Re-Visiting the Food Budget

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When I first began this blog, one thing that I did was share our monthly food budget and the results of achieving (or not) that budget. Toward the end of 2010 I stopped that sharing for reasons I can’t even remember.

Even though I haven’t been sharing our budget, we still have one and strive to stay within it each month. Because we have a written budget and use the envelope system I can easily look back on my records and determine our spending each month. And using the envelope system I am more likely to stay within my spending budget since once the envelope is empty, I’m out of money.

Determining how much money we will be spending each month before the month starts works out very well for us. I am able to put our food money where it will be needed for the month or most beneficial. And having a plan allows me to account for big ticket items which might take several months to save up for.

Our monthly budgets run from the 23rd of the month to the 22nd of the following month to accommodate my husbands once a month pay. From December 23, 2010 to December 22, 2011 we averaged $659 per month for groceries.

Whats included in this $659 per month?
Our cow share (real milk)
Beef CSA (10 pounds of grass fed beef each month Jan to March and July to Dec)
Azure Standard orders
Internet orders for oils (coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil)
Feed for chickens for eggs and meat (minus any profit from selling these items)
Any special sales or bulk purchases from miscellaneous sources
Tags/licenses for hunting and fishing plus miscellaneous expenses for these things
Food, toiletries and all other non food items purchased in town (dish soap, laundry soap, TP, all household items)
Case Load Sale from Smith’s
Some restaurant visits

Not included is way too many restaurant visits over the summer while I was working a temporary job, special occasion dining out such as birthdays, anniversary, out of town, etc. and fuel costs when hunting/fishing out of town since these were combined with visits to our family or budgeted for separately in the case of Joe and Kiki’s buck antelope hunt.

One thing that I noticed when looking back at our spending was an increase starting in June. There were two reasons for this. First, our Azure Standard distributor suspended operations when a Natural Grocers was built in the town near us. I started shopping at the Natural Grocers too and found it easier to spend more than with Azure Standard. With Azure I had to plan my purchases since we only order one time per month. Shopping in a store I can just buy without planning. Happily, about that same time we were financially able to increase our spending. We were very fortunate that at the beginning of the year I started a home based business which enabled us to pay off the balloon due on our land and free up money to go toward food. The combination of more money available to spend and an easy location to spend it added a bit over $100 per month. That $100 extra a month was really needed when we did GAPS intro in October and as we have continued to limit our grains since that point.

2012 Food Spending Plan

Recently, I have taken some of that $100 per month and redistributed it to increase our Cow share so we are now getting three shares which equals three gallons per week. To be honest, this is just enough for drinking each week with the occasional half gallon leftover to make clabber cheese or some other soft cheese. We could certainly use a fourth gallon in order to do everything with raw dairy that I’d like. Currently, the plan is to stay at the three gallons for now and then re-evaluate in February and if there is an additional share available then we’ll add on. I still have a hope to add our own goats or possibly a Dexter cow but that is not in the works for this year.

Happily I’m ordering from Azure Standard again. A few of us order and then take turns driving the 4 hour round trip journey to pick up each month. We’ve done this three times now and plan to resume once the weather allows us to make the trip without dodging a blizzard. With some of the excitement of having a new store in town having worn off, I’m following a list of things I buy there. I do take advantage of their sales and their wonderful organic produce section.

I try to focus some of my food dollars each month on food storage and plan to continue with this in 2012. I love knowing that we always have food on hand and can ‘shop at home’ before heading into town. When I plan our meals, I make the plan based on what is in the house not what I need to purchase. This works well for our family. Plus building food storage now while financial times are good for us gives me peace of mind that we will have food if times turn. KerryAnn at Cooking Traditional Foods writes often about her food storage experiences and shares recipes. She has a great post on a basic 90 day food storage plan for a family of four and also offers a book for sale. Her family recently lived on their food storage for 11 months. Another great site for discovering information on food storage is The Prudent Homemaker. Brandy and her family has been living on (using and rebuilding) food storage since 2007. While Brandy does not necessarily do ‘traditional foods’, I find her ‘home cooking’ recipes and articles to be incredibly inspiring and am amazed at the variety of foods she makes. Brandy does not just offer pantry stocking ideas but complete homemaking ideas done frugally.

Part of the plan for 2012 also includes limiting our dining out. It is so hard for us to find someplace to eat that doesn’t leave at least one of us (usually me) feeling totally awful afterwards. I do love the idea of eating out and the actual time of eating out it is just the afterwards that I could do without. There are a few places in our area that don’t leave us feeling too bad but for the most part we just feel a ton better eating food prepared at home.

Being more diligent with our food dollars is also part of the plan. I have noticed that we seem to have more food waste lately than previously. I really hate to find things that I’d forgot about at the back of the fridge looking like a science experiment. In this post at Keeper of the Home, Brandy suggests having a leftover night one dinner per week. I think I might try that and see if it works for us. At this point, we do use leftovers for lunches and ‘emergency’ meals but more often than not they tend to languish in the back of the fridge contributing to that food waste. Kim from Jabez Farm is also being more diligent with her food dollars in the new year. She’ll be switching to once a month shopping. Smart girl. Like her I try to avoid the store as much as possible. While I’m not at once a month shopping I don’t necessarily go weekly. The less times in in the store, the less of our money they get.

Final Thoughts

I want to say that I feel incredibly blessed that we are able to spend this amount of money on food. For some, this may seem a paltry monthly amount for a family of 5-7 (my family size has been fluctuating over the past 2.5 years depending on adult children living at home and and whether they eat at home or not) but for us this amount is a blessing. I won’t pretend that we eat big hunks of grass fed beef each night but we have plenty of wonderful tasting and nourishing foods. I remember a time several years back when I was fortunate to have $100 a month to spend on food, weekly visits to the food pantry were the norm and dining out did not exist. A decent amount of money to spend on food each month combined with the education I continue to receive through the Weston A. Price Foundation, the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and a host of spectacular real food bloggers allows my family to continue our real food journey and quest for spectacular health.

I also want to say that I don’t share our food budget to make any kind of a point other than maybe that a normal family with a normal food budget (well, I think of it as normal but according to the USDA it falls in the Thrifty Plan if you follow those charts–I don’t….) can eat what is for the most part a nourishing real/whole/traditional foods diet. Yes, if we spent more we could get even better quality foods, more organics, those big hunks of meat I mentioned earlier, etc. but we eat very well for the amount we spend and feel it is where we should be. We are slowly adding in all of those wonderful soaked, sprouted and soured grains that we enjoy after limiting grains for the past several months which will really help with staying in our budget. For 2012 I hope to do the best we can with what God has given us.

Photo Credit: Images_of_Money on Flickr

4 comments to Re-Visiting the Food Budget

  • Terri & Angela

    >This is truly inspiring and I plan on looking a lot more closely at how you're doing all this. My search for "real food" on a budget is a big struggle on a regular basis, but this blog is helping. I may go to the envelope method you mentioned. It makes sense. I have just three of us to feed (me, my husband, and my teenager), and I'm now convinced it can be done without breaking the bank. The trick is figuring out how to do all this without food consuming every waking hour of my life that I'm not at work. Juggling. The usual issue. :) But thank you for this. Your documentation is so motivating!

    ~ Angela

  • Millie

    >Thanks Angela!
    I have to admit, when I was working outside the home it was more challenging and this past summer a full time job outside the home plus two part timers from home was too much. But last winter I worked full time and had one part time job for about 7 weeks and it went okay. I did a guest post at GNOWFGLINS about what worked for us http://gnowfglins.com/2010/12/03/real-food-fast-tips-for-working-moms/. Juggling. Whoo-Hoo.
    The envelope system has been great for us. Very helpful. I use it for everything– groceries, gas, clothes, gifts, wood pellets, everything. Joe and I each even get an envelope with 'allowance' money in it. Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey is the book that outlines this system plus there's lots of online resources for it.

  • Terri & Angela

    >Dave Ramsey! Shoulda' known… my parents are working that program, too! It's amazing to hear how far they've come in the year or so that they've been doing it. They have no debt and a fairly sizable "emergency fund" put back. It's inspiring. :)

    Yeah, as far as juggling goes, the hard part seems to be not only having the time to do the research to find real food in our area (NE Oklahoma), but the time to prepare it once you've got it! Because real food means it's not prepackaged and made up for you, so you've got to put some work into it. It's getting better, though. I rely heavily on my crockpot and my folks gave us an extra freezer a few months ago, which has been so helpful in being able to make up batches of things in advance. I'll read that guest post you wrote, though… looks like it could have some good info. :)

    On the upside, we have found a local farmer who raises grass-fed/finished beef, pastured chickens, and pastured hogs (we've visited the farm a couple of times… he's doing a stellar job). He makes very little profit because he tries so hard to keep the cost to his customers down. He's phenomenal and I want so badly to blog about his operation, but he wants me to hold back for awhile so he doesn't get flooded with a demand that he might not be able to meet. (I was flattered by his confidence in the reach of our humble little blog ;) But, my husband and I are going in with a friend of ours to split the cost of 1/2 a cow and a whole pig from said awesome farmer, which will be slaughtered this May. I'm interested to see how far that much meat carries us, especially if we don't eat real "meat heavy" for many of our meals.

    ~ Angela

  • Millie

    >Angela,
    Wonderful to find a farmer! Once you have your source and that full freezer, I think you'll find it much easier. I know I do.

    Ramsey has been great for us. We do not follow it 100% like we should and had to adjust a bit since we are planning a big vacation this summer (a Ramsey no-no at this point) but it has made a huge difference still. Especially in keeping track of household costs.

    Whole Foods on a Budget is doing a series this month where she shares her shopping purchases and costs http://www.wholefoodsonabudget.com/2012/01/come-tag-along-with-me-as-i-go-from.html
    That might be of interest to you.

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