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Changes to the Budget and Our Savings Goals

I’ve often said that if we had the chance to increase our grocery budget, we would, because there are definitely things that I would like to buy more often. That time has come, so I will share our new grocery budget, as well as some other changes that we are making.

Determining the amount has not been easy. Because we don’t have a steady, fixed income, it is not as easy to determine what we will have each month for groceries. I study our budget three months at a time; I have it in a spreadsheet (I use Open Office, which you can download for free if you don’t have a program for spreadsheets and word processing). I make sure we have money to cover the next month’s bills before I go grocery shopping for the current month.
We’re able to increase the budget for a few reasons. We’ve been continuously finding ways to cut our expenses, which you can read about in my frugal accomplishments postings each week. The largest blessing, however, occurred earlier this year, when we were able to modify our home loan to a lower interest rate and a lower payment. 
Our previous budget was $100 a month for food and $65 a month for non-food items. I am now counting those two things together and have increased the budget to $275 a month (there are 9 of us). I tried going higher than that for the first couple months of the year, but that didn’t look like an amount that we could continue, so I didn’t go shopping one month to lower my amount for the year. What we’ve spent so far ($2220.61 for the year) includes the price of the chickens that we raised for meat at a friend’s house (including their feed).
We have also been blessed to have a somewhat larger income this year (and last year) than in 2011 and 2012. Those were our hardest years; we made less in each of those years than we did in 2007, where we went 8 months without any income. We went without buying most everything those years, making due with what we had, and selling what we could to help pay our bills. Had we not lowered our expenses, however, we would be struggling to make ends meet right now. As of January, we have cut our bills in half from what they were in 2006, when we bought our house. 
Our increase in income is not tremendous; the ways that we are able to save money are extremely important in helping us reach our goals.
Part of the increase in the grocery bill will be eaten up in inflation. As you know, prices for both food and non-food items have increased tremendously recently. I will be sticking to my price points for things, but there are some changes due to inflation, including the cost of eggs. I will be making an exception to our $2 a pound limit for meat for one item: pepperoni (for pizza). I am buying more dairy. The children have also increased their appetites substantially, so part of the budget is going towards simply more food. If we were not able to increase our budget for groceries, I would be making more changes to our meals to feed everyone, having our least-expensive meals even more often.
Last year we did a couple of things that we felt were important:
We put in the garden in the front yard. This was something that I had long hoped for, but I also felt was important in increasing the food production of our lot. Right now I am harvesting herbs, flowers, and cucumbers from that space; in years to come we will also have lemons, peaches, and apricots, as well as lettuce in the cooler months. We did a lot of things to save money on this project, which you can read about here.
We bought a new mattress. Our previous mattress had been given to us by my mother-in-law when we were married; it had belonged to my husband’s older sister. The mattress was 35 years old. It was time for a new one.
We bought a new-to-us van last year, selling our previous vehicle. We needed something larger to fit the entire family. After selling our old vehicle, we had a new one for only $500 out of pocket.
This year:

We saved up this year to see my brother get married out of state, and turned that trip into a 2-day vacation–our first family vacation.

The other thing I have been doing is finally buying some new clothes. Most of the clothes I’ve had were bought when Cyrus was a baby (he’s 11 now) and they are wearing out. I made a trip to the thrift store earlier this year, and I also have bought a few new things as well. My husband also bought some new shirts. 
Our savings goals now: 
Build back up our emergency fund. So far this year, we have managed to save a month’s worth of expenses. Our goal is to make that 3 months, then 6 months, and eventually a year’s worth. Our emergency fund was spent in 2007 when we had no income. It is a relief to be able to begin building this again. Because of the variable nature of our income, we could need this savings at any time.
Purchase some new bookcases. Our books are double and triple stacked, and we could use some more bookcases. We ordered some for one side of the library (they arrived Wednesday); we will need to save up for matching ones for the other side of the room. They won’t be ordered until we have the money.

Save up for a second car. We have been a one-car family for a very long time. My husband foresees the time when it will be nice to have a second vehicle (when we have several teenagers all needing to be at different places.) This is going to be a different situation than our van. My husband wants to restore a 1953 Chevy truck. We were able to purchase the truck last year (for an incredible deal), but it is just a shell–no engine, no instruments, no bed. He is teaching the children with this (the boys helped bend some sheet metal for this earlier this year). My husband researches everything to get the best deals–and then researches it again, and then again. His goal is to build the truck for as little as possible. We expect this to take several years, as we have a little bit to spend at a time on Craig’s list, buying a used piece here and a piece there. 
Recover our living room furniture. The couches are falling apart and need to be recovered and repaired.
With all of this, we are being very cautious. Interest rates are set to rise, and that will mean a slow down in the housing market. Sales in Las Vegas have already started to slow way down (even during summer, which is not a good sign). This makes building up the emergency fund a huge priority, because a drop in sales for us and our agents can mean a decrease in income. 
I will be spending a good portion of each month’s grocery budget towards filling the gaps in our pantry; my main goals are to increase our powdered milk, oil, and toilet paper supplies. If our income decreases significantly, we will be able to eat from the pantry again. If it decreases just somewhat, we will lower our budget.

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25 Comments

  1. So very true about the oil, especially if you make your own salad dressing. I keep three kinds of oil….peanut for stir frys and broiling tofu, olive for most cooking and sauteeing and some dressings. I like canola or safflower for rest of dressings and baking. Plus Crisco for solid shortening needs.

  2. Stationsam, don’t forget your local food pantry and don’t feel ashamed if you had to use it once in awhile. You can even volunteer in exchange, though seldom required. Then when you are ahead once again you can donate to help others. Our city now has a city-wide pantry because they were able to move into an old grocery store so churches closed their individual ones and now help stock that. Our church keeps a small pantry in the basement unlocked that church and school members can use , no questions asked, because food insecurity can happen any time, any where.

  3. Thank you for posting this. For the last several weeks I’ve been thinking hard about what our 2015 financial goals should be and have been having conversations with my husband about it. In September, we should reach our 2014 main goal of paying off a home improvement loan. The remainder of this year will be restarting our emergency fund and paying for a fairly large home maintenance item. That will leave us with a car loan at 0% and our mortgage. I am struggling between wanting to pay off our mortgage (I think we could do it in 4 years, but wouldn’t allow for much else), and doing some much needed maintenance of our home (repairing/refinishing wood floors that had water damage when we bought the house 3 years ago and replacing very worn carpet) and paying off the car. We also have a daughter who will be full-time in college starting next year (she is part-time now), and while we don’t intend to pay for everything for her, we do want to help her. Our next daughter will be 16 in two years, and we would prefer for her to have a car. I know people disagree with that and that’s fine. 🙂 However, I work and we live in an area where bicycling or walking are not feasible. Anyway, I just have a lot of garbled thoughts on the best way to proceed. Both of our jobs should be stable for the next several years, but you never know what life will bring. Our situations are not the same, but it’s the thought process and planning that is important no matter what your personal situation is, and that’s why I asked the question on facebook about how you decide when to spend money. I need more wisdom and self-control than I have. I appreciate so much a glimpse into your thought process!

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Brandy. I am always inspired by how you are able to keep your grocery budget so low and, even now with being able to expand it a bit. I have reduced our spending a ton since I found your blog almost a year ago so I am extremely grateful to your tips thus far. Our main stumbling block is still the dairy. While I have reduced it a great deal, it is still around $50/month, which would be half your previous grocery budget right there. We are right about with you at $275 now, including the household items. I really don’t buy much for the house anymore thanks to Marivene’s recipe for citrus cleaner and having the Winco nearby. I found a dishwasher detergent there for cheaper than I could make it. It’s called “Sun” and it’s actually pretty good. I only use a couple of tablespoons in the dispenser and I find it works as good as my homemade stuff. I stopped using rinse aid because I think it was causing the dish detergent to leave a powdery residue on our plastic cups. As long as I load all the glass on the bottom and all the plastic items on the top rack, everything comes out really nice. I mainly wash by hand anyway to save water, but I’ve liked this Sun dishwasher detergent when I need to rely on my dishwasher if I get behind. I also started purchasing Sun Laundry detergent at Winco. Again, much cheaper than I was able to make it for and it seems to do a nice job (and we have hard water). I only use an ounce per load and I’ve been pouring our shower water into the basin to help with the water usage (maybe the laundry soap is helped by some of the soap from the shower, too). You might also want to check out Winco for a 25 pound bag of carrots. A lot of families out our way have horse property and they sell these huge bags of carrots for less than $7 which comes out to about 28 cents per pound. Still working on the garden and fruit trees to bring the produce portion of our budget down and I know we’ll get there. Some things require more patience of course, but I love browsing your blog and website for new ideas and recipes to try. Thanks to your resourcefulness, we’ve pared down to one meal with meat per week and one meal with cheese. I’ve made the lentil tacos with great success, your zucchini-potato pancakes were a huge hit, and I’ve been making the tortillas from scratch as well. You’re right about going through so much oil when you start making things from scratch! I buy the 3-liter bottle of Olive Oil from Sam’s which I think is roughly a gallon. I use the Classic/Light so that it is more versatile, but I go through it really fast! Before I close, just wanted to add a nutrition tip: If your kids like raisins, they are an excellent source of iron. A doctor told me one time that a handful of raisins has as much iron as a bowl of spinach! However, to get the best absorption of the iron, make sure not to have any dairy/calcium at the same time. The calcium will cancel out the absorption of the iron. Instead, maybe have a drink of a vitamin C-rich juice such as orange juice, apple juice or even fresh lemonade. Your Orange-Balsamic viniaigrette or a lemon-poppyseed dressing on a spinach salad would be a great way to make sure your getting the best absorption of the iron from the spinach, too. Good luck with your new goals! I’ll be praying for you and trying to think of new ideas, too! God Bless!

  5. We just reworked our budget, too. Spreading things around a little differently. We decreased our monthly grocery budget some with the goal being for me to do even more from scratch cooking. No matter how you twist it staples just cost less when bought in bulk at least. Thanks for sharing all that you do.

  6. Hi Andrea!I’ve been buying the 10 pound bag of carrots at Winco for .33 a pound. That lasts me about 2 months–sometimes more–so I haven’t bought the bigger bag yet, though I do know it’s cheaper. We aren’t going through enough carrots yet. YET 🙂

  7. I am a 56 year old nurse. I am trying to continue working the floor until I’m 60. Nurse desk jobs are far and in between in Oklahoma. We have started gardening, cooking all our meals, and cutting out anything not necessary. I enjoy reading your blog. It is very uplifting and helps me to try and maintain a positive attitude about the future.

  8. I have been buying oil (and vinegar) in gallons for quite a while, even though we are only two people. It keeps just fine, and It doesn’t last all that long, as I do my own cooking from scratch and baking also. I also buy 25# bags of flour and bread flour, 7# bags of confectioner’s sugar, and most recently, Sam’s Club added a larger bag of brown sugar–can’t remember if it was 5 or 7 lbs but I bought it. And I have mentioned before that if I don’t grow something in my own garden, it is sometimes cost efficient to buy a quantity during the harvest season and freeze the prepared item instead of paying more later in the winter. I am considering getting beets now, as I had poor germination of both plantings and will not have extra to freeze. I usually do butternut squash during the fall also. I make applesauce as we need it, since apples are grown here commercially and I can get cold storage apples reasonably all year long. Another often overlooked savings is USING all you buy. I’m sure your leftovers don’t last long with a larger family, but I do sometimes need to watch mine carefully to make sure they are used in some way before it’s too late. Leftovers from dinners become lunch and if they add up, we will have what I call a “smorgasbord” dinner–reheating in the oven or microwave so they are used as completely as possible.

  9. I’ve read stories about HOA’s out in Vegas!! Yes somehow people were (maybe still are) allowed to have pet chimps and gorillas for house pets….remember that episode a few years ago? I’m sure your chickens would have been on the news 😉

  10. This posting really struck a note with me as well. It was so good to read everyone’s comments! Like you Brandy I keep a 3 month budget. I project what the income and expenses will be. We have fixed incomes [Social Security, retirement and my husband’s full time job] and floating income [adjunct teaching contract work]. Years ago when money was very tight I set up a spreadsheet budget for each week. It had the expenses as they came due each week and the income coming in that week. We became sellers on eBay. We learned how much we had to have up for sale on eBay each week to meet our expenses. I still stick to that same budget process but project it out for 3 months increments. I understand the challenge of earning income and aging. I could not go every day to a job at this point. It has been a blessing to teach online. As I had shared I teach business and I struggle with budgets like everyone else. Food and energy [oil, gas, natural gas, etc..] were taken out of the inflationary index after 2001. We all know those are the items as consumers we experience the most. I know I have so much waste in our budget still. It feels like 1 step forward and 2 steps back sometimes. We are in the midst of sorting, shaking and cleaning out our goods. It is costing me money to get the help but it will save me money later. Sorry your neighbors were not appreciative of your chicken venture. We live with a HOA that does not allow them either. One neighbor did have them for a while. I thought it was great but of course I view the world from a different window than most of my neighbors.

  11. Even though my family only uses a couple of pounds of carrots a month, I had a chance to buy 25 lbs of rainbow carrots, I cut and blanched them and put them in the freezer, my kids love the colors:D Each color has a different flavor, so the stronger flavors go into our stir fry’s, and the more mild carrats go into things with no sauce.

  12. We have the opportunity to buy Gift cards to our best grocery store options(here it is called HEB they are Texas only. We buy them at a private school the school gets 5% of what they order, this acts as a fund raiser for them to help keep tuition down, and they share a portion of that with those who commit to a certain amount every month.My budget is much bigger but also includes our gas needs I get $700 a month in cards, but half of that goes to gas for our cars. I’ll also get about $90 dollars back thru the year for buying the cards from the school.I have made big strides in lower our gas use and keeping our grocery bill under control, but had to raise it $100 a month this summer because everything has increased so much. Also my source for free food is now gone. I used to find out of date items in the store and get an in date item for free, that is no more.:(I have restarted blogging and hope to cut my grocery expenses by tracking it better, and trying some new receipes that hopefully are less expensive.

  13. I am really happy for you Brandy. I was actually trying to find a polite way to ask for an update because you have been kind of quiet on the subject of finances lately. I guessed it was either very good or very bad and either way probably none of my business. I hope it all works out well for your family. It will be fun to hear about what you buy. Although your budget is bigger than what you have had, it is still less than half of what mine is and I need to cut mine way back. We have had lifestyle creep and it has to stop. I am feeding more adult sized children but I am spending $150 a week and I need to cut it to $100 a week for 10 of us. Some of what I used to see as luxuries (frozen potato products, cereal, tortilla chips, coffee creamer, lunchmeat, etc.) have become staples and we are waaaayyyy to heavy on meat. I know the habits that need to change but it gets harder when each person in a big family has “just that one thing” they want around all the time.

  14. Like several others on here, I’m older and alone, and have a hard time managing money. I seem to waste a lot of food when cooking for just one. I love the idea of WWBD so made up two signs, using big scrapbooking letters (WWBD) and placing them in the kitchen and sewing/office room to inspire me. Looking forward to all your coming blogs. It feels like I’m starting a new year, but it’s only September!

  15. In case anyone is interest I did some research. I love statistics! Now what do I mean by that? The National Endowment for Financial Education has research that reveals there are four (4) major areas that we can face the need for that emergency fund. In this case those statistics can help us to know how to prioritize our emergency fund. According to their report 60% of us will have one of these four emergencies hit us in a year. Yet, the research reveals that only 40% of us have emergency access to even $1,000 to cover such emergencies. Here are the four (4) major areas – Vehicle, Home Repairs, Healthcare, Job Loss, plus I added 3 other areas including a Surprise Opportunity to the categories.I wrote more about the report and solutions on my blog. http://thoughtsfromwisdom.blogspot.com/

  16. Brandy, I shocked Australia by announcing on national tv that I spend only $270 per month to feed a family of four ( and one cat ). Imagine the impact you’d have here. Groceries are a lot dearer in Australia although wages are quite good to offset it. Eggs sell for $2.50 to almost $10, butter is $2.69 for 500grams ( the cheapest you can buy ), sliced ham is a luxury at $16 a kilo, milk is $1 a litre, mushrooms up to $9 a kilo, apples up to $6 – $7 a kilo in the supermarket.It is a constant challenge to find better prices and to keep my food costs down. I don’t think anyone in Australia could feed their famliy of nine on your old budget of $165 or your new budget of $275. You have got me thinking if I can reduce my food budget further without anyone noticing. Mmmmm, I think I’ve got a new challenge in the making.

  17. Wendy, I do that for some things. Right now the freezer is packed with veggies from the garden and my CSA share! I’m going to try and do more of what you suggest when I have the room.

  18. Terri, and others who are nervously contemplating retirement…..I can assure you that it does all work out, despite how scary it looks from the other side. We could have done better preparing, but we could have done worse, too. Our situation was complicated by my husband becoming ill and having to retire at 60, and I lost my last job in the recession and didn’t get another. Here we are, six years later, and with reasonable budgeting and frugality, all our needs have been met everyday. God never fails to provide.My best advice would be to start with a home and vehicles owned free and clear, whatever savings you can manage, and be best friends who are content at home together.

  19. Brandy, Thank you for your continued posts about frugality, and your clever tips and tricks to stretching your budget. You may remember a book series called The Tightwad Gazette a number of years ago about a family that stretched their dollars in a similar method that your family does – finding creative ways to cut their expenses when others advocate increasing income. I nominate you to write a new series for this generation:) [I’m a certified librarian – I’ll proofread for you!]In the past 2 weeks we’ve had two sons announce their engagements, and in two years our youngest will be going away to college. While I am in love with my future daughters-in-law my wheels are spinning as to how our budget needs to be tweaked to account for 3 significant life changes (not knowing exactly what’s expected of us but wanting to be ready).

  20. You are an inspiration to us all in Australia Wendy.You have inspired me to change our lifestyle and spring clean our finances. Now I can see where inspiration comes from. I thank you both for opening my eyes and realising that you can have a full, abundant life without luxuries.

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