I first read about the pantry challenge at www.gettingaheadblog.com but discovered many other blogs that mentioned it, even one where she had enough in her pantry to live off of for a year - I am a little envious of that. In GettingAhead she seemed to be trying to lower inventory, and get to some of those bottom of the freezer items. I had in the past tried to "eat myself out of house and home" and have tried repeatedly to do that since marriage but hubby was not interested.
We had listened to the first three Dave Ramsey CDs and made our first real budget, and it did not balance of course. We were short by only $300. That amount was an amazing thing for me to see, because as we talked through the budget, we set up line items without setting the balance, we added items in that we'd never planned on before - like car repair, and a monthly amount for propane and Christmas, things we had purchased in the past. It was eye-opening to see on paper; the clear reason we were going deeper into debt each month. I started looking to see what we could cut. There really was not much that we should cut, but it was necessary. We figured we could live without buying clothes for awhile, that we could go a little longer without saving for Christmas. Between the large debt payment minimums and the huge amount I drive to work (1 hour each way, 5 days per week), there wasn't much space left. I cut and I cut and I cut until the only expenditures were absolutely required, and that left only $39 for groceries.
Yes, you saw that right, $39 for a month of groceries for a family of 4 (family of 5 every other weekend). On the Financial Peace cds, he talks about the 4-wall planning. You pay your shelter, food, utilities, and transportation first. I did this budget backwards. I really wanted to keep paying at least the minimum on the unsecured debts. I was not ready yet to give up on my bill paying habits.
Thus began my pantry challenge. We made it with help from many sources. We had donations from friends, we picked up our WIC items, we took home bread from church. Friends who were aware came over and brought us dinner (and leftovers). We made goat cheese from our goat, and bread. Turns out that while a person can not live on bread alone, it does fill in a lot of gaps. We had bread most nights for dinner, and since I have a huge supply in the pantry, canned beans and corn most nights too. Now, I have absolutely no problem eating what we have in the house, on the other hand the husband was frustrated. He's at home during the day while I'm at work. He takes care of and feeds our two children for breakfast & lunch. He has for years had a routine, for breakfast box cereal and milk and raisins, for lunch, bread, lunch meat, and cheese, and 1/2 an apple (or other fruit), and fruit snacks. So when I stopped buying lunch meat because it runs more than $2 per pound, he wasn't sure what to feed the kids any more.
While perhaps not always the most balanced of diets, and not always varied. We made it completely and entirely within the budget. Well, except the required car repair bill which was covered by the bounce protection transfer that occurred last month, so technically no new transfers occurred.
Things I learned. It's good to stock up on things when they are on sale. A whole turkey will last more than a week - and can be fixed a variety of ways so that you don't get bored. It is extremely important to not be too prideful to accept help. It was really hard to be able to say yes to everyone who offered, really hard.
At the same time I am learning to say yes to help, I am learning to say no to extra expenditures. I can now go into Walmart without buying the whole store. I am learning to make lists and stick to them. I am learning to write all our purchases down and rely only on what I have on paper, not on the banks idea of how much money there is. I did trick myself into saving a little money last month by starting my balance sheet over when a new paycheck came in, but also made a few unnecessary purchases.
Our budget is very tight again this month because we are determined to get out of debt. "A borrower is slave to the lender." We did agree to 4 additional budget cuts and rewrote the budget from the top: 4-walls first! Now our grocery budget is $130 for a month. We have been applying for some financial assistance, and food assistance so that we will be able, in the next couple months, to take some good steps forward on our new "financial plan". I guess it is reassuring to see that I really am at an income level which needs assistance. HOWEVER, if I really had just kept to a budget from the beginning, I would not need the assistance. We could make it on our own, I think.
Next steps, "sell so much stuff, the kids thing they are next."