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Friday, August 30, 2013

August grocery money journal (and some updates)

First the updates. So, we've received a few more bills now. The water bill, was bad, really bad. I am hoping it is just from filling the pool and watering some new shrubs over the summer. We've had a very dry summer (until yesterday, when it poured -- filled both rain barrels in 10 minutes). So, we are trying to conserve on water even more, and will see how the next bill turns out.

We received our natural gas bill yesterday, and again we are about $10/month below what we spent for the same time period last year. It's got to be washing in cold water and shorter showers.

I haven't received the electricity bill, but expect it next week sometime. Judging by the meter, we're doing great. Of course, I think my family is rather annoyed at me constantly asking, "do we really need to have all these lights on?" So, I've been unscrewing even more bulbs, just to help them out. Turning the lights on when one passes an electrical switch, seems to be a hard habit to break. I follow everyone around, turning off unused lights.

And we received the Visa statement. What a pleasant surprise, so very little on it. I've been staying out of the stores, even budget-friendly stores like Dollar Tree, I am avoiding, and when I really have a need, being careful to only buy what I came for.

I am doing a great job keeping clothing spending to a minimum. I made my stretchy black pants look very respectable, with a little taking in of the waist and legs. I repaired two more pairs of jeans for my daughters. I patched a couple of pairs of socks for my daughters, for them to try out. It's what I do with my own socks, when they get holey. I'm fine with them this way, but I want to make sure the girls are, before I patch a stack of them. Next up, one more pair of jeans to make not-so-obscene, and a bra to redo the band on. I spent a fair amount of time sewing this week. Just that kind of week. I made some gifts and repaired some clothing.

Gas for the cars -- this one we did awesome! Spent $10 on one car, and $15 on the other! Of course, both cars are very low, now. We'll fill up over the weekend. Even compared to last year, same month, we did great. I'm hoping this means that we won't need so much in the budget even during the school year. I'll be driving my daughters to the bus stop in the mornings, and they'll hitch a ride home with their dad, in the evenings.

My husband has picked up a few hours of part time work, in the same building where he is now working. But these hours are just temporary, and could go away in a couple of weeks. For now, it is giving us a little more time to see how well we can make it on a smaller income.

Groceries, we've done well this month. And our freezer and fridge are still well-stocked. The pantry now needs a few essentials. But hopefully shopping in September will be minimal, as well.

I got behind on many of my regular things, such as posting grocery spending journals, for June and July. At the end of July I was about $65 over budget, in total. That is mostly due to the foods I had to buy when on the strict elimination diet, to determine allergies/intolerances. I seem to be on an even keel right now, and can have most of the foods that I serve my family, at least in small amounts or with less frequency. And my spending can return to normal. (For 6 weeks, all I could eat was meat, fruits and veggies, and a tiny but of rice and millet. The meat is what became very expensive.)

The other change for us is a reduced budget. Our grocery budget has been cut to $170/month. Out of that will come the overage from June and July, as well as August's groceries.

My plan for this month is to curtail spending as much as possible, buying eggs, milk and extraordinary deals. I'll bank the remainder of the budget for stock-up sales later in fall.

We are mostly eating from the garden. I had a fabuloso lunch the other day. I made myself a black bean, brown rice, tomato, green onion, lettuce, cilantro, oregano, chili powder, wrap sandwich. I put all but the lettuce and tortilla in a bowl, and sprinkled with vinegar, oil, and a pinch of salt. Then spread the lettuce on the open tortilla, and piled the bean mixture on top, and rolled. It was so wonderful -- easily as good as, if not better than, Mucho Burrito. And it was under 10 cents!

I think we can continue eating mostly from the garden for another 2  1/2 months. We'll still have some garden produce available, just not as much. I am putting away as much as I can. We are fortunate, here, that our garden comes back in March, with watercress, sorrel, mustard greens, kale and chard. And by beginning seeds under lights in the house, I can get transplants ready and planted under row covers in early April. If we had more sunny spots in our yard, I could grow most of a year's produce here.

So, for spending this month. . .

Aug. 1. At Fred Meyer this morning. Checked the milk and found 4 gallons of skim milk marked down, at $1.98 each. I bought all 4. This will be a 2 week supply for our house, and the sell-by date isn't even until Aug. 18!

Driving home, passed Walgreen's. Eggs on sale for 99 cents/dozen. I only bought 2 dozen as we still have a couple dozen at home.

Total spent $9.90

Aug. 10. Have kept myself out of stores. Albertson's has medium eggs, limit 2 with coupon for 49 cents/dozen. I snatch up the very last 2 dozen.

Aug. 15. At Dollar Tree, needing soy milk. Buy 1 qt for $1. This will get me through the end of the month.

Stop in at Albertsons, they have a coupon for milk, including whole milk (what I use for yogurt-making), for $1.79/gallon, limit 2. Getting whole milk at this price is a deal! I'll be making yogurt later this week.

At Rite Aid and I see vegetable seeds marked down, 75% off. I buy carrot and snow pea seeds. I'll keep these in a jar in the fridge and plant in spring. Spent 93 cents.

Next to Rite Aid is QFC. I walk over and find 1% milk marked down to $2.18. A bit at my top end of my pricing, but I buy 2 gallons. This will be cooking and drinking milk for the next week and a half.

Total spent, month-to-date -- $20.75

Aug. 21-27. Albertsons has a coupon out for chicken hot dogs at 49 cents a package (12 oz), limit 2 w/ coupon. I manage to scrounge up a total of 5 coupons. Over the course of the week we used all 5 coupons, buying 10 packages of hot dogs at 49 cents/package. I'll freeze most of them, to use throughout the fall.

Total spent, month-to-date -- $25.61  and the fridge and freezer continue to look impossibly full.

Aug. 29. Need milk, again. Stop in at QFC, hoping for mark down milk. I find a lot of whole milk, but I just don't have much freezer space right now. And the price was not phenomenal -- $2.29/ gallon. That's on the high end for marked down milk, with just a week to the sell-by date. But I bought 2 gallons. That will last us about 8-10 days. Spent $4.58.

At Dollar Tree and bought 1 quart of soy milk. Spent $1.

It's the end of the month. We spent $31.19 on food this month. I am now completely out of whole wheat flour (used the last of it in Tuesday bread-baking of 5 loaves), almost out of cooking/salad oil (about 1/2 cup left), almost out of brown rice (1 meal left of rice), completely out of onions (except shallots, scallions and chives from the garden), nearly out of salt and popcorn, and always needing eggs and milk. Going into September, I'll have to buy most of these basic items, as well as supplies for making salsa and pickles. But I will try to curtail any non-essential grocery spending, to continue to save for fall stock-up sales.

I'll be pricing the institutional-size container of vegetable oil, and comparing to a gallon of oil. I bought one of these large containers of oil a few years ago, and saved a substantial amount per gallon this way. It was just cumbersome to decant into gallon jugs for everyday use. But I'm willing to try it again.

Our garden is doing well, and should provide us with ample produce for the entire month of September. I have 1 whole turkey in the freezer, several packages of Italian sausage, and all those hot dogs, for meat for the next 2 & 1/2 months (more than enough, as our meals feature beans several times per week).

I will likely spend more next month, but should still be able to keep spending under my budgeted amount of $170.

I'm so glad that it's the end of the month -- like a huge sigh of relief that we made it. I hope your budget was easy to deal with this month. If you're going through a tough financial time, as I am, right now, keep plugging away at all those frugal things -- comparing prices, making do, cutting back, mending/repairing, etc. And keep a record of all the ways you are saving money. I've been keeping a journal where I enter all the things I did in a day, to save some money. When I am feeling frazzled from the stress, or like I'm going through spending withdrawal, I make my day's entries into that journal. It's a way to pat myself on the back, and buoy my spirits through all this. Try it! You may be surprised by just how much you do in a day, and how much money you are saving!

Until next month -- August 2013's grocery money journal is now closed!


  1. Congrats, congrats, congrats -- you're doing phenomonally well with your new circumstances! And congratulations too on making it to the end of the month with very little money spent! It is amazing how much little changes add up. Regarding the industrial size container for oil, could it be possible to pour it into several more manageable containers? Wishing you continued success and an ongoing positive outlook!

    1. Hi Jayne,
      Thank you!
      The time we bought the 35 lb container of oil, I did decant it into gallon jugs. But it was the decanting that was so difficult for me. I'm going to compare prices, and if it's still considerably less in the large container, I'll try again. Maybe I can come up with a method for decanting that will work better.

  2. Do you recycle your water from dish washing and showerd for use inthe garden?

    1. Hi frugal spinster,
      Dish and vegetable rinsing, yes. Showers, no. But of course, all this is changeable. My biggest worry is we have an underground leak. If next bill comes back down to normal use, then I'll assume it was the pool fill-up and soaker hoses for the new plantings. I am planning on adding another couple of rain barrels. They're a big help.

  3. Amazing!!
    Curious, what type of flour do you buy for all your baking? I'm waffling between generic and King Arthur. I really like KA, but it's so expensive! Is it worth the expense? Sometimes I think so & sometimes not. I'd love your opinion.

    1. Hi Sharon,
      I buy flour at a restaurant supply, in 50 Lb sacks. For white flour, I buy a flour simply labeled "Hotel and Restaurant". It isn't pre-sifted, but is the least expensive all-purpose flour. For whole wheat, I buy whichever brand, that is stone-ground, that is least expensive. Sometimes that's Bob's Red Mill, sometimes another brand, with the name "Hi-Pro" on the label, out of Pendleton, OR. But I look for stone-ground, that's what matters to me.

      As far as King Arthur flour goes, if you are using only whole wheat flour in your baking, I think it's a very good flour. It has a high protein content, and the protein doesn't vary much from one milling to the next (thye pride themselves on consistency of ash and protein), so you'll have reliably good results..

      If blending it with all-purpose flour, then the KA may be more than you need. Some use the rule of thumb that if KA is more than 15% more than other brands of bread flour, then it's overpriced. I would just look for a good "bread" flour. If you have a Smart and Final, United Cash and Carry, or other restaurant/bakery supply, you'd be able to find an as good, or even better bread flour, for much less per pound.

    2. Thanks for the tips on KAF pricing!

  4. I continue to be amazed at the regional price differences of groceries. Yours are much cheaper than I can find here.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I think our prices must reflect living close to, but not in, a major city. Also, this is little known, but western Washington state has a lot of dairy farms. Just 20 minutes from me, there are several. We have a climate that is great for growing pastureland.

  5. Good for you for all your work! And I'm glad your husband could pick up a temporary job. A little extra income doesn't hurt!

    In regards to the question from Sharon about flour, I have found that generic white flour isn't as good as name brand, although I don't spend the money on KA, either. Generic white tends to clump up for me in quick breads--if I'm going to the work of baking from scratch, I definitely don't want nasty clumps. I've had good luck with Gold Medal.

    Why do you like stone ground WW flour?

    1. Hi Kris,
      Stone ground whole wheat retains more of the vitamins than steel roller milled flour. Steel rollers get quite hot, and B vitamins are susceptible to heat degradation. Whereas, stone burrs (even the newer synthetic stone burrs) remain cooler throughout the grinding process. And there's often more of a coarse wheat texture to stone ground, which I like in breads.

  6. Congratulations on doing so well :)

    I don't know if this is helpful, but a few years ago we had such a severe drought that you weren't allowed to water your garden at all unless you used waste water. My mum got a hose that attaches to the washing machine outflow pipe and can be used to water the garden (but is not recommended for watering things you will eat, so stick to flowers). She also keeps buckets in the shower and sinks to catch the water while it's warming up, and then uses that water on the garden too.

    Now the reservoirs are a lot higher so the restrictions aren't so strict, but a lot people still do these things.

    1. Hi Economies,
      I've heard of folks using washing machine water on their plants. I'll have to look into that! And, yes, I could collect cold water in the shower, while waiting for the water to warm up. I may do that next year. We're now into our cooler temps and increased rainfall. Both rain barrels are completely full once again.

  7. Wow you are incredibly amazing - I do NOT invite you to visit my blog, as soon I plan to mimic your post, in a far less exacting and detailed fashion, on how we blew through an incredible amount of money on real food, at the grocery store, in one month. I'm flummoxed how I could have more than doubled it since moving in with the BF. I suppose reading your posts are helping me think laterally (sadly no real space for a garden in my apartment), but adding beans into menus, just as a start. Keep up the inspiration!

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Thanks! Sometimes just one little change, like moving in with your bf, really impacts the budget. For us and our water bill, I think it may have been filling the pool. Unfortunately, we're often not even aware of the impact, until the bills roll in!
      Good luck with making changes! Beans are a great and easy start.

  8. You are doing great! Your blog is so inspiring.

    I can totally relate to your comments about the lights and your family. My family really struggles with the lights. I have two lamps in the living room and each has one 60 Watt equivalent CFL bulb in it. In my opinion, this is plenty of light for us sitting, talking and watching tv at night. If I turn on the lamps before the rest of the family settles in the living room for the evening, no one seems to notice. However, if my husband or one of the boys goes into the living room first, they always flip on the overhead lights as well as the lamps.

    Also, there is plenty of light spilling into the kitchen from those two living room lamps. If I get up for a drink or snack, I don't even turn on the overhead, recessed kitchen lights. I can see well enough without any added light. If my sons or hubby goes into the kitchen, they flip the switch for the overhead lights. And they leave the lights on when they go back into the living room. Then I jump up and go turn the lights off and sit back down. No amount of gentle reminding seems to do any good. Maybe I should try unscrewing some bulbs. :)

    Do you use air conditioning in your home? I can't remember for sure, but I think I read in one of your earlier posts about saving electricity, that you don't use AC in your home. If you don't, I'm curious about the temperature of your home in the Summer. Do you have really hot temperatures in the Summer where you live?


    1. Hi Angie,
      I was thinking about the lights left on in our house. I think others' lack of urgency to turn them off when not needed, is due to them not seeing the bills, or planning the budget. I try to give them some grace in this area, and just continue with my methods, of following them about the house, turning off lights, and changing to energy efficient lightbulbs, and unscrewing the amount that I think are overkill in lighting.

      Just an FYI -- I was at Dollar Tree yesterday and saw 3-packs of CFLs for $1. That's an excellent price. I was in a no-spend mood, so I didn't buy any. But this afternoon, when I have to go out, I may stop in and pick up a pack or two, and change out the last remaining incandescent bulbs.

      I'm in the Seattle area, where we have mild summers, and lots of trees for shade. We don't have AC in our house, but I do know a few friends who do. This summer, we had a stretch of about 2 months of temps hovering around 80 degrees F, with an occasional day or two above 90. For the most part, it's quite livable without AC. I only grumble 2 or 3 days per summer about the "relentless heat". So, I guess I can count myself fortunate to not have a high electricity bill due to needing AC.


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