Eat Well, Spend Less: Frugal Budget Considerations for 2012

Last January (2011), I shared some of my thoughts and plans after having re-evaluated our household budget. Having a plan in place to change even just a handful of our practices or habits has helped keep our budget on track throughout the year. I thought I'd give an update on last year's goals and brainstorm areas where I still want to improve.

My goal last year was to budget tightly enough to save for the "extras" that pop up in life -- like a new baby, vehicle repairs, medical things, etc. (Speaking of "medical things", Joshua's surgery this week went well [praise GOD!] and he is home recovering. He'll have a second surgery in February, and should be able to return to work in April.)

My plan for 2011 included:

Continue having 1 vehicle -- did this all year and are continuing :)

Continue having only basic phone service (no cell phones or long distance) -- same

Continue having Netflix (no TV, no movies, and no other movie rentals or purchases) -- Canceled Netflix in August, 2011

Continue menu planning -- did better, but not 100% on this

Discontinue restaurant/take-out eating (none, vs. the 6-8 times per year for the past couple of years) -- We ate out (as a family) twice, Joshua got take-out twice, and we got hot dogs at Costco 4-5 times, so... not really an improvement, but not too bad :)

Go to Costco every 2 weeks instead of every week -- we averaged shopping every 10-14 days, so much better than weekly! :)

Spend only $420/month on food/household/toiletries -- this has increased to $500/month; I'm just not sure what else I want to cut when it comes to groceries...

Continue to keep the heat at 64 or lower -- we did this, but getting the furnace repaired (by the landlord) ended up reaping much bigger savings, yay!

Wash towels and whites in cold water instead of hot (use a few drops of bleach instead) -- I went back to hot water for whites/towels, 1 load per week

Take shorter showers (this is a hard one for me!) -- I've been taking fewer showers, not that that's a good thing... ;)

Get Ruth potty trained (she's in Pull-Ups) -- did this in February, yay! :)

Go back to cloth diapers for Moshe (used disposables during December) -- went back to cloth diapers full-time and continued, aside from a 2-day break (just while flying to Ohio/to Seattle to visit my family)

Take a year-long break from buying stuff (we have so much already!) -- I *mostly* did this. Joshua got me a few gifts, though! :)

Shop around to see if we can get a cheaper car insurance rate -- looked into this but didn't make any changes

Recycle anything possible -- done

Call trash service and downgrade to smallest, customer-provided can (saving $7/month) -- did this, and have been able to fit our trash in the tiny can every week! :)

Get landlord to fix dripping faucet in bathroom -- fixed

Figure out how to pay bills online to save stamps -- found a couple I can pay online without extra charges :)

Continue blogging -- I mostly did this, in my bad-blogger way...

Get my recipe e-book finished -- Definitely did not get this done. I let too many things be my excuses/reasons not to make time to work on it...

Eat Well, Spend Less series

Eating Well, Spending Less in 2012

I don't know how many times we've gone over our household budget and...

...the only category it seems we can realistically fiddle with is the food/household items budget.

While I don't think I can actually reduce this year's food budget (can we say growing kids?!), I want to do more without spending more.

Specific ways I plan to accomplish this:

1. Continue to spend nearly all of our food/household budget money on food (instead of things like diapers!), which is one of the ways we eat well and stay within-budget.

2. Continue to go grocery shopping every 2 weeks (or even less often). This practice, especially, means I have to plan ahead -- which is a good thing.

3. Continue to plan menus, focusing on using fresh food at its peak, not wasting anything, and eating lots of affordable foods like beans and carrots. :)

4. Resist buying foods that are expensive but don't provide good nutrition.

5. Do more freezer cooking, and not just for "special occasions" like surgery or having a baby.

6. Introduce new kitchen tasks to the children as they grow older. Yehoshua will be 8 in April, and Eliyahu is 6 -- they could be more helpful and independent if I took more time to teach them to cook. Starting beans in the crock pot, making a pot of oatmeal for breakfast, or getting carrots ready to cook are some of the things I'd like to get them doing more regularly and independently! :)

7. Finally perfect a homemade chicken broth (from the bones after making roasted chicken). I've attempted a few times and didn't care for the results. :(

8. Try to limit desserts more than we already do. Desserts tend to be unhealthy and expensive, anyway. :)

This month's Eat Well, Spend Less series posts are on the topic of New Year's Food/Kitchen Resolutions! Check out what these ladies are sharing:

Jessica at Life As Mom: Teaching My Boys to Cook

Aimee at Simple Bites: Food Resolutions

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship: Yogurt, beans, and chicken broth

Shaina at Food For My Family: Overall Kitchen Organization

Katie at GoodLife{eats}: Variety with whole grains

Mandi at Life...Your Way: The Key to Changing Your Diet for Good

Carrie at Denver Bargains: Reducing Kitchen Waste

Amy at Kingdom First Mom


My husband has started shuting the shower off when he is soaping and when he is shampooing and then just turning it back on and off as needed. then I read that saves quite a bit in water heater expense.

Really enjoyed this post, Tammy. :) You did great last year, with so many goals and as a busy homeschooling Mama!

I hope Joshua's recovery and surgery continue to go well. May God bless his healing, and bless you all in this hard time.

Thank you, Anne Jisca! :)

I'm can you not like your broth? What happened or what was the problem? Making stock is actually very easy and basic....any recipe pretty much will do.(I HATE stocl made with leeks..I only use onions, carrots, celery, maybe garlic). If it feels "gummy" when done, that's because it is stock, not broth. Stock is usually gets that way from the water content being reduced as you cook. it All you need to do is add water. I freeze my stock in measured amounts, and add water at the time I am re-hydrating it. I also do not like unseasoned; I prefer it with Bell's seasoning added (a cheap spice mix that is perfect for anything chicken, or beef pies). Stock also does need more salt than you would think it does, even to make it moderately salty. Let us know what what went wrong and maybe we can help. Glad to hear surgery went well.

Homemade broth is so, so good and so easy to make! I love it! It does need salt. I like a little vinegar added to leach the protein out of the bones, fresh garlic, celery, pepper and some red pepper flakes.

Hmmm.... it just had an "off" flavor... I'm not sure how to describe it. I think maybe I cooked it too long or something... I've done both stovetop and crock pot... :) I'll have to experiment with seasoning it, too. Thanks for the suggestions! :)

I had no idea Joshua would be off work for 4 months! Is there anything you guys need? Prayers to you all. And you are doing awesome.


Thank you, Katie! :)

Barring unforeseen complications, Joshua should be able to return to work after 10-12 weeks. We've been blessed with help from family and friends -- and I'm thankful that (despite feeling like a whale much of the time!) I still feel pretty good and am able to keep things running smoothly while Joshua gets better. :)

And, since we've known for a while that these surgeries could become necessary, we've been putting aside anything "extra" to get us through Joshua's time off work. I'm just so thankful that we have insurance and that Joshua can get the medical care he needs! :)

Hi, Tammy.

Please let us know how Joshua is doing. Wishing him a speedy recovery.


Thanks, Barb. Joshua is doing well... just resting lots (he still has a headache). The doctors think he's doing awesome! ;)

Glad to hear Joshua's surgery went well. I have been praying for him and your family.

You know you spend about what I do on groceries but I have 2 fewer kids! I think I need to re-evaluate. I too went to twice a month grocery shopping and LOVE IT. I have even toyed with the idea of once a month grocery shopping. I know I would have to make weekly trips for a few things. I have gotten good at not putting extras in the cart on the off week that I go just for fresh fruit and milk if we happen to run out.

I was wondering if you could tell us what you do for entertainment without TV and netflix. I know its possible but just curious. I think we spend way too much time in front of a screen and would love to get some ideas.

Hi! I don't leave comments often, but thought I'd put in my 2 cents worth on what we do instead of TV / netflix, ... . As a family, we enjoy playing together (indoors and out), reading together, singing together (my 5yo now wants to learn to play guitar like Daddy), taking walks and exploring the "neighborhood" together, talking together, and yes, even working together. :-) We actually find we don't have time to watch TV, we're so busy doing all these other things!

That's just us. I'm sure there are many more creative ideas out there! :-)


Leanne, thanks for sharing your ideas! I think tv is one of those things that you can get used to having (or not having). :D

One other thing is that on weekday evenings, I often spend time working on my website/blog, which takes up the "free time" I might have for watching movies/Netflix... :)

Thank you so much.

Well, we do have some "screen" entertainment. :) We have an Xbox360. We use it to watch DVDs, and we have a small selection of our own DVDs. Some are educational (like Planet Earth or Matthew) and some are just for fun (like Up). :) We do let the boys play video games on the weekends (usually not on school days).

Pretty much any day of the week they are allowed to play games that use the Xbox Kinect (camera) because those are indoor exercise games (Fruit Ninja, Kinect Sports, etc.). With the weather being rainy so often, it's really nice to have an indoor exercise option for the kids (and me...) that is FUN! :)

And aside from that, we do things like board or card games, puzzles, books, drawing, play dough, building blocks, Legos, coloring books, Duplos, making tents with blankets, all that good stuff. :)

The boys did complain about being bored for a few days after we canceled Netflix, but they got used to it. :D

Just wanted to let you know that you are an inspiration to me. I enjoy your posts; you're very "real". :)

So glad your husband's surgery went well.

Thank you so much! :)

i will be the first to buy your recipe book!!!! I am pressure though :-) (although, i know i am not the only one waiting for this!)

Awww, thank you! :)

I enjoyed reading your post...I find I can go 2.5 weeks between grocery buying (except for milk) if I plan a menu first....I know I spend less this way.
My bank will pay my bills for me if I set it up (with no extra charge)..and the ones that vary in amount, too, I just have to go in and enter the amount and date to pay. So, I'm paying all of mine online.
When my children were small and we used lots of milk, I mixed it half with powdered milk mixed up. I'm not sure how much you'll save since it seems there isn't a big demand for powdered these days. (low demand drives cost up)
I wash all of my laundry in cold or room temperature water. And hang most clothes to dry after 15 minutes in dryer.
I believe the increase in food budget is because of the increase in gasoline and other related items. It costs more to produce and transport.
Lastly, it is good to see the list of goals and the results in writing. I try to do that in my journal each year.
Right now, our biggest expense is health insurance and mortgage. We are planning to pay down our mortgage but there isn't much that can be done about insurance.
Mama Bear

I really enjoy your "Eat Well, Spend Less" posts. Just when it seems like you've trimmed about as much as you can on your budget you always seem to find something else to consider. It helps me stay on track and reminds me to stay on track and try to find ways to cut expenses. I really appreciate the way you trim other costs but keep the healthy good quality foods in the budget. They really are worth the extra expense. I hope Joshua is doing well after surgery and all is well for you and the baby. Take care! :)

Thank you, Sydney! :)

And yes... most of the time it's about deciding what is most important to us (and what we will splurge on -- like our food budget)! :)

Funny, a lot of your goals are similar to ours. :)

We have one vehicle and want to continue this for as long as possible. No cable and we recently changed our Netflix accounts to streaming only. No landlin.We do have fancy pants smartphones but they're somewhat "necessary" due to our jobs but that's another story.

After this spring I'll be cutting way back on my work schedule (I'm a musician and work very part time already) which means an income drop equal to our grocery money. And we need to save for new windows and some foundation work on our house. Oy. So yeah, time to tighten the belt.

So glad to hear Joshua is recovering well from his surgery. My husband had epilepsy surgery in the spring of 2010 and ended up developing a life threatening infection. He had to have a third surgery to remove a chunk of his skull and yet another to have a prosthetic implanted several months later. Talk about a disruption in routine! Our younger son was waking up 4-12 times a night that year and our joke is if we didn't go insane then we never will! Best of luck to you.

Oh, my! That sounds like quite an ordeal. :( I hope your husband is doing much better now...

I know you mean! My husband never goes grocery shopping with me but bemoans the expense. A recent bulk store trip (which he came along as part of our "budget planning") I had several items listed as "must haves" which would last 1 month - 3 months. I normally don't buy meat unless it's on clearance at any store and he decided to buy lamb. 3 different cuts of lamb = $80.00. Later he blamed me for the 258.00 grocery bill - I told him as he learns deals he'll realize that there are times you buy and times that you consider long it will last (how many meals, dishes you can incorporate it in). I've begun to really read the blogs that show how to make stocks, and make my own "basics" from inexpensive ingredients. I love the recipes that I see on your blog, always makes me hungry!

I echo the other comments here already, but wanted to say thanks for this post! I always feel comforted and inspired to read about other moms in my own situation. Facing even deeper cut backs in my husband's income again this year, I need to stay encouraged to find new ways to enjoy what we have and not focus on what we don't. God has blessed us all in so many wonderful ways :)!

Yes! And thank you! :)

Let me know if you need a proofreader! :>)

Will do, Lenetta. :)

100 days of real food has a FABULOUS chicken "stock" recipe. Really good...and really easy...You may have already seen it but it is really good.....
You are doing an amazing job. I wish I had been so dedicated when my kids were little. Keep it up.

Thanks -- I'll check out that recipe before I try again. :)

Tammy, do you ever use coupons? You can really save money on personal items like deoderant, shampoo, any vitamins or medicines. Do you have a walgreens in your area? You can even make money sometimes with their register rewardsprogram, A couple of years ago my hubby was sick with a disease called ITP, an auto immune thing where his body destroys his own platelets, so I was scrambling for ways to save, he is better now and I stll think of my couponing as a little sideline job. I coupon every chance I get. Love your recipes and your blog.

Sometimes! :) I just answered this in more detail here. :)
I'm glad your husband is doing better -- and that you have a fun money-saving hobby in couponing! :D

I'm so glad you posted this today! It's such a confirmation to everything my family and I are working on right now too. We're taking hard looks at every little piece of our budget, and I think what I'm having to cope with the most is this: The changes that reap the largest savings are usually the ones that require the most energy and effort from me. I tend towards disorganization, even though I really do want organization, and that effects every other area of our life.

Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly what your goals and progress are. It helps me to not feel so "alone" in my own planning.

I'm just now really "discovering" Costco and the benefit of planning and purchasing for the longer term. I used to grocery shop a few times every week to "work the deals". I haven't seen any real improvement in our budget in the last two years, so I've ditched that whole "strategy". I want to learn how to work a monthly Costco trip into being the bulk of our grocery shopping, which your posts help with too! :-)

We're also working on cutting all entertainment and eating out from our budget.

Thanks again for sharing your goals and progress with all of us!
-Danielle B

Thanks for your comment, Danielle! :)

Desserts don't have to be expensive. You can make your own cakes and cookies from scratch. And if you don't frost the cake, you have less calories. I love a plain cake with maybe a Tablespoon of jam or preserves on it instead of frosting. But then again, you can just add the fruit to it. My all time favorite cake is just a plain pound type cake. It is really just a cake cooked in either a loaf pan or a bundt cake pan. I don't care for frosting at all. And if you limit the cake to a smallish piece only after your last meal of the day, if the plate is cleared, not big deal.

I just discovered your blog through a friend sharing a post on how you prepared for your second baby (a while back now!). We're expecting our third at the end of February, so I was thrilled to find ideas for freezer meals and such. Then I ended up reading more recent posts and am really enjoying the blog!
I'm glad your husband pulled through the surgery well and hope the next one is uneventful and helps him feel even better.

Thank you! :)

I've never bought an ebook before, but I would buy your recipe book. All the recipes I've tried on this site have been great!

Aww, thank you so much! :)

I am new to your blog thanks to your great wheat bread recipe! Making a loaf right now . . . I have a few ideas if you don't mind my sharing a little. Have you considered teaching beginning music to a few outside kids for some extra spending money? I noticed you mentioned teaching your own last year . . . Also, do you garden? Even a small vegetable garden can make a huge difference in your grocery bill. Just a few thoughts.

Teaching music lessons -- Yes, I have! I haven't advertised for any music students in recent years, though. I love teaching but don't feel that it's a good time for me to pursue it as a business. :)

I had some herbs in pots last summer, and hope to grow more herbs and some lettuce this year! We don't get a lot of direct sunlight at our house/yard due to all the trees nearby, and our summers can stay on the cool side (highs of 65-70 degrees) so that can make it tricky if you live in a shaded area. ;)

Hi Tammy -- just to add to this. I live in Wyoming at 7200' elevation -- about the most harsh growing climate you can imagine, zone 3. I had GREAT luck with earthboxes last summer. My yield was tremendous. There are sites out there that show how to make your own earthboxes out of plastic tubs which I bet you could find for free on freecycle or if you stuck an ad on Craigslist that you were looking for some. I think gardening for self-sustenance would be well within your reach if you wanted to pursue it.

Even with cool weather you can grow so many things, Swiss chard is great, use like celery, tops in salads or like spinach in soups. Los lettuces of all types grow well, peas would love it, and if you set up a deflecting shield you can get enough sunshine for many sunnier type plants like cucumbers. Tomatoes would be happy in tubs too, with a high yield, and if you get heirloom variety you can just save a tomatoe or two and save the seeds. Potatoes can grow nearly anywhere, starting early if near a foundation.
We often trade gleaned apples from others for yard clean up, they make an awful mess when left, also potatoe farmers, and squash/pumpkin farms after harvesting are just
Eft, often you can pick for them, and those keep until the following spring easily Ina cool dry space.
Best of luck, try different things, trade garden space for labor, there are lots of ways to get a good garden harvest.

I don't know about where you live or if you have already considered this - but during the spring, summer & fall, there are many free plants that you can forage from nearby wooded areas. Purslane, dandiloin, fiddleheads etc...

Also, post on freecycle or the like, that you would welcome any extra produce people may have from their gardens - we grow a garden and I always have too much - I don't can, so I give to anyone who wants it.

People may have fruit trees and have extra fruit - again most would rather it go to growing children who will enjoy it than rotting on the ground.

Best of luck and hoping Joshua has a speedy recovery.

I have to second that idea about fruit trees. We have been picking fruit for some neighbors who have no use for all of the apples on their trees. By having us pick it in the fall it saves them the labor of picking it off from the ground. We actually pick all of the fruit then give them whatever they want to use and take the rest. It works out great all around.

Yes, I have considered this! Nettles are on my must-try list for this Spring. We live in a quiet woodsy-ish area and there's a big patch of nettles on the slope behind our back yard! :D

We got a lot of free apples from Joshua's parents' tree last Fall -- it was great!! I made a big pan of applesauce every few days and we ate it ALL. I didn't end up freezing or canning any of the apples!! But, I also didn't buy any fruit from the store for a number of weeks. :D

Hi Tammy, it is so interesting and inspiring to read your budget goals. I am in a very similar place in life right now. However, it is I that have been having medical problems and not my husband. Anyway, a friend of mine commented awhile back that she thought that my sister and I should sell our bread (I bake gf now but used to bake bread with your recipe and ones similar in the past). She and many other ladies had tasted our breads when we made them for our church's bazar bake sales and they had discussed amongst themselves how to get us to bake so they could purchase the bread on a weekly basis. Well, we are now both gluten free and don't bake that bread. :) BUT, I was thinking of you when she told me this. It wouldn't be a ton of money, but a posible source of extra income could come from something such as this if you know of people in your church or neighborhood who would be interested. I may end up doing this with my gf bread when I get one perfected. I figure that even if I had 4-5 people a week interested in a freshly ground, warm from the oven, loaf of bread, that would at least put a bit more money in the budget. Just an idea.

Thanks for the idea! I get requests for food sometimes (like bread, cinnamon rolls, and cheesecake! mmmm!) but it can be difficult to charge/figure a fair wage + ingredients without the item becoming ridiculously expensive. Bread is fairly easy though! :) I'm not sure I could sell baked goods without permits/inspections/licenses where we live, though. :(

I just got a cheaper rate on my car insurance. I went online and got a bunch of different quotes and took them to my agent and told them I was switching to the cheapest one with the same coverage. They matched it. With my other discounts, my car insurance dropped to 370 every 6 months if paid in full, That's about a 50% savings compared to what I was paying

What a great set of goals for this year (and last!). We actually had a number of like goals for this year as we looked to provide a more balanced approach & attention to our lives as a family, partner & parents.

Again, lovely honest post!

i stumbled onto your site through recipe searches and keep coming back to check in on your blog. it truly is inspiriational to see the dedication and commitment people have for living on a budget, finding ways to save when you think it's impossible. thank you

I came to enter to win the cookbook but your website is so interesting it took me two hours! This is going to my favorites list!

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