Dollars and Sense: Frugal Foodies

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Whether we are making healthier food choices, exercising more, or organizing our surroundings, a new year can be motivating. I personally love organizing. Chad and I just spent an afternoon completing our yearly budget overhaul. While certain larger expenses are easily spotted budget saboteurs, we fail to notice many of the little things.

The yearly budget often overlooks a few key areas, such as food waste. According to the American Chemistry Council, the average American household throws out just over $650 worth of food each year. I recognized that we can save money by committing to a few simple changes:


A List of Staples
I find it helpful to plan a half dozen meals in advance, purchasing grocery staples from a list. Then I am less likely to buy items that are never used and later thrown out. Also, included in this list are a couple quick meals.

Quick Meals
With our busy, modern lifestyle, take-out food has established a prominent role at meal time. To help reduce the need and cost of take out, we created a handful of easy recipes. For example, every fall I spend an afternoon and put up 10 lbs. of Italian meatballs. These make quick meals, ready from freezer to table in less than an hour. We pair them with vegetables, rice, and of course spaghetti night.

A New Spin on Pizza Night
Try purchasing less pizza and pair with a veggie and some fruit or make naan bread pizzas

The Charcuterie Board (That’s a fancy way of saying a meat and cheese tray)
With 30 minutes of slicing some meat, cheese, veggies, and opening a can of olives and sleeve of crackers or slices of baguette, you can enjoy a lovely, simple meal. We enjoy carrots, celery, and radishes paired with slices of prosciutto, adding a small bowl of black olives and a small chunk of goat cheese with herbs (Also a nice variation of date night).

Change your Way of Thinking
My grandfather was a Navy cook on the U.S.S. Virginia during WWI. As a result of his training, many of the family dinners handed down were rich and calorie laden, required to maintain energy through a hard day’s manual labor. Our modern tasks rarely require so many calories. Have you ever tried making dinner a lighter meal?

Left over Night
Take a night each week and consume what’s left in the fridge. To combat our waste of lettuce, we keep tortillas, a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of refried beans in the pantry. If the lettuce needs to go, we use up the lettuce, along with any extra cheese, hot sauce, sour cream (or none if we’re out) and make bean tacos.


By reducing waste, organizing your grocery list, and decluttering the fridge, you will have less stress, be more focused, and perhaps end up with a few dollars in your pocket.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading!


Dollars and Sense, Part II

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Happy 2016, Readers! It’s that time of year again when I don my financial cap. Chad and I began our journey into finance in the late 90s when Chad attended a course on budgeting and investing. Keeping close attention to our spending and saving has become a hobby of sorts. Earlier, I wrote about dating while on a budget and the modern piggy bank: Virtual envelopes. Recently, I noticed a few flaws in our finances while reviewing the previous year’s expenses.

Chad and I create a monthly budget spreadsheet every year and attempt to record all expenses (still working on that). Then in January, we review our budget and make necessary adjustments for the following year. While fully embracing my “budget nerd,” I noticed a flaw in our system: Large, once per year expenses.

While home and car insurance and property taxes were planned, many expenses throughout the year interfered with the budget: Snow plow services, senior pictures, garbage/recycling services, hay for the farm animals, car tags, etc. These bills ended up being paid at the cost of other things in our budget. Date Night is a big deal to me; losing a few to a budget error motivated me to improve our financial plan. That’s where the previous year’s budget sheets helped. I was able to see many expenses that did not fit in our regular budget, which month the expense was needed, and how much extra was needed for the future.

After some organizing, I formed a plan. Adding a line to our budget for Miscellaneous Expenses took care of many larger expenses (If you try this, be sure to record those miscellaneous expenses for future reference). However, some expenses exceeded that amount. We saved for larger bills by adding just a bit of extra money to the savings account where home and car expenses were paid.

Where will this extra money come from? Personally, I enjoy eating out, not just date night. While little money is spent (usually $5-10), the frequency adds up, so limiting the number of trips per month was a first step. I also admit that I bring home too many animals.  Can anyone recommend a support group?

Can your budget be modified? Morning coffee from Starbucks?  Are you expecting a tax refund? Adding that amount to savings could create extra funds for occasional expenses. On the other hand, if you’re receiving a tax refund, perhaps readjusting withholdings would create enough monthly income for a Miscellaneous Account. The government doesn’t need an interest free loan.

In closing, as Michelangelo said, “I am still learning.” Last year, I noticed we weren’t saving for our next vehicle. After a few adjustments, the Car Account is slowly on the way. I’m really hoping my car holds out for a couple more years! Between adding money to a Miscellaneous Account and setting a bit extra in savings, our finances are another step closer to where they need to be. Keeping a budget helps meet our needs and pursue a few wants.

Happy budgeting and thanks for reading!