For a very long time I have been a very frugal person. In the past I have always shopped primarily at thrift stores and garage sales. I got cheap haircuts. I scrimped and saved and bought in bulk where food was involved. Never paid full price for anything. Routinely said no to any extraneous wants or desires. I had all sorts of money saving ideas and plans that we actually followed through with. We lived on a very small income for many years.

I don’t know how or when it happened but somewhere along the line, in the past year or so I have really let myself slip. Some of the changes have actually been for the better and have improved my outlook on life and on my sense of individuality. However some of it is just pure laziness that has set in. It is easier to have my husband pick something up at the store down the street than to plan everything out ahead as I used to do. Additionally, I know that part of the problem… and this is me being completely honest with you all, I have inadvertantly adopted a bit of an entitlement mentality that has allowed me to justify some of these changes.

I have found that it is all too easy for me to use the fact that I am a busy Mom of four boys to be a dandy excuse for just about anything that I want to do or buy and the general public typically agrees with my excuse. I know this because I can’t set foot in a grocery store or restaurant without being declared a saint. Just today a man at the Farmer’s Market looked at me surrounded by my little flock and awarded me the Nobel Peace Prize on the spot told me that I deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. They might think they are being kind to me in telling me I deserve any special thing I do for myself but they are just enabling my current default setting, one which I am not too fond of.

I do not go out clothes shopping all of the time, maybe once or twice a year, and my haircuts still do only amount to about two a year. And to be honest I am quite prepared to continue allowing myself these infrequent moments of sanity and aloneness so that I can look and feel attractive. On the other hand, though being a mother is lots of work, the rewards don’t have to always be tangible pleasures like rose petal baths and “Me Moments” where I rediscover myself on a routine basis (though there is nothing wrong with a little escape now and then!) I’m not at all saying I shouldn’t allow myself a nice haircut and a few new items of clothing once a year… but just being who I am called to be shouldn’t be my excuse for say… not wanting to cook dinner or at least not wanting to think about it until the last possible minute. And that is where I know that I can quite easily cut costs, probably in a fairly substantial way, if I really give it my best effort.

I admit it, over the past several months I have really let meal planning and food budgets slip. Big time. It is time to start afresh with this and I need some rejuvination by way of good ideas from reputable sources (ie. you.)

What are some of your best budgeting tips? What are some of the best online sources you have found to help you get your food budget under control? Have you found a system or groove that has made meal planning, shopping and cutting grocery costs easier and… dare I ask… even fun? I never cheated in school but right now I am really wanting for someone to have already done all the homework on this… What I am looking for is a source for low cost, healthy meals, which includes not only variety so as not to make me want to drill a hole in my right temple and pour something corrosive into it but also shopping lists, recipes and a breakdown of how much money can be saved by sticking with it and keeping that belt tightened (and getting thinner due to healthier eating which makes the tightening of the belt a little less painful maybe!) Hee hee! Yah… I know I’m shooting for the moon here but does such an animal exist?

I might appear to some of you as someone who has it all together. I don’t at all. I struggle to maintain balance in all areas of life. I have weaknesses and strengths. I yell at my kids. I put off doing the dishes now and then (now being the operative word.) I know how easy it is to get a false image of people we look up to but don’t really know online. It’s much easier to appear polished in blogland than it is to say… actualy polish anything. So I am down here in Normal-land with the rest of you mothers. Gosh… after spilling my guts like this I hope the rest of you do live in Normal-land… otherwise I’m down here all alone and feeling quite vulnerable.

I’d love any and all advice on the subject of meal planning, money saving tips, domestic budgeting and all that stuff. I’ve heard of the Tightwad Gazette so that is going to be my first stop… Other than that… bring it on!

41 thoughts on “Tightening the Belt…

  1. From one Normal-land mom to another, I’m right there with ya girl! I’m hoping you get some amazing tips so I can use them too..lol I appreciate your honesty and candor, as we are all just a work in progress. I for one, am far from perfect, and could use a swift kick in the rear. Hang in there!!

  2. I know how you feel – I have 4 too – 2 of each though and I really struggle with keeping a budget! We live in Hawaii where it’s easy to blame it on Hawaii being expensive but it’s comparable to Ca or other places – I just spend too much! I agree with the other comment and hope you get some great comments so I can get some good ideas too πŸ™‚

  3. hey Nan….I actually felt better reading your post – I’ve been beating myself up lately that I too, have let some things slip. I’m not near as frugal with our grocery budget..and that’s just the beginnig of ways I’ve started to let thing slide. thanks for the reminder to get back up!

  4. Hillbillly Housewife.com has a great money saving web site.I also am on the forum that she links too. There are so very many frugal ladies on there.:blushing: to admit that I have slipped as well, but your entry has encouraged me to get back in the saddle.

  5. I just finished reading a very good book called America’s Cheapest Family by Annette and Steve Economides. They have a wonderful chapter on meal planning and food shopping. I’m not into the “once a month shopping” like they are, but I think I do pretty well. I do plan meals by the week, try to plan for leftovers, and I’m doing well on my food budget for this month.I made the food budget a game. This is what I have for the month ($500 for a family of 5 including a teenage boy; all 3 kids are home from school for the summer). That’s food, paper products, bird seed for my outdoor feeder and cleaning supplies. So far, even with a major splurge for Father’s Day dinner, I am under budget for the month.

  6. Nan…You’ve already seen my solution: I bought the farm πŸ˜‰ so it’s our own milk, our own eggs and our own produce but that’s not for frugality, it’s for food safety and local food. My off-the-farm food budget is totally out-of-whack but that’s a good topic for a post!

  7. Nan,Have I been there(actually am there, right now)! Moving a week ago is my excuse right now, but that can’t last much longer! I like http://www.menus4moms.com, but we eat very little beef, and sometimes I find these programs to be a little heavy on the meat. I have a cookbook I love called Saving Dinner, which helps you plan out each week with a shopping list included and it is organized by seasons with BBQ for summer and seasonal vegetables! The author also has a website http://www.savingdinner.com that has similar lists. Her menu lists are part of a paid subscription, but you can choose vegetarian, frugle, low-carb, cooking for two, etc. She has sample menus on her website, so you should check it out. I have never subscribed to the list, but I am devoted to her cookbook, and I have looked at her sample menus online. Her meals are great, because she doesn’t encourage the use of processed food.Good luck! I’m right there with you! And boy am I curious to see what others say!

  8. A friend told me about your blog when you were having the Apronpalooza (or however you say/spell it) and I’ve just stuck around. :-)I have 2 kids and we plan $300 for food/household supplies/paper products, etc and I CAN’T stay under budget. Grrr… So, I’m looking forward to good tips, too.I do plan my meals and try to only go to the store every 2 weeks, but that doesn’t always work… Thanks for opening this topic–I’ll stay tuned! πŸ™‚

  9. I did savingdinner.com for a while, too, and liked it. I just am not as good at trying new meals. There are a lot of new options, though, with so many menus to choose from now. I might have to go check that out again, too. Thanks, Jen. πŸ™‚

  10. I have a rotating menu plan. Its pretty loose…chicken on Monday, pasta on Tuesday, crockpot on Wednesday (out of the house day), etc. I get tired of eating the same dishes all the time so this loose guideline gives the flexibility to fix different things yet I have a plan.For saving money, check out http://www.grocergame.com. This is just the best thing ever. It is subscription based but I make the money back in one shopping trip. This is the only way our budget has survived a teenage boy!I’m sure you’ve heard of Dave Ramsey. We got out of debt using his plan and are currently coordinators at our church. I highly recommend taking Financial Peace University. Its fun, an evening out with your spouse and it will change your finances dramatically.

  11. I too am from the Apronalooza and have just stuck around πŸ™‚ I agree about the grocerygame.com! It is really great! In fact, I’ve written a couple of blogs about it, if you want to read them. I save sooo much money with that!! I also keep up a blog about deals, in case you ever feel like getting someone just for fun, but want it to be free or cheap. Right now there are a couple of ways to get free Shutterfly albums. That’s at http://screamindeals.blogspot.com. Good luck!

  12. I have tried grocerygame.com, too, and I saved a lot of money on paper products and things like toothbrushes, soap, etc. Another option is http://www.couponmom.com, which is free, although the savings aren’t quite as big as grocery game. Nan, I don’t know what they offer in Canada… these particular coupon programs are only offered in the US. Like Annie, planning has saved me the most money!

  13. Hello! I’m another one sticking around from Apronpalooza. I have to agree with Gina that Dave Ramsey has changed our lives. It’s not a quick fix kind of plan – it takes time – but it absolutely is the best thing we’ve ever done. As for grocery shopping, I try to keep it fun by buying a “treat” every trip. Sometimes this means getting the fancy bag of chips instead of the generic ones or picking up an exotic fruit that I’ve never had or choose hamburger buns from the deli area instead of the .99 bag. That one item will cost a little more but it makes all of the other cost cutter items not seem so mundane and gives me something to look forward to during the week.

  14. I am also around from apronpalooza… Great question. Wish I was better at it. Great deals can be found at http://wantnot.net all kinds of stuff on the blog there.I sent out a request for BASIC recipes to all of my friends and created a list – I keep it in my kitchen and pull it out when planning. It helps me just think of meals, as I hate everything that has to do with meal planning, cooking, cleaning…UGH!

  15. My first piece of advice – skip the Tightwad Gazette- she served her kids a half cup of pinto beans – cooked from dry – and a half cup of skim milk and called it lunch. Plus saves potato chip bags to turn inside out and wrap gifts. Um, who is eating the chips, may I ask? Buy the gift of a couple pieces of fruit for your kids and don’t wrap them. Now that that is off my chest…. don’t get discouraged by the books – it’s easy to get overwhelmed by too many changes. A couple of small money saving changes every week is a good habit. I always add an extra can of water to the frozen juice – nobody notices. I also never ever buy soda/pop/coke. Saves a TON of money.

  16. Hi Nan, wow, your post could have been about me! I like the website http://www.mealsmatter.com. It has lots of recipes plus a menu planning feature. Add the recipes you like (or your own recipes) to your menu plan and it allows you to easily print out a grocery list based on your recipes chosen. Nice! It makes meal planning a little easier. I always plan meals based on what is on sale that week. I recently learned that Walmart will match competitors’ advertised prices on grocery items. The items have to be the same and it is only for sale prices, not buy one get one free. That saved me almost $20 on my last shopping trip. Just take in the flyers from competing grocery stores.

  17. You all have had some great advice! Thank you so much! I’ll update as things improve…Oh and… potato chip bags as wrapping paper?!?! I think I’ll make a terrible tightwad! LOL I’ll settle for simple frugality… Tightwad might just be going too far. ;^P Thanks for that tip!

  18. to save on your food budget.. go eat at grandma’s house.I used to budget and buy bulk when the kids were small.Now I break out in a cold sweat when I enter the grocery store. I’m not kidding. My aunt Birdie (yes, that was her given name) told me once that she figured she would save money by just not eating. Then she said “with my luck, just about the time I grow accustomed to it, I’ll up and die.”

  19. I struggle big time in the frugality department; it seems I’m fighting upstream against a natural inclination as a spender. I’m enjoying reading everyone’s suggestions and comments. Best of luck on the belt tightening!BTW – I’ve tagged you for a meme if you are interested in playing along.

  20. ROFL Pamela! At 1800 miles away I think that would blow the budget pretty badly to go eat at Grandma’s very often! Though Grandma and Grandpa are graciously having us to their pad for a week and also paying for a week of family camp for all of us… (among other generous stuff…) I don’t think I could ask for anything more. :^D

  21. Let’s see…I do not have any children, but I am frugal with our grocery budget anyway. ($70 every two weeks; hubby takes his lunch to work and I work from home, so we eat most of our meals from this.) I save money on meat by purchasing it at our local meat market – it is cheaper and the quality is better. I only go to the meat market once a month and to the grocery store every two weeks. Fewer trips means less money spent and fewer impulse purchases. I also serve at least one or two vegetarian meals per week. I use coupons when I have them, stock up on nonperishable items when they are on sale, and I do not keep junk food around the house.Frugal cleaning tips: 50/50 vinegar and water mix in a spray bottle makes a fantastic window and miror cleaner…no streaks, ever. You can also save money on laundry soap by only using half the amount recommended on the bottle and substituting vinegar for the rest of the amount. Vinegar works both as a deodorizer and a fabric softener. I buy a good detergent (love Tide) and use one dryer sheet and my clothes never looked/smelled better. I pulled a towel out of the cabinet two weeks after it had been laundered and it still smelled like it came straight from the dryer.I hope some of these tips were helpful!

  22. I am SOOO in the same boat right now. Reading this post was like reading my own thoughts. I have tried subscription menu services at various times and liked them but they don’t save me as much money as planning my own menu with a rotating schedule. (Crockpot Day, Feast Day, Pizza Night etc…) I like the Tightwad Gazette books but it’s easy to get obsessive or feel guilty for not say…washing out and re-using your plastic baggies…:-) Just don’t let it run your life. My DH told me to stop and take a breath ! :-)About Apple computers…We LOVE our new imac! I know you’ll love yours. I can’t imagine ever going back to a pc…:-)

  23. Wow, thanks Nan. What a wake up for me. It is difficult to keep within any budget–whether $100 or $500. It just depends upon what you are used to. There are always ways to cut back. I used to be SOOOOO frugal. Triple coupons were HEAVEN for me. I haven’t clipped coupons in my youngest daughter’s lifetime!! It seems those things fly out the window when your life gets busy. I need to be a better steward and I will work on it. I am keeping a written log of my purchases (and my time!!–computer time is KILLING me) and it helps. I also need to eat in more–the fast food and restaurants are death to a budget and to healthy living. I would love to go to a Dave Ramsey seminar, too. I have heard him on the radio and he is inspired.Thanks so much for this blog entry! You have rejuvenated me!!!Jenn

  24. Thank you SO much for this post (and your honesty)…it’s refreshing to know that I’m not the only one struggling with maintaining a steady budget! Our family is just starting out…so any tips/words of wisdom on this topic would be greatly appreciated. I know that this year we’ve started making bi-monthly trips to Costco…and buying in bulk has helped us save a lot more than I ever imagined that it would. We make good use of our deep freezer and foodsaver, I break everything down to meals for two (It’s just my husband and I…our daughter is still nursing and just started on baby foods).

  25. I don’t have anything to offer, but good luck on this. Being on a budget is hard, I know. It’s even worse when you have to buy everything organic. Talk about a budget buster! Maybe next year I’ll get the garden started that I keep putting off until our house sells. sigh.

  26. Sounds like we’re all in the same boat. Meal planning definitely saves a lot of money for us, as does buying in bulk (if we’ll actually use all of it!), shopping at the local meat market, and freezing food. Do we do all of that on a regular basis? Um, no. But if we did, our food budget would be in great shape! One thing we’ve done recently to save money is to put our hot water heater on a timer. This way it does not turn on during the night when we don’t need hot water. It’s too recent to know how much money it saves us, but I’m guessing it will be a substantial savings on our gas bill.

  27. Nan, I want in normal-land. For me it is MILK. Never have enough in the house. So I go to the store for it and end upspending more than I should have. lolThanks for being honest. sarah

  28. First thank you for sharing so openly. I sat here eating Burger King while reading your post. The reason for Burger King tonight was simple lack of planning on my part. I’ve some how lost my way in the kitchen. Your post was the kind of 2×4 I needed! LOL Now I’m going to head over to my AllRecipes.com account and plan my menu for the next week. I highly recommend this website. There are more recipes there then you could imagine and the best part is you can save them to your own recipe box in your online account…then you can print out your shopping list. I love this! I tried the SavingDinner.com menu mailers and they were wonderful but couldn’t handle the “not knowing what everyone would actually eat” feeling week after week. So I went over to AllRecipes.com and found the convenience of a shopping list but ease of imputing meals I knew everyone would actually eat here. =)Best of luck to you…from Normaland…Blessings,Melissa

  29. I don’t have any ideas for you, but I have gotten really bad about sending Brian for takeout any time I’ve had a trying day…which, lately, with VBS, Emily’s dance recital, the house on the market, and several deadlines ahead of me has been quite often. We need to do what you’re doing, and I will be watching this thread and checking out some of the websites for more ideas!Thanks for putting yourself out there! I needed a little inspiration!

  30. I tell ya, the ‘prepare-ahead meal’ places around here are my life savers. I go in one Saturday a month, put together meals in huge freezer bags, tote them home in my cooler and stock pile my freezer for the next couple of weeks. Each morning I thaw whatever it is I decide to have for the day (throw it in the crock, etc.) and by 5:30 the witching hour doesn’t even bother me. Without this I tend to let meals, groceries, and budgeting fly out the door!!

  31. New to your site and probably late with this post, but thank you for your honesty! I, too, had prided myself on the way I kept our food budget, and toward the end of our home school year I really slipped off.I made quite a few recipes from PW’s site and Himself was so happy. It’s amazing how lately I am the MOST content when I am caring for my family . . . cooking, cleaning, laundry. When outside activities interfere with that, THEN the stress and discontent creeps in. I also did savingdinner.com for 2 years. I unsubscribed because I saved all the recipes and menu plans on my computer after I bought them. It WORKED so well! Note: The Frugal Menu mailer was OK, but I actually thought the Crock Cooker one saved me the most money.

  32. I for one, can make a budget all I want, but never stick to it. I WISH I could be a tightwad and save money. I really do. You know the book “Confessions of a Shopaholic”? TOTALLY written about me…though most of my purchases are for other people.Good luck with your quest…my food budget is next to nothing: best friend usually buys supper, so I buy cereal for breakfast and $2 weight watchers meals for lunch…

  33. Oh, I don’t have any advice for you, but I want to thank you for posting this. It is exactly what I needed after my meltdown yesterday when I assessed our tiny budget, our almost-drained savings, and how to move forward.I know this is my absolute WORST DOWNFALL because I seriously don’t know how to do it. I never learned, and it’s hard work. I was sitting here thinking I don’t even know where to start, and then I found your post. It’s encouraging in some twisted way.So, anyway, I hope people leave comments because I’m getting desperate.

  34. BULK STORE RULES: (Costco, Sam’s)1- Limit your trips. The more you go, the more you buy.2- Never take the kids.3- Shop strictly by a list. If it’s tempting but not on the list, don’t stick it in the cart. At the end of the store, if it’s worth it, you can go back for it.4- Something you don’t need is NEVER a good deal.OTHER RULES:1- Again, limit your trips to the grocery store.2- When something goes on sale, if you use it frequently, stock up. Keep your pantry well stocked at all times.3- Write down all the meals you make for a month. At the end of the month, you should have at least 10 or 15 meals to add to your permanent meal list. 4- I once heard of a lady who took pictures of meals or cut them out from magazines, and then posted them in her cupboard. Then she went there to decide what “looked” good for dinner.5- My saving grace? Plan your meal by 9, and get it started by noon. 6- Don’t watch TV, or let your kids watch much of it. The ads will kill you! Those fast food ads have more than once set me off track. I skip the dinner I was going to make and we eat out instead.At the end of the day, a website won’t save you. Re-learning that discipline will.BEST OF LUCK!

  35. Have any of you applied for WIC (Women, Infants and Children)? It’s through the U.S. government (sorry Canadians) but it allows you to buy the basics like milk, egg, cheese, juice, etc. It’s offered to most people just under the middle income bracket. Some people seem to thing it shameful to take the government up on programs they qualify for. I figure we pay taxes, so why not.

  36. Nan- I am way behind on my blog reading… There are some wonderful tips in these comments. I really need some help in this area, myself. Thanks for presenting such a good forum for sharing these ideas.

  37. So I feel a little silly commenting on this because I don’t do menu planning, and never have – but I know I should. I’ve come across some resources so I thought I’d share. http://www.menus4moms.com/ This website is supposed to be full of great recipes, shopping lists and all kinds of ideas. Also, joining in on the Menu Plan Monday at http://orgjunkie.blogspot.com could be a helpful accountability for you. Plus a great way for you to share your selected menu with the rest of us. Hope you find something that works for you, I think I’m almost ready to start menu planning. Maybe. πŸ˜‰

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