Cassie posted recently about her food budget and why she is okay with the amount that she and her husband spend on food each month. I realized as I was reading her post that I have undergone a huge shift in my eating habits since my overall budget has changed so much. My food budget used to be much higher than it is now, in fact I would spend between $400-500 a month most months several years ago (just for me) instead of the $200 or less I try to squeeze out of my budget now.
When I got laid off several years ago, I used my severance to stock up on the essentials for both myself and Disney (Cheshire wasn’t around yet). In the first 6 months I was unemployed, I was still able to dedicate enough out of my budget to eat fairly well with the stores I had. Then Jeremy moved in and for the next year, my food budget was pretty much back to normal, except there were 2 (sometimes 3) of us in the house. Once I moved to Washington, I lived with roommates until just over a year ago, so while my budget was less, I was still eating really well. Then I moved out on my own and several financial setbacks happened to bring my weekly grocery allowance to $50 on a good week (some weeks I’m lucky if it’s $25).
I used to buy primarily brand names, now I buy mostly store brand. Since I ride the bus, my shopping trips need to be small enough for me to carry, and I have to choose stores that are on the bus route. I do a lot of my shopping at Target now. Their Market Pantry and Archer Farms lines are pretty good, and their prices are generally pretty good for most things. Unfortunately the meat and produce selections are pretty small, but I try to pick up those items at Fred Meyer. I’m not able to afford the higher quality in most meats anymore, but still stick to the leanest cuts I can find.
There are a lot of things that I’ve had to remove from my grocery staples that I really miss. Whenever I have a little extra money (or catch a really good sale), I treat myself to some of my favorites…
Stuffed pastas: I love all pasta, but really miss ravioli and tortellini. I would usually eat stuffed pasta at least twice a month. I got really lucky and found a great price on some crab ravioli a few weeks ago.
Gourmet breads: While I stick with whole wheat or whole grain for sandwich breads, I’ve always loved having gourmet or specialty breads with dinners at least once a week (yes, I am a carboholic). I would enjoy french or sourdough, rosemary, garlic or any vast number of bread types. I was able to pick up a bake at home rosemary bread from Macrina Bakery this week for a pretty low price.
Cheese: I love cheese, all kinds of cheese. While I still pick up cheese for quesadillas and tacos on a regular basis, I no longer purchase specialty cheeses for sandwiches or snacking. I used to indulge in real shredded parmesan for pastas, brie and any variety of cheeses to eat with crackers, plus bleu cheese or feta for salads. My all time favorite cheese for snacking is Beecher’s Marco Polo. The last time I splurged on this was for my staycation a couple of months ago.
Big salads: Another thing I love is salads with lots of veggies and treats. Each week I would make a big salad filled with mixed greens, spinach, cucumber, at least two colors of bell pepper, green onion, radish, red onion, jicama, carrots, red cabbage, and whatever veggie sounded good that week. I would then add cheese, olives or nuts/seeds to top it off. I now have salad maybe once or twice a week and it’s usually lettuce, cucumber & a bell pepper; though I add more whenever possible.
Nuts and seeds: I always had at least almonds and sunflower seeds on hand, some times more than that. And there was always peanut butter in my cupboard. When I’m lucky and can catch a good sale, I make sure to bring home some almonds whenever possible (my favorites are Blue Diamond Salt & Vinegar and Rosemary & Black Pepper varieties). I am usually able to pick up a small jar of peanut butter once a month or so, but I go through it pretty fast when I have it.
Fruits & veggies for snacking: I have always been a fan of fruits and veggies. I used to keep my fridge stocked with several varieties of fruit and different veggies for snacking each week. I now generally have a couple of apples, oranges and bananas each week. This week I also got a couple of peaches. I really miss berries! Thankfully they are now in season and I’m starting to see sales on them crop up.
Side dishes: I rarely have full meals any more, you know the kind that include a main dish and at least one side… I try to include a veggie with dinner most nights, either in the form of a salad or some roasted veggies mixed into the dish, but it is unusual for me to really have a dedicated side dish anymore (which usually means no leftovers for lunches). I did find some quick cooking quinoa and couscous sides on sale recently, so I picked up a couple to include in my meals.
Baking: I used to bake a lot. At Christmas I would make at least 6 different kinds of cookies and a variety of candy from scratch. Throughout the year I would bake something at least once a month, usually more. I can’t remember the last thing that I’ve baked from scratch… I pretty sure it was still while I was in California. But the sad thing is I really haven’t baked much from a box lately either, the last time what when I made cookies and muffins during my giant food prep a while back.
Shrimp: While I am not a huge fan of fish, I do like shellfish and would generally have shrimp at least twice a month, if not weekly. I have a shrimp pasta dish that I love to make, but I haven’t made it since I moved into my apartment. I haven’t found any really good shrimp sales yet… lobster and crab are pretty much out of the question right now.
I am looking forward to a time when I can open up my budget and enjoy some of my favorites on a regular basis again. In the mean time, I continue to look for sales and stock my pantry as best I can on my limited budget.
What are your favorite food indulgences?