Monday, January 12, 2015

How my family has lived off of $500 a week for an entire year: (Part Three: Our FOOD budget)

Welcome back to our series on how we have lived off $500 a week for one year. I'm glad you could join us. Part three is my food budget. I do include eating out in this budget because let's face still EAT it. It's part entertainment, but if I don't cook at home, I have to eat somewhere. So read on and let me know if you have any questions.

Our food budget is like a lot of frugal moms in blog land out there. (Personally I love Money Saving Mom.) My grocery budget varies from month to month depending on what I can find on sale but I do try to keep it under $400 a month for a family of four. This price DOES INCLUDE paper products, cleaning products and personal products unlike some other families you see on blog land. I generally try to make things from scratch. I have a few frugal mixes like a pancake mix and a hot roll mix that I use on a regular basis. I try to buy meat when it’s on sale or at a discounted price. I buy pantry items on bogo (buy one get one), by couponing, on discount/clearance or I get them at one of my trusted mark down places.

We try to visit one of our local farmers markets about once a month, but I will also compare with grocery store prices. Sometimes on produce, the grocery store IS the best price and they seem to keep them at better temperatures ensuring each item is fresh when you buy it. We did try to garden one year, but planting heirloom seeds in Florida was not good. The weather killed off half the crop and the bugs got the rest. I think I got 10 peas and only a few herbs from it! This year I’m going to start slow with a few containers and a few plants to see which plants I can grow from the patio. We do know a couple of people near us that have their own gardens and sell the extra for really cheap prices. I have bought onions and potatoes for 25 cents a pound and received cabbage, oranges and onions for free just for asking. There are also two local honey places that sell their honey for average prices. Oh, and I can’t forget about some of the “U-pick” places. We had fun picking blueberries this year at Veterans Farm (picture below) and plan to return this summer for more!

So you are probably wondering where my “trusted mark down” places are located. In my town, I know which stores to go to and on what days/times to get some of the best deals. A few years ago, I bought the book “America’s Cheapest Family” by the Economides. It taught me some of the basics and gave a lot of illustrations on how their family of six was able to save on groceries. I took some ideas to heart and started to look around town to find out where I could get the cheapest prices.

One place I shop regularly is a salvage warehouse type store. Ok, I probably either sparked your interest or you just wrote my blog off......LOL. I remember when I was little, my father and I would love to go to bargain stores and thrift stores to see what treasures lie around. We would always go to one near the beaches. This store had “salvage” food such as dented cans, cleaners that had leakage and other partially “damaged” goods. My father would tell me, “We don’t buy that stuff because it might make you sick!”. As a kid, I listened and never thought anything about it. But now that my family wants to keep a lower budget, I frequent a salvage store. HOWEVER, that being said…I have a few rules about what I buy and don’t buy. I rarely buy an item where the date has passed. I don’t buy dented or damaged food items. I inspect the item VERY carefully to ensure no seal has been broken and no bugs are in that package. I also DO NOT BUY flour, grains, pasta, rice or cereal from these stores. So what do I buy? I have bought organic dairy products for $1.50 a half gallon! I have bought 5 pounds of shredded cheese (frozen) for $10. I have bought organic coffee for $3.50 a brick. I buy Kerig cups for $5 each and organic deodorant for $1 each! This is one of the only places I can buy my organic products and still afford them. The downside is that items come and go. If you don’t buy it when you see it……the item will probably be gone when you come back. I also have to limit myself or I can spend more money stocking up on stuff I may not exactly need. I know when I find a deal it’s the lowest price and if I don’t buy it, someone else will! So now you know…my dirty little grocery saving secret is out..haha.

I also have found that some grocery stores don’t check dates quite as often as you think. I will sometimes browse around the dairy or meat aisle just to check dates. If I see one that is out of date (also called out of code), then I will ASK for the markdown. I have also made “deals” with the meat manager or dairy manager where I negotiate the price if I buy ALL of the markdown items. Once, I got 12 rotisserie chickens for $3 each because I bought all of them. When I came home, I baked two and froze the rest. Needless to say, you need room in your freezer to do this….so never ask this question unless you truly want ALL of the meat!

At two different stores, I am able to buy the end pieces of meat and cheese from the deli. They have mark down packages of the last “hunks” that cannot be put through the slicer for fear of slicing someone’s hand off! I buy them at really cheap prices, usually under $1 a pound! I can use chunks of roast beef for beef veggie soup or chunks of American cheese for making my copycat velveeta cheese sauce.

I ensure my freezer and pantry are stocked as much as I am able to at this time. This allows us to pull out items to make a meal rather than have the temptation to eat out. This also allows me to make a bigger meal and freeze the leftovers for another time without wasting them in the trashcan.

If we do eat out, our options right now are: a Kids eat FREE night, using coupons, eating at our church, and fast food. These options may not be the healthiest for our family right now, but it is a cheaper option. My husband and I are also trying to make date nights into coffee and dessert times. We do notice how prices are going up and now even a trip to a fast food joint can easily make us spend $20 without extras such as fancy drinks or upsizing.

Now, there is another equation to my budget and I will be totally honest. My family does not qualify for Federal Food assistance or "Food Stamps". Apparently for a family of four, they are now requiring that you make $400 or less a week!!! So we have never been on that type of assistance nor do we qualify. HOWEVER, living in the state of Florida with one child under age five, we do qualify for W.I.C. or Women, Infants, Children assistance through the Florida Department of Health. For more information to see if you qualify click here. This is only for CHILDREN under age five that qualify. It allows us to receive milk, Orange juice or juices, Cereal, Grits, Oatmeal, one dozen eggs, one pound of cheese, a 16 oz container of peanut butter, two pounds of grains, and eight dollars a month for fruits and veggies. It's not much. I think I calculated that it helped us with about $40 worth of groceries, if that. You are limited to buying their brands and the named products on your list. For the most part, these are what I would consider breakfast items. I will talk about getting the most out of these benefits in a later post but for now, this is the ONLY assistance we receive to help us keep on track.

I will say that GOD provides everything we need whether I am short one month or have extra to spend on groceries another month. Some have told me they don't feel like applying for Government assistance because they don't feel like that is trusting God. I really don't feel that way because I STILL trust God for everything. He helps me research and find the best deals to use what I have in my pantry and my freezer. He helps me find meat at discounted prices. He helps me in every way with my budget. Without him, I could do nothing. I will also point out that this last year...and some of this year to come is only a SEASON in my life. I do not "live" off government assistance. I will also challenge others and churches to help MORE. If we complain that people are "living" off the system....then we need to change that system by supporting and allowing the churches to give as they were originally set up to help the poor and those in need. And that is an area I want to help more with when our family ends our season and goes on to our next season.

Well time for me to sign off. I will have more on this series coming up...So come back....Sew Hungry For More!!! God Bless.