In an earlier post, I touched on the topic of helping with the family’s income as a stay-at-home-mom. The first aspect that I mentioned was the concept of “Saving a Living.”
Well, how do you do that?
In this post, I’d like to share with you three key principles on how to help save money in the grocery budget, and how we apply that in our own family.
- Plan in advance
- Set aside a few dollars from each week's grocery budget for future bulk purchases
- Stick to the plan
Planning in advance.... What does it even mean? I mean, how do you plan in advance for grocery shopping? Is it just you sit down and you write out a menu or a grocery list? How does this even start; where's the beginning point?
So, here's what I have found that works for us. I simply take a sheet of notebook paper, and I write down all the days and next to it I write down the day of the week. For our family, we have a very structured set - for instance every Tuesday night it's our Family Worship Night and because of that we want as much time as possible to be able to stay at the dinner table to be able to sing together, pray, and have our Bible story. Now, I don't know about your family, but in ours, I have some picky eaters. If we have a meal that they turn their noses up at, we can sit there for an hour and a half trying to get them to eat, and that is a big waste of time. So, to get around that, Tim asked me that for every Tuesday night I fix a breakfast meal. That meal could be scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, a breakfast casserole; the list goes on and on. Regardless just a breakfast meal. Why? Because our kids love breakfast food, and we don't have to fight with them to eat. They inhale it! It's easy to make, easy to clean up, and really easy to get them to eat it.
When that happens we then have all of that extra time to spare for Family Worship, so every Tuesday on my list is going to have a breakfast meal and I'll rotate them out.
Then there might be other days of the week you have specific events planned. In our family we do Fridays as Family Pizza-n-Movie Night, so I make homemade pizza every Friday night. Other days of the week that I know are going to have a lot of different functions going on like Care Group with our church, Trail Life, different things, I know how much time I'm going to have in the kitchen or how busy I'm going to be, and based on that, I then plug it into my calendar so I know what type of meal I can fix.
That gives you an idea how to take your life - take your schedule - put it on the calendar and then based on what your schedule is, create a menu. If you only have enough meals to fill in one week, that’s great. If they are seven proven meals you know your family will eat, they're not going to be picky, and you're not going to waste food, plug it in and just keep rotating that week's meals until you find where you can start increasing more. Then you build up to two week’s worth of meals, and you take those two weeks and rotate them twice so you just fix the same meal twice a month instead of four times a month.
I think you get the idea of how that works. Every family is different.
That's the first thing that I do—I plan. After I figured out what my menu is going to be for that week or that month, I go ahead and start to write out my grocery list. The first thing I want to do is I take that menu and I sit down with a piece of paper and start to plan out what do I need for ingredients.
After I know what ingredients I need, I go to my freezer and my pantry and mark off every single ingredient I already have in stock because if I don’t need to buy it at the grocery store that saves money because I already have it. Once I've done that, the next step would be to fill in gaps - plug the holes so to speak. I would do that by sitting down with the sale papers – they send out the paper every Tuesday with the Kroger ads and coupons, and the new sales cycle starts on Wednesday. I usually do my shopping on Thursdays so that gives me a little bit of time to kind of look through what's on sale. Some stores just advertise online. Regardless, I do my research. And the key to that is try to plan on shopping at least three different stores. Why is this important? Because if you only shop at one store, more than likely you're not going to save money. Take advantage of price wars! That's the benefit of capitalism – stores have competition and want your business; so they're going to give you every incentive possible to come shop with them which means that you save money.
You need to learn how the system works.
The best way I have found to do this was to keep a notebook inside my bag and write out everything that I regularly buy. For instance, you buy milk every week or every month. I'm sure you buy butter or bread… Whatever it is that you buy regularly, start writing down the prices. You write the name of the store and the price.
The reason this is important is because you're actually creating a record system that you will be able to utilize to see where the sale cycles are. Stores cycle through prices every six to eight weeks. Think about it… When do you see all the Kroger sales for chips and salsa, chicken wings, dip, stuff for cold and flu medicine, healthy foods, you know diet foods? January! Why? Because you've got the Super Bowl game coming up, and you've got people who are wanting to reorganize their homes and are starting New Year's resolutions with losing weight. Well, the stores reflect that so they're going to sell certain items at certain times of the year. A really good website that I’ve found helpful is www.inspiringsavings.com. She has a great list of things put together for you. The more knowledge you have in this area, the more power you have and the more you're able to save in your own budget for your family which is extremely important.
What do you do with all that information? Why is it so important? Well, when you're putting together game plan, you now have your menu, grocery list, and record of all the prices listed, you take those prices and plug them into your grocery list. That means before you even go to the store, you have a rough estimate of what you are going to spend. This is great because, say for instance, I have on my menu a pot roast, but I don't have one in my freezer, so I have to buy one. Well, that's about $9-12 for a decent-sized English pot roast which would put me over my budget. Instead of buying that piece of meat, I can take it off my grocery list, save the money, and instead put something else in place like a squash spaghetti bake or a meatless chili fiesta served over rice with taco toppings on it. There's all different kinds of ways that you can incorporate changes into the menu after you see, “Oh hey, I can't really afford to buy that cut of meat this week,” or you know, “Do we really need to have those side items? Maybe we can fudge and do something else instead?” That's how you can stay within your budget so you don't end up overspending when you go to the store.
The second thing I would say on this would be to always try to set aside a few dollars from each week’s grocery budget to have a surplus available
I literally have to force myself to take money out of that budget and set it aside. It's that thought of “out of sight, out of mind.” If I don't see it, I don't spend it. I have my budget, and I just take a little bit off the top. It's still there, but by me not planning on spending it, I won't spend it. Therefore, I'm always saving money. There's that old saying that says, “Failure to plan is planning to fail,” and that is oh so true for me. If I don't plan in advance to save money, it won't get saved. I always have that tendency of thinking, “Oh, well, I'll just save whatever I had leftover from the grocery budget this week.” Very rarely is there anything left over from the grocery budget. That route just isn’t going to work.
The reason you need the savings is because when you go to the store, and you end up finding those special deals, if you don't have extra money saved up, you're going to end up going over your grocery budget for that week. You don't want to do that! The goal is you always stay under your budget, so if you have that surplus, you then have money set aside to go ahead and buy the things you need at the lowest price possible. The professionals always say, “Don't stock up on items unless they are 60% or more off the original price. So, you aren’t going to spend full price for anything! You want it to be rock-bottom, and that's when you stock up; that's when you restock your pantry and your freezer, and you're not going to pay top dollar for it.
That goes back to when you are putting together your menu, you shop in your pantry and in your freezer first. You can do that because you have been stockpiling all these staple items. That's how over time that snowball effect begins to kick in. You start to save more and more and more because you're not having to go to the store. Say for instance, you run out of flour, or you know you needed to buy flour…Well if you had stocked up on flour when it was 60% or 70% off when it was on sale, you then don't have to go to the store because you ran out and pay 100% for it. You don't have to pay top dollar because you got it for 60% less. You see how that it saves, but it takes time to start seeing that effect. So again, that second principle of always setting aside a few dollars from your budget is very important.
The third principle to this, and I think it is probably the hardest but most beneficial, is STICK TO THE PLAN no matter what. If you need to save money (and it is tight) and you're struggling, do NOT deviate off your list for any reason especially if you don’t have that surplus saved to buy those on-sale items. Stick to your plan! That’s how you can save money, and that's how it works. And it does work! Trust me, I’m feeding a family of seven every week, and we can stick to our grocery budget for $100 a week, but it takes strategy. If you are serious about saving money, you CAN do it.