An Itchin’ Budget?

Living in this day and age is expensive.

Living in an allergy home is even more costly – regular trips to (very expensive) allergists, dermatologists and doctors, regular updates of asthma medication, epi-pens and bottles of antihistamines for every place they go. Creams, creams and more creams. Gosh it adds up quickly.

Then there’s the groceries ….. no options for $1 bags of pasta or flour. Allergy friendly options are often 8-10 times the price.

Don’t get me wrong – I am so very grateful  that my husband has a job, we actually have allergy friendly options in shops and that we are able to access the specialists we need to care well for our children. We are better off than many.

I remember a couple of years ago, following a friend do a challenge that was ‘Feed your family for $150 a week’ and it just made me giggle. Yep, no way is that ever going to happen in this house. There is 6 of us and a dozen foods that we need to avoid or substitute.

And then I started to realise that, even though I wrote a menu for a fortnight and was a pretty good budgeter, I had fallen into into the trap of ‘just popping in’ to the supermarket to pick up some extra things for baking, or things we’d run out of …. and I had suddenly spent another $50 … how does that happen?!?! Eek!

I grew up watching my Mum take out the entire grocery budget in cash once a fortnight and when it ran out, that was it, we had to wait. And my Dad had litterally sat me down with a pen and paper and taught me how to budget. What had happened to those lessons I’d learned?

So with 1 income (for the past 8 years!), 4 kids who are expensive to feed, ever increasing costs, a husband who requests meat for lunch and dinner 6 days a week and a desire to eat well with minimally processed foods, I set myself a challenge: Menu plan for a month, write my grocery list for a month, 1 big, careful shop and then that’s it – no going back. Scary Stuff! It’s been 4 months now …. and I love it!

I’m not trying to convince all of you to shop for a month at a time – in fact, I know that some of you won’t have the space …. I am incredibly fortunate that my Nanna gave us her old deep freezer, which makes this process possible for us. But the general ideas I think can work for everyone – so, after being asked a squillion times for my tips, here is what works in our home:

  • Check what is in my pantry and freezer – write a list out – don’t be vague about it!
  • Write a menu (whether that be for a week, month or more), and use up what you already have for those meal plans.
  • Shops in different places for different things (obviously this will be different depending on where you live).
    • Meat, milk, honey, eggs, cheese and all fresh fruit and veg come from the farmers markets. Local, cheaper and often much better quality.
    • I buy all of my flours, nuts and seeds, salts and yeast etc in bulk (my favourite  online places are 2 Brothers Foods and Weigh N Pay)
    • Buy all packaged goods from one place (and use the rewards system to your advantage!). I currently shop mostly at Coles. For us this includes things like tinned beans and legumes, coffee, plain cereals, frozen berries, Nuttelex, oils, milks (Oat, almond, rice and soy), pasta, rice, rice crackers, dried beans, dried fruit, specialist cheese, vinegar, vegemite and all toiletries (this includes sanitary items, everything for washing, cleaning and use in the kitchen).
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The big shop!
2Brosorder
Online flours, nuts and seeds

Admittedly, when I get all of this home – it takes a significant amount of time to put away!

The meat is a bit of different category – I buy in bulk for 3 months at a time. I get cheaper cuts like chicken thighs, gravy beef, lamb and beef bones and mince, then break them up into meal sized portions before freezing (usually approx 800g for thighs and gravy beef and 4-500g for mince) and I buy large joints/pieces of things like beef, lamb, pork, silverside etc and when I cook them I stretch them out over 3 or 4 meals (think roast, pies, soups, pastas, gravy etc). To make our meat meals spread further, we bulk out everything with veg, lentils and mushrooms as much as we can. Our national dietary guidelines suggest that we shouldn’t have protein as more than about 1/3 of our meal so we try not to make meat the main focus.

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3 months of meat! (there are layers you can’t see!)

The things that people have told me that they ‘pop’ to the shops for are bread, milk, yoghurt and snacks for the kids.

  • Well – our dairy milk gets frozen in the deep freeze (about 14 x 3L bottles!). I get the new one out at night when required (at the same time as I get out the frozen meat for the next day) and it defrosts overnight in the kitchen sink. The UHT milk we buy (dairy and soy) is used to make our yoghurt as required.
  • And bread, we don’t eat much of it, but I bake it as we require. If you’re not into baking it…. just buy what you need and freeze it.
  • Making your own snacks is SO SO much cheaper than buying them in store. Less processed, fewer artificial colours and preservatives, less sugar and more nutrients too! Let the kids choose what kind of muffins, slices, biscuits and muesli bars they want to make with you! Freeze them ready to drop into their lunchboxes (and yours!) each day.

Fruit  and veg are the only exception to my no returning to the shops rule.

  • I buy in bulk, blanch and freeze some things when they are on special (think green beans and cauliflower etc)
  • some things, like green peas, I just buy frozen to start with.
  • I deliberately overbuy bananas and avocados to freeze ready for baking and smoothies.
  • I try to buy the veggies I need for my meals that week so we don’t waste. I work at being creative with what we have and don’t return to market for more until we have really used all we have.

Consider this fair warning …. If you shop like this, people tend to stare …. and they don’t even try to hide it. I’ve had all sorts of jokes and comments about the coming apocalypse and having a dozen children etc etc. Mostly I just smile – sometimes I tell people that it’s for a family of 6 and we only shop once a month … then they just look even more shocked!!

So where do we put it all? It goes in the fridge, freezer, pantry and …. the (now jokingly called) ‘Apocalypse shelf’ in one of our cupboards. The store of toiletries all goes in the laundry cupboards. By the end of the month, they are all pretty empty and it makes it easy to start again 🙂

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The Apocalypse Shelf 😉

If any of you are still reading, well done, and yes, I realise, as my husband lovingly tells me, I am an organisational freak! I also love numbers so I broke down our expenditure and this is what I have discovered:

It costs us, on average, between $5.50 and $6 per day, per person to live (roughly $0.60c of that is meat). This works out to between $230 and $250 a week for 6 people. Not so bad considering the $150 a week challenge that I mentioned earlier was for 4 people ($225 for 6 people then). This cost is all of our food (every meal and snack), all of our toiletries, washing powders, gladwrap, cleaning products etc etc.

My 2 other tips for making your budget stretch when it’s tight are:

  • to grow as much as you can yourself (even if it just some fresh herbs in pots!), and
  • to arrange swaps with like-minded friends. We have swapped propagated plants and excess veg, or homemade flavoured salts and oils for honey, eggs, lemons, chillies, garlic etc – awesome for encouraging others and building community too!
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Part of the Itchin’ Kitchen garden in suburban Perth – who needs grass?!

So – that’s how we do it in our family – I’d love to hear if you have any other tips for making your budget work!

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