Sunday, January 11, 2009

Budget and the restricted diet...

Budgeting food is a nightmare for me since we eat the way we do. I used to be a black belt food shopper. I kept a price book for 11 years and suddenly, a lot of it was irrelevant because we no longer bought that stuff. I realized recently that I could just alter the darn price book to include the stuff we DO buy now. Ummm... DUH! So I'm going back to that.

We figure out a budget per month and then do the math to figure out much that is per paycheck. Each payday, that amount gets withdrawn in cash and put into an envelope. When we buy groceries, we pay cash. When the cash is gone, it's time to turn to the pantries and get creative. But at least we're not over budget--and groceries are a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE black hole in most people's budgets. When I did budget counseling, I CHRONICALLY had people who insisted they knew how much they spent on groceries each month who were stating approximately half (or less) of what they were actually spending. One couple thought they were only spending $250-300/month in food where they were actually spending about $800/month in food. And they were not out of the ordinary by any stretch. When you actually tally up your receipts for 3-4 months and figure it out, you may be surprised. Very few people have a clear idea of what they spend on groceries--and even fewer have a grasp on how much they spend on eating out (which includes Starbucks--anything you eat or drink that isn't made at home is "eating out" and man, does it add up).

My price book evolved to a 5"x7"-ish 3-ring binder with 3-hole punched lined paper in it. I bought write-on self-adhesive tabs to separate out sections and I section it by section of my food store. Each page is dedicated to an item we buy and looks like this:


Orange Juice

Date.....Store....Brand....Size....Sale price....unit price

8/25/05 PM Tropicana 64oz. 2f/$5 .039/oz
9/3/05 S/S Tropicana 64oz. 2f/$4 .031/oz

That's an actual entry. The stores all have an abbreviation that go in the back of my book--the last page. And the price here is "2 for $x". I detest writing in pencil but I learned that it was the best way to keep a price book. I also learned to write in the year because over time, you may never get that price again. I've found cycles to things being cheaper that helped me bulk buy.

But now I'm going to be starting from scratch.

IT IS MORE EXPENSIVE TO EAT RIGHT. This is why the state of this country's health is in significant decline. People's priorities are on the larger house, the nicer clothes, the Wii... not on eating well. So they scrimp on food and spend on the other stuff. And then there are those with no choices--and WIC is horrifying with the crap they won't allow you to buy. In NJ, WIC will give you vouchers to the farmer's markets; but 99% of the farmers at those markets are not organic.

The concept of cutting back to afford better food is completely foreign to Americans. Even when finally faced with the health crises that occur after long-term horrible eating, it's now a fight against long-standing food habits and money to eat right.

I used to be able to buy the "loss leader" items at the supermarket--the stuff that goes on sale to the point where they're practically giving it away. I can't do that anymore. I can't shop at ShopRite's Can-Can sale and have us stocked in canned veggies for 6 months because half of them don't even come in a No Salt option and none of them are organic. No thanks.

Meat is the biggest problem and the place where we are most stumped. I used to be able to buy 2 months worth of meat at $1.99/lb when it went on sale, but now that we're trying to restrict ourselves to meat that at least has no hormones in it (not necessarily organic, but no hormones and hopefully no antibiotics) it's become a real challenge. Add to it that most of the country doesn't eat meat in the proper balance--and we were no different. Meat should only be 1/3 of what's on your dinner plate. In most cases, it's 1/2 to 2/3. So we've scaled back portion size and that's helped. We've also supplemented our protein intake with beans--things we SHOULD be eating anyway. Finding organic dry beans is HARD, but you can now find them in canned form. Again--it's an expense.

We are scaling back in other things to afford to do this. And we're finding that scaling back other things is easier than we thought--although it took some adjusting. We really only have cable at the moment because it's a package deal and the cost is the same if we don't have it. Since the baby has come home, we are certainly watching more TV than we have in the last 2 years. But now we're adjusting and it's been back to normal--where there is very little TV. Without TV, our son reads more and plays more. He uses his brain more actively. Mike and I are doing things that need to be done around the house--stupid little stuff--instead of vegging out in front of the TV. Sometimes, that means just being more engaged in speaking to one another. Good things. We've similarly had to break addictions to the computer. We removed Matthew's from the playroom and have taken measures to make it inconvenient for the adults--so getting to the computer requires effort now. We are far more "connected" as a family without these distractions.

We are probably among the only people we know who don't own a Wii, although we do own a V-Smile. ;) Usage is SEVERELY limited.

We drive a 2007 Hyundai Elantra because we could buy it without a car payment vs. a Jeep Grand Cherokee with heated seats that we could've put a significant down payment on. We didn't need the Jeep. Nor did we need a Nissan Murano or Subaru Outback. The Hyundai has far more trunk space than it gets credit for and the seats inside were no different than any of the others.

I coordinate the organic produce pod which helps. It doesn't feed us for the month, but it's something. If I could get both groups full, it probably WOULD feed us for the month (in veggies, anyway). Working on that.

You find ways. You start making priorities. You believe that eating right has long-term benefits. And you make the changes. You find $5/month here and $10/month there and soon it adds up to a different life.

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