This month I went into ultra-frugal mode. After blowing my eating out budget again, and again, and again, I decided I’ve had enough. It’s time to buckle down, plan a little better, and actually stay within my budget for once. When planning my budget, I found myself faced with a few problems. The first is that our take-home income went down. We’re paying for insurance now, and that’s taken a chunk out of the paycheck.

The second problem is that I’m trying to eat a lot healthier. Specifically, I’m trying to stay away from hormones in milk, eggs, and meat, partially hydrogenated anything, and pesticides. Avoiding these things gets expensive.

Finally, the cost of gas is above $4 a gallon here, so driving all over to find deals isn’t worth it anymore.

My new plan had to take all of these things into account. Here’s what I did.

Menu Plan for a Month

I hashed out a menu plan for breakfasts and dinners for a month. Lunch is always sandwiches, tortilla wraps, or leftovers, so I didn’t have to plan lunch.

I cut out a lot of expensive foods. My menu this month is largely based on dried beans. Snacks consist of fruits and veggies, nuts, and homemade granola bars. I didn’t buy any cold cereal, which up until now has been a staple in our house.

That left me with some extra money to treat my family to wild fish once a week, pesticide free produce, and hormone free milk and eggs.

The Shopping Day

Since my son is out of preschool, I had to take him along. I’m proud of him. He hates shopping, but he hung in there with me all morning. I let him take one of his beloved toy cars with him to keep him busy. It worked.

  • We stopped at Walmart first to buy toilet paper and supplies for making laundry detergent. Since I’ve made a pact to stop using paper towels and paper napkins, I didn’t have to buy any of those.
  • Then we headed to Winco to do the bulk of my shopping. And bulk is the right word. My cart was filled with purchases from the bulk bins: flours, beans, grains, oatmeal, and a couple of spices I needed. I picked up a few canned foods and some cheese, as well.
  • We then headed across the street to Fred Meyer, which has a pretty nice health food section. We picked up our milk (on sale), some eggs (marked down…that was a GREAT find!), and some Garden of Eatin’ Tortilla Chips (on sale). We also picked up some laundry supplies that aren’t available at Walmart.
  • We stopped home to unload the groceries and have a quick snack. Then we headed south to the Farmer’s Market in Ashland. Even though it was raining, the market was busy. We bought some fresh strawberries, a big jar of local honey, fresh tomatoes (and they taste SO much better than store bought tomatoes), and some lettuce.
  • Our final stop was the Ashland Food Co-op, which is expensive, but sells all the natural ingredient items I was after. I picked up the rest of the produce I needed, and also some natural soap and hair care products. I’m trying to avoid chemicals in soaps and shampoos, too. I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford that for long, because it’s expensive. Maybe I’ll try to find recipes for making my own shampoo.

By doing all of my shopping in one day, I made one trip into Medford. I’ll have to go back to Ashland for more produce and milk throughout the month, but it’s closer than heading into Medford. Other than once a week trips into Ashland, I plan on staying close to home.

My grocery budget for the month was $445. On Tuesday I spent $313.27, leaving me with $131.73 for the rest of the month. I think I can make that work.

How I Cut Costs

Like I said, most of our meals are based around dried beans this month. It can be a hassle to prepare dried beans, but I’ll just make extra every time I make them and freeze the rest for use later in the month.

Instead of buying boxed cereal, I made a huge batch of homemade granola. That should last the month, since I’m planning on making breakfast most mornings. My husband is the only one who’s dependent on cereal for breakfast. I’m not getting up at 3 a.m. to make breakfast for him, as much as I love him. :)

Whole grain bread without high fructose corn syrup is expensive. So are tortillas without partially hydrogenated oil. So instead of spending the money on ready made products, I bought wheat bread flour at 47 cents a pound and whole wheat pastry flour at 49 cents a pound and made my own. The bread tastes great, and so do the tortillas (though they aren’t as pretty as the store-bought version).

A little planning can go a long way in saving money. Making a list, making things from scratch, and only making one trip to the grocery store will help save money and fuel. And if it keeps me from eating out, it will save my waistline, as well!

How often do you grocery shop? Does it work for you? Do you shop with a list? Menu plan?