Need inspiration to stay debt-free and stop using credit cards? Check out Jessica’s post on How to Live Without Credit Cards.
I was recently reading a book on time management and the author said that most people struggle with time management because of two reasons: you are doing too many things and/or you are doing the wrong things.
While this is great time management advice, I also believe it can also be fantastic money management advice. Because the real reason your budget might not be working is because of these two things as well…
1. You Are Doing Too Many Things
Part of your budget problem might be plain and simple: you’re doing too much. This could manifest itself in different ways:
- Maybe you are spreading yourself too thin so you don’t have time to invest in money-saving activities?
- Perhaps you have too much on your plate so you don’t have energy to make dinner at home — which means you are spending too much eating out?
- Or you might be running around like a chicken with your head cut off and you end up forgetting to thaw that dinner you made ahead of time or didn’t have time to plan a menu or don’t have time to pay attention to sales at the store?
- What about all those activities you are doing? Are they costing you money you don’t have right now?
Questions to Ask Yourself
Step back and really examine your calendar, your lifestyle, and your commitments. Are you fulfilled, calm, and happy with where you are at right now? Do you have breathing room in your day? Do you feel like you have a good balance of your priorities?
If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s time to take a good, hard look at your life and see what you can cut.
Start with unnecessary expenses: Can you cut anything here? Maybe that gym membership you’re not really using, that magazine subscription you’re not really reading, that subscription box service that you don’t absolutely adore, or that membership for that online subscription site that you don’t really use?
Really go line-by-line in your budget and ask yourself, “Is this a necessity? Is this sparking joy in my life?”
Next, look at your calendar commitments: Are you signed up for regular meetings or studies or clubs or lessons that aren’t adding a lot of value to your life? Is there anything on your schedule that you dread but you keep doing it because you’re scared to say no to it? Are your kids involved in too many extra-curricular things that are just sucking your family’s time and breathing room but aren’t things your kids are absolutely loving?
Really go commitment-by-commitment on your calendar and ask yourself: “Is this a necessity? Is this sparking joy in my life?”
2. You Are Doing the Wrong Things
Maybe you aren’t doing too many things, but instead it’s another simple problem: you are doing the wrong things. You are really working hard and investing your time and energy and focused intensity, but it’s on the wrong things. So you’re not getting anywhere and feel like you’re constantly struggling and behind financially.
Maybe you are putting your effort into the wrong places. For instance, instead of spending an hour doing something that could bring in $25 to $50 (such as: listing items on Craigslist or eBay or coaching or working as a virtual assistant), you are working really hard during that hour to do something that will only save you $2.50 (such as: making your own homemade tortillas).
- Are you clipping coupons for things you don’t need and won’t use?
- Maybe you are spending lots of time talking about what you want to do but you’re never sitting down and actually setting some goals and jumping out and starting?
- Perhaps you are spending time reading frugal blogs and collecting great information on money-saving techniques, but you’re never implementing anything?
- Are you wasting time researching deals for items you don’t have in your budget in the first place?
- Or maybe you’re spending hours fantasizing about a bigger home or a bigger paycheck instead of counting your blessings and making the most of where you are?
Questions to Ask Yourself
If your time is limited, you are going to have to pick and choose only those things that will give you the biggest return on your investment. What are those items that give you the biggest return on your investment of time? What do you consider a good return on your investment of time?
How much is your time worth? For me, when I set a dollar amount on my time, it really helped me to be much wiser in how I spent my time.
For instance, a few years ago, I decided that if something was not saving me $20 per hour, it was not worth my time. Why? Well, because there are SO many different options when it comes to what I could invest my time in that would save our family money and there’s only one of me. So I had to pick and choose. Setting a dollar amount really helped me to weed out things that just aren’t worth my time in this season of life.
What are the things that are giving you the biggest bang for your buck right now? Early on in our marriage, this was making do as much as possible and keeping our grocery budget as low as possible. The less we had to buy, the more we saved. The less we spent on groceries, the more we were able to have available for our rent and electric bill and other necessities.
At this season of my life, spending more time working and writing and producing products and less time trying to pinch every single penny is the better return on my investment of time. I’ve had to give up some of my ultra-frugal practices in order to free up time for this and I’ve had to be okay out-sourcing some tasks in my life in order to free up more time.
By determining how much your time is worth and what is giving you the biggest bang for your buck, you’re better able to make sure that you are focusing your limited time and energy on the best things instead of wasting it on things that are going to give you little return.
If someone told you that their budget wasn’t working, what advice or ideas would you give them? I’d love to hear!
Want to instill wise financial management skills in your kids? Here are three practical ways we’re teaching our kids about money…
“When should we start teaching our kids about money?”
We hear this question a lot — from friends, from people I meet at conferences, and often from readers. Our response is always the same, “As soon as possible!”
My husband and I believe wholeheartedly that it’s never too early to start teaching your kids about money! The sooner they can learn the value of money and how to handle money, the sooner they can begin to develop a strong foundation for wise money management.
We started teaching all of our kids about money from the time they were about two. When they are old enough to not swallow money, they are old enough to learn about how to start using it well! 😉
My husband and I were blessed to come from homes where wise money management was modeled. And we are forever grateful to our parents and grandparents for the gift they gave us in this. We know that there’s no way that we would be in the financial position we are in if it were not for the foundation they gave us.
It’s our hope that we can pass on this same foundation to our kids, too. Which is why it’s so important to us to make teaching our kids about money a very important priority in our home.
Here are three practical ways we are teaching our kids about money:
1. We Talk About Our Own Money Choices
Since the time our kids have been toddlers, we’ve talked about money and the choices we’ve made when it comes to finances. We’ve started out in small ways and gradually shared more as they’ve asked more questions.
We’ve talked about why we live on a budget, why we save up and pay cash for things, why we wait to make purchases why we don’t use credit cards, why we don’t go into debt, why they are currently sharing a bedroom, and why we don’t have a mortgage.
In addition to talking about our money choices, we’ve also sought to model wise money management before our kids. They hear us talking about our budget together. They see us making sacrifices to pay for things. They watch us paying cash for things. They see us deciding not to buy something because it’s not a good enough deal.
I believe that it’s very important to teach through our words and through our life. Because often more is caught than taught.
This was definitely true for me. My parents taught me that money is a tool. In the hands of wise stewards, it can be put to good use and make a huge impact. In the hands of those who are unwise, it can be wasted and blown with nothing to show for it.
With their lives and checkbooks, they modeled the importance of being wise in how you use and manage money. It wasn’t about saving money for saving money’s sake, but so that you could use that money saved to impact and help other people. To invest in things that matter, to bless people, to donate to causes you believe in, and to give generously.
Seeing my parents’ sacrifices and creative commitment to living debt-free and how it put them in position to be able to give generously because they worked so hard to no longer have a house payment was a huge inspiration to my husband and me.
How to Teach Through Every Day Life
Recently, I took Kathrynne (12) and Silas (7) with me to Kroger. I had so much fun going through the aisles with them, showing them simple ways I save money at the store.
I shared with them that Jesse was in law school, we only had $17-$30 a week to spend on groceries, so I had to get very creative with menu-planning, shopping the markdowns, playing the Drugstore Game, and using coupons.
I told them how I would dumpster dive and search through the recycle bins for coupons. Between pairing the coupons and the markdowns, along with creativity, we were able to survive on a minimal budget.
We played The Markdown Game at the store — looking for the yellow markdown stickers and then, once we found them, deciding whether it was a really good deal or not. Teaching them that some deals aren’t as good as they seem and that it’s not a good deal if you don’t have the money for it is a fantastic way to connect the dots for them and increase the value of the dollar in their mind.
So we discussed our budget, and I helped them decide whether or not an item fit in our budget. We had so much fun doing this together — and we came away with some really great deals, too!
Near the end of the shopping trip, one of them said, “So when I go away to college, I can do this, too. I can afford to live and not go into debt.” Yes!
2. We Give Them Opportunities to Handle Money
We have our children start paying for things from a young age. In fact, from the time all our children were three or four years old, they had their own spending money that they had earned by doing chores and projects for us.
When we’re out shopping, they can bring their own spending money and spend it however they’d like (within reason!). This helps them learn valuable money management skills and also prevents the gimme attitude that can quickly pop up when out shopping.
If a child sees something they want and they ask me if we can buy it, my response is always, “Did you bring your money?”
I also love the real-life skills our children are learning from taking their items up to the register and paying for them themselves. They learn about counting change, interacting with sales clerks, and making sure they have enough money to pay for their items in the first place.
One of the greatest joys of paying our children for doing chores has been watching them become generous givers. We encourage them to set aside a portion of their money for giving and we regularly talk about the needs around the world.
We’ve been so proud to watch our children fund Operation Christmas Child boxes and buy goats and chickens and help fund a water project for those in other countries through Samaritan’s Purse. Truly, there has been nothing more rewarding as a parent than seeing our children want to follow our family’s mantra to “Live simply so others can simply live.”
3. We Let Them Make Money Mistakes
When our children to use their own spending money to buy things they want to purchase, we don’t give a whole lot of input or guidance — unless they ask us for it. Why?
Because we want them to learn how to think through the wisdom of purchases on their own. We won’t always be around to guide their purchases, so we want them to learn to think through what the best deal is and what the best use of their money is without a lot of prodding from us.
We also want them to make money mistakes. This might seem harsh, but we’d much rather have them make $3 mistakes now when they are little to hopefully prevent some $3,000 and $30,000 mistakes down the road.
They’ve learned a lot of lessons when they bought cheap items that were broken within a few days and they’ve learned that spending all your hard-earned money on some impulse purchase can often lead to regret. These instances have resulted in great discussions about how to carefully think through purchases and how to make sure you’re making the best use of your money.
Looking for more resources to help teach your kids about money?
Check out Beth Kobliner’s brand new book Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not) that just came out today, February 7, 2017.
Beth Kobliner is one of the nation’s leading authorities on personal finance for young people, and in this book she shares wise, practical, relatable advice to help parents teach children how to be smart about money.
Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not) is a jargon-free, step-by-step guide to help parents of all income levels teach their kids from ages three to twenty-three about money. The content in the book is based on the latest research from the fields of psychology, child development, and behavioral economics.
What I love most about this book is that it is full of “teachable moments” that allow parents to learn how to teach their kids character traits that are important in all aspects of life: a strong work ethic, the ability to exert self-control and to weigh our choices carefully, the perseverance to work toward distant goals, and a giving spirit.
I don’t agree with all of the advice in the book — especially the parts that make it seem like debt is just an expected and normal part of life — but I think there is a lot of incredibly valuable information in this book and it’s presented in a simple and easy-to-understand format. I think it would be a very helpful to any parent who is looking for some guidance and practical help to set your kids up for financial success.
The book also features various financial chapters with each chapter divided into the many stages of a child’s development (i.e. toddler, elementary school, college, etc.) for parents to read through or reference whenever they need to.
(Note: This post was underwritten by Beth Kobliner. Read our disclosure policy here.)
Trying to stretch your grocery budget by shopping at ALDI more often? Download this free Ultimate ALDI Grocery List Printable as a guide!
Once you’ve set up your grocery budget and created some accountability to actually stick with it, it’s time to start considering some simple ways you could shave off some of your grocery expenses.
Groceries are one of the budget areas that are the very easiest to cut — and it’s the first place I encourage people to start if they are looking to get their finances in better order.
Why? Because the majority of Americans could make some simple changes in their lifestyle and grocery purchases that would pretty easily reduce their grocery expenses by $50 or more!
Now, here’s the thing: some of you don’t need to cut a penny off your grocery budget. You have worked hard to keep your budget low, you are couponing ninjas, you cook from scratch, you plan inexpensive menus, you cook with beans and rice, and you eat up all your leftovers.
This post is not for you (unless you want to share some of your wisdom in the comments — which we would love!). This post is for the average American who is feeling like they know they are spending way more on groceries than they should, but they just need some ideas as to how to get started lowering their budget.
I thought through a lot of grocery-saving strategies and came up with 10 simple techniques that could save you $5 per week if you employed them — for a total of $50 in savings every week!
If you’re looking for a little wiggle room in your budget, try a few of these ideas:
1. Use Up What You Have on Hand
When I plan our menu, I look through the cupboards, pantry, and fridge and freezer and see what we already have on hand. Maybe a recipe only used half a carton of something, maybe I have extras from an item I got marked down, or maybe there other items we didn’t use the week before.
I take note of these items and try to incorporate them into the menu plan for the following week. If you need some ideas on how to incorporate these ingredients into your menu plan, check out RecipeMatcher.com, SuperCook.com, or MyFridgeFood.com.
In addition, I often get creative in substituting items I already have on hand instead of buying something. Learning how to substitute ingredients has saved so much money and extra trips to the store. Here’s a great list of recipe substitutions. You can often Google for ingredient substitutions and get some great ideas.
2. Look at Your Grocery Fliers Online
Planning your menu based upon what’s on sale at your local store(s) is where you really start to see the savings happening! Most grocery store chains have their weekly sale fliers available online. If not, you will often receive a copy in the mail. Or, you could even pick one up at the store if you’re going to be driving right by it.
Quickly browse through these sale fliers and see if there are any exceptional deals on items like meat or dairy or produce. Whenever possible, plan some of your menu based upon these sales!
Most of the time, the hottest deals of the week are listed predominantly in the front page of the flier. Oftentimes, these front-page deals are “loss-leaders”.
(“Loss-leaders” are deals which the store is actually breaking even– or losing money on! They are designed to be good enough to “bait” you into shopping at that store.)
Don’t neglect to look through the full flier, though. Sometimes there are great deals which are hidden on the middle pages. However, remember that just because something is listed in the sales flier it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great deal. Over time, you’ll start learning what are the “rock-bottom” prices for items you buy and how often they go on sale in your area.
3. Only Buy the Produce That’s on Sale
Produce prices can kill your budget — but they don’t have to! One thing we try to do is pretty much stick to buying what produce is in season and on sale. (You can print a Seasonal Produce Chart here.)
For instance, when apples are on sale, I’ll buy a few bags of them and that will be our go-to fruit for the week. When grapes are on sale, we mostly eat grapes for fruit that week. When carrots are on sale, we eat a lot of carrots.
Sure, this means that we eat a lot of the same kinds of produce in one week. It might seem boring, but it sure saves a lot of money. And over the course of the year, we’re eating lots of different fruits and veggies!
4. Print Some Coupons
Once you’ve made your shopping list based upon the weekly sales fliers, check the Coupon Database and Store Deal Match-ups on our site to see if there are any printable coupons available for products you’re planning to buy.
If you’re not familiar with these resources on our site, here’s how they work:
Coupon Database: Just search for the product name of what you’re already planning to buy and the Coupon Database will automatically generate a list of all coupons available for that product. It does all the legwork for you–all you have to do is type in the products you want to buy and print the coupons!
Store Deal Database: We have a listing of the best weekly sales and coupon match-ups at over 100 grocery store chains nationwide on the Store Deals Section of our site? Find and click on your store(s) logo here and it will take you to this week’s best deals list for your local store(s).
Quickly scan the list to see if there are any deals you’re interested in doing and print any coupons you’ll need for those deals. You can also click through the link at the bottom of each list to see an extensive sale and deal list put together by a blogger who lives in your area.
(Note: If you don’t want to mess with checking the Store Deal Section every week, you can sign up to have the list of the best deals for your local stores emailed to you each week when the sale ads come up. We’re all about saving you time–and money!)
Taking five minutes of your time to check the Coupon Database and Store Deal Match-ups when planning your shopping trip could easily save you $5 or $10–or more!
5. Ditch Breakfast in a Box
You can save a lot of money and feed your family more wholesomely if you ditch breakfast out of a cereal box! I’m a big fan of make ahead breakfasts — that way you don’t have to worry about cooking a hot breakfast every morning!
Pancakes and waffles can be made ahead of time and frozen. Just whip up a batch of pancakes or waffles, let cool, and then stick in airtight freezer bags. When you’re ready to serve, you can warm them in the oven, microwave, or toaster oven.
Breakfast burritos are a hearty grab-and-go food that teenage boys and men seem to especially love. Make a big batch on the weekends, freeze individually in foil, and then they can just be pulled out and microwaved before heading out the door in the morning. (Be sure to remove the foil before microwaving!)
We love muffins at our house! To make them ahead, just bake your favorite muffin recipe, let them cool, and stick them in an airtight freezer bag or other container. When you’re ready to eat them, just pull out however many you need and microwave or let them thaw for 15 or 20 minutes and they are ready to eat!
Find a bunch of other Make Ahead Breakfast Ideas here.
6. Have One Meatless Dinner
If you cut your meat consumption by one meal per week, you’ll usually save close to $5! For most families, it wouldn’t be too hard to cut back on $5 worth of meat each week — especially if you’re willing to get a little creative.
Meatless doesn’t have to mean tasteless. Try making Bean & Cheese Burritos, breakfast for dinner, or even meatless lasagna. Need more ideas? Check out this list of 52 Meatless Meals that I posted earlier today. You can also read my post on How to Live on Beans & Rice for a Week.
If your family isn’t keen on the idea of going completely meatless, stretching your meat with legumes is a great way to save money while still eating meat. Mexican dishes, bean soups, and chili are recipes that you can pretty easily add in extra beans to replace some of the meat without most people realizing it.
Lentils hide especially well in taco meat, too. Just add in cooked lentils to your ground beef along with your usual seasonings and there’s a good chance your family won’t even notice!
Also, stop centering your meal around meat as the main thing and instead view meat as a garnish. Use it as a topping for pizza or salads, or stir some into stir fries or soups. The less the meal’s focal point is a big hunk of meat, the more you’ll likely save.
7. Cook 2 Things From Scratch
You can save so much money off your grocery bill by cooking from scratch. However, if you’re cooking from scratch solely for the purpose of saving money (not for the health benefits or because you enjoy it), make sure it’s worth the return on your investment of time.
If you spend hours in the kitchen and it’s only saving you a $1 or so per hour to make things from scratch, it’s likely not worth your time. That’s why I don’t make homemade tortillas.
I have a personal policy that I must be saving at least $20 per hour to invest my time in any money-saving tactic. This helps me to focus my energy and effort on those things that are really going to make a difference in our budget, instead of exerting half a day on something that really doesn’t change our bottom line.
It’s easy to think that cooking from scratch has to be a huge time investment, but that’s often not the case. In fact, in 10 minutes, you can easily throw a big batch of beans in the crockpot to cook and a loaf of bread in the bread machine.
You’ll never know how much time something will take you or how much you’ll enjoy making it until you’ve actually experimented with it. So go ahead, try making homemade refried beans, homemade go-gurts, freezer-friendly breakfast burritos, homemade baking mix, or homemade pizza.
8. Have a Leftovers Night
We try to have at least one or two leftover nights per week. It saves time, because we don’t have to plan a dinner or make dinner or clean up the dishes from dinner. And it saves money, because we don’t have to buy the ingredients for another lunch or dinner.
It’s such a simple, no-brainer thing, but saving money in simple ways on a regular basis adds up over time! We’ve also found that serving leftovers for dinner on busy nights cuts down on the temptation to grab carryout. So on busy nights, I’ll often set out all the odds and ends in the fridge and declare it a Leftover Buffet night.
For those of you who wish you had leftovers but it seems like your hungry teens or growing kiddos eat everything you make, consider doubling a casserole or soup recipe you’re making a couple times per week and sticking half the recipe in the fridge or freeze before you eat dinner that night. That way, you’re guaranteeing you’ll have “leftovers” to eat later in the week! 😉
My favorite part of eating leftovers for dinner? Less kitchen clean-up!
9. Save Up Your Swagbucks
When we buy specialty ingredients — such as protein powder and olive oil — and we get these with Amazon using gift cards earned through Swagbucks. It’s a great way to be able to afford a few of those high-quality ingredients we love to use in recipes.
I signed up with Swagbucks years ago and have since earned many, many gift cards from them. While much of my Swagbucks credit now is earned from referring readers here (thank you, all!), as I’ve written about, you don’t need to refer others to still earn at least $25 to $40 in Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks — which can be a huge help to your grocery budget!
10. Don’t Impulse Buy
Finally, the best way to save money on groceries is to make sure that you only buy what you planned to buy. Make a menu plan, make a grocery list, and stick with the list.
Also, you’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: don’t grocery shop when you are hungry or when you feel like stress-eating. And, if you have family members who encourage you to impulse buy, leave them at home. 😉
If you’re new to budgeting and to saving on groceries, please do not go and try to do all of these things this week. That’s a surefire way to set yourself up for overwhelm!
Instead, pick one idea and commit to do it for the next 4 weeks. If you like it and it saves you money, then make it habit. Once it’s a habit, add in another idea. And so on and so forth.
Don’t try to radically overhaul your grocery budget overnight. Focus on cutting it by 1-3% every month. It’s much more doable and sustainable this way — and there’s a good chance you’ll actually stick with it!
What are YOUR ideas for simple strategies to cut your grocery bill by at least $5 per week? Share them in the comments!
So far in this series, we’ve talked about: how there is no one right way to set up a grocery budget, how much you should spend on groceries, and how to track how much you’re spending.
Today, I want to tackle one of the most important parts of sticking with a grocery budget… namely, how to actually stick with it!
You can have all the best intentions in the world, you can set up an amazing grocery budget, and you can create a really good accountability system, but if you don’t actually follow through with it, you’ll never be successful at grocery budgeting.
Before we talk about some practical tips on how to actually stick with your grocery budget, I want to first address three things I don’t want you to do. Because if you do any of these three things, it could keep you from being successful in following through with your budget.
1. Don’t Make Excuses
I often hear people say things like, “I can’t have a grocery budget because we live in a high cost of living area.” Or, “We can’t stick to a grocery budget because we have variable income.”
Here’s the deal: You can sit there and make excuses or you can get up and do the best you can do with the situation you’re in and the income you have. It’s your choice.
If you need encouragement for setting up a grocery budget — even if you have a weird or difficult current life situation — be sure to read the comments on this post where folks all over the country tell about where they live, how many people are in their family, and what their grocery budget is. I think it will really inspire you.
You can do this, too! Nothing’s stopping you from success except your own excuses!
2. Don’t Stress Over Making Mistakes
Remember, if you’re brand-new to budgeting, you will make mistakes. You will probably find that there are times when it’s more difficult than you think it should be.
You will probably go over-budget some in the beginning. This is normal. This is how you learn and grow and get better.
When you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t call yourself a failure. Don’t throw up your hands and decide that this grocery budgeting thing isn’t for you.
Remind yourself that this is part of the learning curve, think about what you can learn from you mistake, and consider what you need to change or do differently so you don’t make the same mistake again. And then give yourself grace and get back in the game!
3. Don’t Worry if You Have to Tweak It
You will likely need to tweak the budget as you go — especially if you are new to budgeting and just picked a number that you think will work. As real-life happens and you are actually trying to stick with this number that you had initially thought would work, there’s a good chance you’ll find you need to change it.
That’s totally okay and acceptable. In fact, I always tell people that it usually takes 3-6 months when you’re brand-new to budgeting to really figure out what a good number is. Tweaking is part of the process!
In addition to the initial tweaking, you’ll also want to tweak your budget as your needs and your family changes. As time goes on, if the number you have chosen just isn’t working and is making your life miserable, it’s 100% okay to tweak that number again.
Like I said earlier in this series, a good grocery budget is one that works for you and your own family. So be sure to regularly re-visit the number you’ve chosen to see if you need to change it.
We’ve significantly increased our budget the past two years because that is what was best for our family. I don’t feel guilt about that. Instead, I’m grateful that we can do what is best for our own family and that we’ve found a grocery budget amount that works best for us right now.
2 Simple Tips on How to Actually Stick With Your Budget
Plan Your Menu With Your Budget In Mind — Think about how much items cost and keep this in mind when you are planning your menu. If you have no idea, start keeping a price book to help you learn the general prices of items so you can better gauge how much the recipes you’ve chosen on your menu plan are going to cost.
Use a Calculator At the Store — One simple way to save money on your grocery bill is to always bring a calculator with you when you shop. Since I use cash when I shop, it’s important to keep a tally of how much I’ve spent so far so that I don’t get up to the register and not have enough money to pay for my groceries. Keeping a running total also encourages me to carefully evaluate all purchases as I put them into my cart — and it helps ward off the temptation to make impulse purchases on things I don’t really need to buy.
For more inspiration:
- Brigette’s $39 Grocery Shopping Trip + Weekly Menu Plan for 6
- 2 Proven Systems to Track How Much You’re Spending on Groceries
- 6 Ways We’re Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low — Without Using Coupons
What help you to stick with your grocery budget? Do you have any great tips or tricks? I’d love to hear!