Saturday, June 5, 2010

Snap Challenge Update: Week One

This last week was crazy for Dennis and I. It was one of those weeks where we had opposite work schedules. We did go out for BBQ Tuesday, but other than that – we’ve been eating up leftovers. I cooked the old faithful Thai Stir Fry (chicken with squash, carrots, and broccoli) and he enjoyed leftovers while I cooked up a little pasta.

Let's talk about budgets. Very important when you have limited funds. So how do I work our budget? I pretty much do all the math, and Dennis just participates. So starting in January we decided it was time to start cooking more at home. Until that point, we had been going out a lot. You know… early love bird stuff. So I started saving grocery receipts as part of my “get organized” resolution. Well for about six weeks I kind of let us go free for all. I’d pick recipes that went along with my Grow Alabama box and I’d cook them all up.

This is when I realized that a budget was needed. We’d leave having spent $100 for about a week and half of groceries. And the next week would be similar. Did I forget to mention that I was spending $120 a month for a weekly supply of vegetables? On top of that we were shopping at ALDI, a super discount grocery store. I had assumed the weekly cost would be about $30-40 a week to get anything to supplement the box. But we were tripling that estimate. We could have eating out that week on a similar budget. I knew this couldn’t continue.

However, I will be quick to point out, that a lot of the expense at that time was buying a bottle of vinegar (or whatever) for the first time. It will last you months, but you still have to fork out $8 for that recipe that needs 2 tablespoons. I now have a well stocked pantry of oils, vinegars, spices, and wines.

Afterwards, I took all the receipts I had collected and compiled them together in a notebook (organized by category). So every week after that I would look at the recipes figure out what I had to buy and literally add it up (leaving room for tax). Sometimes, a recipe would get pushed back because I needed to wait until I had a little extra money to buy that $10 bottle of walnut oil. This is a very detailed, nerdy way to do it. But it works for us. Dennis now just hands the receipt to me as we walk out of the grocery store. Then I get to go home and scribble down prices in my notebook. Since I shop at ALDI the prices don't really fluctuate, so there is never any needed to update a price. If the price does change week to week I over estimate for that item. For example, if milk ranges between $1.80 to $2.29 I'll typically just play it safe and price it at $2.50.

I don't really break down my budget too much at this point. It's just whatever I need for that week's menu. I do always set aside at least $5 for fruit. This usually gets us some bananas and one or two other items (typically on sale). I usually suck it up and buy the meat in the huge family packages. It is way more than Dennis and I could (or would) eat in one week. So I usually flash freeze them and pull out what I need when I need it (this further stretches the budget).

Since I spend $120 on the box, Dennis spends $120 on whatever we need to supplement. So basically, I look at both of our schedules (work, activities, etc) and figure out when we’re both free for meals together. There are usually one or two pantry meals (pasta or burritos) and then the rest utilizes vegetables. But for this month, we’re cutting down $20 at least. We really want to try to just eat very simple meals so our donation can be larger. Honestly, we’ll rely a lot more on our pantry to get us through. But we’ll be fine.

I am working on next week’s Menu. So I will post all the fun details.

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