Oh, hey there bloggy friends! This poor space gets neglected when it’s nice out. I can’t help it. Plus, we’re deep into First! Birthday! Party! Mode! which is occurring on Saturday, the day before my not-so-baby baby turns one. SOB. We’ll talk about that later.

Anyway!

I’ve touched on it here and there, but after a VERY successful food budget month, I wanted to come back and tell you exactly what I’ve been doing and what I’ve learned. I’m super proud of myself and surprised at how with just a little planning and practice, it is really easy to stay within a food budget. It’s a long post, but I hope it can help anyone looking to implement a food budget in their own home.

I’m writing this on Sunday, June 19th. I’ve shopped three times since June 1st and will probably go one more time before the end of the month. I am excluding the food purchases I will be making at the end of this week for Owen’s party, because that’s an abnormal addition to the budget and one that won’t happen every month.

Budget: $400/month
Spent thus far: $262.34
Balance remaining for one week: $137.66 (which is more than I will need!)

Before I go to the store, I “shop” in my kitchen. I go through the freezer to see what I have on hand already, and use that as a jumping off-point for my meal plan. I usually have chicken on hand. It freezes well and I stock up when it goes on sale. I like to buy bone-in chicken breast because it’s super versitle, but also like thighs and occasionally boneless breasts. Depending on how prices were earlier in the month, I may have some ground beef or turkey also. I also see which vegetables I have left over from the previous trip that need to be used before they go bad.

Next, I’ll check the grocery circulars to see if anything I normally buy is on sale. I say normally, because “ON SALE!” can trick you into thinking it’s something you need just because it costs less. I will make a side-by-side list of sale items at the three closest grocery stores to see if one offers a better selection for my dollar that week. To be honest, based on what we buy, I have never shopped anywhere for our regular shopping except our local, smaller market, even though I check each week, because it offers the best prices on what we eat. Plus, they have the better selection of produce and meat so I think it’s a win-win. The only exception is when we run out of K-Cups for our Keurig, or the chai I drink, neither of which the smaller store carries.

Once I’ve decided where I’ll be shopping, I write out a meal plan. This step has amounted to the biggest savings by farCreating a simple seven-day dinner menu allows me to know exactly what we will be eating, so I know exactly what to buy. No more wandering around the store trying to come up with meals on the fly — it’s already in my hand. Not only does this make the trip more efficient (absolutely key with a baby in tow), but it has helped reduce waste. Far fewer vegetables go bad in the fridge because I bought them and forgot about them. I write the meal plan on a Post-It and stick it to the magnetic notepad on my fridge. I don’t make a set “eat this on Monday” type of list, but just make sure I have a balanced menu that I can pick and choose from during the week depending on how busy the day is, what I need to defrost, etc.

Then, I make my shopping list. I refer to the meal plan to see which items I’m missing, then list out my regular basics (fruit, milk, etc.). Depending on how the previous week went, sometimes the list is short, other times it’s long. But I find they tend to balance out in the end.

After that, I’ll go through my coupons to see if there is anything relevant. I’m not an extreme couponer by any means. I go through the Red Plum flyer that comes for free in the mail each week, and occasionally I’ll print some off line for things like the organic milk we use. Checking out websites of companies you buy from often might result in some surprise savings.

Now it’s time to shop! And shop with cash. Since I’ve budgeted $400 a month, I figure an average of $100 per weekly shopping trip. Of course sometimes I will be under and others over, so I tend to bring about $140 with me when I go. The cash is tangible; an amount I can hold in my hand and know that is my window to work in, unlike a debit or credit card which can give the false sense of having more than you do. Swipe! It’s done, and you forget about it. But seeing a stack of twenties disappear holds more weight in my mind.  I also find it helps me stick to my list and avoid impulse buys. Now I’m not saying I don’t buy “fun” items, I do. But I try to only veer from the list if I know it will stay within my weekly budget, or if there is a deal just too good to pass up (like, ground turkey on super sale, for example. I might buy a few pounds and freeze them for future dinners.)

Using cash also gives me a clear idea of what I have to spend next time. Two weeks ago I had planned out our meals so well and we had eaten so efficiently, that by the end of the week our fridge and cabinets were completely bare! To restock took about $135, leaving me with $65 for the following week. I was prepared to dip into week three’s pot, but following my system, I was able to get all I needed plus “extras” (cookies!) for week two for around $50. It works!

Grocery store rewards programs are also a huge budget helper, and the store I go to has a great one. Rather than using your card to get items on sale (at this store, if they’re on sale, they’re on sale. You don’t need a card to get the sale price), for every dollar you spend you earn one point. Then you can log onto a website and redeem your points for items. There’s a whole store of things — random crap, mp3 downloads, credits at local stores — but there is also an option of earning gift cards for the very grocery store I’m already shopping from. So, for every $350 I spend, I get a $15 gift card. It might not sound like a lot, but when you factor it over the course of a year, earning on average one gift card per month, it’s like I got $180 back in my pocket to put towards groceries, which is about two weeks worth of free food.

Every store is different, so it’s worth looking into yours to see how it can best help save you money.

Is the system fail-proof? No, of course not. There will be times when I’ll spend more than I want to, or have to run back to the store later in the week because we ran out of something faster than I anticipated. Maybe I want to make a dinner that requires some items I don’t keep on hand, or I’ll run out of staples that I always have at the same time and need to stock up, causing a higher total. It happens. As the summer goes on, I’m also going to be buying more of our vegetables at the once-a-week farmers market, which might not bring the price down, but is supporting local agriculture and is super yummy.

But in general, this system has changed my budgeting forever.

I shopped yesterday. I bought dinner for five nights (all include at least one vegetable), sandwich fixings for the week (lunch meat, cheese, bread), fruits, veggies, drinks (including pricier organic milk and apple juice), yogurts and cheeses, and two kinds of cookies (mmmm). I didn’t buy any breakfast foods because we weren’t out of them yet. Unless we blow through bananas (because Owen could eat them for every meal if I let him), I shouldn’t have to go back to the store for at least six days.

I spent $68.23. Just over half of my weekly budget.

With a little planning, I’ve made a huge difference in how we spend our money, and I don’t feel like we haven’t been able to buy the food we want because of it. I am SO happy.

 

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