Thursday, April 2, 2015

Food on my mind and money in my pocket

It's that time of year again, where my expenses start to rise due to the increase in my children's personal activities and preparing for the summer season. We all have priorities, including with spending, and my top one happens to be eating. So when it's time to re-evaluate that budget and decide where to cut back on spending, the stomach is where it is in my household.

Not that we eat less at my home. We're of Middle Eastern descent, and we are a culture that loves food: starchy food, sugary food, fatty food. If it clogs the arteries, the Middle Eastern culture loves it. Rather than cut back on how much we eat, the focus is how much we spend on eating.

This is the time where I sadly inform the kids that we need to scale back on eating out. That doesn't necessarily mean we limit restaurants all that much, only that we make a few tweaks in our hectic schedule to make time for meaningful nights out. First step is to cut back on the grocery bill. I didn't realize until a few months ago how much extra food I brought home every week. I never selected groceries based on needs, but instead on "what-if's". What if my family is in the mood for something. What if I run out of a spice, ingredient, whatever it may be at the time. Once I started evaluating all the excess foods in the pantry, I decided those items were no longer needed. Cutting my grocery bill means there is extra money for our favorite places.

The next step is to stop throwing away my grocery receipts without a thorough evaluation. Turns out I was receiving small discounts to local eateries on the back of the receipts. Some of them happened to be the family's favorite places to eat, so I started saving my receipts to use at restaurants when the need to dine out overwhelmed me.

Another dine out saving tip famous in this household is to limit the number of times we eat out during this trying time. So, we're now adjusting from three times a week to once. And in case you're wondering why I'm feeding the kids out that much: I work full time, plus advocate and volunteer my time to the financial literacy cause. I also run errands, take kids here, pick them up there. I'm making excuses, but that's just fine for a single mother of three. Besides, tapering down the frequency is not all that difficult in the summer, when the temperatures rise and ice cream rather than food is on your mind.

Another food spending tip is to use the crock pot more. The only reason why I ever consider eating out is because I rush home too exhausted to start the prep work for a homemade dinner. With a crock pot, you can prepare food either the night before and put it away in the morning for dinner later, or food can start cooking in the morning and be ready when we arrive later. Another incredible discovery I've recently made: you can cook just about anything in those time-saving things. Just came across recipes for a hash brown casserole, mac and cheese, and even cheese cake. And most recipes require the simplest and inexpensive ingredients. You can't beat that, really.

Budgeting is not really about doing without, but making tweaks so you can do more. The goal is to continuously re-evaluate your spending habits so you can have enough to enjoy the things you love to do, but also have enough money at the end of the month to pay it all off.

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