So last week I announced I was feeling forced to make some bigger changes in my life.  It started with our decision to simplify and work less. Working less = less money coming in.  Less money coming in = creative thinking, pre-planning and big changes.  Big changes this week included cutting off our TV, reducing our grocery budget and searching for free entertainment options.  And I must admit, I’ve experienced some tears and resistance, as well as some moments of clarity.
Surprisingly, giving up TV hasn’t been that difficult.  Partly because we’ve been busy and also because it’s summer and there’s not much to watch anyway.  Kestan has requested Elmo a few times (and I have let him watch it online once or twice), and I did watch The Bachelorette on the computer and that just gave me a headache.  Our evenings have been quieter and I’ve also noticed that I’m going to bed much earlier, which has been really nice.  I didn’t realize TV was preventing me from getting a full nights rest!  (And thanks to ALL of you for your support and wonderful comments.  Stop by Suzy’s blog as she shared her experience giving up TV this week, too!)
The most challenging change for me has been watching every dollar I spend on food.  I became aware of my addiction to Whole Foods!  I love that store.  I love to walk the aisles, and treating myself to lunch there once a week has become part of my routine.  It’s fun, but it’s expensive, and it’s really easy to spend an entire weeks worth of grocery budget on one visit.  So I made the decision to stop shopping there, except for all-natural chicken, free-range eggs and the coconut-milk yogurt we like.  
After wiping my tears and returning to a place of gratitude that we even have the means to buy groceries, I started my research.  First stop, I Googled “How to eat a dairy-free, vegetarian, gluten-free diet on a budget.”  I found some good information, coupons and recipes, and was surprised to discover that we had already incorporated some of the money saving tips into our daily life.  But there is still much more we can do.
Change is hard.  Believe me, I have my ups and downs.  Although I enjoy cooking, I don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen making almond milk, gluten-free bread and canning.  Eating healthy food is a priority for us, and cooking it ourselves will help cut down the costs.  I know as I get used to these changes I’ll find a way to be efficient with my time so I can enjoy being in the kitchen, while balancing my other interests – like playing with my son, making my art, and creating my e-courses.  (Luckily, I have a husband who also enjoys cooking.)
Ideas for Reducing Your Monthly Grocery Budget:

1) Shop at your local farmer’s market or start a garden.
I love shopping at the farmer’s market and it feels (and tastes) so good to eat fresh, local food while supporting the ones who work so hard in the field.  This is our first year to be part of a community garden and I have to say it is the highlight of our summer.  We have our own 10×10 foot plot of land, along with several other beginner and experienced gardeners, all side-by-side at a church just two blocks from our home.  We’ve planted tomatoes, peas, beets, kale, peppers, carrots, broccoli, herbs, watermelon, and cucumber.  Last night we enjoyed our very first cucumbers and it was so fabulous getting to eat something that we picked just 5 minutes before.  (If our green thumb continues I see how growing our own vegetables will save us a lot of money this summer.)
2) Buy bulk, plan ahead and stock up
I used to break into a rash hearing the words “schedule” and “budget.”  Now I embrace each of them and see the value in planning ahead.  I worked for about two days on making a menu for the next two weeks, using food we already had in the freezer and pantry, and then with calculator in hand we walked the massive, bright warehouse of Costco.  I have to say, Costco sure has a lot of organic and some gluten-free options.  We couldn’t find everything there, but I bought bulk beans, brown rice, organic agave, avocados, and pesticide-free onions to name a few.  
3) Use cash
This is something we used to do and it worked great, but we became slackers and it was just easier to pull out the old debit card.  I find using a debit card is a great way to lose track and overspend.  So now I take out our monthly-allotted amount for groceries and place the money in weekly envelopes.  That way I have to really pay attention to what I’m buying and when the envelope is empty, well that’s it for the week.
4) Find recipes for the meals you love
This week I started to look at the meals we enjoy eating out and I’m now trying to recreate them.  Chipolte’s is a place we enjoy, especially for their rice, beans and guacamole.  I found a website that offers similar recipes and I know I can save money making this meal at home. 
5) Find several uses for the same ingredients
Being a vegetarian I eat a lot of beans, and since I just bought tons of beans in bulk, I have planned many meals that use black and garbanzo beans – like hummus, falafels, bean burritos, and kale bean soup.  (I will be sharing some of my inexpensive recipe ideas in future posts.)
6)  Gather some friends, cook together and freeze
Although I have yet to do this, I’m planning to spend a few evenings cooking with my mom and sister so that we have meals to freeze.  This way we can share on ingredient costs, cut down on the kitchen time and have fun cooking together. (I’m waiting to do this closer to my October due date so that I don’t have to worry about cooking when our newborn is here!)
7)  Have fun!  
Reducing to create space for what’s really important doesn’t have to be full of dread, fear or sadness.  I have to say, I’ve actually had fun incorporating a lot of these new changes.  Facing the challenge has allowed me to use my creativity in new ways.  Spending a little more time in the kitchen to make bulk meals has allowed me more special opportunities to share with Kestan, too.
Your Personal Reflection:  Do you plan your weekly meals?  Do you have inexpensive recipes you’d like to share?  How about tips you could offer for those of us new to cooking on a budget?  What are some small changes you can make in your life to become more conscious about how you eat, what you eat, and how you spend your money on food?