Healthy Budget

I’ve been tracking my two-person family’s spending for over 10 years, but I put blinders on when it came to actually LOOKING at my expenses and living within a budget. I was used to spending whatever was needed, especially for food.

July 2009 is when I started to eat much healthier, and the food expenses went up and up! As much as I tried, I couldn’t seem to make healthy choices without spending more.

It’s taken over 2 years, but I think I’ve finally come to grips with maintaining a healthy budget while eating healthy whole (sustainable and mostly local) foods! Who said it can’t be done!?

It’s in the Past

What’s in the past, is past. It’s time to move forward.

Below are my prior food expenses. Prior to my lifestyle change (2009), we ate out a lot. We moved into our new home at the end of 2006, and with a newly found love for cooking in my new kitchen, we ate at home more in 2007.

past expenses 2005-2007

In 2008, our dining out expenses climbed higher than ever; even though I was still cooking at home, there wasn’t much regard to healthy sustainable choices.

past expenses 2008-2010

Click the thumbnail for a larger view of my total spending for 2011 so far:
expenses 2011

Money Saving Tips

In autumn of 2011, I started to learn more about others living a frugal, self-sustaining lifestyle; it was something that really intrigued me. Then it progressed into learning as much as I could about budgeting and spending less on groceries and food.

The website 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget was a huge inspiration. I think that is what really got me started.

The largest influence came from the book Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family; what I learned helped me make serious changes to how I viewed the grocery store and shopping for food. No, I didn’t agree with everything in the book, especially their view on “cheap” food at any cost, but I took what I learned and applied it to eating healthy whole foods, including local foods.

  1. Only shop when necessary. Don’t go to the store for “just one thing” – make due with what you have in your pantry and fridge/freezer.
  2. Make extra portions to feed the freezer
  3. Plan your meals ahead of time – this is what I have the most difficulty with, and I hope to get better in 2012
  4. Make a grocery list and stick to it. I use the iPhone app Grocery IQ and it allows me to keep a specific grocery list and keep a running tally of my shopping cart, as well as what’s left to purchase.
  5. Don’t fall for impulse buys not on your official shopping list. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale or you have a coupon. It’s not a great deal if you don’t truly need it. A good tip I learned is to keep the item separated in the top part of your cart and at right before check-out, decide if it’s worth the extra cost to your expenses that week. I’m learning to be more honest with myself, really thinking about an item (even on my list) and deciding if I can do without. Can I wait until a future shopping trip to buy?
  6. Know your prices! I’ve started a detailed spreadsheet with pricing comparisons for several stores. I keep the list with me on my iPhone so I won’t make any mistakes when shopping. Some items are cheaper online and some are a better deal in bulk at Whole Foods. Then there is my newest find: Ocean State Job Lots. I’ve never ever shopped at discount-type stores for ANY food items, for fear of purchasing inferior quality products. But I’ve since changed my opinion when I found Ocean State Job Lots sells Bob’s Red Mill products. But their normal prices aren’t any better than some online stores, but when they have a sale, it’s a fantastic deal! It’s just another reason to know your prices! BTW, I’m sharing my pricing spreadsheet (pdf) online, if anyone is interested.
  7. Keep your food pantry and freezer organized, and know what you have in inventory so you won’t be buying extra of something you already have.

Budget Details (updated: December 31, 2011)

As of December 31, 2011, the two of us spent $7051 for all food expenses. In 2012, I hope that number will be down to $4800-$5000 instead.

So, I’ve set a food budget of $400-$500 per month, including vitamins/supplements, dining out, and entertaining. It will NOT include vacation dining out, but will include any other grocery food for vacation.

We are two adults, eating 3 meals per day.

I’m really shooting for $400 per month, but giving myself a break every once in awhile if more is needed. So far, I think it’s possible. Who knows, maybe some months it might even be possible to go lower! Wouldn’t that be divine?

Eating Local on a Budget

So, is it possible to eat a lot of local healthy food without spending a fortune? I’m hoping that I will be able to accomplish that during 2012!

No, I am not talking about 100% local. That’s not something I’m prepared to do at this point in New England. Grains, flours, olive oil, avocados, citrus, and nuts are all examples of items I’m not willing to compromise.

But local veggies are easy, especially in the warmer months! There are many farms (large and small) and farmers markets and I hope to expand my own veggie garden this summer. As long as I stick to my allotted monthly amount, I think I’ll do okay! In the colder months, I’ll be shopping more often at Whole Foods, and maybe next year, I might even dabble in canning preservation!

As for animal products, I have a couple of great resources for fresh eggs, as well as a reasonably priced local farm that sells meat: pork, beef, beefalo and poultry.

The meat farm is offering a 6 month CSA for $500, which will include an $80 monthly allowance of home-delivered frozen meat products of my own choice (December to May). I’ve paid them but will not apply the meat cost to my expenses until the product has been eaten. This way, I hope to extend usage of some of the meat into June or July.

A Year of Healthy Budget

So, this is my challenge. Keep to my budget and eat healthy mostly local food for at least the next year. November 2011 to October 2012 and (hopefully) beyond! Can I do it? Oh I really hope it works!

I don’t know if anyone else out there cares, but I will be posting regularly about the details; read along by checking for the $400 Healthy Budget tag. I’ve also joined the Project Food Budget challenge, which I hope will keep me a little more motivated to remain accountable.

Helpful Books and Web Sites

Project Food Budget: I’ve joined the Project Food Budget challenge, a group of bloggers trying to make ends meet with their food budget. If you’d like to participate, get the details and let Emily know you’re on board!

cut your grocery bill in half with americas cheapest family
Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

the locavore's handbook - eating local on a budget
The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget
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(original: Nov 25, 2011 updated: Dec 31, 2011)

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