Friday, October 14, 2016

Inch One Hundred Forty: The Cost of Eating, Part Two

At the start of September, I blogged about how much we used to spend on food, eating out, and household items a month. At that time, it was $200.00 a month for food, plus another $25.00 a month for non-food household items. I was comfortable thinking that we were still in that ballpark, and so spent the rest of the month tracking food expenses. Here are the results.

In some ways we are still in that ballpark. On household items, which covers anything from cleaning items to toiletries to to toilet paper, we spent a whopping $13.18. As I noted in my earlier post, we tend to stay under $25.00 a month in that category and are often under $10.00, so September was pretty typical.

In edible groceries, including farm markets, we spent a total of $169.17 for the month. That included some restocking of items we purchase in bulk once a year or so (such as buckwheat flour); the restocking came to $12.50. There were other bulk purchases, but they were more routine, so they did not represent deviations from our typical purchases. For example, we bought a large pack of chicken breasts, which we cut up and froze into smaller proportions for meals. Along with a few other meat purchases in September, we will likely not buy meat again, except for Thanksgiving, until December.

The one area in which we went way, way past our typical spending patterns was eating out. In September, we spent a whopping $65.42. Now, $15.21 of that was an out of town concert Warren was playing; we ate between dress rehearsal and the performance. That cost doesn't bother me because while we occasionally brownbag that particular meal, there is no comfortable place at the theater to eat comfortably and clean up easily afterwards. $11.98 was takeout one night after work when we were both running on empty physically, mentally, and emotionally. With my ongoing treatment, there are occasional nights when cooking at home, even if it means thawing something from the freezer, is beyond me. I'm pleased it was just the one night this month. A staggering $17.98 was a meal one Sunday when we were down in Columbus and stopped at the North Market, always a pricy proposition, for takeout rather than driving home to eat. The remainder were frozen hot chocolates (my weakness, and about $14.00 of the total) and a miscellaneous purchase, such as ice cream, here or there.

Grand total on food: $234.59. If we had eliminated the restocking purchase and the North Market, we'd have come in at $204.11, or pretty close to the $200.00 mark. Of course, I had estimated we would come in under the $150.00 mark. If we eliminated the eat out category and the restocking, we'd be just about there.

When my brother and sister-in-law and I talked about the $200.00 mark, Jackie especially was intrigued at how I do it. I think we just follow some basic guidelines that seem to keep the costs down. When I went back and looked at what I wrote in early 2010, now almost seven years ago, a lot of that still holds true, so I have revised and updated my commentary on how we shop (and eat).

We don't eat a lot of meat, red, chicken, or otherwise. I probably cook meat less than once a week but we may use what I cook in several different dishes. So there is a big $$ saver right there. I make a lot of soups (bean soups, split pea) as well as stock, freezing most of it. We don't buy a lot of processed foods or "convenience" foods; we don't drink coffee; we don't drink alcohol. (All huge budget drains.)We rarely buy soda (I don't care much for it). Warren brownbags lunch; so do I. We don't eat out a lot because our schedules are often so full that there is no time for that; when we do, we almost always split an entree (and when we don't split one, we always bring home leftovers). We also don't hesitate to buy marked down food when it is something we like and can eat right away or freeze. I have no qualms about buying food with red "REDUCED" labels on it because I know that even if the milk has an expiration date of tomorrow on it, it will be fine unopened for some time. If I buy marked down meat, unless we are eating it that day or the next, I repackage it and freeze it. I have no problem letting food packaged right stay in the freezer past the recommended freezer time; this winter we will be eating the last of the 2015 zucchini and neither of us have noticed any diminishment in quality. I rarely use coupons, mostly because they tend to be for processed food items that we don't eat or they are for name brands and rarely can the name brand even with a coupon price beat the store brand price. We also never turn down offers after a meeting where there is leftover food to take home some of it!

We eat leftovers. I know a lot of people who do not or who have spouses who will not. Not this household. And we eat leftovers changed into something else: the stale bread becomes a small bread pudding on a night we need a pick-me-up. I buy small quantities of fresh produce, with a strict rule of not buying more until the first is gone. As a result, I have noticed that our food waste (what we throw away because it has gone bad) has decreased greatly, especially over the last year.

If you opened our refrigerator, you might gasp and say "where's the food?!" But if you opened our freezer and cupboard doors, you would see the makings of many meals. For the most part, we do a good job of that, even after a long day at work. We always, always have basic staples in our house, ranging from rice and frozen vegetables to flour, sugar, oatmeal, and raisins.

As I noted above, the biggest hurdle we face and one which will likely increase is how much my health will impact both our diet and my ability to prepare food. Because of the side effects of a new oral chemotherapy added this summer on top of my infusion chemotherapy, I now have to take Coumadin (warfarin) daily. As a result, I have to closely watch how much Vitamin K, which is found in EVERY GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLE IN THE WORLD, I ingest. (Yes, I am shouting because it has really had an adverse impact on my diet.) I am getting the hang of watching the K intake, but it is frustrating. Warren is watching me and trying to get the hang of it, but it is probably even harder for him since he does not have the same restrictions.

As for impacting food preparation, that impact is also increasing. Historically, I have been the primary cook and baker in this relationship, although Warren is an excellent cook. I don't work as many hours as he does, so I am often the one planning, prepping, and cooking. But my chemo schedule impacts my afternoons and how I may feel on any given day impacts my enthusiasm. On a really bad day, we either drop back and punt ("How about scrambled eggs? Oh, look, here's the tail end of that loaf of bread we bought. We can toast it.") or get takeout. I'm pleased that only one of our meals out in September was a "can't function" meal. If we can continue to hold the line at one or two a month max, I'll be pleased.

So there you have it, April and Warren's empty nester food strategies. Mark and Jackie, I love you lots and hope you find something of use in this!


Laurie said...

Yup, we ended up having egg salad sandwiches tonight with a half cabbage I turned into asian slaw. I agree, some days you do just have to drop back and punt. It sounds like we do things fairly similarly, except we do drink alcohol (definitely expensive), and when we do eat out, it usually costs LOTS more.

I've been out of nursing for several years now, but used to manage patients on Coumadin. I always felt the greens scare was wrong, & told my patients if they ate leafy greens to continue to, and their level would be adjusted to their normal. What you don't want is to not eat any greens for a month, then have it 4 times in one week. That will naturally mess up your level, but if you're pretty consistent, it shouldn't be a problem. That's my two cents, for what it's worth.

April said...

Laurie, if I were taking Coumadin for heart reasons, I would agree with you 100%. Unfortunately, pomalidomide (the oral chemo) has had such devastating effects on the thickness of my blood that I don't have that option. One of my personal hallmarks with the cancer is extensive bruising and bleeding; my personal physician, who is regulating the Coumadin, wants to keep my dose very low to prevent triggering that bleeding. So out go the leafy greens and other high K items. Even with my being strict, we are struggling at getting and keeping 1.5 for my INR.

Laurie said...

Well, that makes sense. You do amazingly well with your food, and grocery budget with what has to be serious energy challenges some days. I appreciate you sharing your journey here.

christina neumann said...

I enjoyed reading this. You do a pretty amazing job at keeping your food cost down. It's always a challenge for me. I still have both my adult children living at home. They do pay us a 'rent' so that covers food, etc. But we do drink coffee , that adds up even when I buy the 2lb bag at Costco, we do drink wine. No sodas, no processed foods. But still I come in @ $600 + . I'd really like to get this down to 500. I'm with you on the soups and frozen meals. I do alot of batch cooking an it is very helpful.

thanks for you insights, and best to you.

Darla said...

Once again I am stunned at the seemingly small amount of money you spend on food. We aren't extravagant, like you we eat out rarely these days. We eat leftovers, mostly for lunch the next day as we are both home and retired. Bake our own bread, have a small garden, have two or three meatless meals a week. But oh boy we sure spend more than that. The only thing you don't mention that I can think of is we do have company over for meals. Averages about once a week. Sometimes family and sometimes friends. Not big fancy meals, family style things like spaghetti or some such. I'm determined to keep track of where the money is going starting in November.

April said...

Darla, your life probably allows for more opportunity to have company and family over for a meal than ours. But if you are not cooking gourmet meals, I doubt you are adding that much more to your food bill. If you are tracking food costs, I'd start tracking in January--you have two big holiday months, heavy on food, to get through!

A general comment that impacts our bottom line. Neither of us drink coffee, and that is a huge savings!

Ellen Goldstein said...

This is all pretty incredible to me. I still cook 5 - 6 nights per week, but since my myeloma diagnosis, I have really relaxed about everyday things like what I spend on food. If there's something I, or someone in my family, really wants to eat, generally we either get it so I can cook it, or eat it out.

I think my philosophy is way different than yours, although I do admire your thriftiness, I guess I don't have that gene. I no longer save things I like to wear for an occasion, either. I wear my "good" jewelry. I enjoy it. I go the movies, rather than wait for it to be on TV. When I go for treatment in Manhattan,(twice per month), I park in a lot for $12, rather than trying to find a free parking spot. And then afterwards, I stop a great little place that has excellent chicken salad.

I don't go crazy wracking up the bills, but at this stage in the festivities, frugality does not appeal to me.

Perhaps having such control over your finances give your satisfaction. Doesn't do anything for me!

Justin said...

Buying certain staples in bulk is a good way we save money but it is important not to buy too much or things start to spoil. It is always a challenge to keep the food bill down.