How to keep your grocery budget under control
I am not sure about you, but I cringe every time I go grocery shopping. It seems like I spend so much on just a few things!
It could be because I haven’t paid full price for anything in a long time. Or maybe prices are going up like crazy. Unfortunately, we cannot control what the market does. We can, however, control how we make use of our resources.
Taking control of our hard-earned money is key. It doesn’t really matter if our grocery budget is $1000 or $200 per month. We must make proper use of our money, or it’ll just evaporate.
While I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in the art of money management, I can certainly point out the things I do to keep spending under control in our home. I love saving money (check out how I put together a book character costume for my little one.). And I am positive you will see improvements, if you follow these suggestions.
Create a master shopping list.
You know what your family eats, how much of it and how frequently. It is also important to note if a product is perishable or shelf stable. The amount you buy at a time should be determined by that and by how frequently it is consumed.
To make that Master List, go from section to section of your kitchen. Start with your fridge/freezer. Note what things you have on hand. Then think hard on what things you normally buy, AND use, or would like to purchase more of. Make this realistic, though. If your family can’t afford to eat lobster or steaks every other day, then make adjustments.
Move onto the cupboards or pantry. Note what you have on hand. This, like in the fridge/freezer should help spark your memory for things you normally buy. Add them to your list. Again, be realistic. And thorough.
Do not add products that you want to try or might be interested in to this Master List. The point of the list is to have a record of your staples. Rarely used products or things you want to try for the first time, do not belong here.
Your Master List might take a bit of tweaking and adjusting. It could be a bit of a work in progress, especially so as a family’s needs change. Examples of this are:
- kids move out to go to college
- babies turn into “real” food-eating little humans
- new found food allergies
That’s perfectly fine. If you need to revisit the list every month or so and make changes, do so. For example, if you bought 2 lbs of sugar last month, and ran out in the middle of the month, then adjust the quantity needed per month to reflect that.
Just make sure that you reference to it every time you set your grocery budget for the month. Or when you make your actual grocery shopping list.
Make a grocery shopping list. And stick to it.
I know how tempting it can be to just roam around the aisles at the grocery store and buy whatever. However, adding items left and right with no plan in mind could do nothing but hurt your budget.
Remember that Master List you created? Use it to make your shopping list. If you know the layout of the store or stores you’re going to, try to make your shopping list in a way that it reflects that layout. That will help you stay more focused and organized. And avoid unnecessary strolling down the snack aisle (unless snacks ARE included on the list 😉 ) It will also save you time by not having to go back and forth from one side to the store to another.
Stick to your budget.
Make it realistic and stick to it. Rule of thumb is $25 per family member, per week. And if you include toiletries, cleaning products, etc. in your grocery budget, then this might be true.
However, since my family doesn’t need to shop for those (I still have quite a bit leftover from my stockpile), I can keep my budget to $300-$325 a month, even though our household consists of 2 adults, 2 teenagers who are the size of, and eat like adults and a 7 yr old who eats a lot!
I have started going shopping at the beginning of the month for most of our staples. This is possible for us because I pull out the money from our bank account on the first of the month.
If you do not have access to all your grocery money at once, then split the amount in 2 or 4, depending how many times you get paid, and shop accordingly. This might mean you’ll need to pick and choose which staples are an immediate need and which can wait for another week or two. And that’s OK.
Use cash at the grocery store.
I have found it easier to stick to my budget when I use cash. There is something deeply personal about seeing all that money actually leaving your wallet, as opposed to using your debit card.
But, if carrying cash around scares you to death, try purchasing gift cards for the stores you usually shop at. This will help curb the fear of carrying cold hard cash with you, while keeping your grocery budget in check. Make use of whatever balance your card has and when that is gone, is gone.
Creating a meal plan is essential. It does away with the dreaded daily question of “What’s for dinner?”. For years, my husband and I would ask ourselves that exact same question every single day as soon as he got home from work. Some days, I had already pulled something out of the freezer in preparation for the nightly family meal. Other days, I’d be mulling it over in my head for hours, not craving anything specific and not knowing what to pull out.
This lead to tension between us occasionally, many very late night dinners, and yes, spending money unnecessarily on take-out junk, while our freezers and pantry were bursting with possibilities. Annoying? Very.
We solved this by meal planning. Once a week, I’d sit down and write a meal plan for every night of that week. I have recently started meal planning for the month, and so far is working out. Only time will tell if that is the best option for us or if we need to resort back to weekly plans.
Consider any special plans your family might have for certain days of the week, or if you’ll have company over and will need to make a bigger meal. Also allow for some shuffling around. Life happens, and sometimes we just need to make changes and adjust to the unexpected. A meal plan is that, a plan. It isn’t set on stone. It’s meant to simplify your life, but it can also be flexible to sudden changes.
Shop sales and in-season.
Do you ever stop and think: “Hmmm, I’d love to have a nice fruit salad.” or “I am really craving pork chops for dinner”. Well, I’ve been there. More times than I care to count.
However, shopping only for what you want, or feel like eating, with no regards to what is on sale or in season at the time, can only lead to over-spending. To avoid this:
- always check your sales ads
- peruse clearance racks
- buy in bulk
- visit discount stores.
Keep in mind, you can always buy more of a certain favourite item when it is on sale and freeze it or can it. That way you will shop in season but get to enjoy it when it is not in season.
Know your prices.
This process might take a while. The clue is to observe sales trends, and know how much you have paid for a certain product before and how much you would be willing to pay for it.
Frequently, we see something on a weekly ad and think that it automatically means it is a good deal. Nothing further from the truth. Get to know your stores’ systems, and adjust your shopping accordingly.
Groceries are expensive, even if you buy in bulk, or at discount places, or use coupons. While chasing screaming deals makes it much easier to keep your grocery budget in check, if you’re going to have your kids, your spouse or even yourself chugging down food like there is no tomorrow, then you’ll have nothing to show for your efforts.
Set rules, set boundaries. Explain to your family members how they are expected to cooperate. Make sure they understand that groceries do not get replenished automatically. That it requires actual shopping, planning, time and above all, money to get those goodies they love.
By setting simple ground rules and expectations, you can ensure that you and your family members are on the same page, whether they like it or not. And trust me, if they are used to grabbing whatever whenever, they won’t like it. But they’ll adjust to the fact that they have to ask before they eat and will learn to be happy with 2-3 cookies, as opposed to half a pack.
Make it a rule that they need to ask prior to grabbing stuff. Yes, the food you have is for all to enjoy. But your kitchen should never be treated like an all-you-can-eat buffet. This is especially important in regards to snacks, juice, etc. We all get hungry between meals but that doesn’t mean we can eat what we want, and as much as we want, whenever we want.
You may need to reorganize some shelves/cupboards to make this work. If you have little ones, for whom it’ll take a bit longer to explain and understand the rules, then make sure that all those snacks, juices, sweets he or she loves, cannot be easily reached. That way, they’ll be forced to ask for them and you’ll be able to control the consumption.
If you have older kids, then you will need to stick to your guns and not give in! Explain how once something is gone, you won’t go running out to the store for more (i.e. ice cream, cookies, chips, juice, soda). They’ll probably complain and whine. However, if you’re firm and set an example, they’ll see how important this is to you and for the whole family.
When the older, teenager kids are the problem, then ask them to pitch in to buy groceries, using their hard earned babysitting/lawn mowing money. Either they’ll be happy to give you some money or they’ll start following your rules. 😀 Win win!
These guidelines are not set in stone. They are just a few tips I use that have worked wonders for us. While it may seem daunting to change our ways, it is indeed possible. After all, if we do not embrace change, how can we get to a better place?
Hope these simple tips help guide you in the right direction on your quest to master your grocery expenses. If you have any other ideas or tips to add, please share with us in the comments below. I’d love to hear your opinions and ideas!