Tuesday, 16 August 2011

On Getting My House In Order

There has been a lot percolating in my mind lately, and a lot has to do with the housekeeping. By which I do not mean the dusting and polishing, but the budget set aside to buy food, cleaning products and other household necessities. As of Monday, we are living more or less on one salary so naturally, it seemed a good time to look at our household expenses. We have put together a budget for our bills and suchforth, and set aside a budget for the housekeeping. Now, for me, the aim is not for us to live or manage on the housekeeping budget, but to live well on it. By necessity it is smaller than I am used to, but I am also aware that it is probably more than some people have to spend. So rather than feeling hard done by, I am actually really enjoying the challenge of living and living well on less.

In the course of some internet dabbling to find ideas on living on a smaller housekeeping budget, I have found some lovely blogs:

www.thriftychick.co.uk (Thanks, Midori, for the tip!)

Isn't it interesting though, how 'frugal' does not conjure lovely images in the mind. I like 'thrifty' as in my head it sounds quite jolly-hockey sticks and war-time vintage. Thrifty reminds me of the feeling evoked by the book 'Orchids On Your Budget' whilst frugal makes me think of mouldy bread and stale cheese. (The word that is, not the blog!) It is all window dressing really, because whatever word you choose to use, it is about living well on little. Not necessarily as little as possible though, because I think it is important not to trim the fat completely if you can possibly help it, otherwise if there is a tighter pinch, there is nothing left to cut! Also, for me I would have to be very hard up indeed before I started eating battery eggs or chickens. (I realise I am lucky to have the luxury of making that choice, though). I would rather have good tea bags and coffee, and make my little sacrifices elsewhere. Ultimately, it is about what matters to us individually as housekeepers.

Now that Carl is the breadwinner, it is also more important to me than ever that I get value for the money that I am spending, because suddenly it is his money I am spending rather than mine or ours. I know to some it may sound old fashioned, but if he is going to spend a long day at work earning to support us, then I want him to come home to a dinner that is nutritious, delicious, and that he enjoys. That might mean eating vegetarian 5 days of the week then having a really good steak or beautiful piece of fish. Or it might mean taking a cheaper cut of meat and braising it slowly in beer as a stew. Either way, whatever happens, I am going to need to be really organized.

So, first things first, I need a plan. For me that means a budget, a goal, a framework and a menu plan!

The Budget

Having discovered the Grocery Challenge on the money saving expert website, I will spend the first month or two aiming to stay inside my budget (£260/month) and then after that reduce it by £5 or £10 a month. £260 sounds an awful lot for 2, but when you think about it that is £130 each for the month, £29 a week, £4.19 a day, £1.39 a meal! Less than that really, because the money is for all household expenses, not just food! And with the rising costs of food prices, I think it would be rather easy to burst that budget, especially when a quick visit to Marks after work for some dinner and a pint of milk can easily see £15 spent....

The Goal

As I said before, I want to provide nutritious food that is delicious and does not feel frugal. I have seen some terrifying websites where meals are made for 30p a head and include tins of pilchards and value pasta. Fine if your tastes run that way; mine don't. Instead, think a yummy lentil dahl and homemade naan. Automatically this is going to mean eating in season (in season fruit and veg being cheaper and tastier) and lots of home cooking. All this whilst staying in budget!

The Framework

No more 'just buying milk' on the way home for me! Instead, the monthly budget divided by 4, a quarter to be spent each week on a grocery delivery planned in advance. Breakfast is more or less taken care of - in general we are cereal eaters. There is variety of course; we may have porridge or mueseli, and I usually keep a box or two of granola or weetabix to choose from as well, the changes being run with chopped or grated fruit in addition. On Sundays, we used to go out for brunch as our weekly treat; for now I will be making pancakes or bacon sandwiches or similar at home three weeks out of four, and plan to save enough out of the housekeeping for breakfast out on the fourth.

Lunch tends to follow the pattern of sandwich/roll/wrap/pitta/salad, fruit, yoghurt, flapjack style bar, so they won't be too hard to plan either.

Dinner is where the bulk of the money and the inspiration is needed! So here is the pattern I have put together to make things a little easier for me:

Monday~Free Choice
Wednesday~Soup (Souper Wednesdays!)
Thursday~Pizza or Pasta (homemade of course, and probably vegetarian)
Friday~Curry (I am going to work my way through Indian Every Day by Anjum Anand)
Sunday~Simple Supper eg meat, potatoes, vegetables

By now I am sure you are pouring yourself another cup of tea and thinking that you know more than you want to about the running of my household, but seeing as I have found other blogs and blog posts about this helpful, I am hoping that if there are other ladies out there tightening their belts a little, this may help them. So do stay with me please, or put on another pot of tea whilst I just finish up!

To keep track of it all, I have a spreadsheet! Now usually you know that I adore my notebooks and fountain pens, but I decided to do it online because I can share the spreadsheet with Carl, and also I can access it on my phone when I am out and about! There are several sections to my spreadsheet; an inventory of my storecupboards, fridge and freezer so I know what ingredients I have already; the weeks menu plans; an archive of past menu plans; a running tally of what I have spent and what I have left to spend.

I wish blogger would let me share the actual spreadsheet with you, but alas, it will not! I can add images, videos and links, but not a simple spreadsheet!

The Menu Plan

Using the framework, all I have to do is go through and choose a dish for each day, and then think about breakfasts and lunches, and from that I can make a shopping list. I found it much less daunting today, rather than just sitting down to a blank sheet of paper. This week we are going to be enjoying amongst other things Tuesday Tarts which I found on the lovely blog Attic24, Pea and Goats Cheese Risotto, and Vegetable Curry with Homemade Naan. I have made my grocery order and it should be delivered tomorrow evening.

The only minor issues so far have been that it has been time consuming (but then I have turned out and inventoried all the food cupboards!) but I anticipate the time needed will be drastically reduced next week, and also, it is slightly scary to buy only what you need and not just add things for 'in case'. I know I have money left in my budget, so if the worst comes to the worst and we need more I can get it, and we do live only 5 minutes away from the shops...but it does feel a bit odd!

So, that is what I have been up to the last day or so! We shall see how it goes, but you know, even when we are both in gainful employment again and have a larger budget, I think I will carry on housekeeping like this. I like the idea of knowing exactly where my money is going, and getting the best for it. Ultimately, at the end of each week I will be asking myself 'Is this the best I could do? Can I do better?' and take those thoughts forward for next week.

With that, I will take my apron off, and sip a cup of tea for a while. My mind is a bit of a jumble of recipes and ideas. I have recorded The Great British Bake Off to watch, so I shall sit and sip and enjoy watching the baking. I am still slowly working on my crochet cushion Christmas gift, and enjoying the cool evening air.

I wish housekeeping was taught at school! But perhaps it is...the school of life!


Dinahsoar said...

That's the spirit! It really can be fun to 'beat the bank'.

I agree...thrifty conjures ue charming thoughts. Thrifty is cheerful...while frugal somber.

Frugal sounds boring..staid...
dull..it has a negative connotation for me.

sussexgardener said...

Having been a lower income family for the last 25+ years I am now rather pleased I have had to be imaginative and careful - it is second nature and as you say it can be fun to see what lovely things you can come up with without spending much. Keep at it, I aim to spend no more than £60 a week for our family of 5 adults and have been known to manage on a lot less for weeks on end. My only regret is that i never quite manage to keep much in store.

Oh, and value pasta does not have to be a penance!!