Q & A: The necessity of a low grocery budget

Q & A: The necessity of a low grocery budget

Here’s a comment from my recent post on rising grocery costs that I wanted to respond to:

Do you have that low of a grocery budget because you have to or because you want to (ie: pay off your mortgage faster?) Because sometimes I think we spend so much time on keeping our budget low (because it’s good stewardship), that we forget that we need to be good stewards of our time too, and sometimes that means spending the little extra. This is especially when we really do have a little more, but are to ‘proud’ to change our budget.

The simple answer is no, we don’t need to have our budget as low as it is (I know to some, depending where you live and what you buy, our budget is high, while to many others it is extremely low- it’s all so relative. Where we live, it would be considered fairly low).

We have chosen to purposefully live below our means, for several reasons. First of all, it was necessary for many years. In the first years of our marriage, a very tight budget was absolutely crucial. These days, it is not crucial in the same way, but here’s why we continue to stick with it.

We spent those years learning how to live frugally, to not buy everything we needed or wanted, to make things stretch, to make do without… those years taught us many valuable things. We’ve learned that we get by quite well with what we spend right now (yes, I’m struggling a bit with it at the moment, but that’s not a bad thing- it challenges me in many areas– my skills, my contentment, my character, my faith).

As our income has gradually increased to a more manageable level, we have chosen not to allow our expenses to expand with that increase. If we were to bump up our budget, I have no doubt that we would spend the money. Just as a task always grows to take up as much time as is allotted to it, so our expenses would expand to take up whatever budget we set. By controlling it and setting limit, we continue to stay in control of our budget, and not allow it to become the other way around.

We have very specific financial goals that we are savings towards. Currently, we are working away at our goal of having 3-6 months expenses in savings, for emergencies. Following that, we will be saving for our own home, and at the same time, we will need to start saving cash to purchase a new vehicle. We are big Dave Ramsey fans around here, and have taken much of his teaching to heart (such as this book), as we see so much wisdom in it.

See, having enough money to be able to spend more doesn’t make it the right decision to spend more. We are trying to have long term thinking in how we manage our finances, and the short term gain of a more relaxed grocery budget just does not compare to the financial freedom that goes with the goals that we are being disciplined in order to attain.

The commenter goes on to ask:

When looking at your calculations I can’t help but wonder… do you never have company for dinner? What about making meals, muffins etc. for others? We’ve just had alot of babies born in our church and I like to bring a meal, muffins, bread etc. to them. That would also have to be taken out of the grocery budget. What about bringing your disabled/old/sad neighbor some dinner or home baking? Also grocery budget.

We regularly host others in our home, either for a meal, for care group or homeschool group, or a special event like a baby shower or birthday party. It’s also very common in our church to be asked to provide a meal for a new baby, a sick or pregnant mom, a grieving family or one that has just moved, etc.

As much as is possible, I work creatively within my budget to find ways to serve our guests. At times, it is tight. Very occasionally, we will choose to purchase something out of our recreation or miscellaneous budget categories, if we feel that it is necessary and worthwhile. Otherwise, we make do!

Soups and stews, spaghetti, chili, homemade breads, salads, casseroles, apple crisps… combined with a warm and welcoming atmosphere and a desire to serve and bless others, these cost-efficient foods can be the makings of a wonderful meal. Hospitality is far more about the heart behind the food, rather than the food itself.

I think it’s so important to also state that I need to trust God and submit to Him as I manage this area of my home. There are times when we feel led to just give, beyond our budget, or to provide someone with something that is beyond what we feel we can do. We have to be open to His spirit and leading, and not allow our budget to get in the way of our generosity. I will confess that I struggle with this sometimes, but God has graciously given me a very generous husband and I have been challenged so many times to trust Him and just give more freely (and there is such blessing that goes along with learning to do that!).

As well, I need to trust God to provide for our needs, as we seek to honor Him with how we manage our finances and steward carefully what He has given us. I feel that more than needing to up my grocery budget amount, I need to trust that He is big enough to show me how to use what I have well, to help it stretch further, to teach me new skills, and even to provide in ways that only He can.

Last week was a perfect example of this… after doing all those calculations, I will admit, I felt a bit discouraged. I don’t usually go shopping on Fridays ( I stick to once a week, on Mondays, and sometimes less often). However, we had basically run out of yogurt, frozen bananas, and I realized I had forgotten two crucial items for dinner. I made a quick decision to run to the store, and asked God to provide what I needed. I knew that I didn’t have a bunch of extra money for organic milk to make yogurt (I had thought what we had would last us til next week).

I arrived at the store and began walking around, looking for the items on my list. Would you believe that I just happened upon an afternoon at the store where I have never seen so many marked down items in my life! It was unbelievable! There was more discounted organic milk than I could have possibly bought, many loaves our favorite healthy sourdough bread were on the discount rack, and there were bags and bags of discounted bananas (in very good condition, I might add!). I stopped with my daughter to gather jugs of milk and breathed a very thankful prayer to the God who provides for me so abundantly.

So today when I went back to the same store, I just had to smile when what should I stumble upon but yet more discounted milk and more bags of ripe bananas… He is so good.

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  1. I guess I don’t understand why people think they should spend money, just because they have it. How you manage the money God has intrusted to you is between you and God. You are a wonderful person for opening up your life to others and to share how you are handling your decision to live within a budget. I think it is great for people that are like minded. However, if you don’t choose to live your life that way, it’s fine and between you and God. I don’t think, as Christians, we shoule be expected to justify, defend and explain our decisions in how we honor God with our money. It’s a personal decsison. I personally am so thankful to have you as a resource for creative frugal ideas on how to live and eat a healthier and God-honoring way. Your blog is a ministry that speaks to my heart.

    Thank you,

  2. This is such a timely post for me!

    My husband and I read Dave Ramsey’s book over 3 years ago and have wanted to implement his ideas since reading the book. We have been laxidaisically (sp?) working on the baby steps: paying off student loan, saving 3-6 months expenses, trying to implement a budget, etc. So yes, we’ve been working toward those goals, but not very efficiently. Our biggest problem has been in implementing a budget. To begin with, we don’t overspend, because, 1 – my husband is frugal, 2- because shopping isn’t fun for me now that the money is my own and not my parents!, and 3 – not being in debt and living within our means is important to both of us. However, in the 3 years since reading the book, we could have paid off part of a school loan AND saved 3 – 6 months of expenses, but haven’t done so completely because we were not able to get ourselves onto a budget, and therefore we were not monitoring our spending and looking at where we could save. For 3 years God has impressed on us that this is what we need to do, and we didn’t do it.

    In hindsight, I wish I had taken the time and effort needed to budget our spending/ make a spending plan because I now know why he was putting it on our hearts! By July at the latest, my husband will be resigning his current position and we will be moving closer to our families in another area of the states. Unfortunately, he will most likely be making half of what he does now and going back to school. The area we will be moving to is much more expensive as well. A spending plan will be crucial to our making it!! (You may be questioning the wisdom of making a move like this, but God has definitely put this on our hearts, and it is necessary, and also a long story). We could have had 3 years of practicing and implementing a budget, but because of our(my) laziness, we don’t. We also could have had three years to fully stock an emergency fund, but we only did so partially.

    So, to end this super long comment of mine, I’ve been looking ahead to the coming months and as a result of reading Stephanie’s posts on the site, I’ve been challenged to get back to what God called us to 3 years ago: making a spending plan and living frugally because he has plans and purposes for our lives beyond what I can even imagine. Stewardship is important to him even if I don’t understand why all the time. My first steps in this have been: buying a ledger at staples to record our budget/spending, couponing at the grocery store (my frugal husband loves this! ;o), and making a commitment to baking my own bread again!

    Side note: ( Last night as I worked on the budget in the ledger, my husband came in the office for a little bit to say hi. On his way out the door he gave me a hug and a kiss. I almost asked him what that was for, but as soon as I thought the question, I already knew the answer. I was honoring him by working on finances and that is important to him. It is one way for me to show him love. In return it opens up a way for him to love me back!)

    I don’t know if there is an ettiquette in leaving comments on blogs, so I hope I haven’t said too much! I also tend to ramble, so I hope it makes sense! Thanks Stephanie for all the work and time you put into your website!!!

  3. Megan- yes, God is good! A response like yours makes all the time I take to write so very, very worth it!

    Jeannie, I so very much agree that what we do with our budget is between us and God. I hope that it comes across that I am sharing what we feel God has led us to do with our budget decisions. My main desire is to communicate careful stewardship and seeking to honor God with our finances, rather than suggest that everybody must run their budgets in the same manner as my family. I do think that there are some financial guidelines that are very clearly laid out in Scripture, but overall, yes, this is a personal decision for each family. Thanks for the comment!

    Faith, I don’t know about anybody else, but I have no problem with long comments. If you wanna write a book on my blog, go right ahead (lol, within reason, of course!) 🙂 I love hearing what’s on your heart, the decisions you are making, and the way that you are honoring our husband and the Lord through your willingness to make changes. So encouraging!!! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Stephanie – you responded to my questions! Thank you. Reading them again, I think the comments sounded almost rude – I didn’t type them that way. Be sure of that!

    A little more background would be good maybe for those who think the ‘commentor” was someone who thinks she should spend just because she has. When we first bought our home (in Chilliwack) six years ago, our grocery budget was very low. And that was okay. It was just the 3 of us, 1 being a baby. But as the years have gone by the family has gotten larger (there are now 6 of us!) and the kids eat more, of course. There is no way I can keep my grocery budget as low as it was. Our mortgage is mostly paid off (and no my husband does not bring in a huge wage, we’ve just been very frugal.)

    But now, I don’t always want to be as frugal as possible (and my husband agrees with me.) Sometimes I’d rather just play with my kids, or sew, or visit a friend than make my own yogurt and bread. Once in a while it’s okay to have to buy those things. God has given us many material blessings and we are allowed to enjoy them too. So changing your budget is not a mark of failure. It doesn’t mean that you are less stewardly. It just means that you have decided to spend/save your money a little differently that you used to. As long as this falls in line with using your money/time/talents in a way that reflects who you are – God’s child. (Don’t get me wrong here, we still live pretty frugally, just not as frugally.)

    Another thing. You’ve talked about buying raw milk. Where do you buy it? How much do you pay for it? What about organic meat… where do you buy it? Please feel free to email me about this when you have time.

  5. Sticking to a budget is such a hard thing, especially nowadays when most households have two or more incomes! We are very into Dave Ramsey as well, we are currently working on the Baby Steps. It’s so amazing how God provides just when you need it! I find it especially amazing when I’ve gotten myself into a very contented place and then from out of nowhere, something amazing happens and God provides something I didn’t expect but needed! Praise the LORD!

  6. God is GOOD. You are awesome. Post like these are way you are such a mentor to me! Thank you, thank you for being authentic and approachable in discussing your household budget. My husband has been STRONGLY encouraging me in this very area. Your words reflect and expand on his words and I am seriously going to print this post out to put with my budgeting papers.

    Thank you for allowing yourself to be an instrument of the Lord today.

  7. That’s awesome. This is such a challenging post for me. My budget is something I struggle with ALL the time. It’s something I need to devote more of my prayer life to. Thank you for inspiring us to do better and not just let “good enough” or “better than most people” do. By the way I have been buying organic milk as well but it is “ultra-pasturized” and I was wondering if that’s the best way to go if your only choices are regular store bought milk, and organic ultra-pasturized. Our only source of raw milk is over an hour and I can’t devote the time to go and get it right now.

  8. I think that we need to remember in light of the questions and this post that God has called all Christians into an ever deepening faith. But that looks different for everyone. And we need to live by the convictions that God gives us. Its not one way for everyone.
    While we know from scripture that we are all called to stewardship, that will look different in different peoples lives. One may be called to save a dollar here in faith, and one may be called to spend it in faith. Same with time.
    It can be very easy to think there is some sort of standard that we all have to live up to. To be the “Excellent Wife,” we have to have a perfect budget, the lowest possible grocery bill, etc. And that can be really discouraging. The truth is that God’s also called us to operate in freedom!
    Let’s be careful not to get so consumed with the details of life that we miss out simply enjoying our Savior and His good gifts!

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