Monday, May 3, 2010

Life for Less: How to feed 2 hungry adults on a meager budget

I know ... I know... It's been ages since I last blogged, but in my defense, life has been crazy. I've been a busy bee at work. Matt's been buried in the books, finishing the last of his pre-reqs for dental school (he took his last final today...yippee!!!). When he's not studying & I'm not working, we've been out & about trying to enjoy the beautiful Carolina spring. Lots of wonderful visitors, baseball games, bike rides, little photo trips, etc. I enjoy blogging, friends, but I will never blog in lieu of work / sleep / or most importantly ... play! I also realize I haven't posted any life for less tips since ... well tax time. Oops.

Now to the important stuff.... I want to introduce you to one of my favorite things. Well, actually 2 of my favorite things:  
Matt put the little red guy in my stocking our first Christmas. He found it at my favorite shop in Oak Park, Papersource. The man knows his wife. I loved being able to keep a checklist of all of our grocery items over the course of the week. Made our weekly trips to Tony's (our favorite grocery store of all time in N. Riverside) so much more....organized & efficient! We were nearing the end of our little All Out Of notepad here in N.C. when I found the yellow What to Eat Knock-Knock pad at Anthropologie! (Sidenote: Sadly, this is pretty much the only item I could afford at Anthropologie. I usually just window-shop). In college, my roommate Jenny had this little piece of planning heaven & I always envied her weekly menus. Imagine my happiness stumbling across one of my favorite things!  Okay, before you tune me out  as a planning weirdo, let me explain myself.

Probably our largest spending category after our monthly rent is our food budget. We live pretty active lifestyles, which lends to pretty healthy appetites. Translation: we eat a lot. If a recipe states meal for 4, I can usually plan on it feeding us for one night. We also like delicious, whole, fresh foods... & the produce & fresh meat/seafood aisles aren't the cheapest destinations in a grocery store (Tony's is the exception). We could easily spend a small fortune on our food budget, so we've had to learn how to reign it in.

Here's what we've learned. It's really just common sense, but when you live by these little spending/budgeting/planning guidelines, you can save big bucks:
  1. Plan, plan, plan! When we moved to North Carolina we marveled at the novelty of having a grocery store across the street. We could do little trips throughout the week. That ended when I started evaluating our grocery bills. Wowza. We were buying things we didn't need & our more frequent trips translated to a poorer planning & bigger bills. Meal planning has probably been the most significant way we've taken control of our food spending.... I sit down once a week with our recipe box, laptop (the blog world provides an endless supply of dinner ideas), cookbooks & weekly grocery ads. With the help of my hubs, we plan out our dinner menu for the week, building in leftover nights & planned dinners out (which are few & far between). We've found that we eat better/more creative meals + we stretch our dollar when we put our knock-knock pads to work and plan it out. You won't often find us staring at the fridge/pantry wondering What the heck are we going to eat tonight? 
  2. Shop the sales! Duh, right? This really should be a step ahead of #1. If salmon is on sale, you better believe that we're eating fish that week. Pork shoulder....yummy pulled bbq pork. When our favorite granola bars or cereal go on sale, I've been known to stock up. I've found Southern Savers to be a useful online quick check for our local grocery stores sales (if you don't have their weekly flyers or ads on hand). You can also go ca-razy & get into couponing, but I haven't really been able to take advantage of couponing on a consistent basis so I won't comment on that. We don't have a printer at home so I can't print all of the great online coupons, and we don't get the newspaper. When I do get flyers in the mail, I'll clip a few coupons, but I try to stay away from clipping things we'd never buy in the first place. I don't need to spend money on something we wouldn't normally eat or buy.
  3. Eat through the pantry! Unless it's an every day kind of food item that you eat through pretty quickly (for us, that would be granola bars, cereal, frozen fruit, or chicken breasts), don't buy unnecessary or excessive quantities of any food item. (EVEN IF THEY'RE ON SALE). Our 'pantry' at our last apartment was one measly drawer and we managed just fine. In fact, we spent less b/c we didn't buy food we didn't plan on eating that week. 
  4. Make it yourself! Pre-made anything tends to be a rip-off and it's usually not as good as the real deal. Skip the rotisserie chicken & buy a little fryer at 59c a pound ... Make your own pot pies instead of buying the frozen variety... Make your own mixes (brownies, biscuits)... Chop your vegetables ... The possibilities are endless. When you buy convenience food, you pay a premium. I'm not saying we always start from scratch (in fact tonight we ate one of my favorite recipes ... this fake it, don't make it key lime pie), but when we do, we rarely regret it.
  5. Dinners out are for special occasions! We haven't had the luxury of eating out very often. We've made it a habit to reserve dinners out as splurges for special occasions. Why? Because when we've sat down & evaluated our priorities financially, Friday night dinners out didn't make it to the top of the list. We'd rather splurge on a vacation or put those pennies towards paying for school without going into debt (mission accomplished, so far). When we do go out, it's a treat.
  6. Pack a lunch! I worked in the big city for two years without ever going out for lunch on my own dime. I probably ate better, more nutritious lunches than my coworkers, & I saved a bundle. Now, I'm not saying you have to be that crazy stringent, but limit yourself. Lunches out cost let's say an average of $6-8 a pop. For a couple, that translates to $80+ a week! That's more nearly 3/4 of our weekly food budget and we haven't even talked breakfast or dinner! My favorite part about #6 is that I'm not the lunch-maker in our household. Matt graciously & faithfully makes my lunches every morning. God bless him.
  7. Kick your Starbucks habit! Buying & brewing your own beans saves you big bucks. Amen.
There you have it folks. The McA's recipe for How to feed two hungry adults on a meager budget. Bon appetit!


  1. Those notepads look awesome! Mine is scaled way down- it has two perforated lists: To Do, To Buy. I like all your points and do most of the same things but we are complete opposites on point #2.

    Especially this line: "We don't have a printer at home so I can't print all of the great online coupons, and we don't get the newspaper." Why not?!?!? Printing coupons is truly like printing dollar bills, but legally :). Find a free after rebate printer and some $1 paper at Staples during a sale and then budget in the ink. I promise what you pay in ink and for the newspaper pays for itself!

    And the second point: "I'll clip a few coupons, but I try to stay away from clipping things we'd never buy in the first place. I don't need to spend money on something we wouldn't normally eat or buy."

    I agree that spending $ on something you won't use is a waste even if something is cheap. BUT - I buy things all the time that I'll never use because they are MORE THAN FREE with coupons!! I use that extra to buy my meat/produce/grains that I normally don't have coupons for and I donate the extra free stuff to a Food Pantry or Women's Shelter. Its a win-win-win. You save $ from your budget, you help someone, you get a tax deduction!

    Another point is that we are not brand specific on many things. I used to be a Tide and Downy only girl but I have been able to get a year's supply of All detergent and Snuggle Fabric Softener for a few dollars. That has saved us more than $100 bucks this year!

    As far as stocking up goes, the #1 rule of coupon shopping is to buy something you need when it is at its lowest price. Especially non-perishables. It does require a little storage but I'd rather have something I don't need than need something I don't have and have to pay a premium for it.

    Thanks so much for writing these posts! You have a great writing style and I have learned a lot already. Sounds to me like the only way you could reduce your budget more is to tackle #2. I'm wondering what your $100/wk includes if that is just food/dining out or if it also includes personal needs (toothpaste, shampoo etc). We are at about $50/wk on groceries personal needs and the area I need to work on is #7 :) Once a week is our limit and I got the Frappucinos on killer sale to chill in the fridge but my @ home coffee just doesn't taste as good! Whew - long comment but this post is near & dear to my heart :)

  2. I challenge you to make a list of the top 10 or 20 non-perishable items you buy and brands that you use (grocery or household). Send me the list and I will help you find ways to save on those with coupons! abeaird at gmail dot com!

  3. Amy...thank you!!! I'm clueless when it comes to couponing (besides what I mentioned above) & I'll take you up on your challenge. I'll send you 'my list' when I have a minute to put it together (probably this weekend when I'm making my grocery list/menu).

    We include personal items (shampoo, TP, detergent, etc) in our 'grocery' budget. Just keeps it simpler to track everything.

    Again... thanks for all of your coupon wisdom :) I could learn a lot from you!


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