Grocery shopping let alone budgeting and meal planning for said shopping is anything but fun for most of us. In fact, most of us dread the idea of even sitting down to make a list much less look through sale papers and factor it all into a set amount of money. However, if we are going to make wise choices and make our money go further, those dreaded tasks are exactly the ones we must do!
Women ask me all the time how in the world we eat healthy and afford it. I admit that we don’t eat as healthy as we once did or as thriftily as I wish we could. It’s a learning game. The things I did 5 years ago don’t work for us now because there are more mouths to feed, bigger tummies to fill, and more little bodies to drag here and there.
Because grocery shopping and meal planning as well as the money aspect of it is such a big deal for so many, I decided to break down what we do each month to feed so many mouths on a budget.
9 Grocery Shopping Basics
I feel like if we don’t discuss basics, we’re starting somewhere in the middle. My hope is over the next few weeks to share more in detail about just how I feed my large family on a budget, but we have to do first things first.
#1 — You MUST have a plan.
No ifs, ands, or buts. If you don’t have a plan you will spend more money than you want to.
Here’s why: You are either going to throw all kinds of stuff into your cart that you do not need, OR you are going to forget things you do need and have to make another trip (possibly again tossing in things you don’t need). Or you are going to throw in things you don’t need and still forget things you do need. It’s a lose-lose.
Your plan includes both a meal plan and a list. First you have to plan your meals, then write your list according to that plan. It sounds daunting. I know. Every single week I dread it, but it’s not so bad and it does save us money.
The good news is that once you do it a few times, you get quicker and more efficient! I’ll share exactly what I do to make it as painless as possible.
#2 — Shop the sales.
Your meal plan and list should revolve around what’s on sale each week. Trust me; this is the way to save money! Remember that you don’t have to love every meal. Food is fuel for your body. If we treated it this way, we’d eat far less junk than we do.
#3 — Budget a specific amount.
You have to have a set amount of money and refuse to go over it. This is exactly why I use cash. When I don’t have cash and use my debit card, it’s much easier to go over a few dollars here and a few dollars there, but that adds up quickly.
We have used the envelope system for years. When you see money dwindling from your envelope you are much more likely to put the breaks on than when you can’t see it physically depleting. If you have no idea what the envelope system looks like, check out this post.
#4 — Avoid impulse buying.
I used to think, I deserve a candy bar after enduring this place and pushing this heavy buggy!
You know the feeling…. It’s late; you are exhausted, hungry, and thristy. All you want is a Coke and a Whatchamacallit. You begin to talk yourself into it, and before you know it, you realize you just ate $4.
Just resist. No candy bar at the checkout line, no end-cap sale that’s not on your list. Stick to the list. Repeat: Stick to the list!
#5 — Stock up when you can.
You need a “reasonable” stockpile. Typically, I only buy lots of any one thing when it’s on sale.
For example, Goldfish. I only buy them when my local store has them on sale for $.99 a bag. Another example is meat. When meat is on sale, I grab up more than we’ll need for the week just because it’s on sale, and we will most definitely use it!
UPDATE: Recently, Zaycon Fresh, the resource I recommended for meat has suspended its business operations.
#6 — Find an incentive.
In order to help motivate yourself to make a plan and budget and stick to it, find something you want to put the money you save towards. When I first started The Grocery Budget Makeover, (which I highly recommend), I decided that any and ALL money I saved would go towards paying off our only debt–a vehicle loan. Guess what. That vehicle is currently paid in full! Can I tell you how good that feels?
It doesn’t have to be a debt. You save for whatever will motivate you to be disciplined at the grocery store.
#7 — Make things from scratch.
For some people making things from scratch gives them the heebie-geebies. It’s really not so bad! I never buy ranch dressing, spice mixes, mac n cheese, Hamburger Helper, pancake or muffin mix from the store. Every one of those things is super simple and don’t cost me *that* much more time. I also almost never buy boxed cake and brownie mixes. There’s so much you can make at home with ingredients you most likely already have on hand anyway! Give it a try and next time you need a spice mix, make Pinterest your first stop!
Some months back, I shared money saving tips over at The How to Guru, and I also shared my ranch dressing recipe. I get lots of compliments on it, and it’s so easy, it’s ridiculous! (Click the link to the Guru, and it’s tip 19 out of 23.)
#8 — Don’t be a brand snob.
I know that we are loyal to some brands, but some brands really are very similar! There are certain brands of mayo that I’ll buy, and some I refuse to buy. However, I know which ones I’m willing to trade out for our favorite when the favorite isn’t on sale. The same goes for toilet paper and paper towels. Try a few and see what you can live with. Some people swear by the brand, some by the generic. I’ll buy either depending on which is cheaper.
Just so you know… many times I find brands cheaper than generics when the brands are on sale!
#9 — Invest in a program that can help you.
Of course you can figure it all out on your own, but sometimes we are at our wit’s end trying to figure out just how to squeeze more juice from the lemon! The Grocery Budget Makeover did just that for me! What’s great about the course is that I saved more than double what I invested in just the first month! The truth is, I was pretty good at budgeting and keeping some sanity with grocery shopping and meal planning, but I needed the extra push to really step up my game.
What SHOULD you be spending a month on groceries?
So many people ask, “What’s reasonable for my family? What should we be spending?”
According to the USDA Official Food Plans of 2015, a family of 4, parents ages 19-50 with 2 children ages 2-5, using the “thrifty” plan should spend $563.90.
My family, according to the USDA, should be spending $1305.90! I consider myself a thrifty person, and to me, that seems like a ridiculous amount of money to spend on food for the month. That’s a hefty mortgage payment and then some!
Our actual budget is $965 a month for a family of 9. However, after going through The Grocery Budget Makeover, my monthly grocery budget hoovers right around $815-840. This includes all paper products, diapers, wipes, vitamins, over-the-counter medicines–anything I purchase at the grocery store.
I know I could do even better despite the fact that I don’t have access to large discount stores, and I simply can’t make my head “get” the whole couponing thing. I’m challenging myself to buckle down just a little more and shave a little more fat from my budget.
It’s YOUR turn!
Here’s what I’d love for you to do. Check out the USDA Official Food Plan and see what you “should” be spending per month and take time to tally up what you actually are spending for the month. That could take time because if you don’t currently have a budget, you may not know what you are actually spending. I encourage you to take the time and figure up what you normally spend. It will be interesting to know how you are doing.
I’d love to know where you stand. Are you already beating the norm? Or are you blowing your budget every single month like I used to do? No matter where you currently are, my guess is that we could all do just the tiniest bit better. Drop a comment and let me know how you are doing!