P:FB Week 11

This was a  nice week for us.  My husband and I talked about the Project and our budget busting ways.  He was up for a challenge of trying to cook more (much more!) from the food we have in our pantry/freezer and just buying fresh necessities for a while, as long as I committed to buying a bigger variety of fresh stuff to have on hand.  I think part of the problem is that it is easy to fall into a rut and he’s gotten bored and then in his excitement to cook new items, he ends up overbuying.  It’s true – since I am not confident or relaxed in the kitchen, I tend to stick to the same 5 meals – pasta, breakfast-as-dinner, vegetarian night, pizza night and “Mexican night” (quesadillas, tacos, or the like).

With this conversation in mind, I made a menu based on freezer items, and then drew up a list.  Since we basically needed only fresh produce, I decided to splurge by getting groceries at Whole Foods.  I’ve been so disappointed the past few weeks with the awful fresh food from other stores.  Total spent came to $72 – we were under budget and had lovely produce to boot!  Meyer lemons, grapefruit, kale, sweet potatoes, fresh salad greens…  I think we may try this approach for a few weeks and see how it works.  My husband likes the challenge of coming up with meals based on pantry items, plus we’re all happy if there are enough fruits to snack on/quick veggies to round out meals.  Plus, there was enough left over in our budget in case we needed to run out in the middle of the week for something.  Yay for success!


P:FB Week 10

This week, I was really pressed for time and once again got the bulk of our groceries at Target.  Not my ideal place, certainly, and I will definitely not be buying produce there ever again (the bananas were rock-hard, like they’d been cold for too long and thus never ripened, and the grapes were mushy.  Blech.)  Anyways, the budget continues to be $100, and the total for food items came to just shy of $65 – success!  Side note: I have no idea what I spent the other $135 on at Target, especially since I quit buying new clothes from big box/mass manufactured stores. Yet another reason not to shop there for groceries.

Anyways, the problem continues to be coordinating dinners with my husband, who does the cooking on his nights off and loves to go all out with that.  Even though there was a meal plan made on Saturday prior to the shopping, by Monday night he had a different idea for dinner and made a second trip to the store for specialty recipe items.  Let me quickly say that the boeuf bourguignon he made was DELICIOUS and we’re ate lovely leftovers all week.  But his trip was a total budget-buster!  Any tips for how to gently get him to go along with this project?

P: FB, Week 9

We got home from Thanksgiving on Sunday afternoon.  My husband agreed to watch the kids and start unpacking while I braved the grocery store.  Back to a regular week and not needing anything for school lunches, I planned for the standard $100 budget.  The total from Trader Joe’s came to $137 – but, it turns out, I have a great excuse for going over!

In my opinion, Trader Joe’s has some of the best chocolates and sweet snacks on the planet.  Their Christmas offerings are so, so good that I dream about them the rest of the year.  On Sunday, TJ’s had just put out the holiday offerings for 2011, and I knew I had to act fast.  Once they sell out, it can be hit-or-miss if certain ones are reordered in time for the season.  Case in point: Last year, the store had completely sold out of their “Dark Chocolate Covered Caramels with Sea Salt” by the time I went to buy some in the middle of December.  I so covet these, I think partly because they are only available once a year.  Anyways, I went a little overboard stocking up on these caramels (3 boxes), peppermint bark (2 tins, 1 to be gifted) and bags of gold coins for my kids and nephews.  Once I subtracted all of that, I actually came in under budget, at $90.  Yay!

(I totally realize that I’m looking for reasons to explain going over-budget.  Splurging on this many snacks should still be included, but I’m trying to rationalize so I feel better.)

Menu items this week include chili and fajitas.  I’m also trying a new baked tofu recipe that a friend says her toddlers adore.  We’ll see how well that goes over.

P: FB Week 8

For the week of Thanksgiving, I was mostly able to stay within budget, within a few dollars.  Milk, eggs, cereal and yogurt – some necessities to get us through the half-week that we’d be in Pittsburgh.  However, my husband ran to the store Wednesday night after we arrived at my parents’ in Ohio to get a couple of things – at the last minute we offered to bring an appetizer to two family meals.  Somehow, he came home with $118 worth of groceries!!!  EEK!  Part of the reason is that alcohol and beer are sold at grocery stores in Ohio, so he got some wine and craft beers to drink over the holiday, plus a celebratory bottle of champagne to toast my sister and her newly-announced fiance (yay!)  His plan was to make spinach-artichoke dip, and he did make a list before he left.  But once there, he decided to add a spicy crab dip to his offerings, and so bought many more ingredients than originally planned for.

Being married to a chef has many wonderful benefits, not least of which is that I don’t have to survive anymore on a steady cereal-as-dinner diet.  But the holidays is a time of sparkle-eyed wonder for chefs, where magazines are full of glossy pictures of new dishes just waiting to be tried – updating classics, trying new techniques, adding flourishes to traditional staples.  So a part of me can’t really care that we were so far off budget for the week, even as we try to continue to build up our savings account.  He was so happy to cook, to present a new dish to family, that it’s hard to be mad at him at all.


P:FB Week 7

So, I fell asleep last night in the kids’ room and forgot to post my weekly Project: Food Budget post – oops!  Quick aside: My goal for this weekend is to get my blog more functional – figure out how to schedule posts, insert hyperlinks, create actual pages on my site.  

About Week 7 – I normally do our shopping on Saturday afternoons, with a budget of $100.  Since we were out of town last week from Friday – Wednesday, our fridge was pretty bare for that half week, except for the few items I picked up from a convenience store. I knew we’d likely go over budget this week, since I wanted to stock up on baking items for the upcoming holidays.  I budgeted $150, and came in at $131 – nice!  

Looking at the week ahead, it’s another half week, as we’ll be home in Ohio with family Wednesday through Sunday.  My goal is to just get fresh fruits and veggies, milk and eggs, and then live off of pantry items for these few days.  Menu will involve pasta, chili, and breakfast-for-dinner.  I’m setting a budget of $30.  I am lucky that my entire contribution to two separate family Thanksgiving dinners will be Chex Mix and chocolate chip cookies (ingredients bought last week). 

Project: Food Budget, Weeks 5-6

I’m posting for two weeks because I was out of town visiting family last Thursday. Week 5 total receipts equaled $72 and some change. Week 6 receipts equaled $18 – milk, eggs, cereal, bread and frozen pizza from a convenience store. I don’t think these two weeks count for several reasons. One, we were out of town for 5 days that spanned 2 of my P:FB weeks, so neither week did I need to buy a full week’s worth of groceries. We also have been super busy in the evenings, so we’ve had take-out and fast food,which I haven’t been officially counting in my food budget.

However, I had an interesting revelation last week, before we headed out of town. There were two heads (stalks?) of broccoli in the fridge, and I knew that they’d probably be bad by the time we returned home from vacation. Prior to starting this project, and as much as it pains me to admit it, I would’ve likely thrown them out. But I’ve started to have a much better concept of my money and the food I buy – it’s much more conscious, how aware of each food item in my pantry and fridge I’ve become. I couldn’t just throw the broccoli out and waste that money.

So I blanched it, which to some people may not seem like a big deal. But for me, a person who is so incompetent in the kitchen and so fearful of screwing up something that I tend to stick to the five basic meals I know, it was a pretty big deal. I was proud of myself for learning a new trick (so easy!) and now having a bag of frozen broccoli in the freezer to use in future meals.

Menu for this week involves defrosting some frozen soups and meals we’ve amassed over the past several months, to make it to the next grocery day.

Project: Food Budget. Week 4

Ok, let’s get the bad news out of the way, right upfront. I spent $138 at the grocery store. THAT IS $38 OVER BUDGET! EEK! What happened?

How can my previous post be so excited about paying off a car loan and crowing about being on the path to proper budgeting and then…this? Eek, indeed.

Last week, I attributed being $3 over-budget to having to buy items for school lunches. This week, I made a menu and shopping list and even ate before I shopped. Obviously to no avail. When the cashier told me the total, I was crest-fallen. To force me to take the challenge seriously, I’ve been withdrawing $100 cash from the ATM before heading to the store…which obviously wasn’t go to work here (because even though I’m serious about the challenge, I wasn’t about to put $38 worth of groceries back). The debit card came out, and I re-deposited the cash.

Unpacking the groceries at home, I noticed the culprit – I hadn’t checked the fridge/freezer before I left. I bought A TON of stuff we already had. Right now, there are 2 tubs of hummus and 3 (3!) tubs of salsa in the fridge. 2 half-gallons of soy milk. An extra box of cereal. I got everything we’d need for this week’s meals, without thinking of what we already had available to use up.

(Insert head smack).

So, my budget for next week will be $25. A penance to make up for this week’s error, and to force me to use up all that I already have.

The menu for this week includes homemade pizza, fish tacos, a roast chicken, salmon and veggies, and breakfast. Man, I love breakfast for dinner.

Financial goals, on the attack

My husband now owns his car fully.  I made the last payment on it today – it’s the first car he’s owned outright.  This is exciting.

For two years, I have been trying to “get serious” about my family’s finances.  The unexpected pregnancy that led to the birth of our son forced me to reckon with the details of our family budget.  Prior to that, I knew we were generally able to cover our expenses and have enough left over that weekly meals out and semi-regular vacations weren’t a problem.  The sudden prospect of two kids in daycare, coupled with a car that was approaching that “going to start needing major, expensive repairs soon” stage left me worried.

I started reading personal finance blogs and made a monthly budget in Excel to track our revenue and expenses.  We eliminated all unnecessary expenses – like cable (easy to do when you get rid of the TV altogether) and cut back on other things – like only eating out for special occasions (hard to do with a chef husband  – “The Pirates are above .500 in July – let’s go to Legume to celebrate!”).  My personal financial goals for our family are simple enough:

1. Live debt-free   2. Save enough to cover 12 months of living expenses

My husband’s car being paid off is one less debt we owe, so one more step towards Goal #1.  We are still facing one large credit card debt, my own car payment and two student loans, so we aren’t there yet.  And we certainly don’t have anywhere near 12 months of living expenses saved.  But today’s progress is still cause for celebration in my book.

Project: Food Budget, Week 3

The budget this week was $100.  My husband is now fully on board with both grocery buying and alcohol-buying (a $100/month budget there, overseen completely by him).  He went to the farmer’s market on Monday and spent half of  our weekly amount on fresh produce and a leg of lamb.  I was pretty confident that I could get our “staples” – milk, yogurt, cheese, bananas – for less than $50.  I ended up getting groceries at Target – not the ideal place certainly, but in my complicated life equation, already being at Target to get kids’ boots + not having children with me > going to regular grocery store + children.  I also needed to get items for my daughter’s school lunches (juice boxes, granola bars, fruit leathers).

Total: $53.05

I was $3.05 over!  Argh, SO CLOSE!  I was still really impressed with coming so close, given the shopping location and needing lunch items, which I tend to stock up on.  One aspect of the P:FB challenge I have really enjoyed is buying food for this week only, and realizing how often I overbuy.  But when it comes to school lunches, I always try to err on the side of having extra in the house.  Packing my daughter’s lunch not only saves money, but no matter what I pack in it, I’m fairly confident that it’ll be tons better than whatever is served in the cafeteria.

The only disappointment in the week was that I’d purchased acorn squash, trying to stick with the goals of the challenge and eating more seasonally.  I tried a recipe from Joy of Cooking, usually my most reliable cookbook for savory pureed squash, but it ended up tasting too much like baby food.  Blech.  Even my baby didn’t like it.

I’m excited to check out some of the other people partaking in this challenge; their blogs are listed below.

Feeling Propelle-d

This past week, I attended the Propelle launch party, a company founded to help women entrepreneurs launch their businesses.  It was great to listen to a diverse panel of women talk about their successes and challenges in managing their own companies.  Then women on the staged seemed SO energized when talking about what they do – their passion for, and commitment to, their businesses was amazing.  Landing a big client, seeing an event succeed, working with investors who want a piece of you – that all sounds like such a rush!

However, Heather Maust from Interactive Swim caused me to really think.  She mentioned that one of her keys to success was that she wakes up insanely early every day – like 3:00 or 4:00am early.  That allows her some time to think and work before anyone else is awake – return emails, read the news, stay on top of things.  She mentioned that she works these hours because clients expect her to, and that she definitely works WAY MORE hours than if she had a standard office job. Another challenge she mentioned was finances, which are tight because again, there’s no guarantee of that standard-office paycheck.

Those are some serious challenges.  I have an idea for a business I’d like to start – this blog will be a place for me to practice my elevator pitch once I’m ready – but…But it sounds kinda scary.  I’m incredibly risk-averse, AND I really value trying to have as much free time with my kids as possible.  AND I love to sleep.  I expected the Propelle event to be really fun and I am looking forward to future events of theirs, but I totally did not expect it to cause me to really re-consider possible future business plans.  Maybe every entrepreneur-to-be goes through a stage of initial doubt ?

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September 2017
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Project: Food Budget