The great internal debate (on food spending)

May 11, 2012 at 7:43 am (food) (, )

My food spending is out of control. I don’t know quite why. It could be that now I drive by my favorite, yet the most expensive/upscale market just before I get home, so I tend to stop there more frequently. It could be that I’m single and responsible for all of my food purchases and solely responsible for any food that is uneaten and wasted. Could be I have expensive tastes! I thought that buying more often and in smaller quantities would prevent food waste and help me stay within budget (see my recent post on food frugality). Well, I’m happy to report that there’s much less food wasted, but my budget is even more out of control now than usual. I think I’m going to blame the high-end prices and my impulses of being hungry and wanting a certain food item right as I’m nearing home and driving by.

I spent over $550 on groceries in April, and I’m a single person, no family, no kids, no partner. And about $150 in eating out (lunches, things grabbed on the go, etc). Egads, over $700/month for food! I’m still trying to figure this out. When I was with mr. maven I was able to keep my spending to $300-$400/month. I have to get back on track. I refuse to let food defeat me and my budget.

Ok, enough with the recriminations. What am I going to do about it? I’m trying to keep a really clear understanding of my spending on a daily basis. I’ve raised my budget to be $400/month for food spending (not including restaurant spending). Good quality produce and meats cost a lot. I don’t do packaged foods and coupons are useless – they don’t apply to uncooked raw materials. Safeway is one of the lower budget supermarkets I can also shop at, but I find their quality horrid and refuse to shop there. Anyway, back to it. If I break out that $40 into a daily limit, it comes out to about $13/day.

I do my budget in an Excel spreadsheet. I love it – it lets me have a bit of flexibility to add features and change things easily. I have found the online budgets really constricting and without the control I crave. A perfect example – I’ve added a little extra part to my monthly budget this past week. When I go in and enter my spending every few days, I update my little food spending chart. I look at the total I’ve spent on groceries, and I enter how many days are into the month so far. I then can easily figure out that so far this month, I’ve spent $91 in the past 7 days. That comes out to be $13/day – I’m exactly on target to maintain my budget. I also have an extrapolation portion – it takes that daily amount (to date) and figures out how much I’m going to be over (or under) budget if I continue to spend that way for the rest of the month. It’s a little exercise in keeping tabs on how I’m doing, rather than freaking out over how many times I’ve spent money on groceries (as I said, I’m going almost every day). It can be hard to see a gazillion entries in the food category and not be able to easily see if I’m on track or over budget.

This system is already helping. I had a taste for a steak salad last night (my latest favorite is grapefruit/goat cheese/steak slices on salad with freshly roasted beets). Steak and grapefruit is an amazing combination, and the juice leftover from cutting up the grapefruit is great in vinaigrette! It was a monumental mental struggle on my way home yesterday. Do I stop and get a steak? It would be a better deal and more options if I stop at Costco and get a 3-pack for $24 and freeze what I don’t use for later? What decided me was my daily budget. If I stopped and bought a steak I’d be in a serious deficit already, 1 week into my budget. If I didn’t stop I could have gyoza dumplings on my roasted beat goat cheese salad (I have a few bags from the asian market in my freezer – $3.99 for 30, enough for 3 meals in a bag). Well, the internal budget discussion won over my impulse buying behavior. I did not stop at any store. I went home and roasted beats, cleaned my kitchen, and made a gyoza dumpling salad. Yum. Yeah for my daily food chart. It’s the little things that are keeping me focused. I’ll report how I do by the end of the month, promise.

Budget – 1
Steak – 0

debtmaven out.


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I love ham…but my budget doesn’t

April 6, 2012 at 9:42 am (Being Frugal, food) (, )

Remember yesterday when I posted about frugality being my new BFF? Here is an example of life in action. I was resolute in sticking closely to my budget this month. I went home, flush with cash (having just gotten paid), and I needed to do a bunch of shopping to fill the larders so to speak. I went to 2 super markets (one was only to deposit my check, since I don’t typically like shopping there due to their lower-quality stock) and the liquor store. I splurged and bought a bottle of apple jack brandy (yum! $21). When I went to my favorite market they had yet another sample of kurabota ham. It’s Easter weekend, after all!

Unfortunately, I ate a bite. I asked questions on how to cook it! (This is a meat I am unfamiliar with). I was shown the display of where they were and told (in a whisper) that this brand was better than that brand. My taste buds were aroused after my little amuse bouche (ie, a bite sized sample) of ham. I actually snuck 2 samples, one of the outer crusty area, another of the yummy meat with bits of fat attached (2 separate sections of ham). Mmmmm. I was hooked.

My intense hunger (yes, I was quite famished at that point, always a bad thing in a food store) coupled with my salivating taste buds had me looking at the options. A half ham for $35-$45 (bone in), or a mini piece for $25 ( bone out, more per pound). OR I could go for the tiny portion for just $15 (it was very mini, and bone free). I agonized. I picked up. I caressed and felt the proportions and contemplated how much meat on the bone. I thought about how yummyit would be for dinner. What I would make with it (polenta, roasted veggies, scalloped potatoes from scratch, baked potatoes). I thought of my lunches for all of next week completely covered (ham sandwiches EVERY DAY). I thought about being a single person cooking for 1. I looked back at the price tag, give or take $25-$35 for a cut I’d want to take home.

I decided to leave it in the store. I felt sad. It’s the next day and I’m still salivating about it now. I may go back and pick it up. I may wait until the week after Easter to see if prices come down. But as sad as my hind brain is at missing out on all the yummy haminess I gave up, my resolve and my budget are pleased and quite smug. I escaped with my resolve intact.

I will see what happens in the next week, but for now, I’m in good shape. I made a delicious meal of steak, roasted veggies, and polenta as a splurge last night, sans wine, but had a few shots of brandy, and had a great night. I have wonderful leftovers today for lunch, and I have a bunch of yummy things still at home for when I next feel like spending an hour or two cooking. Plus I still have a ton of cheap dinner options for a few days.

Ham – 0
Frugality – 1

debtmaven out

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Argh! Missing out on sales!

December 1, 2009 at 11:53 am (food)

I can’t stand it! There are all these big sales at the store (I’m talking food here people, not big-ticket gift shopping), I finally have room to store big bulk purchases, but we haven’t yet unpacked, and the pantry area in the basement is in the far back corner on the other size of the great wall that is our boxed possessions! Plus we need to put in some ceiling panels to keep it all contained and then just spruce up a tad.

Once this is done I’ll be able to splurge and get those really really cheap sales on pasta, canned pumpkin, sparkling water cases, and of course, all the canned goods we’ve been making. Plus all the other yummy things I hadn’t considered, like our own infused liquor (can’t wait to try making a pineapple and habenero infused vodka).

Argh! It’s painful to pass the supermarket sales up, but I must.

Can’t wait to unpack and settle in…

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A cheap & delicious dinner & lunch idea

February 18, 2009 at 4:07 pm (food) (, )

I was too tired to go to the store last night and I came up with a good way to use up bits and pieces of food around the house, which makes a fabulous dinner and left over lunch. It’s quite inexpensive, too!

Roasted vegetables (my favorite vegetable preparation, like EVER)

Carrots, cut into thin pieces (quartered and in 2-4” lengths)

Onions, sliced into thin long chunks

Red potatoes, cut into small chunks

Fresh rosemary if you have it, or dried herbs de provence if you don’t

Olive oil

Salt and pepper


Chop everything up, put into a oven-proof pan (non-stick if you have it, you’ll use less oil). Drizzle with oil to coat – you can always add more later on, so make sure not to drown it, add salt/pepper and herbs.


Cook at 450 in the oven (middle to upper rack is fine). Cook for up to 45-55 minutes, stirring occasionally to turn the veggies so they don’t just brown on one side. Add more oil if needed. I usually do the first turn after they start sweating, about 20 minutes. They will carmelize more and more, so you can actually cook these until they are quite dark, or stop when they are sweet and not very dark at all. These are super super sweet, very delicious, and a favorite of everyone that has ever tried it. I think the fresh rosemary is ideal. If you don’t live in a climate like Seattle where you can walk down the street, find a ginormous rosemary plant and snip a little off (they are the size of shrubs here, really!), then buy some in the supermarket.


French or Beluga lentils

Cook in 3x the amount of water over a small simmer. Make sure to use the small dark lentils, not the light green ones that you buy for lentil soup – these will totally disintegrate in liquid; the french/beluga varieties will hold their shape better

Add bay leaf, some diced onion and celery


When finished cooking, salt to taste, remove bay leaf. For a non-vegetarian option, add diced ham or sausage and a drizzle of olive oil.


Meat side dish

A third option is to put some nice sausage on the side (one is plenty), or even an egg – poached or fried on top of the lentils, but hard boiled would also work for take-lunch-to-work. My latest favorite is a chicken apple sausage (or pork apple).


This is cheap, relatively easy, you can make a ton, and have several meals out of it. I had it for dinner last night and lunch today. Yum! I’ve been eating too much meat lately and have gotten away from vegetarian roots. Plus there’s something about lentils and winter time that go hand in hand.

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