Friday, February 11, 2011

Frugal February Challenge!

If you recall my Year of MORE/LESS posts (here and here) I did say I would be doing a big challenge in February. It's now 11 days into this, the shortest month of the year and the challenge is in full-swing, I've just felt completely swamped and haven't written about it yet.

One of my goals of 2011 is to Save MORE/Spend LESS. But before I dive into the specific plan for the month, I should give you a bit of background information. I guess you could say it all started with pre-marital counseling and a talk-radio show. Dan and I went through pre-marital counseling during our three-month engagement. One thing I took away from those lessons is that it's much, MUCH easier to deal with the common issues of marital discord (in-laws, kids, religion, money) if you and your spouse have a plan and clear expectations. Statistically speaking, disagreements about money is the single biggest reason couples divorce, and since I'm not one to try to be a statistical anomaly, I made it very clear to Dan that we NEEDED to be on the same page and agree about issues related to money. My dad had recently discovered the Dave Ramsey Show on his new satellite radio and encouraged me to give it a listen. I was hooked after about 12 minutes and I played some of the podcasts for Dan. This led to us having some really great talks about money, debt, and future goals. Right after we got married we took Financial Peace University (a wonderful gift from my parents) at our church and got with the program. We immediately paid off what little debt we had and went to work on our emergency fund and saving for a house. We set up a budget and put clear limits on spending. We still did fun things like dinners out and movies, but we did them as part of the overall plan.

Then we bought a house and had a baby and our perfect, beautiful budget and spending plan got torn to shreds. It took a few months, but we got things back in order. Every month I sit down and figure out what we did, pretty much to the cent. Then Dan and I have a budget committee meeting and talk about what's coming up in the next month we need to prepare for and how we can do better in certain spending categories.

One area of the budget I have taken responsibility for is the grocery money. It may sound very gender-stereotypical, but I'm the chief cook and meal planner in our house. I actually enjoy this responsibility and try to make meals we all like, as well as make new things to challenge our palates.

When we first got married, Dan and I spent about $500 per month on groceries. GASP! I know, right? $500 for two people is completely ridiculous. We decided to work to reduce that and cut and trimmed and whined and complained and got it to $350 per month for the two of us. I know some of you can feed your family of 23 with that budget, but dang, we felt really great about that. Over time I've gotten better at matching coupons with sales and planning meals around what I buy and not the other way around, and I regularly feed our family of three (the little one now eats normal, big-people food - some days A LOT of normal, big-people food) for anywhere between $300-$350 per month. It's actually not hard for me to keep us in that range and I feel we eat well and no one is deprived of their favorites.

In an effort to do even better, I've taken some inspiration from the $5 Dinner Mom. I actually won her newest cookbook on a facebook contest and have been enamored and motivated by her clever, tasty and cheap-o recipes. Her cookbook also offers some handy-dandy tips about shopping and food prep that cut costs and time. She's all about a good challenge and encourages her readers to really stretch themselves.

So, a'la $5 Dinner Mom, I give you my Frugal February Challenge:

Total Grocery Budget for February = $200.

The rules:

1. Don't go over $200 (well, duh!)

2. No Cheating! (ie no buying groceries at the gas station and filing the purchase under 'fuel')

3. Don't eat out more than usual (our dining out budget per month is $75)

So far, I've spent $108.81 on groceries and the month isn't even half over. Sigh.

Now, of course the minute you decide to set a big goal for yourself, something happens and you want to back out immediately, right? For me, that included my mom getting sick and me switching into I-just-want-to-worry-and-pray-and-eat-comforting-take-out-and-convenience-foods mode. But I decided that since part of the reason for this challenge was to see if I could cut expenses in the event of a financial emergency, actually following through with it during a time of crisis was important, and would be a big part of the learning process.

While preparing for February, I discovered some wonderful frugal blogs. Some of these are the super amazing women you hear about getting $400 worth of groceries for $40, but most are moms looking to save money anyplace they can. Here are a few of the frugal living blogs in my Google Reader:

Deal Seeking Mom (Love this one. She does a great freebie round-up every week and links to the best coupons.)

Fabulessly Frugal (They do a weekly Winco sale/coupon match-up which is oh-so-very helpful when planning shopping trips)

Thrifty NW Mom (So many of the frugal blogs focus on the Midwest or South and I love that this one is for us folks in the good ol' PNW. All the stores featured are ones I can actually go to, so it prevents me from being jealous that the gals from the South have their ALDI and Kroger and other equally magical places that double coupons.)

If you've actually stuck around for all this - wow, you're quite dedicated and I appreciate your endurance. And if you are trained and well-versed in the frugal arts, please share your tips/websites/deals with this frugal-newbie. I'll keep you updated on just how 'fun' Frugal February turns out!

P.S. Thanks for your encouragement and prayers for my Mom. She is still in the hospital and probably will remain there for at least a few more days. Physically she has improved tremendously. Her motor skills are fine. She can feed and bathe herself without assistance. Her speech is fine. She can read, spell and do math. She knows her name and phone number. Her memory hasn't come back fully though and she doesn't know who her children or grandchildren are and doesn't recognize them in photographs. She is working hard to remember though and asks to see pictures and wants to know more. With brain swelling comes potential memory loss and we are ever hopeful that as the swelling continues to go down, her memory will come back.

(Update a few hours later: My dad just called with fabulous news! My Grandpa Cy, Grandma Janet and Grandma Carol drove over to see her today and Mom recognized all three of them and knew their names!!! I am over the moon excited that she is FINALLY starting to remember people!!! She didn't magically remember everything, but this progress is very encouraging.)

P.P.S For those of you who really only stop by for the cute pictures of Lana, I apologize. I don't think I've posted any pictures of her in a few weeks. Here you go. Enjoy!

No comments: