Debt Snowflake Challenge #4, Getting Your Food Costs Under Control

Welcome to week four of the Debt Snowflake Challenge.

One expense that people often have trouble containing is food costs.  Do you go out to eat too often?  Even if you pick up fast food at the end of a busy day, you could easily spend $20 to feed your family.  If you do that once a week, you will spend $1,040 over the course of a year.  I am not saying you should avoid going out to eat, but make sure it is planned and that you have the money set aside.  Perhaps you can carry non-perishable snacks in the car for those times when you would normally pick up fast food such as when a meeting runs late or after a doctor’s appointment when the kids are hungry.  As extra motivation to avoid spontaneous eating out, you may want to try this little trick: every time you want to pick up food but resist, snowflake that money!

Unfortunately, even when you curb your appetite for eating out (excuse the pun, but I couldn’t resist :)), groceries can also get out of hand.  I am the perfect example of this.  This month I budgeted $300 for groceries, which probably wasn’t enough for our family of 5.  I haven’t added up all of my receipts for the month, but I know I have spent well over $300 on groceries this month.  My first warning sign was when I kept running to the store a few times a week to buy “just a few” items.

Just like you should plan when you go out to eat, you should also plan to curb your grocery expenses.  Hopefully you regularly make a menu plan.  You might want to consider implementing freezer cooking too.  I do both of these things, but clearly I am still struggling.  To solve this problem, I sat down and developed a 30 day meal plan for the rest of January and February.  I based it around the ingredients I already have at home, so hopefully there will be no more little emergency trips to the grocery store.  My plan is to only shop twice in February and to limit my spending to $200, which is low, but only because I spent SO much this month on food.  It will be our mini-pantry challenge.

What are your strategies for saving on food?  What difficulties do you have curbing and controlling your food budget?

Our Progress

This was a great week.  I can’t wait to see how much debt we have paid off at the beginning of February.

I took on a new virtual assistant job recently, and since that is extra money that we don’t technically need to make our monthly budget, I decided that all money I make from that particular job will be snowflaked.

Virtual assistant job: $44

I also designated one different, small virtual assistant job to our snowflake. I make $15 at this job per week.

Second designated virtual assistant job: $15

Once again, I got an out-of-the-blue advertising offer for $400.  After expenses, I used all of it to snowflake on debt.  Having said this, I have been very lucky with advertising this month and don’t expect to see such high revenue next month.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I have very little, if any, advertising.

Unexpected advertising deal: $340

We did many different activities over the last week to find money to snowflake on our debt, and the result was that we were able to snowflake $399 since my last report a week ago. In the last fourteen weeks since we have gotten gazelle intense, we have “found” $5704.45 to snowflake!


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  1. Sounds like you had a great week of snowflaking! I understand about the grocery budget. That going to pick up a “few things” is the budget killer around here. I avoid it at all costs. The thing I am doing more is printing coupons. I have always used the newspaper but my estimate for this month alone is at least $25 extra dollars just from internet coupons alone. I intend to keep that number heading upward each month too. Have a wonderful week!

    • One of my goals for the year is to get into couponing more, but so far that hasn’t happened. I need to work on that, but it is taking a back burner until I get more time. My schedule is so crazy right now. Still, it is impressive to see how much you have saved!

      • I’d love to get into couponing–I’ve tried to get my fiancee into it. However, she brings up a good point: coupons are mostly for boxed or junk food items. We’re health fanatics. Granted, there are great deals for hair products/make-up/hygienic items. But, food…not so much. They need to start making coupons for produce and the healthy food! Great article!

        • That is the main reason I got away from coupons too, though I know I should do it again so I can save on toiletries.

  2. Strategies I use intermittently:

    -Weekly meal planning around what’s on hand / on sale
    -Freezer cooking to prevent buying dinner when I’m tired
    -Buying in bulk and on sale
    -Cooking from scratch
    -Redefining what is essential. For example, if we run out of milk, I don’t automatically race to the store. My husband can eat other things for breakfast besides cold cereal and milk.

  3. We used to have this problem and then my husband made a great spreadsheet (He is a number geek) and now I have to track every dime I spend. That makes me focus more on the things I need. We are starting to set an amount at the beginning of the month for me to spend. I have gotten really creative at things for dinner and it helps that my dad hunts and gives use some elk meat every year. The hard part for us is meat is very expensive where we are and my husband does low-carb to control his blood pressuer. It balances because I spend the money on meat and not the doc visit every month and the 4 different meds they had him on.
    The other thing we do is make as much from scratch as we can and we try to can when fruit is cheap. This year we are looking into a co-op for veggies.
    Food is one thing that is hard for me to control because I tend to justify the fact that I “need” to go to the store. What I am learning is to do without. If you don’t have it try something else. Kinda like chopped. lol. My kids now joke about our chopped dinners but they have been some of the best because everyone gets to pitch in.

    • You’re right; it is so much better to spend money nourishing and caring for your body rather than money to go to the doctor. I like the spreadsheet idea; I want to be that disciplined!

      • It came from many years of making mistakes. And there are times when I am not disciplined. Last Janurary was a good example. That month we spent $596.85 on groceries and eating out. Ummmm glup. Told you he was a number geek.
        Of course that was the month I had 2 surgeries and it would have been worse but the lovely ladies in our church blessed us with a week of food. Still most other months were not that high. Soooo just remember that you have to do what is good for your family.

  4. Wow, good week! It’s tough when you’ve got some ingredients around the house but you’re missing a few to make X, Y, or Z. That happened last weekend to me when a) I was having a craving for sweets and b) we were trying to fill some empty space in a care package for my little sister away at school. Ended up making a batch of no-egg cookies (using 3x the baking powder to replace our outdated baking soda) and split the dough between snickerdoodles and ones with chocolate-peanut-butter chips. The recipe makes like 6 dozen, and they were the PRETTIEST cookies I’ve ever made — would be great for rolled cookies to be cut into shapes and frosted.,1916,152181-243198,00.html

    • That is exactly what happened; we were missing small but vital ingredients. I’ll be better prepared in February. Your Cookies sound great!

  5. As for snowflaking progress, this was another slow week for me. I was home sick two days, and if I paid cash for my train fare, I’d definitely move that into savings. Public transportation costs come out of an FSA, though, and so it just ends up extending the amount I have on the FSA card through another couple days when I DO take the train to work.
    And (still not a snowflake, but pretty awesome), I ended up with a great find at a friend’s clothing swap over the weekend: a black wool coat, with tags still on, that was marked down from $180 to $80… and which I got for free! AND it somehow fits both me and my sweetie (we have 3 inches and maybe 50 pounds of difference between our sizes). Score!!

  6. This week was our official start to the challenge. We got rid of our tv and home phone and discovered Play-On and added Hulu plus to our Netflix. We pay $20 a yr for unlimited Play-On the lets us have Hulu plus on our tv (a service Hulu doesn’t offer). So now we get movies and all the shows we want with almost no commercials for $18 a month instead of $60..add that to getting U-verse internet only for $48 instead of $75 for net and a phone we don’t use and we now have a $70 regular monthly snowball amount!

  7. Those little trips to the store for just a thing or two can kill my budget too. Planning is crucial for me to stick to the spending plan. I also freeze any leftovers in compartmentalized plates so that we have home made frozen dinners when we are in a pinch.

  8. What a great week you had. We have to watch our grocery spending, too. For a long list of reasons, careful grocery spending helps our waist lines, our budget and our overall health. Nice post, thanks for the ideas and encouragement.

      • Do you shop at a krogers affiliate? I often get coupons for fruit and veggies form them. This week I got coupons for salad, frozen veggies, and some fruit. They are not often but they come every now and then and I use them all. Also my husband heard from someone to make friends with the produce person and you may be able to get the produce that is not going on the floor cheap. We are palnning to try this and make applesauce, banana bread or other things out of it.

        • Thanks for the good ideas. 🙂 There is one Kroger affiliate that I go to sometimes; do you get the coupons via e-mail or the ad?

          • I get them in the mail. I am guessing they come from what I buy with my card. They track your purchase and then send coupons based on that. Just today I got one for free frozen veggie and $1 off any two frozen veggie and 50 cents of salad. I would call their 800number and ask.

  9. Pingback: Personal Finance Links – Exercise Edition

    • Chinese food was one of my weaknesses before I became soy intolerant. It is so good, I understand why you can’t give it up!

  10. I just wanted to share that I paid off another credit card this morning. Snowflaking helped bring the balance down to something that I could just pay off.

    I have decided that I am just going to pay the minimum on my other cards until I take care of a debt that was a dumb choice. I am DETERMINED to throw every last cent on that debt and have it paid off no later than December 2012 (hopefully sooner)!