Grocery Spend Solution

For many years I have been regularly over-spending on the grocery budget. This has not mattered all that much as there has mostly been a generous amount of padding in other parts of the budget which has absorbed it. However, now I am living on a tiny income, and although I can still afford some extras, it means eating (literally) into my capital to exceed said tiny income. I really want to keep that for say, mending the house if bits of it fall down rather than frittering it away on groceries. I have resorted to a very handy, very basic method of accounting for grocery expenditure - I get it out of the bank in cash every week and keep it in a separate purse. This way I can't overspend. Well, I did for a couple of weeks, taking cash out of my other purse, but then I had to pay it back from next week's grocery money, which means this week I have about a third of the weekly grocery budget to spend.

What I am discovering is how very easy it is to over-spend. What I am finding useful about this approach is how careful and thoughtful I have to be about food, and how very little waste there will be, out of necessity rather than ethics! Necessity is somehow more compelling.. it is also truly the mother of invention. One of the big spendy items in our food budget has been buying things when people come to visit. This week we have had a family dinner which required producing a vegan dessert, and there was also going to include a dairy and gluten-free afternoon tea, but that was cancelled at the last minute. We also had friends over for dinner. These are the occasions when I would go out and buy because it would feel a bit hard to whip something up from what was on hand. But I managed all of those situations this week! I made a vegan apple cake with chia coconut pudding to go with, Rosy cooked up a chickpea and cabbage spicy thingy for the visitors, which was delicious and went perfectly with the home-grown purple potato spicy thingy that our lovely friends brought over, and I have one packet of gluten free crackers in the cupboard that I was going to serve with all the vegie sticks plus kale pesto from the garden for my gluten-free friend, but now will get time to practice that first which is probably just as well.

Again, we have had food turning up at our doorstep or free for the taking. Paul brought over a giant savoy cabbage last week that he couldn't use, that we have used up finally in the spicy cabbage concoction. Rosy has been making guacamole from avocados, and much to Posy's embarrassment I picked up an extra avocado from the car park at hockey, where clearly it had fallen out of some long-departed car. Posy is going to cease accompanying me anywhere, but the slightly bruised avo made extra guacamole to go with the spicy cabbage, win, win. The apples for the apple cake were the very last of the foraged road-side apples. Matt the builder brought me some of his home-made natural ferment apple cider which is very yum and Paul left us half a loaf of sourdough because he made two loaves. My dinner friends brought me some limes from their tree. Food also leaves the house - I took sourdough bread and pumpkin soup to a friend who has just moved into a new house, lemons up the road to the neighbour, vegie soup to Paul.

I have been very proud of the children. They have a habit of complaining that there is no food in the house, when it is actually full of food, just not easily consumed-with-no-effort food. This makes me feel bad and then I go out and buy snacks, which also makes me feel bad as they are inevitably wrapped in plastic, and full of undesirable ingredients from some far-flung part of the planet. This week Rosy has made roasted spicy chickpeas and kidney beans to snack on and made guacamole to dip crackers and vegies in. She spent an hour the other night cracking a bowl of our autumn foraged walnuts. Posy made chocolate syrup for chocolate milk and has been eating what is put in front of her, more-or-less without complaint. She even cut up some green beans to snack on.. so proud!

I have run out of my favourite rooibos tea because the wholefood shop is between shipments, so I have been working through the dozens of varieties still languishing here in the kitchen. I have gone through all the chai and vanilla tea, am now drinking one cup of black tea a day and then I am on to the herbal teas. So. many. herbal. teas. I am just going to put this out there - white tea with elderflower and apricot is nasty. Why is it that herbal teas smell so good, and then mostly taste the same, which is Not Nice? The only really drinkable herbal teas in my opinion are the old plain ones. Peppermint. Lemon and ginger. Chamomile. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how to dispose of the elderflower and apricot short of sneaking it into the compost?

So I am happy to date with my new plan of staying within the grocery budget, plus, as an added bonus, I am finding again and again that boundaries, limitations and straight-up necessity are truly a magical path straight to the heart of creativity and finding new ways to do things. I love it!


Bev said…
I do the same thing...I keep my food budget money in a separate purse which lives in the food shopping bag and never sees the inside of a non-food shop. It stems from the days when my husband was alive and we would put equal money into food and household expenses, so it made sense to keep it separate. We each kept personal budgets for our individual spending. Of course I overspend some weeks and then have to pay it back, but there are always 'light' weeks when that's possible. Living on a food budget forces me to only buy good foods and not rubbishy (nice) stuff like chips and sweets. Growing some of my own food helps tremendously, though....I would have to spend a lot more without what comes from the garden. Well done you; I don't know anyone else who budgets for food.
Jo said…
Bev, yes, I find that having limits prevents waste, as well as giving me a certain peace of mind - I know where my money is and how much of it is outgoing.. I have always had a food budget, but have rarely stuck to it, and I am finding that this is a surefire way to keep spending in check. And yes, no chips and sweets. I have a separate little treats fund from which come icecreams and sweet treats etc, but not very often. I do want the children to see these items as treats rather than food, hence, we don't get them during the grocery shop, and mostly they come from the girls' own allowances.
And I am hearing you on the garden. It is often a godsend, especially for things like greens which are so expensive in the shops and so easy to grow. And lemons. I was appalled when I noticed the price of lemons recently. I do need to maximise my vegie gardening this year. Again, coming up against actual limits is very motivating:)
Anonymous said…
I keep my grocery budget money in an envelope. This method has served me well, in keeping control of costs, and waste. As the cash disappears, creativity in the kitchen increases!
Patricia/ USA
simplelife said…
I've always had a grocery budget because 4 children, single income. I always work in cash because too easy to overspend.
I dislike food waste so I try really hard to use up everything and only buy what I know I can use. I don't always succeed, but I'm always trying.
I don't grow anything anymore though, possums and wallabies have broken me. Ringtail possums are even skinning my lemons while they hang on the tree.
I would love to grow greens, spinach etc because they are so expensive to buy and hard to find not in plastic bags.
You are doing a great job though, specially getting the kids on board. My kids always look in the pantry and say nothing to eat, only ingredients.
cheers Kate
Jo said…
Ooh, it looks like I am jumping on a popular bandwagon here!
Patricia, that is an excellent and true sentiment - As the cash disappears, creativity in the kitchen increases! - love it!

Kate, like you, I don't always succeed either, but I am hoping that the limits of cash will encourage me to waste less. Oh, the scourge of dear little fluffy wildlife friends. Paul has had to resort to an electric fence around the half tank that he uses to grow vegies. It seems criminal to me to have all that land and yet be unable to grow anything edible on it!!
I would like to make it clear that my girls still complain, it is just that lately they are being more proactive. I think that by telling them that there is no more grocery money this week I have spurred them into action, purely in self-defence! But please don't imagine that life here is ever like a scene from Little Women, because No.
Treaders said…
I have been using the cash envelope system since my husband left in 2010 and it is a godsend. I saw my parents do this so it wasn't difficult. That being said, my friend roared laughing when I told him exclaiming "but you have a Swiss bank account and you keep all that cash in a tin"! (I work in Switzerland so it's not one of THOSE kinds of Swiss bank accounts). Works for me though. Anna
simplelife said…
Oh Jo, now you've gone and shattered my little fantasy of your life. I'm joking. Truthfully I've had to work hard to remind myself that my family is actually quite "normal" and all these blogs and instagrammers that I follow probably aren't living the life the I imagine they are.
It is really hard having land and not being able to grow food everywhere. We have 5 acres and grow hardly anything edible, except rhubarb. I have a pear tree, 3 apple trees, nashi fruit, a plum tree and an apricot until it died and this year we got nothing from any of them, the possums on the other hand are looking very healthy and well fed! We don't have a dog anymore, hence the reason the wildlife has moved back in. I don't want to get another dog at the moment, so it seems I shall feed the critters.

cheers Kate
Hazel said…
I know Kate, I totally had Jo as Marmee with her girls being industrious in the kitchen or sitting quietly alternately sewing and gazing out of the window...
It's hard not to see everybody else's life as perfect and 'normal' online even when they're not trying to project that impression, so it's nigh on impossible when somebody is actively trying to sell an image. I posted a picture of elderflower fritters for breakfast on my facebook page the other day. Acquaintances now think I'm a domestic goddess. Obviously, I framed the picture so you couldn't see the rubbish on the work surface, I didn't mention 2 children had to be told for the tenth time to get up right now or we're eating them all, that one child and his sister bickered over who'd had the most or that the last lot of blossoms I'd picked wilted before I could make fritters...

I also get accused of buying ingredients not food, but all 3 of mine like cooking and baking so we're getting there. It's my husband who finds it the biggest challenge ;-)
simplelife said…
Don't even get me started on the next level challenges husband's present.
Seriously thanks for sharing hazel, it's lovely to not feel so alone.
Cheers Kate
Jo said…
Anna, that is hilarious! I am sure the Swiss are appalled that you are not taking advantage of their super efficient banking system. I am loving all these confessions of old fashioned grocery money stashed in envelopes and purses. I was introduced to this method by a friend who has envelopes for everything and is always swapping money between them so she has change. I thought it was very retrogressive until I actually tried it and now I am loving it. It is so easy to see how much money is left until the end of the week. Swiping a card doesn't give us any useful information about our limits for spending, which of course is why it is such a boon for retailers..

Kate, I walk a tricky line with blogging about family life. I don't own my kids or their stories and they don't want me to write about them particularly, unless I check with them first. And yet I would like to present an honest picture of our normal family life which is not in the least tidy, stress-free or conflict-free. I also want to draw boundaries around other relationships as well.. but how to present an honest picture without violating the family's personal space? I have been thinking about this recently and will continue to try and work out a way to do this differently, because, like you, I find it difficult to be faced with the perfect lives as lived by many on social media. It is so very, very seductive a temptation to present like that, because who doesn't want to be seen to be living a perfectly curated life? However recently a friend did note that what she sees on-line for me is pretty much what she sees in my life, which encouraged me no end:)

Hazel, I do love your picture of family life, priceless! I would like to assure you that my girls actually do sacrifice all their pocket money to buy me Christmas presents and they also hem sheets on a daily basis. Also I am pretty much Marmee's twin, especially the part where she never raises her voice :) xx
Hazel said…
See Jo, I knew it!

Kate, you're very welcome! You're very definitely not alone.

I do get the balance between reality and privacy. I know Amanda Soule on Soulemama is accused of portraying a sanitised image of daily life and she's admitted messy stuff does happen in their house but she deliberately doesn't blog about it for a variety of reasons. I respect that and understand that amongst other things a 12 year old does not want to know that the entire blogging world witnessed their toddler tantrums. However, I still stopped reading because it was too hard to keep reminding myself that her life wasn't perfect either. Some admission of chaos behind the scenes is reassuring (there don't need to be details) so keep going as you are Jo, honestly.

My food budgeting seems to mostly comprise me saying no a lot at the moment. Other family members have been resistant to the envelope system, but I think I may introduce it just for food at first and see how it goes. I think you're right, that watching the money disappear might be helpful! I'm trying to supplement by foraging and growing more but the weather has been really odd this year so it doesn't feel as though the garden is doing brilliantly so far. Hopefully it's all just late...
Jo said…
Hazel, thank you, as always for your well-considered thoughts.This is a tiny conversation on one of the outer galaxies of the internet, but I want it to be a truly useful one, both for me and all who read.
It is excruciatingly painful for me to expose myself 'out loud'. I think a lot of us grew up in a space where we were encouraged to put our shiny happy faces on for others to see. I have done the same for my children, and regret it now. Although they are tough and brave and luckily ignore a lot of what I do and say..
The carefully curated photos of my house? Well, I love them because I can almost convince myself that I am living that dream. It also comforts me a little because I can point to that and say, hey, there's me. And it's true for a tiny slice of my life, but not a lot of it. So... I know, I am going to stop now and write a blog post instead.
Re the cash grocery budget: oh, my goodness, watching the money disappear! Today Posy wanted chocolate and I showed her the pennies in the bottom of the purse. She made do with cake. Poor poppet!
I do love the challenge of making do with what's on hand. I actually really enjoy finding new ways to save on the food budget while still eating well.
My husband is like your girls and also often complains about the lack of food when it's simply a case of making something!!
As for the herbal teas I used up a heap of my not so great tasting ones by turning them into iced tea one summer and mixing with juice, sparkling water and fresh herbs.
Hazel said…
Laura, I love the idea of iced tea. I've got quite a few (nice) flowery herb teas that I never get round to drinking that I ought to use up, so I'll be doing that this summer, thanks!

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