Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What's a Budget For?

One dollar here, one dollar there, and one dollar EVERYWHERE! This is what happens when you don't have a budget. At the end of the month, you just don't know where all the money is gone.

During our engagement, CJ and I wrote out a rough budget, but we did not follow through it during the first two months of our marriage. Only after we started attending the Crown Financial Ministry classes http://www.crown.org/, we started strictly adhering to the spending plan, and we cannot overstate the benefit of having a budget.

I. Know Where Your Money Goes

When we first got married, CJ and I had a rough draft of a budget which we had to write out during a finance workshop at a church during engagement. However, it turned out the budget was not very realistic as it was written when both of us were living without budget as singles.

To come up with a realistic budget this time, CJ and I started from the scratch. For two months, at the end of each day, we logged in all our spendings in a note, and kept all the receipts in an envelope.

II. Set a Budget

By the end of May, after two months of following our spendings, we were able to come up with a very realistic budget for each category: Income, Giving, Savings/Investment, Mortgage, Utility, Health, Food, Entertainment, Gas, Car maintenance, Bus, Clothing, School, Gift, Miscellaneous.
And this is when we started attending the 10-week long Crown Financial Ministry class at our home church. I believe the accountability we had with other attendants of the class gave us a strong motivation to stick to our budget.

III. Develop Your Own System

We continued our paper and pen system of logging in all our spendings daily, but we also created an Excel budget worksheet. Two or three times a week, whoever is in charge that month, that person will transpose the entries from the note to Excel table. The Excel table shows us how much we have spent for each category by a certain date of the month. It also shows if we are in surplus or deficit at a specific time of the month.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Food Cost Savings #3 - Reduce Waste

Once I set to become more conscious of my habits, I realized that a lot of food was going bad and eventually into the garbage can. Then I started doing research on how to reduce the waste.

I. Leftover Bread

For quite a while, not knowing what to do with bread which couldn't be used by the expiration date, I used to throw them into the freezer, and it often made me feel guilty. Not anymore! Now I use them to make casserole with sausage, chopped onion, eggs, and milk. Just mix them all together and put it in the oven for 45 minutes. Or bake them until they are completely dry and crusty, and turn them into bread crumbs using food blender.

II. Old Banana

I am not very fond of old, mushy bananas, so I try not to buy too much at once. However, once in a while, it just happens and I am at the crossroad of detesting the sight of it and of feeling guilty.
Now I use old bananas to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Adding banana makes the cookies chewy and sweet without much sugar.

III. Green Onions

You don't want to miss when green onions go on sale at $1 for five bunches, but it takes a genius to use all of them before they go bad. Wash them and drain water out, and then chop them to freeze in a ziploc. Just break off whatever amount you need for the dish!

IV. Don't Be Picky

I heard a wife complaining about her husband refusing to eat the same dish for more than one day. Well, be willing to eat the same dish for two or three dinners. Last week, we cooked stringbean stirfry with ground beef, which happened to be too much for one meal. Instead of throwing it into garbage or freezing it for the unknown date's dinner, we ate it the next day. With all the seasoning soaked deeper into the meat and stringbean overnight, it tasted better than the other day!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Food Cost Savings #2 - Outsmart retailers!

I. Take Advantage Of Sales
People call me a coupon-lady or a bargain-hunter. Whenever I get to use coupons or find grocery items on huge sale, I can't help becoming so excited. Several months ago, I found a great website which lets you know all the sales going on at local grocery stores. It's http://www.mygrocerydeals.com/.
I registered several grocery stores in my neighborhoods: Dominick's, Jewel-Osco, Trader Joe's, Garden Fresh Market, and Walgreen. I check the website regularly to see if the items on my next grocery shopping list are on sale. Two weeks ago, all kinds of Brownberry bread were on sale for buy one get one free, and since we pack PBJ as snack everyday we bought four and put them into a good use!

II. Get To Know Different Stores In Your Neighborhood
Have you noticed tomato is over $2 and at major grocery stores such as CostCo, Dominick's and Jewel-Osco? Two months ago, I found the same kind of tomato at $0.78 at two of the smaller local produce markets! How about apples? It's $1.59 or more per pound at major stores, but I bought Fuji apples and juicy Cutland apples at $0.99 per pound at a local ethnic grocery store! Spanish onions were $0.69 per pound at one store, but it was $0.29 at another store! In general, I found fruits and vegetables are cheaper at smaller local produce markets.