, so I will plant it in some new places this year so that I will have enough).
I will grow more beans and peas this year. This will take some good planning, as I moved two grape vines last year, and they take up my main growing space for beans and peas. I need to practice better crop rotation, so I will be growing more beans and peas on trellises that I have formerly used for tomatoes.
I will not be adding any fruit trees or bushes this year to my garden. I will buy tomato plants at the local nursery in late February. Our last frost date in February 15th, and the nursery will have plants then. I will spend between $5 and $35 on tomato plants this year ($5 if I buy the small ones on sale and up to $35 if I decide to buy the larger plants this year; I may try a combination of both, but I haven't decided yet. Also, plant prices may come in higher this year, as they did last year, so that will also play a roll). I will buy seeds this month.
The garden is currently producing lettuce, parsley, sage, Swiss chard, green onions, radishes, beets, and a few other herbs. I harvested lemons last week and those will keep in my fridge for a while. I will also freeeze the zest and juice from my lemons.
Mid-January is when I typically plant many of my cool-season vegetables (especially lots of lettuce). You can see my garden calendar here. I usually cloche these to keep them growing faster for a much earlier harvest (you can read more about that here).
I still have many fresh onions and potatoes, some apples and carrots in the fridge, a butternut squash in the pantry, and canned, dried, and frozen fruits and vegtables (I did not buy any oranges last month, as they were more expensive than I had hoped and not good looking). The freezers are full.
This month I am focusing the bulk of my shopping on pantry essentials, for which I am either out completely (like canned tomatoes) or am very low (oats, ketchup, rice, oil).
I'm hoping for a seasonal sale on broccoli below .99 a pound that will allow me to buy a bunch, which I can blanch and freeze. I don't now what price will be the lowest this year, so how much I buy will depend on what price I see. This is my family's favorite vegetable. (I have 5 broccoli plants that germinated in the garden that are growing right now, but they are not yet producing florets). If .99 is the lowest price, I will buy some, but not as much.
I also will be looking to restock my medicine cabinet with over the counter remedies, vitamins, and first aid products. These typically go on sale in January and have coupons as well.
I will buy multiples of several of the following items:
ketchup (I buy the refill Bakers and Chefs container and use it to fill several squeeze bottles that we have; $3.64 for 114 ounces).
white vinegar ($3.88 for 2 gallons)
brown sugar (we use this mostly on oatmeal and occasionally in baking; $2.63 for 4 pounds)
canned tomatoes (I buy these in a #10 can. I split the can into a couple of recipes for the week; $3.28 for 102 ounces)
tomato sauce (#10 can size; $2.98 for 105 ounce can)
rice (I will buy 75 pounds, which is $18. We go through at least that much in a year.)
popcorn (I buy this in a 50 pound bag for $23.98.)
iodized salt (I gave some away in November to a friend in need so I am low) $1.12 for 4 pounds
broccoli (unless I find it lower somewhere else)
oats (In the past, we have gone through 75 pounds a year. We seem to be eating much more than that now. This is the very least expensive breakfast we can have, as a 25 pound bag is $14.74. I will buy 50 or 75 pounds this month ($44.22 for 75 pounds). A friend informed me that this is on sale for $13 and something, so that will save me a little on this--enough to buy at least a gallon of milk.
milk (this may be on sale for less elsewhere, so I will watch)
washing soda (to make laundry soap)
vegetable oil (I buy the Great Value brand in the gallon container; this is a zero trans-fat oil for those who are looking for one; $5.68 for a 1-gallon jug)
Oxi-clean stain remover refill
dish soap (Great Value brand is $4.64 for 60 ounces)
Knorr tomato bullion (Several readers have asked what this looks like so that they can find it. You can see it here). I love to cook rice with this and use it in bean and rice burritos, and also as a simple meal of black beans and rice (not having to use torillas makes for a less expensive meal. I add lime juice and onions to the the black beans when I make this and all of the children love it for lunch; I will be making it more often this year as it is a very inexpensive meal, and goes well with a simple lettuce salad from the garden).
Knorr chicken bullion
There are coupons for .75 off up and up brand (Target's brand) vitamins and allergy medicine on Target's site (limit one per transaction, expiring 1/31), plus a 5% off Cartwheel that you can stack for up and up adult vitamins and allergy relief (expiring 1/3). There is also a $1.50 off $7 coupon for pain relief or first aid(exp 1/31) and a 5% off Cartwheel deal (exp 1/3). There are more details on this blogger's post here.
over-the counter remedies
antibiotic ointment Update: I just did a price comparison online and it looks like Walmart's brand is cheaper if ordered online; the lowest price is $1.99 an ounce in a 2 pack for $3.98 (free shipping on orders over $50). I don't have $50 to spend right now, but if you are doing a big stock up order of first aid supplies and/or other things, this would save money.
Salon Graphix Unscented hairspray. Target has buy one get one 50% off on styling products this week that should include this.
Oil of Olay face lotion for sensitive skin. I use the kind that's around $8.94 a bottle. I have a coupon for $3 off 2 bottles, and I am hoping for a sale and a Target coupon, or a rebate offer to stack with this. (Walmart also carries this).
I'll use a Swagbucks gift card to purchase a couple of 280 packs of Band-Aids . This amount won't come out of my budget, since they will come from Swagbucks. We went through about a package and a half of these last year.
Besides these items, I will look for other good sales during the month, but these items are my primary focus.