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The $200 mission....
One mom. One Mission. One dinner plate at a time.

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The $200 Mission has relocated to savvysuzieblog.blogspot.com - be sure to update your subscriptions and links!


Another budget challenge...

I had a little chuckle to myself when I read this article - MSN Money put Melinda Fulmer on a challenge - feed her family of four on only $100 for a week. Now that included no household or paper products, but she also restricted herself to not using coupons, and not relying on the warehouse stores like BJ's and Costco. What impressed me is that she also completely avoided the "all-pasta, all-ramen" menu that might be extremely cheap, but also extremely unhealthy.

I did learn a few things though - did you know that the government considers spending $182 a week on groceries to be a "Moderate" food budget for a family of four? That's almost $800 a month! I am currently on track for a $225 month for three of us - but my meals could easily serve four adults and still have leftovers, so I feel pretty confident that even when I am dealing with hungry teenagers, I will still be fully half of that "recommended" budget.

The stigma of coupon shopping has GOT to go....I was among those who couldn't be bothered with clipping them, and now I thrive with them. She makes the comment "many of these are for things that are too fattening or just too expensive to begin with"...and yet I have purchased yogurt, juice, milk, bread, hummus, even fruit and eggs with coupons. I do rely on Couponmom to do a lot of the tracking for me, but it now takes me about 15 minutes at a computer with a printer to pull the info I need and print the coupons I want....I went from fear and loathing to downright adoration in just a few weeks and it has DEFINITELY been worth the learning curve. She even used Couponmom to check the non-coupon store deals, so why not cash in all the way?

Same goes for the idea that there's something wrong with shopping the warehouses, discount grocers and local ethnic markets. If you TRULY want to save money, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't investigate these goldmines. Ms. Fulmer avoided such stores because she "could have saved even more, but this had to be something everyone could do". OK...if you CAN save more, why wouldn't you? Can't everyone find a bargain in their area? I am lucky enough to live really close to a Price Rite, but there are 3 other good discount food chains in my state and I checked - in 10 years and 4 different towns, I've never lived more than 8 miles from one. And I wish I had thought to find them!

She did make some excellent points, and reminded me that I have to get back on task with one very important tight-budget tool. She found that "every meal and snack has to be meticulously planned, and the whole family has to eat it." Meal planning is something I have been lax about, but when you have a budget so tight it squeaks, you have to make every meal count and maximize everything you have on hand. It's possible, but extremely difficult, to do that on the fly. She also discovered some of my favorite budget savers - use less expensive meat in stews, casseroles and crockpot recipes to stretch it further, add more vegetarian (bean-based) meals to the mix, and don't be afraid to use canned meats and veggies. Stew meat and london broil do great in casseroles and slow cookers, and two chicken breasts can easily feed a crowd when diced small in a stir fry.

She pointed out that lunches were really challenging - I have definitely found that as well...I crave variety and don't like constantly falling back on sandwiches or leftovers. But until I can afford to get crazy for lunch AND dinner, it's an occupational hazard. I balance it by making sure I have a variety of fruits and veggies so that if the main lunch is the same, the sides can be mixed up a bit. She mentioned using bean and cheese burritos for lunch - that's one I haven't tried yet!

And the biggest adjustment for me - as she puts it "Dinners were tasty but required a lot more preparation than I was used to". Budget cooking takes work. Too much of our money is thrown away for the sake of convenience! Yeah it's a pain, and it takes time...I lived on my own for so many years that grand preparation of meals had all but escaped me by the time I settled down and had a family. But now I can whip up a meal for six that costs me less than one sit-down entree at a restaurant. Ms. Fulmer ventured into uncharted territory for me - she whipped up a few desserts on top of her meals - but it just inspires me to try adding that to my repertoire as I get more and more comfortable in the kitchen.

At the end of the day, she learned the same lesson that I have become a student of - we waste a lot more money at the store than we realize, and it IS possible to cut back drastically and still leave the table satisfied!

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Anonymous said...

We have been so guilty of wasting money on groceries. I keep wanting to do something about it but after working for a week I'm so exhausted I just do what's simple.

savvysuzie said...

I know what you mean...after work, baby and household chores, there's not much left..but I work too hard to watch those hard-earned dollars disappear! It was really hard at first but it definitely gets easier!