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October 8th, 2010 at 05:29 am

September was another overspend month in Checkbook Number One. We had a problem with this in Checkbook Number One for several years, and I finally got it under control about two years ago. To keep it under control I have to work diligently, and it got away from me in May. Weíve been a little bit over every month since then. Itís time to get it back in line.

Checkbook Number One has four budget categories Ė Groceries, Gas, Church Contributions and Everything Else. (Bills such as Mortgage, Utilities, schooling expenses, and also Christmas are paid out of a different account). Gas was about right, and Church Contributions were accurate. The overspending occurred in Groceries Ė about 115% of the budgeted amount and Everything Else Ė about 125% of the budgeted amount.

I reviewed our Grocery and Everything Else purchases for September in detail. As usual it wasnít one big thing that sunk the budget but an accumulation of little stuff. In Groceries, we spent a little too much in the treat category and I also stocked up on some household staples without decreasing spending in other areas of the grocery budget. In Everything Else. . . a few too many trips to Starbucks. There were some unanticipated cash withdrawls by Mr H. I donít begrudge him that, but if I donít know about it until later Iíve spent the money elsewhere by the time I find out. Due to overspending in August this category also had less money in it.

For October, inspired by Denise (Thrift-O-Rama) and Laura (Love the Life You Live) I went through and figured out how much grocery money Iíd have to spend each week. Then I allocated how much I thought I would spend where (we get some food items on a schedule, direct from a farm). In the Everything Else category I tried to anticipate expenses for the month (ie, peopleís birthdays, Halloween costumes, etc) and write them down.

One week into October this is already putting us on the right path for the month. Iíve already had to consciously choose to spend Grocery money on some items and not others. We are on budget as of October 7th. Only three more weeks to go!

Where'd You Get All Those Coupons?

November 10th, 2009 at 06:18 am

These words were spoken to me - me - by a grocery store clerk the other day.

I am not a coupon queen. I do the bulk of my shopping at a natural foods co-op. I have for decades. It is more expensive than the discount grocery, but I feel that I am feeding my family with a better quality of food, and supporting a local business. (We also buy some of our food direct from the farmer, get some via a wholesale supplier, etc. We have more than one way we shop.)

Over time I've figured out what we eat and how much of it we eat. I've learned how to maximize my dollars there, although there is still room for improvement.

This store offers a 10% member discount coupon each month. It used to be one 10% member discount day per month. When Daisy was a toddler I'd get her out of bed, put her in the car and off we'd go to to the store. I had my grocery list made to go with the aisles of the store, and we'd basically eat our way through the store while I shopped (and filled the cart) as fast as possible.

But I digress.

This month, before heading off, I hopped on-line and hunted for coupons for brands I typically purchase. I found some, and added them to the stack I had from natural foods flyers and newspapers.

I don't think many people who shop there have coupons. But here I was, scrambling to match my coupons with my items as they went past on the conveyor. The coupons saved about $15. Added to the in-store specials and the 10% discount I think I did pretty well. At least well enough to impress the clerk.

Last Month's Groceries

January 3rd, 2009 at 07:44 am

I have spent some time the last couple of days figuring out where we went wrong on the Grocery/Personal Care/Cleaning budget last month. We spend 20% more that the amount budgeted.

Because I rank among the world's biggest nerds, I actually went through each grocery receipt, categorized each purchase and wrote the purchase down on a sheet of paper with the category heading at the top. Christmas food purchases sank our food budget. Like most people we have special food items we buy during the Christmas season and some of them are expensive. The dollar amount of these purchases was almost equal to the dollar amount over food budget last month.

I showed my sheets of paper to Mr H. First he said incredulously "You went through every grocery receipt?" Yes, there were quite a few, and while I tend to be organized with receipts I wasn't last month and had to spend some time finding them. He came to the same conclusion regarding Christmas food purchases, then he said something like, "This looks pretty much like what we eat. I don't see how we can spend less money on food." I didn't say anything but I thought, "Them's fighting words - sounds like a challenge to me."

Stir-Fried Green Beans

September 17th, 2008 at 01:31 pm

I like to make Stir-Fried Green beans every year at about this time if I have access to garden-grown green beans. The recipe is in the More With Less Cookbook, and it's a tasty way to use a pound of green beans for a dinner. You can use the large-but-not-yet-woody/rubbery green beans for this dish and it comes out well. Green bean gardeners, you know what I'm talking about. Those beans seem to come around later in the season after you've already eaten your weight in small tender beans. You don't really want to throw them away, but they just aren't as good (in my opinion anyway) as the smaller beans.

We visited our farm friends this past weekend, and they gave us about 7 pounds of green beans. I froze five pounds, used one pound for Stir-Fried Green Beans and still have a pound in the fridge.

One slight. . . issue with this dish is that the green beans must be julienned. (Julienned? Is that a word?) That means cut in long skinny pieces. My mom has a gadget that will do this. I don't have that gadget and it takes 30-45 minutes for me to cut them by hand.

The recipe calls for 1/4 pound of beef chuck (steak, I'd guess). I used 1/2 pound of a steak that was given to my husband's work at Christmas time (it's been frozen since then - not in the fridge!). I served this with brown rice for an inexpensive and good-tasting meal.

Hot Dog Bun French Toast

August 10th, 2008 at 06:25 am

We went camping last week. We always have a great time - what's not to like about climbing trees, playing in the creek, riding bikes and hanging out by the fire? Mr H camped as a child and I camped with the scouts, and Daisy loves to go camping.

Usually we have some extra food at the end of our trip, and I create some leftover concoction for our dinner when we get home. After packing up the car, then unpacking at home, doing laundry and washing the camp dishes I'm really not up for a great deal of cooking. I'm getting better about estimating the amount of food for our trips though, and we didn't have a whole lot left over this time.

After we'd completed some of the chores Mr H and I were sitting at the table next to the food box. We had four hotdog buns left and somehow they'd gotten under a package of something else and were about half the height of their former selves. Mr H got a good laugh out of them, but I suggested hot dog bun french toast for breakfast the next morning.

That's what we ended up having for dinner last night - hot dog bun french toast. We even had Daisy do most of the cooking of it, furthering her life skills education. We combined this with leftover bacon and ham from our trip, and topped the toast with jam (we're out of syrup).

And Mr H gets extra credit. When we were discussing our dinner plans I suggested going out, and he said "No, I think we should make something from what we have on hand." Usually in this scenario we end up going out.