So, I've probably mentioned this before, but as we've just begun a new year, I thought this might be a good time to mention this. There are many things on a budget that are what they are - the mortgage/rent payment, electric bill, water bill, etc. But, there are some things that can be manged carefully - particularly the food budget. I've found that the food budget is one of the things that can skyrocket very, very quickly if careful attention isn't applied, but can be kept in check beautifully by just applying a few simple principles.
1 - We use a cash-only approach for food. Of course, if an emergency comes up - like we need motrin for the kids - then we might use the debit card. Otherwise, I take a set amount of cash (this should be the same every month) out of our checking account the day of my grocery shopping trip and I do my best to stick to it, if not go under. Going over really is a no-no, though on rare occasion, this still does happen and it is justifiable. But, 99% of the time, if I've gone over the cash allotment, then I've picked up something I don't really need.
2 - After trying several different methods, I've found that 3 major shopping trips/month works best. When I go to the store, I buy enough food to last 10 days. Usually 2 bags of brown rice, tortillas, cheese, canned or frozen veggies, pasta and flour are enough to cover dinners. We eat a lot of left-overs for lunches, but I still buy bread, PB, oatmeal, eggs, cereal, etc. to have on hand for breakfast and lunch.
3 - When possible, take baby hygiene products out of the grocery budget. I had been building diapers/wipes into my grocery budget for a long time, but this was pretty significantly throwing off my first shopping trip of the month. $60-70 can make a pretty big dent in the volume of groceries you can purchase on a set budget. So, we started putting diapers/wipes on the credit card as a once/month purchase. Because this is a set expense - give or take $10 - we simply budget for it and are able to pay the bill when it comes. As a general rule, we do not use the credit card except for emergencies, but this is a nice way of earning money back from the credit card company without using it unnecessarily.
4 - Because I make my own household cleaning products, I do put these into the grocery budget as it probably won't add more than $5 a month, tops. In fact, buying my ingredients for homemade household cleaners once will usually last several months, so this is not a monthly expense at all.
I'm also going to post my multi-purpose/window cleaner recipe again for those of you who may have been interested in trying it, but still had store-bought cleaners to use.
In spray bottle (use an old one if you can), add 1 cup water, 1 cup rubbing alcohol and some white vinegar (I just pour, but it probably comes out to about an ounce).
Some people prefer to use 1 cup white vinegar and 1 cup water, omitting the rubbing alcohol. However, I've tried both and find that the alcohol significantly reduces the drying time and leaves glass looking much cleaner. I do have hard water, though, and this may have an impact on the evaporation rate.
I like to add esssential oils to my cleaner just so it smells good when I'm using it. My favorite combination is still probably lavender-eucalyptus, but I have tried orange-lavender-clove, geranium-lemongrass, and lavender-peppermint. I just pour the oils in the bottle until I am happy with the scent. You can also use tea tree oil as an added aneseptic, but there is really no need if you're using vinegar and rubbing alcohol as the germs should have already been eliminated.