Healthy Grocery Shopping on a Budget: May Check in!

So……… the big B word is bout to rear its ugly head again.

That’s right – it’s budget time.

I didn’t do an official “budget check-in” for the month of March…..Stuff happens.

I mentioned it in passing in my “If We Were Having Coffee…” post.

Just like in February, I was really close to breaking even during March. However, my monthly budget is actually $300-$400 less than I make each month, so ideally I should be saving that much. I spent a little bit more this month than last…Regardless, I am still $1,000 less than the levels I was spending in November-January.

And so it goes…..

April was actually not too bad. I just about broke even again, which means I’m still spending much less than I was last fall! However, I started to realize that my lifestyle was changing from the very first budget I set for myself in January when I started this whole ordeal…and even from in February, when I modified it to more realistically reflect my spending habits.

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Even though I was within my budget (in the grand scheme of things, if you don’t include my Blend fee and airfare, I spent $100 less than I earned this month, not including a big tax refund. Cha ching!)…I was waaaayyy off in some of my spending categories and I noticed a couple of trends in April.

First of all, I went down to playing dodgeball only 1 night per week and have have been staying in a lot more and not drinking at bars. Hence the extra moolah in the Entertainment category. However, the reason that I’ve been spending less at bars…is because I’m spending more at home.

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The “Misc” category is where I put any non grocery purchases (alcohol, nail polish binges at CVS, etc. etc.)…It’s wayyy cheaper for me to split a bottle of $4-$5 wine between a couple of nights than to go out and spend $5 per drink at the bar over the course of a few nights. Plus I am just l-a-z-y 😉

For reference, here’s the budget I was going off of. That “entertainment” budget of $120 was a combination of dodgeball bar and “activities”:

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Another area that seems to be in flux is my eating out, or “restaurants” budget. For someone who almost never eats out, going $15 over budget was surprising…However, check out my purchases:

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Over half of it is coffee!

On days that I am really busy and am tempted to eat my lunch at my desk, I try to follow my own advice and escape for at least a few minutes to walk around outside for a bit. The easiest way to do that is often to walk over to Starbucks, Ambrosia, or La Bou and grab a coffee or tea.

SO, keeping in mind all of these changes, I once again edited my budget to reflect my spending habits. I am allowing myself more money for Miscellaneous purchases, a little less for bars, and I’m going to try to limit myself to $25/month at Starbucks. The main reason for this number is that I can easily reload my Starbucks app with $25 at the beginning of each month!

 

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One big thing that will affect my budget going forward is my new gym membership at California Family Fitness. I decided to take the plunge and join a gym for a few reasons that I think make it worth the cost:

  1. Convenience. The gym is 3 blocks from my office, meaning I can go in the morning, work out, shower, then get to work! And hey, if I use their shampoo and conditioner I may even save money there 😉
  2. Variety. Since I left my old job (which had a gym on-site), I have been focusing mainly on running 3 times per week and I do “strength training” 1-2 times. However, I never feel like I get a great workout when I use my little hand weights in my living room, and I am extremely limited in what I can do. I would like to start including more variety in my workouts and pushing myself harder in non-running activities. I did my first ever group fitness class yesterday, and I loved it!
  3. Human Interaction. With the exception of one run with Chris and one with my friend Liz, all of my half marathon training runs were done alone. I work out in my living room alone. I like to work out alone because I am pretty good at self motivating, but I am by no means an introvert and I love being around people. Even working out by myself in the middle of a gym full of people would be an improvement over what I’ve been doing!

So, there’s my official justification for forking out $60/month when I have a limited budget. I think I am going to aim for 2 gym workouts, 1 group class, and 2-3 runs per week. It sounds like a lot, but I figure I’d like to be there 3x a week to make the price worth it!

I will do my best to keep y’all updated at the end of this month on how I do with the new budget. Till then, stay tuned and have a great weekend!

How has your budgeting/spending been lately? I’ve reeeeally had to fight the urge to spend all my money on shopping for new spring clothes. I’ve been pretty good about staying away…unless it’s on sale 😉

Do you belong to one or more gyms? Do you think you get your moneys worth?

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Healthy Grocery Shopping on a Budget – February Check in!

So I’ve got bad news and good news about my budget this February.

The bad news is… I went to New York for 4 days and spent a lot more money than I would have in Sacramento…mostly on some delicious food.

The good news, however, is three-fold! First off, I looked at my average spending over the last 6 months (not including February) on WellsFargo.com, and I spent $700 less in February than my average, and $1,000 less than last month (!!!). That’s including my trip to NYC (not including airfare, which I paid back in December). Secondly, I was finally paid my first installment of unemployment benefits last month, and on Monday was paid 3 of my remaining 4 weeks. This will help out a lot, especially since I took two unpaid days off for my trip, and will definitely be a welcomed supplement to my income. I have had a HELL of a time getting through to EDD on this (obviously, since I’ve been employed since mid-January now and am just now getting paid for November/December…), including about 35 phone calls in a <25 minute time frame last week to finally get through to an operator. Third and finally, I broke even this month. This is a huge victory for me, considering the 2/3 pay cut I took a couple of months ago. It means that I have started to really adjust my spending!

Anyway, I have not included the expenses from my New York trip on my budget breakdown for this month because, like last month, I basically considered them one time purchases. It was vacation, after all! Last month, I didn’t include my Macy’s card payments and a few other purchases (e.g. my replacement iPhone)…and I think that was largely why I stayed within my budget. The absence of a Macy’s credit card payment and some self control when it came to online shopping apparently really went a long way in managing my budget this month.

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I did make a pretty big splurge at Target right before Valentine’s Day (see above), and an impulse Kate Spade online sale purchase (about $150 total between the 2), but I generally kept it light on any other miscellaneous purchases this month. And besides those 2 slip ups, I didn’t go shopping!

Otherwise, I think my adjustments from January’s budget (the fact that I took half of my restaurant budget and put it into the dodgeball bar/entertainment categories) were smart. Check it out:

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Groceries

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I unfortunately only made it to the Farmer’s Market once this month. It was rained out one week, I was in New York for another week, and I was just plain dead from a long run the other week. I have, however, been taking major advantage of the Safeway Just4U app when I shop at Safeway. Check out how much I saved on my grocery bill when I went this weekend- I spent $56 and saved $33!

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Yes, you’re reading correctly, I got 2 jars of Nutella for $2.99 TOTAL! #score

Miscellaneous purchases included a six pack, one bottle of wine, and some nail polish and fake eyelashes from CVS 🙂

Going Out

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Stayed within my dodgeball bar budget this month! This is surprising, considering how often I end up getting the above “dinner” on Thursday nights… IPA and a basket of fries. Of course, this usually supplements a pre-dodgeball protein bar/banana/snack. OK, that doesn’t make it much better, does it? 😛

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Last week, I treated myself to my first lunch out since starting my new job. It was a rainy day so I couldn’t bike, and I didn’t want to walk all the way home (walking there and back takes up about half of my lunch hour) so I decided to treat myself! Pasta salad at at Ambrosia never disappoints…it is a lot more pricey than my usual stir fry at home though, so it may be a while before I do this again 😛

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The bulk of my going out spending this month was thanks in large part to a few birthday parties and Sacramento Beer Week. I need to either learn how to get guys to buy me drinks, or how to stop being the hero and offering to buy rounds of drinks!

This month will be a different story, as I am hereby swearing to be a hermit these next two weeks leading up to my half marathon! I am most likely passing up on a trip down south to the Democratic Convention this weekend, for fear of not being able to do my last training run or doing something stupid and injuring myself a week before my race.

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I still stayed more or less in my overall food budget this month. If you add in my New York trip, it’s a different story…However, even including my trip, I broke even, and for that I am super proud of myself! *pats self on back*

What was your last big splurge?

Getting bought drinks at the bar– what’s your secret? 😉

Healthy Grocery Shopping on a Budget – January Check in!

It may be a few days into February already, but I haven’t forgotten that I promised you all an update on my budget.

This month was definitely what I would call a work in progress as far as the budget goes. I had a few unforeseen expenses, like having to purchase a new iPhone after mine fell in a river (with me attached) in Oregon over New Years. I also had to pay last month’s Macy’s bill, which wasn’t pretty after all the Christmas shopping I did there 😉 I bought an awesome onesie for this weekend’s pajama pub crawl. But I did not include these extra costs in my budget this month because I thought of them as one time purchases, and really wanted to focus my budget goals on limiting my spending in the areas I could control — groceries and going out!

Let me jog your memory on the budget I gave myself for food in January:

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All pretty self explanatory! $30 per week for groceries (split between the farmer’s market and the supermarket), and $75 for any other stuff.

Going out, also self explanatory – $10 per week at the dodgeball bar (I go 2x per week), $10 per week for other bars or activities, and a whopping $20/week for restaurants.

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I kept track on my handy dandy budget app, Pocket Expense. Unlike other budgeting apps, you have to actually manually add in all your expenses. I was actually pretty good about doing this on the reg, and on days I was lazy and didn’t add whatever I spent, I at least always kept my receipts so I could go back and do it later.

Now……..to see how I did!

foodbudgetjanuaryfinalNot too shabby, right?!

Groceries

So, I only went to the farmer’s market twice this month. I haven’t gone in three weeks…ever since the weekend I ran 9.3 miles, I have been way too wiped out after my long runs to make it over to the market, or I’ve just run out of time (umm, apparently running 10 miles takes a bit longer than running only 7!). So I did most of my grocery shopping at Grocery Outlet and Safeway. I used my Safeway JustForU app to get some great deals this month! Remember this fun quinoa salad thing I made for lunches one week?

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Yeah, that chopped salad was FREE thanks to a Justforu coupon! Using MAYBE a quarter of a box of quinoa, I made 3 days of lunches for less than $2 total! Cha chingggg.

Another way I saved some money on groceries was by stopping by the parents’ house a couple of times this month! Why is it that food tastes SOO much better when you don’t cook it yourself?

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Thanks Mom!

Miscellaneous purchases this month included a couple of Friday night bottles of wine, a six pack of beer, some stamps, a new phone case, and a trip or two to CVS for some nail polish 🙂 All very exciting, right?

Going out

I am shocked that I stayed under my dodgeball bar goal this month. I actually had to go back at my app and double check that I remembered to enter in all my drinks… I did! {It’s not that I get trashed twice a week at dodgeball, but the bar does have a $10 minimum for card purchases and since I rarely have cash, I often find myself offering to buy my friends drinks so I can meet the minimum!} I must admit I had several drinks bought for me by friends who owed me money 😛 Near the end of the month, when I knew I didn’t have much more “entertainment” money left, it became a lot easier for me to just say “oh well!” and grab a cup of water instead.

Because I only went out to eat twice this month, I did, however, start to sneak a few drinks into the “restaurants” column on Pocket Expense since I knew I wouldn’t be using that money. This allowed me to make sure I was still staying within my overall budget for the month, and made me realize that I may have misjudged my spending habits when I set up my budget last month!

Also, seeing that I spent just as much money going to bars/the movies/a roller derby (lol) as I did on groceries makes me think maybe I should start spending more evenings like I spent this one:

IMG_3146The beer was less than $2 in a six pack, and who doesn’t love Princess Bride?!

Based on how this first month went, and how much my first paycheck (!) was, I think I am going to largely keep my budget the same this month. Luckily, I was FINALLY paid some unemployment benefits this week. I will probably only get 5 weeks worth or so (not the full 8 weeks I was unemployed…) but at this point I’m just happy to get something! I’m planning on using the extra money to pay down my credit card bill from December/January and to *ahem* pay for a little trip I have planned… More on that in a few weeks 😉

Here’s my modified budget for February:

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Sorry for the weird text on all of these.. I turned on my computer last night to realize that my Photoshop is busted, so I had to use a janky website to edit my budgets! Anyway, I allotted half of my restaurant money to the dodgeball bar and other activities. If we’re being realistic, I probably won’t even spend $40 at restaurants…But maybe if I know I have the money set aside, I’ll suggest dinner with friends one night instead of drinks!

Wish me luck!

Do you budget?

Do you and your friends treat each other to drinks?

Healthy Grocery Shopping on a Budget

New Years Resolutions…Such a divisive topic. Around the first of the year in 2013, I set myself a few Fitness Goals for the year and checked in occasionally (see my last check-in in September here) to see how I was doing. Having a blog and stating my “resolutions” publicly for the internet to see definitely made me more likely to hold myself accountable.

If you read my About Me, you’ll see that I call myself a 20-something on a budget. When I wrote that, I basically figured that since I didn’t make much money, and didn’t spend a ton each month, I considered myself to be living “on a budget”.

Welp, it may not have been before, but that’s about to become literal, folks.

Next week, I start a paid internship, and although it is exactly the job duties and experience that I’m looking for, it pays a little less than I’m used to making. 1/3 less, to be exact…and teetering close to California’s minimum wage. So instead of fitness goals, I’m resolving to establish a monthly budget for myself – and actually follow it!

Because I don’t own a car, I don’t have to worry about a lot of the costs associated with a vehicle, like gas/insurance/parking/repairs. Our rent is on the pricey side for Midtown Sacramento, but my roommate and I are pretty frugal when it comes to utilities and internet bills.

The budget about which I am going to have to be more wise from here on out is my food budget. (OK, and no more shopping sprees on my Macy’s Credit Card…)

I constantly hear that eating healthy is not only more time consuming, but also more expensive than just relying on fast food or pre-packaged/processed meals. I’m here to prove that while the first half might be true, it is absolutely doable to eat healthy on a budget! Here is the monthly food budget that I’ve established for myself:

foodbudgetMy average monthly food spending in 2013 (including groceries, bars, and restaurants) was about $425, with almost 1/4 of that being spent in bars each month. (Thanks, dodgeball)

I’m hoping to spend $15/week at the Farmer’s Market and $15/week at the grocery store. I rarely spend more than $20 at the Farmer’s Market, and the only times I’ve gotten close were when I’ve bought flowers (#TreatYoSelf!). If I do most of my shopping at Grocery Outlet and use coupons at Safeway, that will be plenty. An extra bit of miscellaneous spending money in case I run out of anything during the week or want to treat myself to a bottle of wine or nail polish from CVS will provide a safety net. (again…#TreatYoSelf)

Going out is another area where I can save a lot of money. I will be limiting myself to $10/week at the dodgeball bar (which is actually almost 3 drinks + tip!) that I frequent twice a week, and $10/week to spend on other evening activities, such as other bars, movies, ice skating, etc.

Finally, I am limiting myself to $20/week in eating out expenses. This is actually a generous allowance, since I don’t eat out often.

You’ll notice there’s not a lot of extra money allowed for alcohol. That was no accident…I’m just trying to follow through on improving my lifestyle for maximum Half Marathon success!

Now…for this week’s groceries.

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Before I go into what I bought, let me tell you what I already had in my fridge & pantry. I was pretty low on perishable goods, since we were gone to Oregon for 4 days.

ALREADY HAD:

1/2 bunch kale
1/2 head broccoli
tub of farmer’s market salsa
pasta
onions
quinoa
old fashioned oats
candy/chocolate/etc leftover from christmas
half a dozen protein bars
chocolate peanut butter spread
crackers
a few wedges of Laughing Cow cream cheese
frozen tilapia filets
frozen fruit
most other pantry staples (garlic, ginger, oil, vinegar, butter, etc)

Here’s what I bought:

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How epic is that 2 lb bucket of hummus for just $2.58?! Thank youuuu Grocery Outlet! Unfortunately it expired yesterday, lol, so I’ve gotta eat it fast!

Since I have enough bread and beans to last me for a couple of weeks, next week I’ll probably stock up on tortillas and almond milk instead. It’s all about divvying up the staples between grocery trips!

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And to finish, here are some ideas of meals I will be eating with these groceries and what I already had:

Breakfast

Toast with hummus or Laughing Cow wedges or chocolate PB
Eggs and cheese (with or without toast)
Breakfast nachos
Oatmeal with frozen fruit
Toast with eggs

Lunch

Stir fry (brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower) and toast
Salsa, eggs & stir fry veggies
Grilled cheese sandwich

Snacks

Protein shakes with frozen fruit
Chips and salsa
Hummus and chips/crackers
Cheese and crackers

Dinner

Tilapia with sauteed greens
Cauliflower soup
Black bean soup
Moar stir fry (it’s my fave)
Roasted acorn squash stew

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Now if I could just tackle the whole “it takes too long to cook and eat healthy” part… Looks like I am going to get back into the Sunday Food Prep routine come next week!

Would you be able to live on $30/week for groceries? (Assuming you’d only be shopping for yourself)

I already asked this yesterday, but how do you keep track of your budget? I downloaded Pocket Expense to use for now, but have heard good things about Mint as well.

Making a Meal Plan, Part 1

Something strange happened the other day.

That is my boyfriend expressing interest in making a meal plan. This coming from a guy whose impulsive eating habits rival the Cookie Monster’s. A guy who usually goes without breakfast, eats fast food or microwave meals for lunch and linner, then gets off work at 9:30 and eats a bagel smothered in cream cheese and cheddar, followed by PB&J toast, followed by half a bag of Airheads.

Needless to say, I was skeptical.

Hmmm…I can blog about it, you say? Sign me up!

Of course, I’m kidding. As I’ve become a lot healthier during the time we’ve been dating (1 year next week!), I have consistently tried to make healthy meals for both of us. This was before the blog, and I would still want to help him even if didn’t have the blog to put his diet on blast  keep him accountable  share his journey. 🙂

T-Man recently took a job working on a congressional campaign, and it came with a bit of a pay cut. As a result, he has been using fast food and microwave meals to sustain himself through his 11 hour days, since he thought that was the easiest and cheapest way to do it.

He hasn’t gained much (if any) weight, but after nearly 3 months of the campaign lifestyle, it’s not hard to imagine that his lack of nutritiousness has had him feeling yucky and pooped. Not to mention, his bank account hasn’t been too happy with him. Here’s where the meal plan comes in.

My main goal was to plan simple meals he could make in the morning to avoid having to eat out. I looked up a couple of Excel templates for meal plans online, but decided to make one myself because a) I had now have mad Excel skills and b) I like color coordination.

A huge key to being healthy and well-fueled is breakfast. Which T-Man now eats. He usually only has one meal during the work day, so I called that lunch — then I included a dinner “snack”, since I knew he doesn’t always have time in the morning to prep 2 meals, but didn’t think he should go hours without eating. He still eats dinner around 9:30 when he gets off, which I know is late, but I figure not everything about the campaign lifestyle is conducive to an ideal healthy diet.

Also, old habits die hard, and I don’t see T-Man’s PM fridge raids ending anytime soon 🙂

I started by putting in the meals that are a given each week. He always joins me at the dodgeball bar on Thursdays, and I actually have time to make us breakfast on the weekends, for example. I also experiment with different meaty recipes on Sundays that I usually end up giving to him to use in his lunches.

From there, I got creative and used what I know about his eating habits and what he knows how to cook. I tried to balance protein and carbs, and give him more than one option for most meals. I also looked at Safeway.com to see what they had on sale that week, and I made a column on the right to fill in groceries needed for the meals I planned for him.

I found a really cheap frozen pizza from Open Nature, which is a healthy Safeway brand that uses hardly any processed ingredients in their products. Then, we went to Napa for half the weekend and missed the sale. And still haven’t been to the grocery store yet. Oops.

This is the finished product:

Though he hasn’t jumped on board 100% yet (Monday night instead of pasta, he had a burger, macaroni & cheese, and 2 beers…totaling $25), I was really excited to do this for him. It was a bit challenging at times (at first, I was planning Katie-sized meals, which wouldn’t even fill him up halfway), but also fun.

Do any of you plan out your meals from week to week? If so, is it more to stay healthy, or save money? Any tips on how to stick to the plan?

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P.S. Remember how I sang goodbye to my cast on Monday?

Yeah, false alarm. My bone hasn’t healed and I have to wear a (removable) splint for 3 more weeks. That brings my total time in a cast/splint this summer up to about 9.5 weeks. I’m out of words to use to describe my frustration…