Author Topic: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending  (Read 18379 times)

Laura33

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #100 on: October 08, 2017, 06:57:15 PM »
Achievement unlocked: proposed brunch at our house instead of brunch out, and made a frittata and coffee cake using all stuff we had in the house already.  Bonus was the toddlers had fun playing in the living room while the adults chatted, which was SO NICE.

I just spent a while catching up on paperwork and despite having a baby this year and the attendant health care costs, we will have money left in spouse's FSA to roll over to next year (his has a rollover provision, mine does not).  It looks like next year for the first time in several years our health care costs will be low enough that we don't have to max out two health FSAs, so that'll be a little bonus money per pay period.

People who keep their grocery bills low - how do you think about your monthly budget?  Do you split it into a weekly target amount?  I find our grocery costs tend to vary quite a bit by week and I'm not sure how to think about what I "should" be spending per week.  I was thinking about using a calculator to keep track of what I'm spending as I shop, to see how adding in "extras" affects the total.
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Awesome!  Congrats on the entertaining!   Cheap AND relaxing - doesn't get much better than that, right?

On groceries, I am still figuring it out.  What I have figured out so far is that I have some things I can buy at Aldi's and some other things that I need to go to a "regular" grocery store for (like DH's Diet Pepsi and specific brand of OJ).  So I try to go to Aldi's at least every other week and keep that under $100, and then do a larger stock-up on those specific products at the big grocery store every other week, buying enough to last at least two weeks; if I can go three, that is a total win.  For me, it works ok because the bigger store has more temptations, so staying out of there keeps the bills down.  ;-). But that also means that I need to budget by the month, not the week, so I keep a running total to know if I have to ratchet back partway through the month.
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Villanelle

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #101 on: October 08, 2017, 08:33:39 PM »
I don't actually adhere to a strict budget any longer, but for groceries, I have a stable of cheap meals.  These are things that are pretty much always cheap, without sales.  I default to these if I can't find anything else that is cheap.  I think it helps to know that my cilantro lime pasta is easy and cheap, and we like it, for example, so when in doubt, I buy what I need for that.  (It also helps that most of the items in these dishes are either shelf stable or things that are pretty much always in our fridge, so if I haven't shopped, I can still make them.)

If I was trying to set a strict budget, I would likely look at weekly costs, but not actually force myself to stay in those limits.  So for $800/mo, that's about $190/week.  If I had a week at $210, that would be fine, but then the following week I'd know I needed to cut back, and I'd likely go to some of my default standard cheap meals.  I'd also try to keep the first week of each month intentionally below budget glide slope so I was starting out ahead of the game.  Lastly, I'd do a fair amount of batch cooking as that helps with planning ahead.  If you spend $260 the first week but you have all that week's meals plus an extra 10 dinners, you've consolidated the spending which can help you keep better track than if you are doing it small amounts at a time, and help you better manage overall. 

And as a side bonus, having those prepared meals can help with laziness when you just want to order in or get take out.  Perhaps you could dedicate 3 hours of the first weekend of each month to batch meal prep.  In that time, you can easily get 20+ meals done, especially after you develop a process.  Make 4 lasagnas, 4 chicken and broccoli casseroles, 4 bags of chicken and bean Italian soup, 4 breakfast casseroles (and breakfast for dinner is always great!) and 4 containers of browned ground beef with onions that can be used for quick tacos (or anything!), for example.  You save time because you are browning that beef in large quantities and using it for both the lasagna and the taco meat.  You use a basic Italian red sauce in the lasagne and as the base for the soup (mixed with broth). Chicken is cooked for the soup and the casserole. You cook potatoes for the breakfast casserole and the soup.  Over time, you'll learn what pairs well with other things for efficiency while still giving you some variety.  I hate cooking, so those 3 hours are not my favorite part of my life, but seeing a freezer full of meals and knowing I won't have to cook dinner for another 3 weeks feels great.  And it allows me to know what I've spend on dinner for most of the month, as opposed to worrying what might come up and push the budget later in the month when there is less time left to adjust. 

lhamo

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #102 on: October 08, 2017, 08:35:11 PM »
Our grocery budget averages about $600/month for four adult appetites (I have two teens who eat like hungry adults).   I don't restrict myself to that, though, because I operate largely off of a stocked pantry system.  I have a number of standard meals that I rotate through during the month, and when the staples that I use for those are on a particularly good sale I will stock up.   So last week I had a use 5x coupon at Fred Meyer for $.60/off two cans of organic beans.  That works out to $.70/can, and my family likes the texture of the organics better, so I stocked up and got 10 cans (5 black beans, 5 garbonzos). I needed butter and it was on sale for $3/lb, so I got one salted and one unsalted -- I can actually get it at $2/lb regularly on sale/with coupons, so I only got one pound this time. Next time I see that $2/lb price I will buy several pounds and throw in the freezer.   If pasta is on sale for $1/lb, that is not a bad price, but I try to hold out until I see it for $.88/lb and then I buy enough for 2-3 months. 

Basically what I am doing is keeping a price book in my head.   This concept goes back to The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn -- MMM's secret fairy godmother.   She was the queen of financial badassity before MMM made it hip.   Basically when you operate on a pantry system, you learn pretty quick what a good deal is for the items you buy regularly.   She advocated tracking physically, but I found that I don't really need to do that anymore -- seeing a good price in the weekly flyer makes my radar go off.  And then I look through my coupon stash.   
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MustachedImposter

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #103 on: October 08, 2017, 09:43:10 PM »
Thanks so much for all the ideas and feedback.  I love the idea of a stable of cheap meals I can go to.  I think I'd have a harder time implementing batch cooking, but I'm going to try it a bit.  Tomorrow I'm cooking a big batch of black bean mushroom chili and I'll freeze some of the leftovers for future dinners and put some in the fridge for lunches.  I've gotten MUCH better about pulling things out of the freezer and actually eating them since I started trying to cut down our food bills.

I'm also realizing it's not the meals that are driving up the bills, but the extras like snacks and drinks and all that other stuff that is completely optional.  I think with some better planning I can start to cut down on those things, which is both good for our health and our grocery bills.  I've been making sure fruit is always ready to go for a snack - grapes (which are on sale at Aldi a lot) portioned into containers, apples washed and front and center in the fridge, etc.

I'm actually not doing so bad on the grocery spending this month - there are 5 Sundays in October, and I'm aiming for $550 on groceries this month, so that's $110 or less a week.  I spent $52 last week and then $132 this week, so on average I'm still doing well.

Villanelle

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #104 on: October 08, 2017, 11:29:39 PM »
Thanks so much for all the ideas and feedback.  I love the idea of a stable of cheap meals I can go to.  I think I'd have a harder time implementing batch cooking, but I'm going to try it a bit.  Tomorrow I'm cooking a big batch of black bean mushroom chili and I'll freeze some of the leftovers for future dinners and put some in the fridge for lunches.  I've gotten MUCH better about pulling things out of the freezer and actually eating them since I started trying to cut down our food bills.

I'm also realizing it's not the meals that are driving up the bills, but the extras like snacks and drinks and all that other stuff that is completely optional.  I think with some better planning I can start to cut down on those things, which is both good for our health and our grocery bills.  I've been making sure fruit is always ready to go for a snack - grapes (which are on sale at Aldi a lot) portioned into containers, apples washed and front and center in the fridge, etc.

I'm actually not doing so bad on the grocery spending this month - there are 5 Sundays in October, and I'm aiming for $550 on groceries this month, so that's $110 or less a week.  I spent $52 last week and then $132 this week, so on average I'm still doing well.

I'm doing less batch cooking because I no longer have much freezer space, but still when I cook, 90% of the time, I make a double or triple batch.  Even that adds up to a decent number of freezer meals over time.  So triple that Mushroom chili, instead of just double, especially if mushrooms (and/or whatever you use as key ingredients) are on sale.  This will make your grocery budget less even, but should work out for you in the end.

civil4life

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #105 on: October 09, 2017, 07:32:10 AM »
My dad has always done the family grocery shopping and at this point he is a complete grocery shopping guru.  Growing up if it was not on sale he did not buy it.  Only exception was probably milk.  We had a family of 5 and would go through 4 to 5 gallons a week.

My dad always knew sales prices.  He would know if something was a good deal or super good deal.  He also learned the sales cycle.  For example Pepsi and Coke products usually went on sale once a month.  Even now I can call him on the phone and ask him if a sales price on something is good and he will tell me.

So when something was on sale he knew how much to buy until the next time it would be on sale.  I always remember tuna and mac & cheese.  It would be at least 10 cans of tuna and a full case of mac & cheese.  He stock piled meet and froze it.  For example hamburger he would buy several pounds at a time.  When he got home my mom would repackage them into one pound packaged for the freezer.  These were great for spaghetti, chili, and taco nights.  She would make a few into hamburger patties as well.  We always had a freezer stocked with food.  Summer ribs and hamburger was the sale.  Around Thanksgiving turkey.  We would have 3 to 4 turkeys in the freezer, New Years pork, etc.

Every Sunday he would review all of the grocery ads and plan his shopping for the week.  There were at least 3 or 4 different stores.  He did not always go to all of them.  Then based on the sale items my mom planned the meals for the week.  He usually visited the day old bread store about once a month.  Bread was another thing that was frozen.

My dad is a numbers person so this always came easy and natural to him.  We have always joked that he should be a professional shopper.  Overall his process was more big picture and looked at feeding the family over the long haul.  My mom had various recipes based on what was available at any given time.

Also wanted to share this website http://www.5dollardinners.com/.  This women has a ton of recipes for feeding the family.  She has a grocery list for Costco and Sams that will create 30 meals for very cheap.  She has a facebook page and email list as well.  She used to share everything for free, but has now started selling some of her meal plan menus.  They are still very cheap.

lhamo

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #106 on: October 09, 2017, 08:16:42 AM »
Another tip about pre-cooking in bulk--try to do some components that can easily be added to other quick-cook items to constitute a meal, so that less freezer space is consumed with the same end outcome.  My favorite example is shredded beef for burritos.  About once a month I cook up a big beef roast in the crock pot with some salsa.  I used to add onions but have stopped -- not really needed.   It is usually 3-4 lbs of meat, enough to make 3-4 family size batches.   I use one that day, put one in the fridge for later in the week, and throw two in the freezer.   When I want to use the saved meat portions, I can just mix in some leftover rice and a can of beans to make the filling.

This approach works pretty well with any kind of sauce-focused recipe.   Or with portions of meat that can then be frozen and added to quick-fix meals later.
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MustachedImposter

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #107 on: October 18, 2017, 08:35:22 AM »
Still trucking along.

Our car got a flat tire and couldn't be patched, so I managed to get a used tire and the total was $50 for the tire and labor.

We're doing homemade Halloween, which cost us about $22 in costume making supplies.

DH is traveling this week and that is usually a trigger to spend on take out because LIFE FEELS HARD and I DESERVE IT, but I am really trying to get away from that kind of thinking and so far I have just done easy meals from stuff we have in the house.  It's hard when he's away whether I order take out or make a grilled cheese, so I might as well not blow the money, you know?

Laura33

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #108 on: October 19, 2017, 08:53:45 AM »
Still trucking along.

Our car got a flat tire and couldn't be patched, so I managed to get a used tire and the total was $50 for the tire and labor.

We're doing homemade Halloween, which cost us about $22 in costume making supplies.

DH is traveling this week and that is usually a trigger to spend on take out because LIFE FEELS HARD and I DESERVE IT, but I am really trying to get away from that kind of thinking and so far I have just done easy meals from stuff we have in the house.  It's hard when he's away whether I order take out or make a grilled cheese, so I might as well not blow the money, you know?

Good mindset!  FWIW, one of the things I do when DH leaves town is make stuff that he doesn't like -- mine is also heading out of town tonight, and I see a big pot of chicken and dumplings in my future.  :-)
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pyyj

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #109 on: October 19, 2017, 03:38:25 PM »
At the grocery it's good to learn which items can be bought in quantity for a discount and which cannot. Peanut butter in a tub vs peanut butter in a cute little jar: tub! Kraft "cheese" slices: buy 100! Cereal: give me the ultra pack!

On the other hand, some items seem surprisingly resistant to bulk discount (at least, at our grocery): olive oil, vegetables, meats.

Getting used to calculating the "unit cost" is a good way to exercise the brain muscles. $8/L is way better than $4/250ml, buy the big one even though it's "more", etc.

That plus getting to know the "prevailing" cost of your regular purchases so you can jump on deals goes a long way, as well as knowing how long things last: when cheese is on sale, I buy a month's worth; it'll keep.

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Re: Case Study: Hair on Fire Spending
« Reply #110 on: October 19, 2017, 07:15:11 PM »
At the grocery it's good to learn which items can be bought in quantity for a discount and which cannot. Peanut butter in a tub vs peanut butter in a cute little jar: tub! Kraft "cheese" slices: buy 100! Cereal: give me the ultra pack!

On the other hand, some items seem surprisingly resistant to bulk discount (at least, at our grocery): olive oil, vegetables, meats.

Getting used to calculating the "unit cost" is a good way to exercise the brain muscles. $8/L is way better than $4/250ml, buy the big one even though it's "more", etc.

That plus getting to know the "prevailing" cost of your regular purchases so you can jump on deals goes a long way, as well as knowing how long things last: when cheese is on sale, I buy a month's worth; it'll keep.

I disagree on the vegetables, at least for my local grocery stores.  You can get "by the pound" potatoes and onions for $1+ per pound, or you can buy a 5lb+ sack for closer to 30 to 50 per pound.  Also, every month or few, the big tins of (normal, non-extra-virgin) olive oil go on sale for much cheaper per quart than normal.  (But I see that you are using liters, so this may not be the case for you.)

But you are right.  Unit pricing is king!
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