In January we attempted to do meal planning for the entire month and complete a pantry cleanout and eat through items in our freezer. Whew. It was a lot to keep track of and I am pretty proud of our progress. I was planning on doing a super low spend month for January too but then Omicron surged right as school was starting and we ended up doing a large grocery run at the beginning of the month to avoid the store as long as possible. It ended up working out for us and we were able to avoid the store for the most part for a couple of weeks and did only minimal shopping the rest of the month.
January and February tend to be the months in the year when we naturally run out of things in our pantry such as rice, beans, eggs and many other staples. We have historically had low spending months at the first part of the year in an attempt to catch up with holiday/birthday spending and since we have several large yearly bills that need to be paid the first couple of months of the year. This means we run out of staples and need to rebuy them around the beginning of February. This really hit us hard in 2020 when we were out of many staples and unable to find them at stores so this year I decided to stock up on some of the basics we were low on the first weekend of January. We did eat through all of the fresh vegetables, eggs and many items with our pantry clean out and that was amazing.
We were able to eat down our small deep freezer enough to defrost and clean it really well before moving it out of the garage and into our downstairs storage room. Some of the items in it were a huge surprise to me including Otter Pops and a couple of gallons of blueberries we picked in 2017 which were still looking beautiful. We clearly had not been paying attention to what was in there or rotating it at all. I ended up throwing out half the Otter Pops because they were leaking once I thawed them out and we are definitely eating through the blueberries. I have made three cobblers out of blueberries and other fruit so far and my daughter has been eating oatmeal with blueberries a couple of mornings a week which is one of her favorites. This time around we are making a list of what is in there and keeping track better. So far we have a turkey, a pork loin, chicken bones for stock and most of the bread I bought on my trip to the Franz Outlet. The freezer isn’t even half full yet so we definitely have room to spare.
Our spending from January 10th through February 28th or so is the largest chunk of our budget for the entire year. We have to be very careful about our spending from March to June of the year in order to have enough saved by the end of December to cover everything which can be tricky.
During this period we cover:
- Car insurance for the first half of the year.
- Medical deductibles need to be met again and we always get some sort of illness in February.
- Tuition deposit for our kids’ school which has crept up the past couple of years.
- All of summer camp for two kids for the entire summer. This is super expensive.
- Two family members have birthdays and we throw at least one party.
- After school sports and activities registration for the first quarter of the year.
- Pre-Covid we also had Valentine’s day dinner out and booked a trip or two in advance but that is not happening now.
Needless to say, it is a large chunk all at once, especially coming off of a high spend month like December. We have had this pattern for a few years though and I am getting better at predicting what we need. Last year we only had camp for eight weeks in the summer and it was way less expensive. This year I am keeping the kids home for 2-3 weeks as well. Camp can be a lot of stimulation and the kids did well being home and getting some down time prior to school starting in the fall. I am keeping them home the first week of the summer, a week in July and the last week before school starts. This will save us about $2500 in camp costs this summer which seems high but camp prices have increased this year. $400 per kid per week times two kids for three weeks is $2400 plus tax and that doesn’t include after care at an extra$100-150 a week per kid. Child care is expensive to say the least.
For our January spending I focused on our groceries. We did get meals from the school a couple of the weeks so the kids had some variety in their meals and I felt like we did a decent job of not going to the store but we did end up spending just over $1000.00 on food for January which is pretty high. We used to average around $600 a month for four of us but last year this crept up to $1000 due to price increases. We have a lot of dietary restrictions and a picky eater so some things we can’t substitute for cheaper items. I also found that we were buying way to many snacks and barely cooking. We definitely fell into the working parent trap of buying convenience food to save on time. My goal this year is to work on this and reduce our spending with meal planning.
Our spending was mostly from the shopping trip I took the first weekend of January where we spent nearly $500 on basics and stock up items. This type of trip we only do a couple of times a year so this was pretty unusual for us. We also found some excellent deals at my favorite grocery outlet store on meat, gluten-free crackers, cereal, and tea which we of course bought extras of since they run out quickly. I also bought some gluten-free flour in bulk and stocked up on some items we were almost out of from Amazon like the gluten-free ramen I love. I only buy ramen a few times a year and it goes out of stock very frequently so if they have it in stock you kind of have to jump on it. I don’t anticipate buying more flour or ramen for several months, maybe even a year for the flour. We are baking more though so maybe we will need more flour near the end of 2022.
Being gluten-free and nut free is pretty expensive and finding shelf stable food can be difficult. We like to keep a couple of weeks of easy to make meals on hand for emergencies and the ramen is an easy thing to cook with or without dressing it up. Everyone should have a month’s worth of food on hand for emergencies, especially in Washington where earthquakes can happen. We did not need to run to the store during the snow in December and it was so nice to be able to not stress about running out of food. The important part of keeping enough for an emergency is to make sure it is items you will actually eat. We keep things we eat regularly and rotate through them as we go. If we aren’t eating an item I try to donate it before it expires at a local free pantry or through our Buy Nothing group.
Overall I am pretty disappointed in our January grocery spending. We bought too much at the beginning of the month and took too many smaller trips towards the end of the month and this added up pretty quickly. I was hoping to spend under $800 for the month with our stocking up and we were way over. For February we are so far at just under $500 which is ok for half way through the month. I did a larger trip at the start of the month but only spent about $250 on groceries at that trip. I should probably mention that that is just for food. I keep track of cleaning supplies, paper products and coffee separately and honestly we don’t spend that much on other items. My goal for February is to stay under $500 but I am really hoping to stay under $600.
My spending goal for March will be low but I will talk about that in our next post. For now, how are you keeping your grocery spending down? Do you have enough food for a couple of weeks in an emergency? A month?