5 ways I make my grocery budget last and you can too!
Little things I do every time I go shopping to save money.
We all know the struggle. What to buy at the supermarket and how much can you reasonably afford to spend without giving up living indoors or electricity. I admit in my early days back in college the plan was mostly go home to my parents' place on the weekends and ramen when the food they gave me ran out. Clearly this could not go on forever. As time went by little by little I found/devised clever ways to save money. These are the 5 things I do that can help you too at any income range.
1: Develop a zero sum budget. In my mind this is the cornerstone of any good budget. You take all your regular expected earnings, then sort out your normal expected bills( electricity, internet, going out money, food, rent etc...) then with what is left over you decide if you want to use it in savings investments or whatever else. But how does this help my grocery budget? Well I know from my zero sum budget that I have exactly $60 a week for food and household goods. Yes, just $60 dollars. Every week I make sure only $60 dollars is deposited to a debit card that is solely used for grocery shopping. This way when I shop its hard to make impulse buys because I know the money is not there (no cash or credit cards come in), so if I over spend on things I do not need they have to go back. I suggest to really get the bang for your buck find a debit card that has good cash back or other bonus programs.
2: Use the calculator on your phone. The very first thing I do when I get to the grocery store is turn on the phone calculator and set it to my budget limit of $60. Yes, I do this before I even unbuckle my seatbelt. Once in the store I simply subtract anything I buy from the total until the total hits zero. Sometime I have a list of must haves, but usually I just wing it. When buying I always round up. If a can of whatever costs you $1.30 cents I subtract that as $2 dollars from my total. I do this to help account for sales taxes. Usually though what will happen is I will have some money left over in the budget even after I got everything I needed. And that brings us to the next point.
3: Do not feel obligated to spend every penny. Normally following the step above I almost always have anywhere between 2-5 dollars still on the card. I just leave it there in what I call my reserves fund. Its the money I use when I get home and realize I totally bought cookies instead of toilet paper. This way by using savings from past trips I do not have to dip into other parts of my budget and mess that up. If you stay on the ball though and pay attention at some point in the future that will build up into a nice chunk of change you can use. If at the minimum 2 dollars put into the reserve fund a week is 104 dollars a year, so twice a year treat yourself out to a nice expensive meal you might not have bought otherwise.
4: Financially meal plan. We all know that meal planning will help you stay on a diet and meet goals. Financially meal planning is the same idea. When I decide what I am going to cook in a week, I make sure that on average every meal costs $7 dollars. I know you think all I eat is ramen and sandwiches, but in truth I do eat steak, shrimp, and crab legs fairly regularly. I do this buy knowing the value of everything I am cooking. For example: when I make spaghetti I know the box of noodles cost me $1.20, the 1 pound of 93%/7% ground beef cost me $5, the can of mushrooms were $0.99, 2 peppers are typically about $1.50 together, 1 onion roughly $0.75, and the sauce can was about $2.50-$3. This is roughly a total of $12.44, but it does not blow my $7 dollars a meal budget because the total cost is then divided by how many different meals I'll eat it. Typically speaking when I make spaghetti I eat it 2-4 different meals depending on how hungry I am. At highest cost of only 2 meals it cost me $6.22, and at lowest being 4 meals it cost 3.11. This only works if you eat all (and I mean every last bit) of your left overs. Since I will eat inexpensive meals like spaghetti that do not use my whole $7 dollar limit, I can eat meals that might go a bit over that limit here and there.
5: BOGOS and Coupons are your best friends...most days. I always take advantage of coupons and Bogos whenever the chance arises and it works for me. Just because it is a deal does not mean its a deal for you. Buying 1 of something to get the other free is only a good idea if you can realistically use or save it all before it goes bad. For instance, I am lactose intolerant, and lactaid milk typically costs $4.50 for a quart( for our metric friends that is 0.94 liter). It is expensive to get and rarely goes on sale. But then the other day I saw buy 3 quarts for $10 dollars. Gold mine right? Not so fast. The expiration date was only about 10 days out on the quarts, and I did not have the room to freeze the extra milk at home. If I had bought this "deal" I would have spent an extra $5.50 on milk that very likely would go bad and would have wasted that money. For my weekly budget it translates to 9.16% waste. Point being using the deals is a good investment, but only if its a good deal for you. Normally though this is the main way I make sure to get surplus of anything with coupons or Bogo such as pasta, sauces, condiments, and whatever else might be good. Especially if its BOGO cookies. FYI those are essential.
In any good budget or spending plan the key to remember is you must be consistent and stick to the limit. If you make a plan, but you constantly knowingly buy over budget 2/3's of the time it will never help you save money. For this to work to help you put money away for extra special dinners or to put towards a vacation you have to be on target 90-95% of the time. Just like with any good program or diet consistency is key.
BONUS: Marketing Apps. To be honest I am a bit too lazy to spend all the time it takes to get the "points/rewards" from apps that give you gift cards for taking pix of your receipts and bar codes. My mom on the other hand does it religiously, and she seems to get a pretty good return on it. So if you have the time and patience (unlike me) this might be a viable option as well.