Budgeting business

We went from your average weekly planners to uber type A budgeters this January.  I actually started a spread sheet on excel to track our monthly grocery expenses so that we could really stick to our financial goals.  Of course the primitive nature of the document was hilarious to Kyle, who could make something a million times more sophisticated in his sleep.  So then I signed us up on mint.com (it’s a site that tracks your credit card statements and payments and all that jazz).  Way easier.  Way more practical.

It’s hard to say how much we should be allotting to food each month, because (I feel like a dummy admitting this) I’ve honestly never kept track of it before.  Quality food is one of those things that I feel is super important (the most important) so I’m willing to spend whatever on it.  That doesn’t mean I love dropping mega Gs – I’m definitely a frugal shopper, always using coupons and picking sale items and shopping with penny pinching tendencies.  Waste not, want not.  But in terms of where I prioritize my paycheck, food is definitely at the top of the list.  Make of that what you will…

Really, the main goal is to be conscious of where we spend (and probably stop reduce impulse buys and lazy already prepared dinners from the WF hot food/salad bar).  I mean, I’m on maternity leave.  I have no excuse to not cook for us every night.

So that’s that.  Fingers crossed it saves us money without making me loathe the kitchen.

Do you keep track of how much you spend on groceries monthly?  How much do you allot?  Has the amount changed over the years?  Where do you prioritize food in your expenses? 

We are also going back to the world of bulk this year.  For Christmas my parents renewed our Costco membership.  However.  There are going to be big changes in what we use the membership for this time around.  I think that may be a post for a different time though.

For now I’ll give you a cheap and easy meal I made for Kyle last week.  [I wasn’t feeling super great, so I opted for a FODMAPs free meal of savory oats instead.  Boring but necessary.  I’ve been having some yucky GI days lately and I think I need to get back to my more disciplined low FODMAPs eating to reset my body.]


Cuatro Enchiladas [vegetarian*]


  • 4 small tortillas
  • 1/2 block tempeh, crumbled (I used Lightlife three grain)
  • 1/3 cup corn
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (I used 2% Chobani)
  • 2 tsp spices (1/2 tsp onion, 1/2 tsp garlic, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp chili powder, 1/4 tsp coriander)
  • 8 oz red enchilada sauce

*GF, FODMAPs, & vegan substitution notes at the end.



Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.

Crumble tempeh (you can use a cheese grater or your hands).  If this is your first time with tempeh (or you are sensitive to the aftertaste, like me), feel free to steam it first.  It takes the harsh edge off the fermented flavor and (bonus) it’s easier to crumble too.

Mix corn, tempeh, spices and greek yogurt together.

Spray pan with non stick and then pour a little enchilada sauce into the pan so that the bottom is just covered with a layer of sauce.

Taking a tortilla in your hand, line the center with the tempeh filling, then roll it up.  Place it fold side down in the pan.

Repeat until the enchilada stuffing in gone.

Then pour the remainder of the sauce over the tortillas making sure to coat them entirely (so no bare tortilla is left).

Cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes.


Play by play photos ahead.

The Rick Bayless enchilada sauce was on sale and the ingredients were clean, so we went for it.

IMG_8301 IMG_8302 IMG_8307

Above: tempeh/corn/spice mix; below: with greek yogurt added.


Spooning into tortillas.


Four ducks in a row.


Plus sauce.

IMG_8313 IMG_8314

And the finished product…


Kyle had two for dinner and the other two for lunch the next day, so this recipe yields enough to serve two people (at two enchiladas per person).  Increase for larger groups or to make enough for leftovers.


Notes: You can adjust spices to your preferences (to reduce FODMAPs omit onion and garlic).

To make gluten free (and FODMAPs friendly), use corn tortillas.

To make vegan (and dairy free), sub greek yogurt for plain coconut yogurt (or vegan sour cream or hummus).


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Comments (69)

  1. melissa

    Hi Elise! I am a longtime lurker, but wanted to comment about budgeting. I have a family of of five (myself, husband, four year old, two year old and 16 month old) and we have a (very ambitious) food budget of $400 per month, with an additional $100 per month for eating out. My grocery budget includes things like diapers and household products, so I have to be very selective with what I buy. If have to purchase something big one week, like two boxes of diapers, then I will really be frugal on the food end. Many websites have helped me such as moneysavingmom.com, livingrichwithcoupons.com, theprudenthomemaker.com, budgetbytes.com and others that I cannot think of right now. Good luck to you, and God bless your family!

  2. Becky (have turtle will travel)

    Huge budgeter here too. I’m uber obsessive about knowing where every penny of my money goes. It’s my $ and I worked hard for it, dang it! I have an Excel spreadsheet I’ve used for years. Food has gone way, way, way up on the priority list of spending for me in the last year since I went to a clean eating, more organic lifestyle. I budget for $200 a month including any eating out (which is minimal since there is little clean food to eat out), and an occasional SB card refill, for just me. It’s really eye opening when you see where your money goes.

  3. Abby

    I live alone, but like you, food is at the top of my priority list (after the mortgage and normal bills, of course.) I never eat out or spend money on frivolous things, simply because I prefer to allocate my money on quality vegan food and supplies. Even with that said, I still feel like I’m always at the store buying food and sometimes question my sanity, even though I’m just shopping for staples.

    I don’t have a set “budget” and just get what I need when I need it. While that may not be the most logical thing to do, it works for me. I know the money is there and where it’s going 🙂 Now if only they had coupons for produce!

  4. Jennifer

    I need to find me some Coconut (vegan) Yogurt!

  5. Katie @ Peace Love & Oats

    I use mint.com but I’m not good about looking at it… I need to really budget this semester though because I’m getting less $$ in loans and it’s going to be tight!

  6. Kate

    I’m with you when it comes to buying food – if it’s good, high quality, REAL food, and I’ve done some comparison shopping, I’m not too concerned about it fitting into a strict budget. And because we rarely eat out or have other food/drink related expenses, I feel like it’s a win in the end. I’d rather take a little extra time to prep/cook the yummy stuff I have at home, and that’s my motivation! That said, I AM starting to track our expenses in general just to give myself an idea of where the money is truly going.

    Love this enchilada recipe too – it’s always fun to find something outside our normal realm of black bean/squash!

  7. Lauren (@poweredbypb)

    I always track my grocery spends, I don’t have a budget I stick to but I just find it interesting to see how much we are spending. Our monthly bill pretty much doubled when I started buying mostly organic. I do try and use coupons and get stuff on sale to.

  8. Brigid

    I use Mint to budget, too. Feeding two people, we allot $175 a month for groceries and about another $125 for dining out each month. I’m always trying to find ways to pinch pennies while still getting our weekly CSA share (which is only $20) and eating healthful, filling meals.

  9. The Valley Vegan

    Food budgets! My specialty! LOL!

    Actually, I have a separate credit card *just* for food and household spending which makes it super easy for me to keep track.

    Also, I shop at Fresh & Easy! Which makes it super easy for me to keep our groceries (for a household of 4-5 depending on who is home from school or custody visitations) around $100 a week.

  10. Lou

    You know I’m a massive budget-er! I think from reading the above comments food is a lot cheaper in the US – plus you guys seem to have SO much variety (in terms of health foodie stuff) and have those big bulk-places like Costco (LUCKY!) So it is quite tricky sticking within our means as food is such a huge priority for me…. luckily during Summer we seem to exist on fresh produce which is super cheap and plentiful – I’ve been eating “raw by default” for ages 🙂

  11. Courtney

    Good luck with the budgeting/tracking of your spending! I am super frugal, but I haven’t buckled down and actually kept track of my grocery budget like you are. I should though.

    I would love to hear more about your Costco purchases and plans! I have a membership, and I often feel like I am wasting it…


  12. BroccoliHut

    I go through waves of “fiscal responsibility.” The past few months were full of unexpected expenditures (wedding, moving, etc.), so I stopped tracking…which was a mistake. Getting back on track is one of my/our resolutions, so I made a Google Doc to share with Seth and to monitor our budget. Groceries are the second biggest expenditure (behind rent). Healthy food is definitely a major priority for us!

  13. Shawnna

    I know so many people who absolutely love YNAB for budgeting. I am pretty sure that it can be used along with any other program like Mint, but I’m not 100% sure. Costco will be great for diapers unless you are going to go with cloth (my favorite kind.)

  14. Elise (Post author)

    holy crap. im really impressed. we spend way wayyyyyy more than that. clearly i need to start figuring out where out problem areas are.

  15. Elise (Post author)

    that separate credit card is so smart! 100 a week is about where we are now…but we are a family of two. hmmm…

  16. Elise (Post author)

    im pretty shocked by the responses too lou. our goal was to get down to 400 a month. and even thats been hard. i consider myself a good shopper – i do bulk grains and make my own nut butters and stuff, but i guess the cost of organic is where the difference lies.
    in any event, im really going to be reassessing our finances now to see where i can improve.

  17. Elise (Post author)

    im in the middle of writing my costco post now. its funny because i never actually price compared between costco and amazon.com (i always assumed they were basically on par), but we went to costco last weekend and i write down all the prices of things i have/would buy to look them up online and see if they were cheaper elsewhere (to see if the membership was worth it). i was BLOWN AWAY. moral of the story – costco is insanely cheap.
    for nut butter and almond milk alone its like a 50% discount. sometimes more. brown rice and quinoa (both organic) are also insanely cheap at costco. i couldnt find anywhere online (bulk places like nuts.com included) that was even remotely competitive in price.
    soooo costco for the win.

  18. Elise (Post author)

    we are planning on doing cloth (bum genius) but maybe in the very beginning we will go for disposable. the bum genius diapers look HUGE so its nice to know costco has cheap wipes and diapers and baby stuff.

  19. Elise (Post author)

    hi melissa! thanks for saying hi 🙂

    our budget (goal) is around 400 per month too – only we are a family of two (and we werent including diapers and household stuff in it, just food)! so im insanely impressed with your financial prowess.

    anyway, itll be really helpful to look at where we can save now that i am keeping track. thanks for the links.

    any other tips you want to share im all ears!

  20. Elise (Post author)

    wow! 200 a month is pretty much the most impressive budget ive heard yet. these comments are really getting me thinking about our goals. we are aiming for 400 a month with an extra 150 for eating out.
    im glad im finally taking a look at this since itll be a big help seeing where we can improve and such. thanks for sharing becky!

  21. Elise (Post author)

    thats pretty much where we were too…but soon theres going to be less (akak no) income (not going to go into that in the comment reply section though). soooo, we really need to crack down and figure out where things can get pinched even tighter.

    omg, produce coupons would be my savior. carrots alone are like 20% of our grocery bill.

  22. Elise (Post author)

    ugh. loans. the bane of my existence. blah.

  23. Elise (Post author)

    completely agree kate. thats pretty much how i felt (and still feel). i just want to see if theres anything i can tighten up. things are gonna get crazy with a baby.

  24. Elise (Post author)

    it is shocking what organic can do to a budget. ive stopped caring about that part because i know its a long term investment, but its still rough looking at the rest of these comments and noting that our family of two’s spending double what others are.

  25. Lou

    Dude, we spend around $200 a week for a family of 3 and a dog…. and I just saw that the Aussie $ is buying $1.05 US dollar, so whatever way you do the math – food is expensive here! Is your sister finding that?

  26. Elise (Post author)

    well she lived in australia before for a year so i think she was already through the culture shock. i did find it amusing that rent was paid weekly as opposed to monthly. but in addition to everything being more expensive there, i think her income is way way more as well. im hoping that balances things out a little otherwise you guys get totally screwed!

  27. sarah

    I don’t even get it…food is a BASIC human need, it should all be free.

  28. Elise (Post author)

    hells yeah! im with ya.

  29. The Valley Vegan

    The trick w/ F&E is the coupons & to buy only things on sale. I won’t pay full price for anything at that store or any name brand items. There’s a F&E app, too, where you can load your store card with exclusive coupons. It’s great!

  30. Becky

    Keep in mind too that part of the difference in budget amounts is cost of living in various places. I’m willing to bet you’re paying a few pennies more in CA for the same things that I am in NC. That factor alone makes comparing budgets hard.

  31. Elise (Post author)

    darn. i really wish there was a fresh and easy near us 🙁
    do they have organic stuff?
    even the TJs is too far away to be convenient (and has limited organic stuff). hence the whole foods shopping. hence the steep bills.

  32. Elise (Post author)

    thats what kyle said when i told him about some of these comments. i mean, i suppose thats a big part…but still…not an excuse for me to spend more. im determined to get our grocery bills lower!!

  33. The Valley Vegan

    The closest F&E I could find near you in my app is 1788 S. La Cienega Blvd. I actually drive about 25 minutes each way to get to the one near us! Now that’s desperation! LOL! They do have organic, but not every fruit or veg has the alternative. Stuff is considered “local” if you shop in CA stores because its mostly CA grown & packed. For my organic stuff, I’ll take a side trip to Whole Foods but (confession) only the grown ups get the organic! LOL!

  34. Elise (Post author)

    you have a f&e app – im impressed! ok, so thats not too far i guess (~8 miles from me). but heres the problem. google whole foods locations in santa monica. and factor in the obnoxious LA traffic. and suddenly walking to WF outweighs the $$. but that stops now! i am determined to try out fresh and easy. determined.

  35. Lisa @ The Valley Vegan

    That’s EXACTLY it. The only saving grace w/the one I go to (6.9 miles from me) is that I can get there on surface streets if need be so I can skip the whole 101 debacle! It’s worth it, though. With 2 teenagers and a soon-to-be-teen in the house (all boys), we have to watch every money penny carefully. The app is: fresh&easy Neighborhood You should have a “Friends Card” which you can get at the register, then just start loading it up with coupons through the app, and I think you can even cash in your points through the app (though I’ve only done that online). If you can’t tell… I’m a F&E addict!!

  36. Dana

    I’m thinking the US must have way cheaper food options than up here in Canada. I live on Vancouver Island, and our family of 2 spends around $175 per week on food. We (very) rarely eat out, and pretty much everything we buy is unprocessed/unpackaged. $400 a month sounds like an impossible dream to me! 🙂 (So don’t feel down. You’re definitely not the only person who’s spending $400+ per month on food for 2 people. We’re closer to $600, but food is #1 on my list of priorities.)

  37. Elise (Post author)

    i think the fact that youre on vancouver island is definitely a cause for the price hike.
    but your comment still made me feel better.

  38. Elise (Post author)

    youre awesome. im doing all of this!

    oh and thanks for the diaper bag rec. ill definitely look into it.

  39. janetha

    best enchilada sauce EVER. me and M are hooked on it. had it last night, in fact.

  40. Dana

    Then again, my mom (who lives on the mainland) spends close to $400 per month on food for HERSELF. When you want good food, you want *good food*! Best of luck with the budgeting. 🙂

  41. Courtney

    Wow–that is good to know! I got a Costco membership as a gift last spring, and I need to make better use of it! There are not any that are super convenient to get to for me, but when I do go, I always come out with tons of fruits and veggies and they are usually good deals. I have found that with the produce items, it isn’t *always* cheaper at Costco, but the majority of their produce is. And that will of course vary by where you live and prices at other local grocery stores etc. Anyway. Your Costco has almond milk?!?! What the heck? I need to move to CA! Ours has soy and rice, but no almond 🙁


  42. Elise (Post author)

    write to your costco. seriously. i did about them getting brown rice and they got it. im still waiting for veg broth though…
    anyway, its annoying that what they carry varies by location. i hear about things at other stores (like my parents’ in nor cal) and im so jealous! i think requesting does have an impact though.

  43. Shawnna

    FWIW, the Fuzzi Bunz were the only ones that fit my chunky-thigh baby properly. We had leaks with the BG. They might be the perfect fit for your boy though 🙂 So, if for some reason, you don’t love them, you might have to try other brands. They can be pricey up front, but if you use them on multiple kids, and then sell them afterwards- they are practically free!

  44. Lisa @ The Valley Vegan

    Anytime! Glad I could help!!

  45. Elise (Post author)

    so how many should i buy up front? should i only get a few in case they dont work and then try another kind (ie fuzzi bunz)? i havent gotten any yet, but after reading a million reviews decided to go with BG. i guess its all about what fits your kid though.

  46. Brigid

    Well, to be fair, I imagine our overall budget is smaller than yours, too. I am the primary breadwinner (by a LOT), and I’m a mid-level nonprofit worker, so we have very little wiggle room. Rent on our Hollywood one-bedroom apartment is almost 50% of my monthly take-home. If we had more money to spend on food, we would. But seriously, our CSA (South Central Farmers Coop) saves us a ton on organic produce every week, too, so I highly recommend something like that.

  47. Elise (Post author)

    ive looked into CSAs so many times and i can never decide if itll be worth it. im so torn.
    ps i promise our budget should be on par with yours. im the bread winner too (on maternity leave no less).

  48. Courtney

    I do! Every single time I go in there I leave a comment card in their little comment box. They must dread my comments by now. But they don’t respond! Is that what you did? Leave a comment card? Or did you actually talk to someone/e-mail?


  49. Nadine

    I live on an even smaller island off Vancouver Island and we spend between $600-750/month on food for a family of two. We eat 99% organic, eat out rarely and eat vegan mainly whole foods. Our budget also includes some more pricier supplements and quite a few kombouchas! We also don’t make very much money and don’t own a car, so food is definitely our main expense other than rent. We opted for lifestyle – we both work at home together, have lots of time off and enjoy eating such tasty food.

  50. Elise (Post author)

    i did it online. through the website. not sure if that would make a difference, but yeah, give it a shot!

  51. Elise (Post author)

    ah those sneaky kombucha bills! i miss the days of having no car payments, insurance, gas, etc. new york was great in transportation. i think your priorities are dead on track with food 🙂

  52. Julie

    First of all, congratulations on your upcoming arrival! And secondly, i commend you for tackling your food budget. Ugh… i am not a financially-minded person at all. We often start spreadsheets and fall off the wagon after a few weeks. However, that being said, what works great for us is limiting ourselves to a big shopping trip every 2 weeks. Week one we eat everything fresh and week two we eat a lot of meals we’ve previously frozen. This doesn’t work well for everything, so i do stop for produce at least once during the two weeks, but i try to make sure i ONLY get produce and/or absolute essentials. Believe me, the less you are actually at the store, the less you will spend naturally. Hope that helps!

  53. Elise (Post author)

    thanks for the tips julie!
    sometimes i wish we had a bigger fridge…seems like that would be especially helpful with this tip.

  54. Julie

    This is true! Doesn’t work for everyone.

    The only other thought i had was to use a grocery store that allows you to order online. We have a few in our area (upstate NY) that offer free delivery with a minimum order of $50-100 (varies depending on the store). Making sure you are home for the delivery guy can be an issue, however, what i like is that you see a running total BEFORE you buy. It also limits the impulse buys 🙂

  55. Elise (Post author)

    while i think that order online/grocery delivery thing may work for some…its thats never gonna happen again in this household. we did it a few times when we lived in NYC and what i realized is that human error is not possible when you have food sensitivities. also, i want to pick out my produce. and the whole time slot for delivery is total BS (they were always late and its really screwed up my day). ha. i tried a few different services but really wasnt happy with any of them.

  56. Jaymie

    OMG this is making me feel like I spend WAY too much on groceries 🙁 I use mint as well and food is my #1 priority. I’d rather spend it here than at the hospital when sick or worse. So I’ve given myself a huge budget that I loosely follow and I just looked back and for a family of 3 with the 3rd only being home sometimes, I spent approx $800/month. I feel like I’m a good bargain shopper. Most of my cart is produce. I’m vegan and high quality veg is important to me. I also buy lots as I juice a few times a week. My husband is not vegan and I end up buying him more processed stuff than I would like but I won’t cook him meat and he wants what he wants. One day I hope to rub off on him. He is making some progress in diet. I’m also in school and work full-time so he has to fend for himself most nights even if he would eat what I make. Which usually means frozen pizza, ugh. My goal this year is to try and spend less and to make at least 4 dinners/week in crockpots so we can eat cheaper and healthier.

    I was just updating my mint site, so thanks for the motivation!

  57. Irina @ Chocolatea Time

    I only starting tracking my finances a few months ago, and am so glad I did. I literally spent two long days looking through each bank in 2012 and inputting the data into a spreadsheet. It is very important to know where your $$$ is going!

  58. Elise (Post author)

    dont feel bad about putting healthy food first! i was shocked by how low everyone elses grocery budgets were too. im aiming for 400 a month for the two of us now after lots of planning and analyzing, and its still a lofty goal. its hard! plus quality is definitely a worthy investment. your health is worth it.
    oh and dont worry about your husband. hell come around. it rubs off. kyle is so much more health conscious now than he ever was and i didnt have to push it on him or anything…it really just happens from him being around you. good luck!!

  59. Elise (Post author)

    i totally recommend mint.com – it has been so easy and it categorizes everything and you can add in your budget goals and such.

  60. Sarah

    I’ve been pretty casual about budgeting for most of my life, but my husband is super into personal finance and takes budgeting very seriously. 🙂 We used Mint.com for a while, but about a year ago switched to YNAB. It’s made a great difference for us! They have an app that is super easy to use and after we set our budget for the month, we can both easily see what’s available to spend in each category through the app. After we make purchases, we just enter in the amount on our phones and it syncs with our budget. It’s a great tool!

  61. Irina @ Chocolatea Time

    Oops I meant bank statement! And I actually do use the Mint.com app but for some reason it just doesn’t work as well for me as a spreadsheet does. On my spreadsheet I break down my spending my store! It’s very involved but I love it.

  62. Elise (Post author)

    cool – i didnt know they had an app actually. i do like that your spreadsheet allows you to differentiate by store.

  63. Elise (Post author)

    oh wow, ive never heard of ynab. it sucks that its not free though. i thnik ill stick with mint.com for now…i just learned they have an app too. anyway, thanks for the tip.

  64. Shawnna

    I started out with about 2 each of 6 different kinds of diapers. If you have a local community of CD families, it is easy to sell the ones that don’t work. There is always the online marketplace diaper swappers:

    The other option is to stock up on BG and cross your fingers 🙂 Then you can sell or trade if they don’t work. Chatting with someone at a local shop is a good way to get advice as well. There as so many choices out there now, it can be overwhelming!

  65. melissa

    One major thing that has worked most for me is making a list when shopping, and sticking to it as much as possible. I learn to do without, check my receipts for transactional mistakes, and try to be creative with what I have. I know you try to use what you have creatively right now, so I think you are ahead of the game on that one. I had to find what worked best for me through trial and error, and I still have much room for improvement! But, I have found blogs like yours to be really inspiring, because when I first got married in 2007, I was still very new to cooking, shopping, and I was not very healthy. Blogs like yours have opened my eyes to the importance of having a healthy lifestyle, and I have gotten loads of ideas on how to prepare dishes that are health conscious and budget friendly. If I know one thing, I know this, you are already so acutely aware of your dietary needs and finances, so I am confident you will be fine when baby comes! Take care!

  66. Elise (Post author)

    totally agree melissa. making a weekly dinner plan and a corresponding grocery list – and then sticking to our actual grocery list without deviating and buying impulse stuff made a HUGE difference in our budget.

    im so glad my blog has been inspirational to you – that makes me so happy 🙂 anyway, thanks for the supportive and helpful comment! im sure trial and error will continue to reveal even more places to tighten things up.

  67. Elise (Post author)

    ok, a few more questions for you:
    a) how many cloth diapers total do you think id end up needing in the end
    b) did you do cloth from the start or did you use disposables early on (the cloth seem like they will be too big for a newborn)
    c) were fuzzi buns your favorite or do you have other cloth brands you liked?
    d) did you use the liners in the bum genius?

    sorry to bombard! so many Qs!!

  68. Shawnna

    I got an email about a reply, but I’m not seeing it here ” a) how many cloth diapers total do you think id end up needing in the end b) did you do cloth from the start or did you use disposables early on (the cloth seem like they will be too big for a newborn) c) were fuzzi buns your favorite or do you have other cloth brands you liked? d) did you use the liners in the bum genius?”

    My baby was 10,1 so he was only in the smalls for a month or 2. I did like the Happy Heinys as well, but just not as much. I never had any luck with the diapers that you could adjust the size on. So, while the FB sized diapers were perfect for my guy, the one sized adjustable ones never fit right. I had about 20 once I got in my groove and did a load every other day. This link is really helpful:

  69. Elise (Post author)

    thanks Shawnna – sorry the responses go to the bottom once the comments chain gets to be a certain length…
    anyway, i appreciate you taking the time to answer. we will see how it all goes 🙂

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