Guest post from Jennifer
It’s been just over a year since my big budgeting ah-ha moment and switching to an all-cash grocery budget. It has not been easy, and some months got pretty ugly — peanut butter and jelly for a week of lunch may appeal to kids but it’s not my favorite.
Overall switching to a cash budget has been a success and something I will continue to do for my family. I have learned some lessons, made mistakes, and even cheated and swiped the debit card on a few occasions.
Here are 6 lessons I’ve learned, and why our all-cash grocery budget is the best budgeting decision our family has made to date. Our savings account will back me up on this!
1. You can eat healthfully on a budget.
Seriously, it can happen, and actually I started buying healthier food since going on my all cash budget.
I will let you know that my family doesn’t eat organic, we love gluten, and luckily, have no food allergies. We do eat “real” food like fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and very little processed foods. I do like to cook/bake and have utilized this skill more over the past year.
My biggest secret for affording healthy foods is to buy in-season. We eat a lot of strawberries in June, apples in September, and tomatoes in July. We seem to eat our weight in corn on the cob and zucchini in the summer and hop on the pumpkin bandwagon in the fall!
I also freeze a lot of in-season foods so we can enjoy them out of season. Right now my freezer is filled with frozen strawberries and corn on the cob. I’m making room for the apples this fall.
2. A simple meal plan isn’t a bad thing.
I follow a very basic plan when planning my meals, especially dinners. We have a protein, starch, and vegetable. The protein is usually meat of some sort — chicken, ground turkey, or ground beef. I know we could save money by eating vegetarian once a week, but we like meat and as long as we can afford meat, we’ll eat it for nearly every dinner.
Our breakfasts and lunches are also pretty simple. Fortunately at this time in our lives, our mornings are pretty relaxed since my oldest has afternoon preschool. We are able to make eggs, toast, or pancakes each morning for breakfast. This is really cheap and a pretty healthy. Lunches are usually made up of leftovers or PB&J’s with fruit and crackers. I’ll admit, variety may be lacking in our lunches, but it does keep the costs down!
I know that someday, I will be able to get more adventurous in the kitchen. But in my season of life (two boys ages 3 and 5, and two more babies on the way), simple meal planning is my best friend. I don’t have the time, money, and more importantly the energy to follow a Martha Stewart recipe each night for dinner. I try for variety, but won’t allow my budget to suffer for an elaborate meal.
I also attempt to create a meal plan each week, I will admit that this gets done about 75% of the time, but when it does get done the entire week seems more organized and easy going. Since I shop primarily at Aldi, I don’t really have to base my meal plans on what’s on sale since everything seems to be on sale all the time at this store. Since starting my cash budget I take this more seriously, I know my funds are limited and every dollar counts.
3. It’s very helpful to know what my food costs.
I know what a good price for milk is, and when to stock up on ground beef. I won’t overpay for lettuce because I’m much more aware of the price of my food.
I also know how much I need left at the end of my 15-day pay cycle in order to get milk, eggs, peanut butter, and bread–the essentials to make it through those last couple of days, if need be.
In short I’m a more intelligent shopper, and am aware that just because a flashy ad claims that paying $1.99/lb for grapes is a great deal I know that is much more than I’m willing to pay, and will wait a few weeks until they are $0.79/lb.
4. It’s okay to cheat sometimes.
In the beginning I made some mistakes and fell back into bad habits.
I quickly learned that paying a few dollars on the debit card was not the end of the world. Kids will get sick and need medicine, milk will run out more quickly than expected, and not everything you need for the week will be on sale.
The important thing is I’ve learned from my mistakes, and continue to learn how to make my money stretch as far as possible while still preparing good food for my family.
5. A bare refrigerator no longer stresses me out.
In the past, if our refrigerator looked empty, I had to go to the grocery store to fill it up — even if I had run out of money in my imaginary budget. I didn’t like the thought of not having anything to eat, even though there was food to eat, just not a plethora of food that would eventually get thrown out.
Now I like that my fridge is bare, because I know that the food that is in there is food that will get eaten. Rarely does food go to waste in this house anymore, because I know the value of that half eaten salad, or can come up with something to do with the leftover vegetables from two nights ago.
I’m not afraid to mix two almost empty bottles of different flavored salad dressing together to make a new and “exciting” marinade for chicken — guess what’s for dinner tonight? I embrace the challenge of the bare refrigerator, and am saving money while tackling it!
6. It really works, and I won’t go back.
The concept is simple, pay in cash and stop shopping when you run out of money.
The reality is a little more difficult. There is a learning curve involved in making the leap from card to cash, and it can be pretty embarrassing to have to put that bag of chips back because you simply don’t have the money for them.
Grocery stores are tricky places that are strategically set up to get your money, and sometimes they win. I am happy to say, for me, most of the time they don’t.
Have you tried only using cash to buy groceries?
My name is Jennifer Willis, I’m a stay-at-home mom to two boys, Henry is 5 and Charlie is 3 and we’re excited to welcome boy/girl twins this December. My husband John and I have been married for nearly 8 years and live in Olathe, Kansas. I love to embroider, binge watch TV shows, and create train tracks and Lego houses with my boys.