3 Tips That Will Really, Truly Help You to Stick to a Budget
1. Use cash.
I can't say it strongly enough. Cash is tangible, it hurts to pass it over to the cashier, it's beyond embarrassing to get to the cashier and realize you don't have enough, and when it's gone, baby it's gone.
Even if your family does the rest of your budget online (as we primarily do, through debit cards, online payments and a budgeting software system), make your grocery budget cash!
Just go to the bank at the beginning of each month and take out what you've got budgeted for that entire month (usually I leave about $25 in the bank, just to cover any small trips my husband might do to grab something random, because otherwise I tend to overlook those and go slightly over budget). Use your choice of a special cash wallet, a basic envelope or baggies system, and divy it up as you prefer (by the week, or kept whole).
For those who are really, really adamant about not using cash, I suppose you could use a debit card and keep a meticulous record of each and every purchase you make, which you have with you ever time you go to shop. It's not ideal, though, in my experience.
2. Before you spend any of it, determine how that money will be spent.
At the beginning of the month, after I make my first meal plan, I like to sit down and determine what I will spend where, and how much is left for remaining purchases. For example, here's my money breakdown this month:
Local Supermarket with best deals for the month: $200
This varies based on what we need, which store has best deals. I try to check all match-ups for coupons etc. factoring in what we need for the month and matching it to the deals at the store.
Extra Foods (local grocery store): $50
I budget this in for extra purchases (milk, eggs, etc. that we may need to replace more often depending on our habits. If I don't use this, then it gets put into a savings account at the end of each month for larger purchases down the road.
Money to use at work: $80
This is me and hubby's allowance for purchases at work. I allow $10 a week per person, for sodas, energy drinks and snacks that we may want/need while working every day.
Budgeted money remaining: $70
I won't shop this week but will try to use up everything that I have. After that, I will do a big produce shop for the rest of the month (probably $35-$40, and I might spend another $20-30 on a case of pears for canning). The produce will last because I use up those things that go bad faster first, saving the hardy fruits and vegetables for later, plus I'm in the midst of summer & pulling things out of the garden already, helping to lower the budget.
The rest will go towards a smaller stops at my local store for things that we run out of or need to fill in the ingredients list for my meal plans. This will include fresh eggs, I'm sure and a few other random grocery items.
If I have extra (which is rare, but it happens sometimes), I will save it up towards future meat purchases. Otherwise, I try to set aside meat money at the beginning of the month.
3. Go with a detailed list.
Not just a list like this:
But a list like this:
- 1 bag boneless, skinless chicken breasts ($8)
- 2 large heads broccoli ($3)
- 4 packages brown rice pasta ($12)
- 2 gallons of milk ($6)
Now, you don't have to estimate the prices like I do (and yes, those are estimations, but they're very educated guesses because I pay attention to prices). I realize it adds time to your planning. I've come to feel that it's worthwhile, however, because it allows me to guesstimate a ballpark figure of how much I will spend at each store on each trip.
If I'm going to hit up 3 stores while I'm out, I will have a list that tells me I expect to spend:
- $200 at Walmart/Meijer/Kroger
- $50 at Kroger
- $80 at work
This way, I can pay attention to how things are adding up as they enter my cart. I will know if I'm overspending before I even get to the counter and I can make a decision to remove something if necessary. Or, if I have underspent at 1 or 2 stores by the time I get to the produce market, I might be able to splurge and stock up on a sale on potatoes, or a discounted case of tomatoes to turn into sauce, or simply on an expensive veggie or fruit that we love but rarely buy.
Not only will a list like this help you to be very cognizant of the money that you are spending (before you even hand it over), but it will keep you on track with your purchases. If fresh salmon or mandarin oranges weren't on your list, then unless you know you have the extra room in the budget, you'll rethink them.
You'll also get through the store faster, particularly if you use a list that groups like items together. The list I use is divided by baking items, diary, produce, cleaning, toiletry, canned goods, etc. and it really does help to streamline my time in the store.
It really does work.
I know that managing your budget like this requires a bit more thought, more time, more effort.
However, if keeping your food expenses affordable and finding ways to shave down your budget are goals that you have, these techniques will ensure that you stay on track and move steadily towards those financial goals!
How do you manage your grocery budget? What practical things that you do make the biggest difference for you? If you're struggling with the budget, which areas are hardest for you?