About a year ago we cut out our eating out from 4-5 times a week to only once or twice a week. That made a huge difference. Our grocery budget skyrocketed though. We were still saving some money, but no where near where we needed to get it to.
Here is what I did to bring our food budget to under $100 a week.
1. Menu plan
- Take a look in your pantry and see what meals you can create with items you already have on hand. Most people can come up with two meals. This week I was able to come up with three meals!
- You probably have meat in the freezer, but need the stuff to make it into a meal. Put those items down on your grocery list.
- I know that each week I will have a ground beef meal, a chicken meal, a pork meal, maybe a fish meal. After you have shopped your pantry, figure out what meals you are missing. Think about what you are in the mood for this week. Write that meal down.
* Put your list in "region" order. This will come in handy when you are shopping so you are going in order, instead of jumping around on the list. If you use tip number 3, you will see how this helps even more.
I know what you are saying, "I do not have time to coupon." You do not have to sit down with a newspaper every week. You do not have to have a coupon binder or go crazy with them. All you need to do is sit down with your grocery list and go on the computer to Coupons.com. You can search through categories to see if items on your grocery list have available coupons. You can print off a total of two coupons for each item they have listed. This is for each computer in your house, so if you have two computers, you can print off two on each of those computers. This process maybe takes 15-20 minutes tops. I think it is worth it to save a few dollars.
3. Shop with a calculator
After you have decided what your food budget is, make sure you stay on track at the store with a food calculator. It is amazing how fast the tally runs up on the items in your cart. Once I started using a calculator in the store, I was able to go from spending about $110-120 at the store, to spending about $80.
Here is how I do it:
I have my shopping list and as I put items in the cart I write down the total cost of that item, next to it. I then add the amount into my calculator (the calculator app on my phone is very convenient). You may also write down a subtotal for each "region". For example, on my list I have a Produce section. Once I have put all those items in my cart, I will subtotal that region. Adding regions as I go. You can find a system that works for you, but a calculator is a MUST HAVE, when trying to stick on budget in the store.
Once I have gotten all of the items on my list I check my total. If there is money left, I can choose to fill in with "treats". Or I can call it a day and be happy with going under budget.
If I find I have gone over budget, I review my items to see if there are cheaper versions (store brands or other brands) that I can substitute the items I normally use. I have found that store brands are often just as good, if not better than the items I normally buy.
You can also buy smaller, less expensive items. This week I needed potatoes for one of the meals I was making. I would normally buy a five pound bag, but it would bring me over budget. I knew I only needed two large bakers, so instead of paying $2.98 for a bag, I got two large bakers for $.81.
4. Find a store with the best prices or Price Compare!
For a few months I was running around all day on Saturdays to get the best prices at three to four different stores. In the end I spent more money than I would have if I shopped at one or two stores. I decided to shop at Walmart and Costco from now on.
One benefit of Walmart is that they price match items. But I was not happy about having to do all the research on my own. Luckily I heard about Walmart's Price Catcher. I figured I would give it a try this month and I could not have been happier. In 3 weeks I got back almost $15 in e-cards. Here is how it works:
- Shop at Walmart
- Get the Walmart Price Catcher App on your phone
- Scan your receipt into the app after you shop
- They will scan all the sales flyers for you to see if you should have paid a lesser amount
- They will then let you know if you are owed money, select to have it sent to your e-card.
- Next time you shop, have them scan your e-card bar-code on your phone and you get that money put toward your balance.
5. Leave yourself a budget buffer.
My weekly food budget is $100 a week. I decided that my initial food shop should be at $80. This leaves me with an extra $20 a week to be able to run back to the store to get more of something. This could be getting a few more bananas, milk, or even a snack from the gas station. You know how it is, you think you put everything on your list and you go to make dinner and you forgot to put a key ingredient on your list. This allows for those moments, without killing your budget. Any money that is left over can be put into savings, or if you are like us, we use it for a treat like ice-cream out as a family.
These are a few things that I have done to reduce my food budget. This will allow us to save up for that down payment we are working on. I hope some of these tips help you to reach your financial goals. I will be sharing more of my tips in the future.