Thursday, April 2, 2009

Frugal foodie

We've been very fortunate that the current economic crunch being felt throughout most of the world hasn't trickled down to the U.S. military, yet. We don't have to worry about layoffs or paycuts, O has a guaranteed pay raise every January, and living overseas, we get a cost of living allowance every month that fluctuates with the yen rate; right now it's pretty high since the exchange rate is in the pits.

I know several people who's husbands have lost their jobs, other's who've had a major cut in income, it's a very scarey time for everyone and I know exactly how lucky we are.

I put myself on a pretty strict budget last year, long before any of this economy crisis, in an effort to build some major savings (we had NONE) and with a plan to be debt free by the time we leave Japan. I'm pretty proud of how well I've stuck with it. There have been some set backs, some unforseen, unavoidable expenses, and more than a few times when I wasn't as thrifty as I could have been, but all in all, I've been sticking to it pretty well.

The one expense that I've had the most trouble controlling is our food bill. I do a major shop twice a month on payday, but I'm in the grocery store nearly every other day, picking up this or that, always spending way more than I should. So I started planning a menu. Knowing exactly what we'll be eating helps me create a very specific grocery list, and ends the careless buying of food and supplies that will end up sitting in the freezer or pantry for months because I never had a plan for them, and then I usually end up forgetting I have them, which leads to double (and sometimes triple) buying because suddenly I need kidney beans, but forgot there were already 3 cans in the cupboard. I started with a one-week menu plan. And it's only dinner, what we eat for b'fast and lunch doesn't vary too much, so those meals are easy to plan and shop for.

Now that more and more people are tightening their purse strings, whether out of neccessity, or just the desire to lead a simpler life, the web is overflowing with sites dedicated to living on a budget, pinching pennies, frugal living, whatever you want to call it. There are tips and ideas on how to trim expenses and save money in every single area of your life. There are a gazillion sites about menu planning, I especially like Hillbilly Housewife.

Last month I worked my way up to a two-week menu. When I did my bi-weekly shopping this week, my total bill was $150.21!!!! That's two full weeks of groceries for 5 people, plus the dog! This total also includes all toiletries, cleaning products and papergoods. And I buy a lot of processed foods, I know if I could start cooking more from scratch, I could reduce even more!

I'm also an obsessive coupon clipper, thanks to my mom, who sends me pounds and pounds of coupons every few weeks. At overseas military locations, the grocery stores on base accept coupons up to 6 months past their expiry, so we're really lucky in that regard too. On this week's grocery tab, I saved $10.85 with coupons!!!!! Bringing my total two-week food bill down to $139.36! Woo hoo! I have no idea how our grocery bill compares to other families our size, or to families shopping at Japanese grocery stores (anyone care to share?), but $70/wk is awesome for us!

The girls have gotten on board with the budget too, they take their lunch to school everyday (their choice). The school lunch costs $2.05 at the JH and $2.20 at the HS, but I feed the girls for about $0.75 each, per day! O buys lunch everyday at the hospital cafeteria, but they have good food, and huge portions, at a really low price, it's really the only thing he spends money on, so I haven't pushed him to start brown bagging it. And now we'll be saving about $45/mth with Ethan's bento, I'm so excited!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations! It's easier to save at the commissary, isn't it?

Here, we have Costco, where gas and food are cheaper. Of course, we have to buy stuff in bulk, but we go thru it in no time at all.

Kmart and Walmart are also cheap.

Absolutely no reason why we should patronize more expensive stores.

Slime said...

We have Costco too, but it can't beat the commisary here, in the U.S. it could though.

Oh, I miss Walmart soooooo much!!!! Just about the only thing I still miss :( I'm sure I could get our food bill even lower back in the States; the commisary carries barely any generic brands, so we're stuck with the namebrands, and they're higher prices.

thefukases said...

Wow. 70 dollars (about 7000 yen?) is great!!

I spend about the same for our family of four but I grow most of my veggies and don't buy rice as FIL grows enough for all his kid's families too.

I'd love to hear your secret to the 70 cent lunch!

Also totally curious but what kind of meals do you eat? Same as at home or has Japan influenced your eating habits?

When I try to imagine your life all I can think of is the tv show Army Wives. Close or way off base? (he he, get it? off base??) ;P

Slime said...

First, we don't eat very healthy foods! I try to cook a veggie with every meal, sometimes it's just corn, and sometimes I don't manage it all!

We eat completely American. I'm a horrible cook, and none of my family has very adventerous tastes, and hub is a southern, country boy through and through, so that means chicken & dumplings, meatloaf, sloppy joes, etc. I occasionally make stir fried rice, or udon, but not very often.

The girls' lunches are pure garbage :( Good ol' PB&J sandwiches, or maybe bologna & cheese, chips and a juice pack or milk.

LOL about Army Wives. There are some similarities, the relationships among the girls are pretty true to life, the camraderie, especially overseas, and all the "officer" vs. "enlisted" junk (it's not as bad as it used to be, but officers have to be careful about their relationships/friendships with enlisted personnel,so both groups tend to stick to their own rank class socially) the protocol, the way some women wear their husbands' rank (yuck), but Army guys get deployed way more often and they usually have tougher jobs.

thefukases said...

Ahhh, now I get the cheap lunch!

Funny, I don't know why but I had never made the girls sandwiches for their lunchboxes before. So yesterday I made them a ham, cheese and lettuce sandwich and a jam sandwich each and really talked it up 'this is what mummy used to eat for lunch! Cool huh?'

Their reaction? 'Poor mummy. You should tell Granny to make you proper bentos!'

Oh well.

Have you tried yakisoba? My dad is pretty unadventurous but when he's over here yakisoba is something he really likes. Not that healthy but...