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!