Time for a budget overhaul! The main thing I spend money on is food, so that’s the area where I’m focusing my efforts first. First step is no more eating out. This is a tough one since I was already basically down to eating out only for convenience (like when I’m out all day and have to get something to keep me fueled) rather than for entertainment. So I need to start planning ahead better and making food to pack up and take with me.
Second step is to be budget conscious in how I shop and cook. The food I prepare tends to be on the cheaper side anyways, since it’s all bulk beans and grains for the most part, but I also never hesitated to buy pricey things like tempeh bacon, artichoke hearts, avocados, soy cheese, and organic, sprouted tofu. My amazing food coop, Rainbow Grocery, used to offer a 20%-off coupon every other month. I would wait to do my big shopping trip until it was a coupon month, and then I would stock up. I love Rainbow for its huge bulk sections of rices, beans, grains, GF flours, oils, nuts, and so on. But now that I don’t have that huge discount I’m a bit terrified to go back there. All the produce they carry is organic, which is awesome, but as part of my budget efforts I’d like to buy non-organic produce from the Clean 15. Conventional onions, for example, are $.39/lb at my local corner market, and I don’t think they’re ever under $1/lb (for organic onions) at Rainbow. Salsa at Rainbow costs around $4-5/jar, as opposed to $1/jar at Trader Joe’s. Bulk tofu is mere cents/lb at the Asian groceries on Clement St., vs. $3-4 for 12 oz. of Wildwood sprouted organic. The Indian markets in Berkeley have incredible deals on spices I use large amounts of (like mustard and cumin seeds) as well as dirt-cheap dried lentils and other dals.
But are you noticing a pattern here? Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry bulk grains, the Asian markets don’t carry salsa, and driving to Berkeley for spices is a little ridiculous. When I shop at Rainbow I can get everything in one trip. The store is worker-owned, I can get almost everything in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging I require (I’m lookin’ at you, Trader Joe’s, with your planet-killing packaging excess!), and when I buy organic and local produce I have at least a bit more assurance that the people who grew and harvested my food were well treated and not exposed to pesticides than I do when I shop at, say, Safeway. But something has to give…
While thinking about budget-conscious meal planning, I realized I didn’t really have any idea of what a reasonable food budget was. Because I’ve been doing most of my shopping in these giant, bi-monthly grocery trips (and then getting my produce from my CSA box and the farmer’s market) I have no idea what I spend per week on food. So I decided to ask the government for some advice. According the the USDA, a single-person family will spend $41.28/week, or 165.12/month on a “thrifty” food plan (the other tiers are low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal). So my goal with this week’s menu was to end up with a shopping list that cost under $41.28. (Things get complicated, of course, because I’m out of olive oil and soy sauce and a few other staples, so I need to refill those bottles which I’m sure will go over my budget but of course will also last me far longer than a week.) I decided to try shopping at Safeway and buying conventional (non-organic) produce, just to see how that turned out. They didn’t have a bunch of things on my list, like parsnips or amaranth. I ended up only getting the right ingredients to make two complete meals from my plan. Sigh. I still need to go to Rainbow.
And my grand total? $50.61. Ouch. Only $28.96 of that was stuff from my list, plus tortillas and tofu, but I bought plastic wrap, ketchup, and kitty litter (all in large quantities) and there I went, zooming over budget. I want to say those extras don’t count, but the truth is I’m always out of something that needs to be replaced, so every week there will be something I need beyond my meal plan list. So now I’m aiming for $165.12 for the month. Wish me luck! (How the heck do people eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and stay on budget? Greens are $2/bunch, even non-organic at Safeway. If you know about this, please let me know.)
Cheryl, the author of Gluten Free Goodness and organizer of the Gluten-Free Menu Swap, is hosting the swap this week with the theme of soups. I know soup is the most budget-conscious meal you can make, but I just don’t really like it… I make these big pots of soup and they end up either rotting in the fridge or going neglected in the freezer because I never remember to defrost them in advance. Maybe the swap will inspire me to get my soup act together for next week!
Many more menu plans from around the web can be found at OrgJunkie, so check there for inspiration as well!
Yam, black bean, and amaranth burritos (defrost GF tortillas, make 1/2 recipe only)
Pinto bean corn cake fritter things with salsa (defrost cranberry beans)
Make turnip pickles
Shopping list: 5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, buckwheat, 2 bunches of kale, 2 parsnips, 1 bunch chard, 2 red onions, 1 small beet, romaine, amaranth (1/2 cup), 2 large sweet potatoes, avocado if cheap, green vegetable (cheap and in season), dandelion greens, millet (1/2 cup), cashews (1/2 cup), GF waffles, 1 can cannellini beans, 3 lemons, broccoli, asparagus (if cheap), onions if under $.39/lb, fruit