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Category: Living Simply

How to Actually Stick With Your Grocery Budget

This is Day 4 of the 5 Days to a Better Grocery Budget series. If you missed the previous posts, read Day 1 hereDay 2 here, and Day 3 here.

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: 

What help you to stick with your grocery budget? Do you have any great tips or tricks? I’d love to hear!

2 Proven Systems to Track How Much You’re Spending on Groceries

This is Day 3 of the 5 Days to a Better Grocery Budget series. If you missed the previous posts, read Day 1 here and Day 2 here.

Once you’ve decided on a grocery budget amount that works for your family, you need to set up some sort of accountability for sticking with that budget. This is key for the success of your grocery budget.

You can’t just mentally kind of, sort of have an idea of a grocery budget for it to work.

Really think through what would work best for you, your spouse, and your family when it comes to tracking your grocery budget. There are two different systems I would recommend…

(Download a free Envelope System Template here.)

1. Cash Envelope System

A cash envelope system is just that — you take out your allotted Grocery Budget amount in cash every month (or weekly or bi-weekly, depending upon when you get paid) and just take that cash to the store.

The benefits of using cash are that you can’t go over budget. When the money’s gone, the money’s gone! It forces you to stick with your budget and to really analyze each purchase as you’re putting it into the cart.

The drawbacks are that you have to mess with going to the bank or ATM to get cash — which can be a hassle for some people. In addition, some people find that they spend more or spend the cash on non-grocery purchases because they have it in their wallet and it’s “burning a hole in their pocket”.

Need some more encouragement to try a Cash Envelope System? Read these posts:

2. Virtual Envelope System

If messing with cash seems tedious to you, a great alternative is to use a Virtual Cash Envelope system through a program like YouNeedaBudget or EveryDollar.

These apps allow you to set up your “cash envelopes” or budget categories and then deduct your purchases throughout the month. This way, you can always have a running total of how much you’ve spent and how much you have left in each budget category you’ve set up.

The benefits of using this system are that you can keep better tabs on what you’re spending your money on and when you’re spending it and how you’re doing on your budget overall at a glance. It’s also nice because you don’t have to mess with sharing cash envelopes if you’re like our family and both spouses pitch in with grocery shopping and other shopping at different times throughout the month.

The drawbacks are that you are swiping a card — which means that you can more easily go over budget than you can when you use cash. Plus, it’s more sophisticated than cash (i.e. you have to mess with inputting the data after each shopping trip and tracking how much you have left in each budget category.

Need some more encouragement to try a Virtual Cash Envelope System? Check out these posts:

A Note About Overspending

With both of these systems, you still can overspend. Because YOU are ultimately the one who is in charge of what you spend and what you don’t spend. A budget doesn’t work unless you do! 😉

Overspending could be the result of a self-discipline issue. Or, it could be even deeper than that: you could be overspending because you are trying to fill a void in your life of some sort.

When you are tempted to spend money that you either don’t have, isn’t budgeted, or is an impulse buy, start training yourself to stop and ask: Why?

Why am I wanting to spend this money? What need am I trying to fulfill? Why do I want this thing or experience? What do I think it’s going to do for me?

The more you can step back and ask, “Why?”, the more you’ll be able to get to the root of the issues and deal with those versus just trying to slap a bandage on surface problems — which will never resolve the issues longterm.

Do you use a system to track your grocery purchases? Tell us in the comments!

How Much Should You Spend on Groceries?

This is Day 2 of the 5 Days to a Better Grocery Budget series. If you missed Day 1, read it here.

One of the questions I get asked all the time is, “How much should I spend on groceries?”

I wish that there was a simple one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But like I said yesterday, what works for one family won’t work for another family.

We all have so many different variables that play into what a good grocery budget amount is for us. I really encourage you not to just pick some grocery budget number out of thin air because it “sounds good” or you “think it’s doable” or you “know someone who has a budget that low”.

That’s a surefire way to set yourself up for grocery budget failure or at least a whole lot of stress trying to stick with a grocery budget that wasn’t designed with your family’s needs in mind.

What To Consider When Determining Your Grocery Budget:

  • Your own situation: Do you have young kids or a crazy work schedule which means you need to buy more convenience foods/products?
  • Your family’s dietary needs: Are you gluten-free, dairy-free, or eating according to a nutritional plan that might cost more money?
  • Your family’s priorities: Do you like to host lots of people into your home or bake/cook for others?
  • Your family’s preferences: Do you like certain foods that are more expensive or like to have more meat and less beans and rice?
  • What you’ll include in your grocery budget: Will you include hygiene products/pet products/diapers, etc. in the grocery budget?

There are no right or wrong answers to the above questions. Well, okay, I take that back. There ARE right answers and wrong answers! The right answers are what is best for you and your own family. The wrong answers are trying to do what you think works well for another family.

How to Determine a Reasonable Grocery Budget

After taking all of these things into consideration, also look at your recent grocery receipts to get an idea of how much you have typically spent on groceries over the past few months. I encourage you to come up with a weekly amount that you think is very doable to start with.

If you have the wiggle room in your budget, choose a number that feels somewhat high. Why? Because I want you to set yourself up for success from the get-go.

And remember this: Success in the beginning is just setting up a budget and following it. As you get better at it and more comfortable with it, then you can work on lowering it. But for now, just focus on picking a number that you feel is a reasonable number that will not make you feel stressed or frustrated to try to stick with.

If you need a ballpark idea to go off of, I’d say anywhere between $25 to $40 per person is usually a good figure to start with. (But don’t stress if that feels too low for you right now! It’s better to start somewhere and choose a higher number and stick with it, than to just give up because you can’t get it as low as you’d like to get it.)

Our Grocery Budget Evolution

For the first 8 years of our marriage, our grocery budget was in the $10-$15 per person range. That’s really low, I know, but we were barely eeking by some of those years and I knew that our grocery budget was one area where I could really save a lot of money since I had the time, the know-how, and I found it a fun “hobby” to see how far I could stretch every grocery budget dollar.

I was a hardcore couponer and drugstore game shopper + I planned super simple menus that were based almost entirely around what I could get on a really great deal at the store. This worked well for us and saved us thousands of dollars over those eight years.

However, as our kids came along and got older and our season of life changed, we’ve slowly raised the budget to allow more breathing room. I still LOVE finding a great grocery bargain and am always on the lookout for them when I’m shopping, but I’ve given myself grace to not feel like I need to have the grocery budget super, super low or spend a few additional hours of my week going to multiple stores in order to cut my grocery bill by $50 to $75.

A reasonable amount for our family at this season of life is allotting about $25 per person per week. This allows us to eat higher quality foods, purchase a few convenience foods, have more meat, and keep our menus simple and nutritious.

I could still keep our grocery budget really, really low and I could still enjoy doing it. However, it would take me an additional 2-3 hours per week to realistically make that happen. Right now, because we have the wiggle room in the budget, I’ve chosen to spend those hours on the business where I can make significantly more per hour than I could ever save by using coupons.

For me, that’s what wise financial management is. It’s about weight the return on your investment of time versus your priorities and deciding what are the best use of your limited resources in that season of life.

Your turn: What is your grocery budget, where do you live, and how many people are you feeding? Has it changed over the years? I’d love to hear!

Related: 6 Ways We’re Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low — Without Using Coupons!

5 Days to a Better Grocery Budget (new series!)

Note: I’d been planning this series for a few months, so I had to laugh when I had scheduled the first post for today and then saw that my friend, Laurie, from Passionate Penny Pincher just started her own series called The Ultimate Guide to a Better Grocery Budget. She does such a great job of sharing things and is so inspiring, so if you want some different ideas on how to cut your grocery budget, be sure to check out her series, too!

Are you wishing that you could find a way to get a better handle on your grocery budget? Welcome to a brand-new series I’m running here over the next week called 5 Days to a Better Grocery Budget. It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about grocery budgets and I thought it was high time for a refresher!

As we begin this series on setting up a better grocery budget, I want to start by giving you three important reminders:   

1. There is no right way to set up a grocery budget.

I think one of the big reasons people don’t create a budget in the first place is because they are worried they will “do it wrong”.

Here’s what you need to hear loud and clear: there is no right or wrong way to set up a grocery budget. All that matters is that you set one up that works for you and then stick with it.

Yes, I know, I’m sharing such amazingly, incredible stuff here today. {Insert sarcasm.}

But seriously, if you set up a grocery budget and stick with it, you have yourself a successful grocery budget. You are a success!

So stop stressing over the how of setting up a grocery budget. Stop feeling frustrated that you don’t think you’re going to do it right. Just get up and do it and follow through with it. I know you can!

2. There is no magic number that is the “perfect grocery budget amount”.

I promise. I know that you can read other blogs — or even this blog! — and feel like you need to have a grocery budget that is lower than XX amount or you are failing at the whole grocery budgeting thing.

There is no way to fail at your grocery budget except for not having a grocery budget at all. ANY grocery budget that you set up and stick with is a successful grocery budget. And ANY amount you choose that works with your income and takes care of your family’s needs and doesn’t make you miserable is a great amount.

3. There is no grocery budget competition.

Spending less or spending more doesn’t make you less or more of a success or failure. It just makes you uniquely you.

Pick a number that works for YOUR family. For YOUR own needs. For YOUR own season of life. And don’t apologize for it or feel that you need to explain it.

Trust me, I get how easy it is to do both of those things — especially if you have a frugal blog or lots of frugal friends! But this past year, I’m really stepping into the freedom that comes from being okay with doing what’s best for our own family — even if other people don’t agree, don’t approve, or don’t get it. 

So breathe a big sigh of relief. You can do this!

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to actually start setting up a successful grocery budget!

Related: Why We More Than Doubled Our Grocery Budget

My #1 Tip for Finding Frugal Friends

It can be discouraging to be surrounded by people who are not budget conscious. You can feel weird, crazy, and little “on the outside.”

I well remember the days when Jesse was in law school and it seemed like we couldn’t go to so many different social outings because we didn’t have any money to spend. It was discouraging — and sometimes embarrassing!

We wanted to be able to make friends and hang out with people, but it felt like every invite was to some place that cost money. And in those days, we literally had to use every single dollar to put food on the table and to pay our bills.

The balance in our entertainment category of our budget was a big fat zero almost all of the time!

Occasionally, we’d save up all our extra pennies, nickels, dimes, and would cash in the few extra dollars we’d saved over six months for a $0.50 movie from Family Video + a few items off of the dollar menu! Seriously, that was about the extent of our very rare splurging in those early years of marriage.

Over time, I learned to get really creative and to think outside the box. For instance, when Jesse was in law school and some of his friends were having a party, the host asked if everyone could pay $4 each to cover the costs of the party.

We didn’t have $8 extra in our budget for both of us to attend, so I emailed the host to ask if I could bring snacks and drinks (that I’d gotten for free or almost-free with coupons using money from our grocery budget) instead. She was so gracious to say “yes” to my offer — and we had a fantastic time at the party!

You are Influenced By What You Surround Yourself With

You often are very influenced by the people you surround yourself with. If everyone you associate with is spending money pretty extravagantly and telling you that you “deserve” this, that, and the other — even if you can’t afford it — it’s going to be hard to stick with your resolve to live frugally.

On the other hand, if many of your friends are living frugally and simply, if they are content and totally “get” you when talk about buying something secondhand or saving up to pay cash for things, it will be a lot easier to keep on your slow and steady journey toward debt-freedom or achieving your other financial goals.

This is why I can’t encourage you enough to make the effort to surround yourself with friends who don’t think you’re crazy for being so frugal. And not just friends who don’t think you’re crazy, but friends who are just as frugal — or more frugal! — than you are!

The Benefits of Having Frugal Friends

It’s much more fun when you don’t go it alone. Here’s how having frugal friends will benefit your life:

1. You’ll Be Able to Swap Skills

Your frugal friends will more than likely be glad to barter skills and talents. It saves everyone money — and it saves you all a lot of frustration, too.

Your frugal friends might also be interested in having regular swap parties where you swap clothes or toys your kids no longer need or even items you got for free with coupons.

2. You’ll Learn New Skills and Money-Saving Tactics

Your frugal friends will teach you new money-saving skills and techniques you would have never thought of or tried on your own. Pretty much every frugal idea I know of is something I’ve learned from another frugal friend.

In addition, my frugal friends have challenged me to try things I probably wouldn’t have tried on my own — like making homemade soap!

3. You’ll Stay Inspired

Whenever you’re feeling burnt out on sticking with a budget, just call or email one of your frugal friends and she’ll be sure to listen and then remind you of why you’re doing what you’re doing — and that it will be worth it.

4. You’ll Have Fun

It’s a lot more fun to save money when you’re among friends who are also committed to living frugally. Plus, they’ll laugh at your crazy thrift store experiences or used car adventures.

Where To Find Frugal Friends: My #1 Tip

If you want to find frugal friends, go hang out where frugal people would hang out. Here are some ideas of where frugal people hang out:

  • Yard Sales
  • Consignment Sales
  • Your Local Library
  • Thrift Stores
  • Used Book Sales
  • Swap Meets
  • Frugal Websites/Message Boards
  • Local Facebook Yard Sale Groups
  • Freecycle
  • Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Classes

Start looking around in your area for opportunities, events, and classes that would attract frugal people and then:

Show Up — This is the most important step! Get brave and just show up! If you don’t ever take the first step, no one is likely going to just randomly show up on your doorstep wanting to be your new frugal friend!

Meet People — Talk to people at these events. Ask questions. Find out their stories. See if there is camaraderie. Don’t be discouraged if not everyone you meet becomes your fast friend. But keep putting yourself out there and showing up and asking questions and building relationships.

Volunteer — One of the best ways to really develop deeper relationships is to volunteer your time. Many consignment sales offer the opportunity to help at the sale in exchange for first dibs on the items in the sale or extra discounts. This would be a great way to get to know people better and maybe find a new frugal friend or two!

Teach a Class — Do you have a frugal skill such as cutting your grocery bill with coupons? Consider offering to teach a class at your local library or community center. This one-time class might turn into some lifelong friendships!

Invite People to Join a Frugal Friends Club — Once you start to discover some frugal people in your area, you could invite them to join a frugal friends club. Not only would this be a lot of fun, but it would be a great way to really be inspired by others and to learn new money-saving skills! For more information on starting a frugal friends club, read this post.

You just never know where you’ll find an amazing frugal friend, but if you keep your eyes open, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find some other frugal folks who live in your area!

Where would YOU go to find frugal friends? Tell us your ideas in the comments!


Why Our 3 Kids Share a Bedroom

A number of months ago, I mentioned online that our three kids share a bedroom. A lot of people were shocked, surprised, or even bothered by our decision to have all three of our kids in the same bedroom. 

I personally was surprised at how many people said the picture made them feel so much better. Many people wrote in and told me that they had no idea that our house wasn’t huge and spacious and perfect. They said that seeing that picture helped them to realize that just because we do have a really spacious kitchen and living area, that doesn’t mean that our entire house is huge and perfect!

Let me be clear: We do have a great rental house — it does have a great kitchen, it has a wonderful backyard, it’s in a really convenient location, and our rent is very low for this area.

Compared to many places we’ve lived, this is a really nice house. But it pales in comparison to our previous house. The floor plan is not set up well for our family, it doesn’t have a basement, it’s not conducive for hosting big groups, and we’ve had leaks and termites and A/C problems and ear wigs and a host of other issues while living here.

We rented this house sight unseen because we were living in Kansas when it was available and there was no way we could make it to TN to check it out with Jesse’s work schedule. Plus, it just didn’t feel like a wise use of time or money to drive or fly out to check out a house before we signed a contract on it.

So we asked some of our TN friends if they’d go look at it for us and make sure they felt it was okay to rent. They graciously agreed to do a walk-through and sent us a video tour of it and said they thought it would be good to rent.

We talked to the landlords at length, did as much research and investigation as we could from afar, and both felt this was the house we should go with. So we signed a two-year lease on it, because that was what the landlords were offering.

It was a little crazy to pull up to the house the day we moved and see the area and neighborhood and house for the very first time knowing that we’d signed a contract to live here for two years!

Many people have suggested that we should have purchase a house here when we moved instead of renting. We only briefly considered that option, but we knew that it wasn’t a good option for us for a few different reasons.

1) Housing prices are MUCH higher here — so there was no way we could afford to pay cash for a house at the time.

2) We didn’t want to mess with having to try to sell our house + find a new house + pack up everything and move our family across the country all at the time same.

3) We didn’t know if we were even going to stay in TN long-term.

So we decided renting was our best option — and it’s been a great option for us, despite the drawbacks of the current home we’re in.

One of the biggest drawbacks is that, due to the limited bedroom space, all three kids are in one bedroom. Some people would say we are terrible parents for living in a house where they all have to share a room and don’t have a lot of their “own space”.

Honestly, even though they are 11, 9, and 7, we see so many blessings and benefits for the three of them sharing a bedroom. Here are 3 of those blessings and benefits:

1. It Helps Them Learn to Get Along With Each Other

I grew up in a family of 9 and I remember my mom always telling me that if we can learn to get along with our siblings, we could probably get along with just about anyone. We like to remind our kids that sharing a bedroom with two other people who are very different than you is a valuable life skill!

You get to learn how to be gracious when other people are “in your space”, you get to learn how to keep your area more clean, you get to learn to work together to keep the room clean, and you learn to share your space well with others. 

(And honestly, most of the time, they really love being together. Last night, they were all in their room talking and laughing together for at least 30-45 minutes before they fell asleep. It’s not always like that and there is plenty of arguing that goes on, too, but I think they actually do really enjoy the closeness that sharing a room provides!)

2. It Teaches Them Contentment

When Jesse and I were first married, we lived in a basement apartment. Our budget was very tight and we did everything we could to stay out of debt. Those sacrifices are — in big part — what has allowed us to be where we are today.

But here’s the truth: Our kids were little when we made a lot of financial and personal sacrifices to get to the place where we are now. They don’t remember those days.

We want our kids to have the same opportunity we had to learn that happiness is not based upon where you live, the car you drive, or the room you have. You can be content no matter what because contentment isn’t based upon your circumstances, it’s a state of your heart.

3. It Helps to Prevent an Entitlement Mentality

We now have a lot more wiggle room in our budget than we had 10 years ago when the kids were little (or not even born yet!) They get to enjoy things we never imagined we’d be able to afford for them — like swim team and figure skating and even an international trip to South Africa. However, we don’t want them to grow up thinking that everything will be handed to them. We want them to experience short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits.

One simple way we’re teaching them this is through having them share a room right now. We don’t want them to grow up thinking that they can just get whatever they want without having to work for it, save for it, and/or make sacrifices for it.

So we’ve chosen to continue to rent a house that has less than ideal sleeping arrangements (along with a long list of other “less than ideal” things) because it is not only teaching us all good lessons, but it’s allowing us to be able to save more aggressively and give more generously.

By the end of this year, our goal is to have saved enough to pay cash for a house here in TN and we would like to buy a house that has enough space for them to each have their own room (especially since they are getting older), but in the mean time, we’re learning contentment in the house that we’re in and are choosing to be grateful for the many things about it that we love — like the wonderful neighbors, a beautiful kitchen, and a great backyard.

Our hope is that these lessons in contentment will be something our kids will carry with them for the rest of their lives — no matter where they live.

Please note: Do what is best for your family and please be careful if you are putting boys and girls in the same room. This is something we have seriously considered and it is the reason we are planning to move in the next year. We know that these types of sleeping arrangements will not work long-term — especially as our children reach pre-teen age.

However, we have strict modesty rules at our house (Such as: Never change in front of another person. Bathrooms are for changing in, not bedrooms. Always knock on a closed door. Always leave the door open when you are in the room playing with another child. Etc.) and our children have always been very respectful of each other’s privacy and respectful of our modesty rules. I think it’s important to have these types of rules and precautions in place no matter what the sleeping arrangements are at your house.

Ultimately, when it comes to sleeping arrangements, you know your own children and what would best best in your own family. As I always say, it’s so important to do what is best for your own family and your own children!