So it seems like it was almost two years ago when I last updated on where we were at with our grocery budget. A lot has happened since then, after all we added a new member to our family (Baby E, who likely should be upgraded to Little E as she has been walking for about 4 months now, and is really a baby no longer!), and the kids both have gotten older & bigger. So we've increased our food needs, but we have tried to keep with the same approximate monthly budgeted grocery amount (well, I've upped it about twenty bucks).
So I thought it might be helpful to share what has happened in the last two years that has worked, some of which I figured out from what didn't work as well. Leading the list of what has worked is using just cash. At the beginning of the month, or the last week of the last month, I go and take out our grocery budget in twenties, and put it in an envelope. At first I was just using an envelope from the bank, or a recycled one from the mail, but at some point I saved up for and purchased a zippered fabric envelope (from here back before she started her new shop and mostly closed down Gussy Sews). The grocery money being in a real zippered pouch is great, there is room for a pen, sticky notes, old receipts, and best of all, it looks fabulous AND doesn't need replacing every couple months to avoid loosing small change!
Once money got even tighter (ie once we were trying to stretch our purchasing power to feed bigger mouths, and once food costs really started inching up noticeably here in the last 6-8 months), what worked even better was to divide the monthly money up into weekly amounts. Before I started doing this, I was starting to get to the end of the month, and be on pretty basic rations, or not be able to get more milk for a few days until the next month, or I would end up starting the next month's money a day or two before the end of the current month just so we had enough. This way, it is much much easier for me to ensure that I'm not buying (and eating!) higher end meals in the start of the month and running out before the end of the month.
After a few months of doing that, I realized an additional trick that helped even more, to have a twenty set aside just in case (if we ran out of money one week, if we all of a sudden needed a bunch of more expensive bulk things all at once, etc). And the hope with that twenty, was that that hopefully wasn't used in a given month, and so was thus moved into a 'pantry' type envelope the following month, available for purchasing staple-type items that we use often when they are at deep sale prices. My goal with this was to gradually build up a sort of pantry at home, purchased at the lowest price I've seen items, that each week I could 'purchase' from at that low low price, thus replenishing the 'pantry' envelope, and thus money from that week's allocated funds to be gradually put towards more elaborate menus, or heck, just more food as the kids' appetites grow!
My thinking overall was that eventually we would get to a place where our limited funds in the grocery category wouldn't be so limiting, so we could eat pricier meals, or so we could reduce our grocery budget and put that money into another category instead.
It was all working fairly well although I was still struggling with the pantry twenty some months, both in terms of saving it, and in terms of keeping those pantry items separate and 'paying' for the at home back into the pantry envelope - it was a bit trickier than I was anticipating, and thus not all that user-friendly. But then the fire happened, and most of what was in the fridge had to be tossed at the end of the 8 days without electricity, with only intermittent generator power that was especially non-existent at the beginning. Luckily the freezer contents (we have a stand alone upright freezer next to the fridge that keeps a lot of produce and lots of meat) fared a bit better, although some less dense stuff had to be fed to the pigs as it lost its consistency/got freezer burned although as far as we could tell it all stayed cold enough to be safe to eat.
So obviously during our evacuation we used more grocery money than we had allocated for the month, and I was able to flex things around to give us the grace to do that, but even after our return, this month, I've found that we are struggling to stay within the budget, as there are a bunch of fridge items that needed replacing, on top of the usual stuff, and then there were a bunch of things like chicken stock, half cans of beans, etc, that were frozen in the little freezer on top of the fridge, and I just tossed those outright, so I'm finding that a lot of things that I would typically grab a small amount from the freezer, instead of making or buying a whole bunch, just aren't an option right now.
So now I'm having to decide do we drop down to cheaper meals (more beans & rice type things, and less meat) for a bit, or do I up the grocery budget for a few months until we get things replaced. Sigh. Decisions decisions!