Posts Tagged With: Budget

No Spend October: Wrap Up

So… weeks three and four.  Let’s just say that No Spend month has been a very revealing project for me.

The month did not really go as I planned, but we still spent a lot less than we would have otherwise.

We spent $257.85 on groceries these last two weeks.  Add to that a tank of gas ($46.02), the pumpkin patch outing ($60) and favor’s for H’s birthday party ($14.44) and we spent $378.31 in two weeks.

Total spending this month so far: $624.62

My original budget was $335.  So we blew it by $289.62. 

I’m really bummed that I couldn’t manage to stick to our original budget.  I don’t know whether I just set the bar too high for us, or I just… lacked the self-control.

Besides going over out budget though, I have one major disappointment: I didn’t save anything.

WHY?

Because last month, our spending was so out of control, that all this no spending has done was allow us to catch up.  While we did blow the budget out of the water, we still spent about $700 less than we do in a typical month.  Because of No Spend Month, we’ve gotten well caught up and in a great place to rebuild that savings account and for the holidays.

Overall, the project was a success.  Next time I think I’ll set more realistic goals.  In the mean time, we’ve hit the reset button on spending, so that next time we attempt a no spend month, we can really sock that money away.

Did you attempt no spend month?  Have you saved anything?

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Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

No Spend October: Week Two

WHEW!   I think I need someone to talk me off the edge!  This No Spend thing is hard.

While Erica is up there in Washington not spending, I’m here in Denver struggling.  For some reason, I’ve found this challenge to be much more… um, challenging than I expected it to be.  The only reason I can think of is that my habits have gotten quite relaxed and pinching pennies has become painful for me again.

The Good: Rick stuck to his budget for the hair cut, and we got into the football game for only $10 instead of the twelve I budgeted for.  We had to use cash for the game of course, so we pulled a twenty.  Rick used $7 of that for bread at the bakery.

I used card stock, scrapbook supplies and envelopes that I already had around here to assemble invitations for H’s birthday party.  I only made four of them; one for each of his grandparents and great-grandparents, and one for me to keep.  The rest of the guest list got email invitations.  Total cost was zero (well, three stamps, but I already had those).

The Bad: Originally, I had hoped for wiggle room in the grocery store budget.  Unfortunately, we ran out of toilet paper.  And, C got a diaper rash which pushed me to use disposables for a few days.  We also use disposable diapers at night, so we needed more of those too.  Yeah… that’s twenty bucks down the crapper.  Seriously?  Two-thirds of my grocery budget for poop?

Last week, I mentioned that I forgot to budget for buying chicken feed.  Because our co-op is so far away, we buy eight weeks of feed at one time.  That was $60 that we did not include in our original budget.

The Ugly: My grocery receipt contained toilet paper, diapers, milk, butter, 1 can of coconut milk, cornmeal, and cheese.  Rick got home, burst out laughing and asked where the fruit was.  I didn’t feel bad, he stole three dollars cash from the money we pulled out for the football game and spent it this week.  He won’t tell me on what, so I’m pretty sure it was candy or, more likely, a pastry.  I’m insanely jealous over that three dollars.  I’m coveting the pastry.

Oh, and then he tells me that he’s in charge of breakfast for his Friday morning meeting, and his company is buying breakfast burritos from my favorite place.  I think I hate him.

What did we spend this week?

$  50.42 on Groceries (and a damn pastry)
$  36.00 on Gas
$  60.00 on Chicken feed
$  30.00 on Rick’s hair cut
$  10.00 on Entertainment (the football game)
$186.42 total this week

Plus last week: $59.89

Total spent so far: $246.31

That leaves $88.69 for the month.  Ouch.

I am worried.  I don’t think we can make it.  I’m really debating about transferring the chicken food money from our savings account and not counting it in the month’s budget, but I don’t know if that’s cheating or not.

As it stands, we have just over half the month to get by on a quarter of the month’s budget.  If I add that sixty back in, we’re looking at 44% of the budget left for the next two and a half weeks.  My goal was to save $1000 this month, so that’s really just robbing Peter to pay Paul, right?

I’m totally open to suggestions on salvaging this project.  Thoughts?  Ideas?

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

No Spend October: Week One

Ok, so I had planned on doing this wrap-up on Monday, but since NWEdible is doing wrap-ups on Fridays, I thought I better bust it out.

Budgets are hard. 

I’m usually a pretty good budgeter, but in this short first week, I realized I missed a few items in the budget for the month.

Considerations I skipped:

  • Our chicken feed co-op went out of business in September and we didn’t get any food at the end of the month as planned.  We found a new co-op, but they are in North Boulder, so we had planned to make a large feed purchase this weekend.  I completely forgot to include money for this in our budget.
  • Halloween.  The boys already have costumes, but C didn’t.  Luckily, I came up with something for her (and Rick and I) that won’t cost me much, if anything.
  • Halloween (again).  My sister is coming to town and we have a tradition of visiting haunted houses.  They are totally expensive and frivolous.  I found a Group*n for our favorite one though, and it will be the one and only this year.  $15 not budgeted.  I know.  Bad, bad, bad.
  • H’s birthday.  His birthday is November 1, so I was thinking November.  Not thinking about invitations, etc, that will have to go out this month.  We’ll see what I come up with on this one.
  • Hunting.  We planned the hunting for the year in November, but Rick got offered an opportunity to go with a co-worker at the end of the month.  The license money is already taken care of (he had it set aside months ago), but we didn’t factor gas money for an extra trip.  Another item we’ll have to see how it plays out.

Enough blathering on about things I forgot to account for.

I did have some success this week.  I went to a kids’ resale shop to look for shoes for H.  I also took some clothes to sell with me.  After what they bought, I was able to get H some shoes and the store paid me $4.76.  WOOHOO!  E also badly needed new pajamas.  All the ones he had were waaaay too short.  Like belly-sticking-out-of-his-shirt too short.  So I used that savings to buy him new pjs.  They were $16.26.  I deducted the $4.76 from that, so we did really well in the clothing budget category.

What did I spend this week?

Grocery store:  $33.36
Clothing:           $11.53
Entertainment: $15.00
Total:               $59.89

That means that there is $275.11 left in my budget for the month.

I know.  The haunted house.  It’ll be a toughie to make up.  And I’m feeling guilty for buying it.

What about you?

How are you doing with your budget?  What successes or challenges did you meet in your first week?

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

No Spend October

Have you all seen the No Spend Month that NWEdible is heading up for October?

The premise of the challenge is to set a budget for one month, not including your regular bills (mortgage/rent, utilities, etc.), that allows you to save a bundle of money by… not spending it.  The budget should include money for food, gas and whatever household expenses you normally have.  But this budget is radical. You are cutting your expenses way, way down.  Down to nil, or as close to it as you can manage.

Like, instead of spending $750 on food for the month, you are only going to spend $120.  Instead of racking up the miles in your SUV, you rack up the miles on your bike, because that gas costs money.  Instead of getting coffee at the drive through, you brew it at home.

Then, at the end of the month, you have a pile of money that you saved.  Maybe enough to jump-start that emergency fund or make an extra house payment, or pay off a credit card.

To join the challenge, you have to do three things: one, set the budget; two, track your expenses; and three, set a goal for what you save.  It’s been a while since I’ve joined in on a challenge.  This one seems a bit overdue for us.  Doing a no-spend month is a great way to hit the reset button on out of control spending.

I read about the challenge over the weekend and decided to go for it.  But I didn’t actually get off to a great start.

Yesterday morning, it started raining at 6:00 am and Rick wanted a ride to work instead of getting soaked on his bike.  So I took him.  The boys, used to going to the bakery on mornings we drive Rick, begged for pastries.  I, weak from lack of coffee, gave in and spent $10 on the way home for buttery, flaky goodness.  Later, as I was cleaning up the crumbs, I remembered it was October 1st!  ARGH!   It’s NO SPEND MONTH!  $10 in the hole already.

It’s ok.  The whole month isn’t shot because of one slip-up on the first day.  I know we can make the ten bucks up later.  We actually used to run a really tight ship around here.  But as we’ve paid off various debts (two credit cards, a car loan and a student loan done!  Woo!), we’ve gotten a lot more relaxed about our spending.

Our budget for October is $335.  We are a family of five, and to be honest, I think we could go lower.  However, we have a few commitments for the month already involving friends and family from out-of-town, that I just don’t feel good about backing out of.  Even so, this will allow us to save $1000 this month.

I plan to put that $1k in a separate savings account towards an emergency fund.

Because I’m always curious how others come up with their budget numbers, I’m going to share mine more specifically with you.

For food, I know we can mainly eat out of the pantry and freezer, except for dairy and flour.  So I budgeted $30 per week for food.  This actually allows for some wiggle room, but I figure that’s a good thing.  I’m hoping I can get some Halloween candy to give away out of this too.

For gas, I cut what we normally spend in half.  This pretty much has no wiggle room, and I think it will be the toughest category for us.  Especially if we get some bad weather.   $60 is about a tank and a half for the month, plus the 3/4 of a tank right the 4Runner is at right now.

Our dining out budget would have been a zero for the month, but since I already blew that yesterday, I accounted for the ten dollars already spent.  Otherwise, we’ll be cooking at home and Rick will brown bag it.

I budgeted $30 for Rick’s hair cut.  He’s been putting it off for a couple of months and is getting pretty shaggy.  When I proposed doing the No Spend month, his only request was an allowance for a hair cut.

E and H both just hit a growth spurt.  H needs new shoes.  I’m budgeting $20.

Now comes the previous commitment part.  We had already committed to a high school football game (cheap), a double date (yay – it’s been so long), and a pumpkin patch (it is October after all).   I figured $12 for the game if we fill the kids up before we go and bring snacks from home.  I’m budgeting $50 each for the date and the pumpkin patch.  That’s cutting it a bit close, but I really want to try to stick to it.

If you add all that up, it’s $362.  I also have $90 in swim-lessons coming up for the kids this month, which Erica says is exempt from the budget.  Together, that’s $973 less than our average monthly expenses.  I wanted to make it an even $1000 in savings, so I’m going to see if I can make up that $27 somewhere.

I plan to keep track of how we’re doing and report here on it once a week.

What about you?  Are you down with No Spend this month?

Please comment and tell me if you are going to join in on the challenge, what you are budgeting (you don’t have to get all specific if you don’t want), and what you want to do with your pile of saved dough.

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

UH Boot Camp: Eating Well without Breaking the Bank

Yesterday I talked about the basics of making a budget.  For today’s urban homestead boot camp, I wanted to give you my best tips for saving money on your food bill while still eating well. Some things, to really save money, do take some investment up front, but the pay off in the long run is well worth it.  Other things are simpler, they can be started right away.  But first let me share what I think eating well means.

By “eating well” what I mean is eating real food.  Food that doesn’t come out of a box, that was raised and prepared with care.  Top Ramen is not eating well.  To me, sustainability is important, as is cost.  Eating sustainably means different things to different people.  To some, it means eating all organic, even if your bananas came half way around the world.  To others, local is most important.  And I know what it’s like when you have really limited funds.  Sometimes whatever is cheapest starts to look appealing.  For me, the most sustainable means locally grown without chemicals and pesticides.  An organic certification is optional.

So, how to get those things while not breaking the bank?

Things that take some investment upfront:

A freezer.  This is a tool that can save your bacon.  And beans.  And everything else.  You can freeze most things.  If you find a really great deal on some chicken, it makes sense to buy a little extra and put what you’re not going to use right away into the deep freeze for another day.  Freezers are pretty inexpensive and run more efficiently than most refrigerators.  Check craigslist or freecycle.  You can get a great deal.  Even our chest freezer from the 80′s runs more efficiently than our fridge did.  We have two.  Both were given to us; hand me downs from relatives.

Joining a CSA.  Community Supported Agriculture, where you buy a “share” of a farm’s predicted crop before it is even planted.  You and the other CSA members front money for a farmer to plant and then, along with the farmer, share in the risks and rewards of the weather.  In my experience, this is an incredible investment.  The farm we’ve been with for the last five years has never had a bad year.  Of course you are betting on nature, a crop might be totally wrecked by hail.  But you are also sharing in the reward when things are good.  Some are bumper years for bell peppers or corn, while the beans didn’t make it.  But we always get WAY more than we paid for.  Local and organic.  Our CSA also sells optional shares of fruit, honey, eggs and meat.

Oh, and when you are getting way more than you can eat in a week, you can put the surplus in your freezer for the winter.  January is the time to call CSA farms.  Farms are filling memberships as I type this, so check around.  Some farmers will even work out a payment schedule with you if the fee is too much for you to pay all at once.

Hunting or buying meat in bulk.  Both of these methods do the same thing; receiving a whole animal at one time.  You better have a freezer first.  When we bought a hog a couple years ago we paid about $400 for the whole animal.  This worked out to about $1.33 a pound for bacon, hams, pork chops, shoulder roasts, pork loin, lard, everything.

Hunting requires a skill set, equipment, time and licenses.  It’s not complicated, but you will need to attend a hunter’s safety course and get access to land (and a gun) in the fall.  The cost is slightly harder to figure, but not counting the gun my husband already owns to hunt with, we spent about $360 on licenses and gasoline for various hunting trips.  We have an entire elk in the freezer to show for it.  Roughly $1.44 per pound of lean red meat, said and done.  Some years, it’s much less expensive, depending on success rates.  And some years, we’ve gotten nothing.

For either meat option, now is a good time to look into it.  Local farmers and ranchers are taking orders, and you need to buy hunting licenses in advance (April here in Colorado).

While I’m talking about buying in bulk, I’d also like to mention that once a year we drive to an orchard to pick peaches.  It’s a far drive, to the western slope, so we make it count.  We spend about $400 on 300 pounds of peaches, including gas.  We race home with the A/C blasting and then spend the next week slicing and preserving peaches.  The majority of them get frozen, though we jam and can some too.  But these peaches last us a whole year.  So investigate local U-Pick farms.  We do the same on a smaller scale for berries and cherries.

Things that everyone can do now:

Make a meal plan for the week.  I used to plan a month’s worth of meals at a time, but that can be daunting, and over time I’ve realized that weekly works better for us.

Plan meals that are in season.  This is easy with a CSA.  Apples are least expensive in the fall, strawberries are cheapest in the spring.  If you want asparagus in August, you’re going to pay a lot for it at the market (and it won’t taste all that great).   This puts us eating things that are in season the majority of the time.  In season means relatively inexpensive.  We pretty much don’t eat bananas.

Use up what you have.  Until you get into the habit, it’s easy to keep ignoring the beans in the back of the pantry or the sausage in the bottom of the freezer.  Get into the habit of planning meals the use what you’ve already purchased.  You’ll spend less at the grocery if you aren’t buying what you already have.

Plan to eat less meat.  Meat costs more than other forms of protein.  Use meat more like a side dish.  Try adding one more vegetarian meal to your menu per week than you normally make.  Try making chili with black beans or stir fry with eggs.  Over the last few years we went from eating meat at dinner every night to eating meat only three – four times a week.

From your meal plan, make a grocery list.  And stick to it. This keeps me from impulse buying.  Also, it cuts down on incidental/emergency trips to the store which end up costing a lot more over time.

If the store that I’m going to has a double ad day, I’ll go on that day, but I don’t usually plan my meals around the ads.  I just figure if I go on that day I double my chances of finding things on sale.

I don’t use coupons at all.  There are never any coupons for bulk rice or apples or pork loin.  I can’t recall seeing one for milk.  Coupons usually make me feel compelled to buy things that I would not normally put on my list.  They are always for things in boxes or bags, things with weird ingredients.  Things that are processed and full of chemicals…

Buy whole foods. Processed foods are expensive.  Potato chips cost more than potatoes.  Rice-a-Roni costs more than rice.  Pasta and milk is cheaper than a package of noodles with a powdered sauce.  Not to mention a billion times better for you.

Buy foods from the bulk bins.  When you buy a pound of rice or oatmeal in a box or bag, guess what.  You care paying for that box.  And for the marketing of that box.  It’s much less expensive to buy oats from the bulk bin.  There is no packaging to pay for.  No labels, no marketing, and no weird ingredients.  And if you buy or make your own reusable bags, there is no waste either.

There you have it.  Those are my big tips for saving money on food.  Between the meat in the freezer, the vegetables from the garden and the CSA, and eggs from the chickens, there are times I can spend $30 at the store for the week.  All I’m buying at that point is dairy and grains.  But it takes time to get to that point.  And I’ve already invested money up front.

What does your family do?

Categories: CSA, Food, Hunting, Menu Planning, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

UH Budgeting Boot Camp: Building a (Food) Budget

Seeds, plants and soil all cost money, building a coop does too and those canning jars don’t come cheap.  But we urban homesteaders feel it’s worth it.  We are in it for the food.  So we have to find a way to make it work.  How do we eat well without breaking the bank?

This week we’re going to talk about budgeting, particularly budgeting for food and how to eat sustainably.  It’s not the funnest skill for me, but it is an essential one.  We could not do the things we do around our urban homestead without it.

When Rick and I started this journey, we had just had a baby and I decided to stay home with him, cutting our income in half.  We thought we’d be ok financially, but I had to get my appendix removed three weeks after H was born and medical bills ate through our savings.  Soon we were using a credit card to make ends meet.  And then one month we couldn’t pay off the balance.  And the debt racked up faster than we could have imagined.

Eventually, we cancelled the credit cards and started trying to get it under control.  But there were months where we were looking at choosing between gas and groceries.  Now, when I hear people talk about being “broke,” I think about those times.  The only way we made it through, all the while feeding ourselves, was budgeting.

Budget is a four letter word for many people (often those four letters are D-E-B-T).  But I have really come to understand that a workable budget is the only way to survive.  I’m not a natural budgeter.  I’m much more of an instant gratification person.  And people like me often have a hard time sticking to a budget.  I have a really hard time keeping the willpower up for an entire month (or few months), and tend to want to reward myself for being so good all month long by blowing my money on something silly.  I know I’m not alone.  It really helps me to trick my brain into doing some sort of project or challenge that is a budget in disguise.

One things that really helped me during that dark time of choosing between food and fuel was Crunchy Chicken’s Sustainable Food Budget Challenge in 2009.  The idea was to see if it was possible to eat sustainably on a food stamp budget.  I was successful at the challenge, but at the end of it I noted that,

I don’t know if this would actually be possible on food stamps because the majority of our savings came from food saved from the CSA last summer, the hog we bought whole last fall, things we saved our money up for so that we could have a year of sustainable eating on our tight budget. That and two years of practice at cutting the grocery bill each week a bit more, while still making fresh meals for my family.  Things like eating out, coffee shops, and convenience foods have not been in the budget for a long time.

That’s right I had already been at it for two years, and I had some secret weapons up my sleeve; a whole hog and a CSA membership.  So in talking about budgets, I’m also going to tout the benefits of joining a community supported agriculture farm.  I am not exaggerating when I say that this one thing saved us.  Seriously.

More on that in soon, but first, how do you make a budget?  There’s a lot of places online you can learn to do this.  Just find something that works for you without too much brain damage.

I am NOT an expert, this is just what we do.  I start by writing down on a piece of paper our income and all of our expenses.  My husband gets paid weekly, so I do the math and figure his income for the month.  Then I list out each bill we have.  I know financial experty people tell you to save money and pay yourself first.  That’s all good and fine, if you can do it;  if you can, you should, but for about five years, we couldn’t.  Anyway, I deduct the expenses from the income.  The rest of the money that is not going to a bill is what we have left to split between food, gas and whatever else you like to spend your money on.  Hopefully, you can save a bit too.

I try to be realistic about what we need to spend for each category.  Using a computer program for this really helps (like Quicken or Quick Books or whatever) that allows you to see how you’ve been spending in the past.  I might try to trim down certain things, like eating out, but I’ve learned that I need to leave us a little wiggle room.  A budget is not a diet.  You can’t go into it thinking about what you are depriving yourself from or you surely won’t stick to it.  Also, it is not permanent.  It can change month-to-month until you figure out what works for you and your family.  Lately, I’ve been using Erica’s Budget Fun Cards, because I like checking boxes.

The savings is key for us.  We don’t have much cushion built up yet as we’re fresh off of paying off those rotten credit cards and still are working on knocking out Rick’s student loans.  But we try to set aside a little every month to pay for some seemingly big-ticket items, which in reality save us lots of money.  Once we have a number for what we want to spend on food every month, we have a starting point.  I don’t follow all the experts that say your food should only be 5% of your budget.  Honestly, that is ridiculous.

Our food is easily our largest expenditure after our mortgage.  But we have ways of keeping the month-to-month food bill manageable.  Things like buying meat in bulk, the CSA membership and buying 300 pounds of peaches are financially tough to swallow all at once, but saves big time in the long run.  Those bulk items pay off in spades, particularly in lean financial times.

Tomorrow, I’m talking money savings in the food budget department.  In the mean time, do you budget?  Do you buy in bulk or have tips for saving on the food bill?  What questions do you have about eating well on a budget?

Categories: CSA, Food, Simple Living, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

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