Carrie contacted me through the Money Saving Mom® Facebook Page with the following question:
HELP!! I’m failing my family at staying within our grocery budget. I know all the things I’m “supposed” to be doing, and I’m just not approaching it in a logical, orderly enough way to accomplish these things.
Will you help me by reviewing the “basics” – reminding me of what I should be doing, and perhaps showing me some things I’m missing?
I know I should clip coupons more. I forget.
I know I should buy sales more. I forget.
I know I should stay away from brand names. I’m picky.
I know I shouldn’t buy “extras.” I’m lazy.
I’ve tried carrying a calculator with me through the store. I get overwhelmed.
I *do* make a menu.
I *do* make a list from the menu.
I *do* look at what we already have in the house so as not to duplicate.
I *do* shop Costco to save on bulk items.
I have downloaded the Safeway app to receive extra savings.
But I invariably go over budget on groceries every month. We are a family of 5 (one child being an infant) and we budget $700/month ($350/paycheck) for groceries, yet I usually end up spending closer to $1,000.
This is ridiculous! I’m better than this! I shouldn’t be having this problem. What are some practical steps I can be doing to help get on top of this and be proactive from the front end so I’m not squeezing to make ends meet every two weeks?? -Carrie
First off, Carrie, please don’t beat yourself up, okay? Do you know how many people have never even considered having a grocery budget or menu-planning? You’re already doing a lot, so cut yourself some slack and be encouraged that you are doing some things. And doing something is always better than doing nothing.
After reading your email a few times and contemplating it, here are my thoughts on some action steps you could take to start finding success in lowering your grocery budget:
1. Stop Telling Yourself You Can’t
As I encouraged people to do in 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life, you’ve got to remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. If you tell yourself that you can’t, than you will believe that you can’t. When you believe that you can’t, then you invariably won’t.
It’s totally okay to deliberately decide, “I am not going to focus on lowering my grocery bill because I need to focus my energies on X.” Or to purposefully commit to keeping your grocery bill as is (or even raising it) because you want to support local farms or buy fair trade products or you are choosing to eat all organic as a family.
None of these things involve “can’t”, they involve choice. There’s a big difference there.
2. Aim to Lower Your Grocery Bill By 1-3% Every Month
Instead of trying to overhaul your grocery bill overnight, set a goal to lower your grocery bill by 1-3% every month. While this might not seem like this will make much of an impact, over time, your savings will really start to add up. And, by doing it gradually, it will seem a lot less overwhelming and doable.
3. Analyze What You’re Spending that $1,000 Per Month On
Gather up your receipts from the past few shopping trips, if you have them, and take a good look at where that $1,000 is going. What are the areas where you’re spending the most? Right off the bat, you might realize you’re spending an exorbitant amount on meat or diapers or produce.
Whichever area is the biggest spending culprit is the area I recommend that you focus your energies on lowering.
4. Pick One Money-Saving Technique to Focus on Per Month
Rather than trying to work on a bunch of different areas of your grocery budget, just focus on one specific and realistic money-saving technique per month. Use the analysis you did in step #3 to decide which area to focus on first.
For instance, maybe you are spending a lot on produce. For the next month, plan your meals around the few different fruits and vegetables that are in season and on sale that month. Focus on this money-saving technique only for a month.
Don’t worry about that long list of other ideas you come up with when you’re reading frugal blogs. You can add those things to an ongoing list of money-saving ideas you want to implement, but only worry about adding one new thing each month.
The next month, if you’re feeling comfortable with that focus area, add in something else, like shopping with cash or planning meals that use less expensive ingredients.
5. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Bloggers or People You See on “Extreme Couponing”
Finally, it’s easy to become discouraged when you see savings of like 80 to 100% on blogs or the Extreme Couponing show. You can feel like you just don’t measure up because you’re over there working really hard and only seeing 30% savings.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else but yourself — unless you want to end up feeling discouraged. You can only do what you can do. Plus, I promise that those folks who are highlighting their amazing 99% savings shopping trips are not seeing those kinds of savings every single shopping trip.
What advice do the rest of you have for Carrie? I’ve love to hear!
For step-by-step help in lowering your grocery budget, be sure to check out my 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget series.