31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Stop Making Excuses and Commit to Change

“You can’t change anything when your ‘want-to’ is broken.” -Kevin Catalyst

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received emails which say something like, “I really wish we could lower our grocery budget, but…”

You know what? If you start with that attitude, you’ll likely never succeed at having a better grocery budget. Sure, you might not be able to get your grocery budget down as low as someone else–maybe your family eats gluten-free, or maybe you eat all organic, or maybe you live in a rural area with only one over-priced store–but the truth is: you can lower your grocery budget.

But it will never happen until you stop making excuses and commit to change.

So I’m starting out this series by challenging you to set aside the negativity and commit to wholehearted willingness to change your mindset, your shopping habits, and quite possibly even your life.

Your grocery budget is likely never going to change until you are also willing to.

Has changing the way you think or shop changed your grocery bill? Tell us about it!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Yes, You Need a Budget

“A budget??”

I can hear the groans right now. You were all pumped about these great new money-saving ideas you were going to learn and implement from this series; the last thing you wanted to hear about was a boring topic like budgets.

Remember how you promised me yesterday that you were going to stop making excuses and commit to change? Well, setting up a budget is your first opportunity!

Why You Need a Budget

Without a budget in place, all the money you save is pretty superficial. I’d go so far as to say that without a budget in place, bargain-shopping, coupon-clipping and deal-hunting are likely not going to save you any money. In fact, you might be spending more money in an effort to save money–which totally negates the savings, right?

A budget gives you the ability to track your spending and saving–and hopefully to see an increase in savings and a decrease in spending. Without a budget in place, your money will just be running through your fingers with no set objectives. A budget gives you parameters and purpose, it gives you boundaries and it gives you freedom to live creatively within those boundaries.

How to Set Up a Workable Grocery Budget

1) Average Your Grocery Spending From the Last 4-8 Weeks

How much have you spent at the grocery store over the last 4-8 weeks? Average that amount out and use it as a basis for your initial grocery budget. Ultimately, you’re likely going to want to whittle it down quite a bit–since saving money is one of the big purposes of having a grocery budget!–but now is not the time to worry about that. It’s a huge step just to start with a concrete budget in place.

2) Be Realistic

Don’t put undo pressure on yourself to come up with some crazily-low and impossible-to-stick-with figure for your grocery budget. This is not a contest or a competition and if you want to persevere and see long-lasting benefits, you’ll want to give yourself some breathing room.

3) Challenge Yourself to Slowly Lower Your Budget

Over time and with practice, you’ll likely be able to reduce your original grocery budget figure fairly significantly. But just remember: it takes time. You’re not going to cut your grocery bill in half this month. However, if you slowly shave off 5% here and 5% there, within 6-10 months, it’s very possible you can have it lowered by 30-50% or even more.

Always give yourself grace, though. If you’re ever feeling frustrated or stressed about it, step back and remind yourself that it’s just a grocery budget. The world’s not going to come to an end if it’s $5 or $10–or even $30 or $50!–more than you’d like it to be.

What benefits have you found from sticking with a grocery budget? What advice would you have for someone who is brand-new to the idea of budgeting? Tell us in the comments!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Menu Planning Saves Your Sanity–and Your Budget!

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

Not only do I believe having a set amount to spend at the grocery store is imperative for lowering your grocery budget, but I also believe menu-planning is a must.

Menu Planning Saves You Stress and Frustration

Do you dread 5 p.m. because it’s when you have to try to pull something together for dinner or feel guilty about ordering takeout yet again? Do you often find yourself running to the store at the last-minute in a frazzled state rushing through the aisles and throwing random things into your cart in hopes it will magically create a five-course dinner?

The truth is, you could throw away the 5 p.m. dread and almost completely eradicate the frazzled last-minute grocery store trips if you sat down at the beginning of the week and made a menu plan.

Menu Planning Saves You Money

I can’t even begin to calculate how much we’ve saved over the years through the simple act of menu planning.

By planning ahead and buying all the groceries we’ll need for the week in one shopping trip, we save numerous trips to the store throughout the week. In addition, when you have a plan in place for what you’re supposed to be eating each meal and you’ve already purchased the ingredients for those recipes, it’s a lot harder to justify chucking the plan for takeout.

Menu planning is not rocket science and it only has to take a few minutes each week, but it can really make a difference in your life.

If you’re new to menu planning and wondering where to start or how to plan a menu on a budget, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I’ll share what works for our family when it comes to menu-planning.

Be sure to check out our brand-new Printable Menu Forms Pack which you can download here for free!

How does menu-planning benefit your family and life? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Menu Planning on a Budget (Part 1)

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

So now that you know some of the benefits of menu-planning, I thought it’d be helpful to share some suggestions for planning a budget-friendly menu. However, please remember that there is no right or wrong way to plan a menu. These are just suggestions–take what works for your family, and leave the rest!

1) “Shop” Your Cupboards

I always start menu-planning by looking in my freezer, refrigerator, and cupboards. This simple exercise often yields a great deal of inspiration.

For instance, last week I discovered that I had cream cheese, canned tomatoes, and noodles on hand. So I made this lasagna as part of Freezer Cooking Day.

Maybe you open up your freezer and find chicken and frozen broccoli and you open up your cupboard and see a bag of rice. Well, you have the beginnings of Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole. Just add cheese and cream of chicken soup  to your grocery list (or make your own Homemade Cream Soup) and you have everything you need for one dinner that week.

One great resource for coming up with recipes based upon what you already have on hand is by using the Ingredient Search feature from AllRecipes. Type in the ingredients you have and those you don’t have, and it will pull up a list of recipes you can make.

Two other websites you can consult for recipes based upon ingredients you have on hand are SuperCook and Recipe Matcher.

2) Consult the Sales Fliers

Once you feel like you’re getting the hang of planning your menu based upon what you have on hand, you’re ready to move onto the next level of menu-planning–planning your menu based upon what’s on sale at your local store(s). This 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.

When you’re in the middle of planning your menu and grocery list, quickly browse through these sale fliers and see if there are any exceptional deals on things you need or things you will use in the next few months. 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) Survey Your Coupons

Once I’ve gotten a good idea of what I have on hand and what’s on sale at my nearby stores, I pull out my coupon box to match up coupons with the sales and see if I have any other coupons I want to be sure and use (such as high-value coupons or coupons for free items). I put these coupons  in a stack and then it’s time to make my menu plan–which we’ll talk about in more detail in the next post in this series.

What are your best tips for menu-planning on a budget? Comment and tell us!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Menu Planning on a Budget (Part 2)

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

You’ve “shopped” your cupboards, consulted the sales fliers and surveyed your coupons, now it’s time to get down to business with menu-planning. But first off, let me re-iterate a very important point:

There’s not a perfect way to plan a menu.

Everyone is going to plan their menu a little bit differently. As I said yesterday, there’s no right or wrong way to menu plan. What matters is that you do it, and that it works for your family. For the record, I do it a little differently each time I plan–depending upon how much time and inspiration I have and what our plans for the week look like.

Sometimes, I have lots of extra ingredients to work with, there are lots of sales, and I have numerous coupons. When that happens, it’s pretty easy to pull together a week’s worth of meals without a lot of extra thought.

I’ve found that once-a-month Freezer Cooking makes menu planning a breeze. In fact, many weeks, I can just write out breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas on this form here, and we’re good to go for the week. I use the sheet for ideas, but I don’t necessarily follow it to a tee. In our home, flexibility and creativity is okay–provided it doesn’t mean any extra trips to the store!

However, at times, my cupboards and freezers are pretty bare, the sales are sparse, and my coupon box is relatively empty. If that’s the case, I see how much grocery money I have to work with, and I usually pull out some cookbooks to get the wheels in my head going. Or I’ll go to one of my favorite food blogs (like Tammy’s Recipes) for ideas. You can also check out Menu Plan Monday for a plethora of menu ideas from around the blogosphere.

Find a method that works for you.

You might find it helpful to take 30 minutes and make a list of 30 meals your family loves to serve as inspiration if you’re ever feeling a lack of creativity while menu-planning.

Or, you could have pre-established themes for dinners each week. Tsh, over at SimpleMom, does this and here’s an example of what her Themed Menu Plan has looked like:

Mondays - pasta
Tuesdays - soup, salad, and/or sandwiches
Wednesdays - stir fry
Thursdays - crock pot
Fridays - pizza
Saturdays - something new
Sundays - something easy

Jenna from the Newlyweds blog left a comment sharing how she plans her menus:

I try to plan 2 meals around items I already have at home in the pantry or freezer, and then plan some meals based on what’s on sale, and some based on what we would like to eat. I keep my plan flexible and allow for anything that will pop up. I also like to keep items on hand all the time for a few quick meals like taco soup and spaghetti. This way, if some comes up, I can whip these up in a jiffy. -Jenna @ Newlyweds

It might seem like a daunting task at first–especially if this is all new to you!–but don’t be overwhelmed. Do the best you can do and remember that it’s never going to be absolutely perfect. Over time, though, you’ll likely begin to realize significant savings just by taking a few extra steps and putting the effort forth to make a plan.

Free Menu Planning Worksheet and Grocery Shopping Lists

To aid you in your menu-planning and grocery-list-making, Joy from FiveJ’s and I put together some free downloads for you. (By the way, Joy put together a snazzy free downloads page here so you can access all the free downloads we currently have available. Enjoy!)

Meal Planning Worksheet :: This brainstorming form contains spaces to write down store deals, coupons, items on hand, and recipes that can be made from those items.

Shopping List :: Contains space for the items to purchase, the cost of the item, whether there is a coupon for it, and how much the coupon is for. Also includes a space for notes where you can record extra information about your shopping trip.

Two-Store Shopping List :: Two separate shopping lists on one page, each of which includes space for the items to purchase, the cost of the item, and whether there is a coupon for it. Also includes a space for notes where you can record extra information about your shopping trip.

How do you normally plan your menus? I’d love to hear what works for you!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Shop With Cash

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

Up until this point, the posts in this series have been pretty non-controversial. But today, that’s all changing, because I’m going to make a bold statement:

You will very likely see significant savings on your grocery bill if you only shop with cash.

I know all of you “But-I’m-So-Responsible-With-My-Credit-Card” people probably aren’t going to be happy with me for saying this, but I really believe that.

You see, when you shop with a credit card (or even a debit card, for that matter!) you can have your budget in your head and you can do the best to stick with it when you check out, but it’s so much easier to go just a little bit over here and there when you’re swiping. You can justify that $2 you went over your budget to buy something which was a “great deal” when paying with your card.

$2 might not seem like much, but if you spend $2 to $3 more on groceries every week, that’s adds up to around $130 in extra spending over a year’s time!

Paying with cash forces you to stick to your budget.

When I know that all I have to use at checkout is the cash in my grocery budget envelope, you better believe I carefully evaluate every impulse purchase or great deal I come across: “Do I really need this?” “Is this in the budget?”

Sometimes, it truly is a great deal and I have the money in my cash envelope to pay for it so it goes in the cart. Other times, I decide it’s a good enough deal that I skip buying something else on my list that we can do without in order to afford it. Or, many times, I put it back on the shelf.

The Cash-Only Challenge

Maybe you’re one of those extremely responsible–and very rare!–people who can stick to your budget while swiping a card. If you are, kuddos to you!

However, if you find yourself struggling financially and wishing you could figure out why your grocery budget is so high, can I challenge you to take a Cash-Only Challenge for 3 months and see if it impacts your grocery spending over the course of a three-month period?

Here’s how the Cash-Only Challenge works:

1) Commit to only spend what is in your grocery envelope for the next 3 months.

2) Go to the bank and withdraw cash in the amount of your pre-determined Grocery Budget. Put this cash in an envelope and keep it in a safe place. For more on cash-only shopping, read The Envelope System Experiment.

3) Leave your credit/debit cards/checkbook at home and only bring your cash envelope and a calculator with you to the grocery store.

4) Calculate your purchases on the calculator as you add them to your cart. This will motivate you to carefully evaluate all purchases, will make you aware of how much items actually cost, encourage you to look for the best deal, and force you to get creative if your list is longer than you have room for in the budget.

5) Pay with cash when you checkout and see significant grocery savings–hopefully!

6) Decide you’ll never go back to paying with your credit/debit card. Well, okay so you might not get quite that drastic, but I can almost guarantee you that going cash-only for a short-time will have taught you something worthwhile!

Have you tried a cash-only system? If so, what benefits have you found from doing so? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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