Household Budgeting! Yes, I can hear the sighs and groans. Bear with me. What is it about this task in particular that makes it feel like we are trying to tame an unruly beast? I don’t know about your family, but we find that our budget has a mind of its own.
Every January, my husband bravely lets me put the family through a financial stress test. We try to make it last until March break, and then go celebrate our hard work by spending a few days in Montreal. The stress test is basically, how little do we have to spend to survive?
I have a great book, called Cheap Appetit, written by a local gal, Karen McLaughlin in about 2009, wherein she describes how a family of 4 can eat fresh, and healthy for $100 a week. Adjusting for inflation, and the insane price of groceries, I now find that number to be around $135.
The heart and soul of this art form is “pantry management.” Learning how to stock your supplies, buy ingredients, not products, stretch ingredients into 2 or 3 meals, and bake your heart out.
In addition to the pantry management skill, this amazing woman makes her own bread, her own yogurt, her own preserves – she is the master.
January was a wildly successful month. We were committed, focused, worked hard, thought and planned the meals, shopped for only things on sale. We did not use coupons – that’s a whole other realm of insanity I cannot invite into my current realm of insanity – but we really focused on spending as little as humanly possible.
Now, I won’t lie. I do the cooking. And I like to cook. But holy bananas, I was in my kitchen an awful lot. It’s constant. At one point I felt like running around yelling “stop eating! just stop!” But I eventually got into the swing of it. I warn you, if you’re going to try it, be prepared to have the household menu consume an almost-too-large part of your waking thoughts and actions. If you both cook, it’s better. You share the load. Rock the crock pot, and eat the damn leftovers, and it’s not so bad.
But! The results were astonishing. We went from insanely high food costs of $2400 per month down to $846.19.
So, $200 a week, all our meals and coffee, including several dinner guests, which was also a source of entertainment for us.
Extrapolating our efforts over the year, we realized that this new method of pantry management and meal planning would put somewhere around $28,000 into our pockets. It’s a huge amount of money. It’s pretty well the near equivalent of the take home pay of a $36,000/year job.
For moms looking for a way to stay home with their kids, you can skip the daycare fees, do this pantry management thing, and you don’t have to worry.
Overall, a success.
But then. February happened. OH MY GOSH WHAT THE HECK IN ALL HECKS. First of all, someone died. We sent flowers (part of the contingency envelope in the budget), we went to visitation, we were too busy running between work and extra curricular and the funeral home, at 7:30 we were bloody starving. Dinner out… $65 later…
And then, one weekend, we decided to have another dinner party. What a disaster. The kitchen was a mess, some dropper-inners stayed too late and wouldn’t shut the hell up, and I couldn’t get anything put together, and the next thing you know my friends are at the door, and not one lick of guacamole was ready. We then had to rush our friend over to the hospital to see her sick relative, and by the time we got all done with that…. we were bloody starving. Burritos for everyone… $85 later….
We are a theatre family. A good chunk of the school year my husband lives inside the theatre at his school, rehearsing and getting ready for the big spring festival. He’s stuck there til 8 pm 3 nights a week. The first few times we ran some meatloaf over, that was kind of fun, but then, our kids have stuff to do, and I have a job, so I am running around in my car, driving them here and there and here and there, and no one is at home, running the pantry management and cooking the meals. So it’s 6 pm, and we’re driving around and we are… you guessed it… bloody starving. Fortinos pre-made soup and sandwich for everyone…. $45 later…
So what we are learning is that modern life has taken a nasty budgeting turn for the worse. There is a real and tangible financial contribution that the person who stays home and cooks can offer – if you have someone in your kitchen everyday, you are going to live on a shoe string budget and be happy. But when you’re both working, and running around, and forget to turn the crock pot on, you have to be a bit more flexible and make peace with the cost of your lifestyle.
There’s a great book for the economics nerds out there, called “Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?” Its a criticism of the white, male bias in economics, and how the value of a steak is wrongly computed, because it doesn’t add in Adam Smith’s mother’s labour for cooking it. AMEN.
My suggestion thus far for people like us? Do your best. Try to run your pantry and cook your meals, eat the leftovers, run the crockpot, have dinner parties instead of going out – but just understand that some days are too crazy, and build a line into your budget for that crazy. And stick to it! Just know, I can dedicate $250 per month to “meals outside the home.” Keep track. And when it’s gone it’s gone. Otherwise, you find yourself in the $2,400 weeds. Which is just plain silly.