Somehow in all my years, I never quite learned how to do a budget. Or, more accurately, a realistic budget that takes into account my real needs versus my wants, what’s coming in versus what’s going out, etc. Somehow I’d discard the budget before finishing it, or even acknowledging that it’s there. Messed up on day 1 and never looked back or remembered it, every time.
And I’m sure I’m paying for that stupidity right now. I’m gonna have to file taxes soon, and as soon as I’m done with that, I’ll have a more realistic assessment of what I have to work with the rest of the year. And some tough choices are gonna be made.
The one aspect of my spending that should theoretically be the easiest to handle is giving me a run for my money, and that’s my food budget. Somehow, I’ve never realistically considered how much I’ve spent and how much I should spend (or have on-hand) in the kitchen. Of course, I know that means if I’m really gonna tighten the wallet around here, eating outside the house just has to stop. Period. That’s a given, and though tough, that’s something I’m determined to conquer (and stick to this time).
Well, that’s the big chunk of wasted money conquered. The rest of it is gonna be harder to figure out. I’m actually planning to spend tomorrow (while cleaning and re-organizing my kitchen) taking inventory of all the food I have in the fridge, the staples cabinets, and the “pantry.” That’ll include cleaning the shelves and throwing out bad stuff (and finally chopping up all that cabbage I have in the fridge for salads this week, among other things).
I’ve spent the past few days finding info online about how to do some extreme kitchen budgeting. I bought a lot of staples and spices recently (figuring out that having loads of spices available might make the healthy eating and recipe-making a bit easier). I have a pretty well-stocked pantry from what I can see so far, and loads of soups and such to use in the next few weeks or months. Eventually, I want to make and can my own soups, salsas, etc., but I’ll need to make some space in those cabinets and use up the couple dozen cans of Progresso in there already.
There’ve been some “challenges” the past few years as times have gotten tight and some YouTube videos show how you can make a certain number of meals for only blah-blah dollars. I haven’t watched any yet, but I’m curious how things are to turn out. I just wonder what’s possible with what I have, but that will require a realistic assessment and not buying too much other stuff if I can help it. I can’t skimp on feeding my pets the best I can, but I should be able to squeeze a few dollars out here and there to make cheaper (and healthier–gotta be healthier) fare for myself at the very least. After all, I have more dietary options than the pets do.
I think part of me is afraid to watch the vids because I’m concerned that the food will be terrible or it will be bland or boring as hell to eat for days, weeks, etc. I’m also a bit concerned because my meal-planning has been terrible so far.
My impulsiveness and eagerness to try and cook different things has led to me buying more perishables than I should for different things and mostly using ’em up, unless I’ve burned out and decided not to deal with that certain recipe this week. More than that, I’ve got days and days of leftovers (that I’m bored of too quickly) and by the time I think I oughta use up the perishables, they’re getting fugly and need to be thrown out.
My overpreparing is killing my budget, and this week I realized that THIS was the big thing that made me avoid cooking and eating much fresh, healthy stuff at home in the first place. I wonder if my possible bipolar tendencies are a part of this, too: the desire to try and do a bunch of recipes and cooking, only to burn out and the stuff I bought go to hell. I want to avoid as much processed food as possible, so I don’t want to get frozen dinners and the like (the sodium and other crap they put in ’em trigger cravings and binges in me, which is why I’ve tried so hard to learn to cook for myself).
That’s another thing: I’m just cooking for myself, so the idea of making multiple recipes, or getting supplies just to make one for the week (only to get fantastically bored partway through the mass of leftovers) is troublesome. I would’ve thought that would be easiest, since I’m just making enough for one person. But I guess it’s the notion of storage and not letting myself get bored. More than that, how long can I keep it before I end up throwing it out and wasting it?
I don’t really think I want to cook every day, but I definitely don’t want to eat the same thing all week long, either. I also want to know realistically what I’m eating and how I’m using the materials I have onhand so I don’t buy too much. I’ve messed up in the past wanting to do a recipe, only to realize that cucumber I needed was bad or those tomatoes went to rot, so I have to go to the store, which means me getting other things as well, and the cycle continues.
So, first thing’s first: an honest inventory of what I have (and how much of it), getting the fresh veggies taken care of in the fridge, and budgeting my meal plan by maybe doing a new recipe twice a week (and some simple stuff and leftovers the rest of the time). I do have a bit of help in the portions department since I found some cookbooks that are meant for cooking for only 1 or 2 people max (thank you America’s Test Kitchen, because finally someone understands that sometimes just trying to use proportions to reduce the amount of food you make at a time doesn’t help… especially factoring in cooking times, amounts, evaporation rates, etc.).
I’ll be tackling those books as well as the Youtube vids and articles about extreme kitchen budgeting to give myself some ideas. I’ve probably been a few steps away from making some very cheap and healthy stuff, but first I do have some meat and goods in my freezer that have to be dealt with eventually. The way meat prices are around here, I just hope I can find good substitutions (I love spicy black bean burgers, and if I can learn the best combo to make my own patties, then I don’t need to buy from the frozen food section anymore). Mmm…
So, that’s the game plan for tomorrow, and I hope I can find some good stuff (and finally eat or discard what’s already there). I can’t afford much and won’t be able to in the foreseeable future, so I’m aiming to eat as cheaply and healthfully as possible from now on. My other bills I can’t control as much as I’d like to, but if I’m ever gonna get an ounce of wiggle room, it has to be here, in my kitchen budget.
If I can use my imagination and cookbooks to best use, I’ll be good for a month or two. And perhaps at the end of that, I’ll have the imagination and recipes behind me to make it all work for the best.
2 thoughts on “A Newbie Learns How to Tighten the Belt on Her Wallet (& Waistline, Naturally, But Mostly the Wallet)”
Many of my best casserole recipes have come about in the thinking of, “What do I have on hand and need to use up before it goes bad, and what do I need to put with it, cover with cheese, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
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I hear ya there. I’m actually trying to find ways to be inventive WITHOUT cheese. I think my lactose intolerance is getting worse and even a little cooked cheese is getting tough to eat. Actually used up the last of some grated parmesan and basil pesto in my tomato soup last night. Ate it with some triscuit crackers and it was wonderful.
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