Saturday, November 5, 2011

Grocery Challenge Update - Week 3

My goal of not spending more than $40 a week on groceries has been going somewhat well.  The somewhat has to do with this past week.  I did great at the store itself, but on Monday I realized I didn't have any candy for potential trick-or-treaters.  While I never get trick-or-treaters, I know I'll feel bad if someone does come by (and there are several kids in my building, so it's a possibility.)  What a mistake!  I ended up going when I was starving and that ... is never a good idea.  I spent as much on that trip as I did on the stock-up trip and for half as much food.  The deli counter and prepared foods are the enemy of any budget, I think.

I've also ordered out a couple time, which has been my own fault, and I will be reaping the consequences.  I'm sticking to Aldi this week and only getting what I absolutely positively NEED as I do not intend to transfer money out of my savings just to cover my poor habits.  I plan on spending less than $16 this week and hopefully that will tide me over (except for milk and a few veggies) until payday, which occurs mid-month.

All in all, I'm finding it easy to spend less than $40.  In fact, I have usually spent less than $35 on groceries (including papergoods) for me.  Whether or not it's feasible on a long-term, however, is the question.  And honestly, I'm not entirely sure.  To do it, I'll have to continue to coupon clip (which is fine!) and comparison shopping.  The big hurdle will be the mid-week trips which, if I'm serious about this, I need to cut out entirely unless it's an emergency.  Oh, and not go when I'm hungry.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Grocery Challenge: Week 1

This week, in preparation of not spending more than $40, I did a good bit of comparison shopping.  I went onto the websites for my two preferred grocery stores (Giant and Wegman's), CVS, Target and Walmart.  The latter two didn't net me much information grocery-wise, as the prices online are not applicable at my local store.  The first three, however, were a goldmine of information.  (And I am keeping the inserts for Target and Walmart from the paper I bought today!)  I even figured out how much more it would be to go to the cheaper grocery store (Wegman's) that is 20 miles from my house.  (I'd need to save $4.39 in groceries to make the extra miles worth it, gas-wise.)

I downloaded three separate coupon apps onto my phone (Android), as well as a spreadsheet onto my laptop that helps in figuring out how much I will spend.   I was prepared to spend $29.95 before tax.  I had input the prices I was willing to spend into my grocery list app as well, so I was ready!

Since most of what I needed was fresh produce, I didn't end up using any coupons this week, so I didn't take them with me.  That was a mistake!  I had a coupon for free eggs if I bought 2 packages of a certain brand of tomatoes, and lo and behold, I think those tomatoes were BOGO.  I might go back!

Despite a few things that didn't go as planned, I am pretty pleased with my trip to Giant. I didn't end up getting bagels because they were .80 more than I had anticipated (glad I had my list of prices on my phone!), but I did end up buying a pound of lentils that wasn't planned since my 'special rewards' indicated I would get .25 off any bag of dried beans, which I can always use.  My grocery store has those nifty scanners you take around with you as you shop so you can keep a running tally!  Sometimes special coupons will pop up for your trip and while most of it's stuff I don't buy, I have received a few good deals!  I just need to remember to check for it in the future when it pops up on the barcode scanner.

I also bought the newspaper since it was a double coupon issue - woot!  I am sure that my savings will more than make up for spending $3 that I didn't anticipate.

With my scanner coupon, getting $.05 back for each bag I brought with me, I spent a grand total of $29.05!  I have plenty to eat for this next week (and beyond) and I even got a treat for myself - apple cider.

I think that I just might be able to do this ...

What are your tips for keeping your grocery shopping trip to your budget?  Does your grocery store give special extras like barcode scanner gun coupons or cents off a gallon of gas?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Grocery Challenge

Well, it has come to my attention - mostly through my own looking at how much I'm spending per month and comparing it to frugal bloggers like No Debt MBA and Money Saving Mom (even though I'm not a mom) - that I spend way way way too much on groceries.  And that's not even counting what I spend when I eat out.

I am single.  I have two rabbits.  There is no need for me to be spending upwards of $200 - at a minimum - a month on groceries.  None.  Absolutely none.

How do I know this?  Well, for one, No Debt MBA spends $25 a week for her and her SO.  That's half of what I was budgeting for one person (and I wasn't being very good at staying within my budget, in all honesty.) Half.

Secondly, I don't need to.  This week was a tight one for me as I came up on paycheck day.  I had a few un-planned (and unplannable) hits to my budget this month and I didn't want to take anything more out of my savings account.  So I didn't, and this past week I've eaten what I have.  I spent a little less than $10 at the grocery store last week because of it.

Therefore, I am giving myself a grocery challenge.  With some other unexpected expenses cropping up this month - and there being five weeks between now and when I get paid again - I'm going to have to stick to a budget this month.  I am letting myself spend $40 a week on groceries.  Yes, that's still a good bit more than a lot of other people, but if I can lessen it month-by-month it won't seem like such a drastic change.

So here are a few rules for myself:

1. Don't spend more than $40 a week on groceries - this includes paper goods and toiletries.
2. Shop around for the best prices.  I downloaded 3 apps onto my phone to help with this, though I don't know if any of them will be useful at all.
3. Eat what's in the freezer!  I've got a lot of stuff pre-made that I should eat.
4. Use what's in the pantry.  There's plenty for several meals in there.  (I should take a picture of this, once I organize it...)
5. Buy toiletries and paper goods at CVS/Target/Aldi.  Use CVS Extra Bucks to pay for these items as much as possible.

I think those are good goals for the first month.  We'll see what happens and how well I stick to it!  I'm going grocery shopping on Sunday, so I'll let you know what my totals are!

Do you have a grocery budget?  How do you stay within budget - meal planning, couponing?

Monday, May 24, 2010

My garden - it is a-growin'!

Well, my garden is growing away, which I'm quite pleased with.  I even have two yellow boy tomatoes tomatoing (yes, that is a word ... at least it is now.)  Some of the leaves of that plant are turning yellow, though, and I can't determine if it's not enough sun or too much water.  We had a big rain yesterday and it got a drenching.  I think I'll let it dry out a bit and see if that helps (I also just added some organic fertilizer.)

That's the Yellow Boy on the left with the Riesentraube cherry tomato right next to it.  A pathetic and gangly lettuce is next and then my perennial failure: rosemary.  Bought a start last year and killed it, got a plant for Christmas last year and killed it, and these were cuttings.  They are dead.  I don't think I'm destined to grow rosemary. I've got several basil plants in the rust colored planter that are doing well.  Basil, at least, doesn't hate me!

You can see two of the basil (a LOT more of my basil seeds germinated than I intended, so lots of fresh basil this summer and then some yummy pesto in the fall.  Mmmm.   Next to the basil is my cilantro, which I grew from seeds.  I'm really proud of the cilantro, actually, as it's my bunnies' preferred green and it's so darned expensive if purchased at the store (and never lasts very long, either!)  I've got a hanging pot full of it (along with a volunteer basil which apparently came from last year's basil bolting as it's a different type than this year's). 

These are two of the Thai Striped White Eggplant that were free seeds from the seed company.  I wasn't so sure they'd survive at first, and I don't think they're going to get enough direct sunlight, but there wasn't really any reason not to plant them.  The leaves have a bit of fuzziness - less than an African Violet, but almost the same texture.  It's very interesting and I'm anxious to see how they turn out.  As I've never had this type of eggplant, I'm curious how it'll look and taste!

My Sugar Snap Snow Peas are growing gangbusters!  They're already outgrowing the trellises I bought the other weekend at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, so I don't quite know what I'm going to do next.   Down at the bottom there's the beans - not sure if they're the blue lake bush or the golden wax, as I forget what I planted where.  It'll be fun to find out, though!

In other garden-y news, my garlic seems to be doing well, but the lack of 100% direct sunlight may hurt my crop.  If I even get one bulb, I'll be tickled, honestly.  There's only so much a girl can do with a teeny porch, after all!  My sage is growing well, too, and I have new tenants.

If you recall from last year, I was slightly concerned (okay more than slightly when they swooped down near my head) by the barn swallows that took up residence on my porch.  Well, they returned this year, and after a few days of discouragement, I gave in and admitted that Mother Nature had won.  Barn Swallows: 1, BunnyChick: 0.

Things were going along fairly well for several days.  They remembered their part of the bargain - don't kill me - and I remembered mine - don't bother them.  It was working out well.  Imagine my surprise when I go out one morning to water the plants and I find, not my friends the barn swallows, but rather two mourning doves, who had built their nest on TOP of the mud nest of the barn swallows.  For those who aren't familiar, mourning doves are a great deal bigger than barn swallows.  And they've got beady eyes.  It seems like the swallows gave the doves the low down on the Do Not Kill The Human agreement, but I'm still wary.  f

And sad to say, I miss my barn swallows. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Joy of Budgeting

This past month is the first month that I've ever really given myself a firm budget and stuck to it. I downloaded a 'Personal Monthly Budget' from MS Excel, input all the necessary information (including taxes, health insurance premiums, car insurance premiums, etc.) and knew exactly how much I'd have leftover. I then used that 'leftover' money to pay down my debt. I am happy to report that I have paid off my credit card this month (just the interest charges from last month - a total of $6) and my student loan (7 months early)! Next month, I'll also pay off the bed that I financed, so other than my house, I'll be debt-free. After that, the plan is to build up my emergency fund. (The concept for this type of budget and the impetus to actually pay off my bills early despite the twitching it caused when I wrote big checks is credited to Dave Ramsey. If you're interested in budgeting and paying off debt, I highly suggest checking out his Baby Steps, either on his website or by borrowing one of his books from the library.)

One of the best things I did last month was to open a savings account. I've learned that if the money is in my checking account, I will spend it. I now have a modest emergency fund that I will be paying into for the next year or so in order to get the 6 months of expenses that experts recommend. I've also consulted a financial advisor to see about putting my emergency fund into a money market account. I'll likely keep what's in my savings account there, as I like the ability to just transfer it into my checking account for a small emergency (and wanting to buy a new television is NOT an emergency), but for the main part of it, it'd be nice to get more interest than .05%. Yes, that's five hundredths of a percent. I earned a whole $.04 last month. At that rate, I'll be a millionaire ... never. ;)

It's amazing how much more in control I feel because of the budget. I know what I'm spending, how much I can spend, and if I buy something not in the budget (as in the case of a book I've been waiting for for months), it has to come from somewhere else (in this case, it ate into - forgive the pun - my food budget a little.) Now, it's not to say that seeing I had exactly $12.93 in my checking account for a good week before I got paid didn't make me begin to panic. However, it did make me realize that I can't go out and spend whenever I want. What a concept, right?

Overall, I have to say budgeting has made me a much calmer person (except for the mistake I made for counting one receipt twice which threw off the totals!). I don't know why I kicked and screamed for so long about having a formal budget. I was always okay with 'If I have enough in the checking account to cover it all, then I'm good' method of budgeting. And while that's fine and good for some people, it's not enough for me. It ignores one very important facet: it doesn't allow me to become financially independent with savings and retirement accounts. Budgeting will allow me to build my savings and eventually contribute more to my retirement savings.

I like that.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Garden Update

Thanks to the lovely (and sometimes terribly hot) weather we've been having lately, my garden is doing extremely well. In a few months, I'll have a nice crop of sugar snap peas, yellow wax beans, green beans, tomatoes, eggplant and lots of yummy herbs!

To the left are a basil plant (far left) and two Riesentraube tomato plants. For a while there, I really didn't think any of the tomatoes had sprouted, but 2 out of 4 ended up producing and one of those little tubes has two plants in it. I know I should be thinning them out, but I feel guilty for killing one of the poor things. We'll see how well they grow and if I can transplant them separately. I've two more basil seedlings that are in various stages of growth. I've never started basil from seed before, so it's a learning process (as are the tomatoes).

My mom also gifted me with a Lemon Boy hybrid tomato plant for Easter. It already has flowers on it - 3 so far - and while I was off this past week, I moved it around my little porch so it would get maximum sun. I can't do that now that I'm back at work, but if it keeps growing as it is, then it'll be producing before too long. Pity it's a hybrid, though. I don't think it'll reproduce itself if I save the seeds (though if I'm wrong, please tell me!) That doesn't mean I won't try, though.

A few of my lettuce seeds (which I purchased last year but did not plant as I also bought starts at my local organic farm) have come up. Just like the poor tomatoes, I can't bear to thin them. I tried transplanting two, to moderate success. One died, the other seems to be doing alright. We'll see how it goes.

My peas are doing absolutely brilliantly, though. I put my makeshift (and extremely homemade) trellis over it (with duct tape, no less, to hold it in place) and one intrepid plant is already wrapping around it. The other two aren't tall enough to do so yet.

Both sets of beans are coming up, and the garlic is doing quite well, too. I have high hopes that it'll actually produce bulbs this year, with consistent watering and enough sun. Cilantro is actually beginning to look like cilantro, too! Woot! I will have to bite the bullet and thin the parsley, though, as I clearly overseeded it and there are a ton of seedlings sprouting. I'll do that next weekend, I think. The eggplant is one little sprout, so my fingers are crossed that it'll grow and produce. (Is now the time to admit I've never, actually, tasted eggplant?)

All in all, my garden is doing quite well for almost mid-April. How about yours?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Garlic, Budgeting, and Meal Planning

So last weekend, I finally got my seeds planted. So far, no signs of germination, but that's normal. I planted cilantro, basil, tomatoes, and soapwort in small containers. The parsley went in the hanging tub, to keep it from taking over, and the peas are supposed to be directly sown, so I put them in one of the big tubs. I'm waiting on the beans, as they're supposed to be directly sown, once chance of frost is past. Since it's getting below freezing tonight (have to bring my parsley pot in), it was a good choice to wait on those. Perhaps next weekend, when it will (hopefully) be warmer.

The little brown things in the middle are toilet paper rolls. I wish I could say I thought of it myself, but alas, like most good ideas, I got it from another blog. The trick is keeping the soil moist. I expect when I finally do get to planting them (four tomatoes and a basil, hopefully), the paper itself will be pushed aside by roots and eventually biodegrate into the potting soil. At least that's the plan, anyway. Not sure how it'll work, though, since I don't plant in the ground. Guess I'll find out!

In other news, the garlic I planted back in January or February (yes, I know, later than the winter equinox or sometime in November) is coming up! I hope it will be do better than last year's did (though I planted that set very late - May, I think.) Regardless, this time I'm more on the proverbial ball.

I'll also plant one or two of the eggplant seeds that I received free from the seed company. Admittedly, I'm not much of an eggplant fan (alright, I admit it, I haven't actually ever had eggplant). Hopefully having 'Thai White Ribbed Eggplant' will convert me.

In financial news, I've started a budget. I downloaded a 'Personal Monthly Budget' spreadsheet to use with Excel and I've now planned out my budget (loosely, since some months I'll need more gas or fewer groceries) for the next few months. I know when (when!) I'll have my credit card/student loan/other charged things paid off, and I know how much I'll start putting away in the savings account, which I've actually started! *gasp* Hopefully, I'll have several months' worth of expenses tucked away, with a bit of planning and not spending my extra on ordering out.

And that brings me to the fact that, along with the budget, I'm also doing meal planning. I went a bit off script today (getting fish tacos since I had $5 free, so my meal only cost me $2.33!), but the macaroni and cheese in my freezer will keep. So far, I'm really enjoying it. It's a weight off my shoulders not to have to wonder what I'll be having - or if I'll have everything I need. That was usually half the reason I would order in (the other being laziness).

So if anyone has any tips on gardening, budgeting, or meal plans, I'd love to hear them! :)