This post was featured on Epic Mommy Adventures.
This is supposed to be a budget blog, but as Zach has pointed out to me on numerous occasions, I don’t often acknowledge the “budget” aspect…and when I do, it’s not about food, it’s about a craft.
I do have a specific budget for my groceries, though. I am very strict about staying within that budget. If I wind up spending too much one week, I scale it back the next to balance it out. And, yes, it’s exhausting. But it has to be done.
The reason I don’t usually talk about my food costs here is often that I forget to add up the price tag on our food or I throw out my receipts before I have the chance.
So today I’m going to talk about the things Zach and I do to eat well, but still maintain a budget. Also, it doesn’t involve couponing. I’ll explain why in a moment.
1. Set a Budget
This is the first and most obvious step. To stay within a budget, you have to actually set one. 😛
How we came to a grocery budget was by adding up our expenses, which for us are:
- utilities (electricity and gas)
- car payments
- car insurance
- student loans
- renters insurance
- cable, Internet, & phone
- public transportation costs (Zach pays a fee to take the bus and train to work)
- blogging costs (though my blog brings in enough to pay for itself now)
We also like to have a sizable emergency fund, so we take out for that and whatever is left at the end of the month also gets put into it.
Once the cost for that is figured out, we subtract from our income and that’s our grocery budget. For us, it’s $75 a week.
2. Plan Meals
Meal planning is a VERY important part of staying within a budget. Every week before we go shopping, we look over the necessities to see what we need. Those are usually our “big ticket” items–toilet paper, cat litter, dish soap…basically, things that aren’t food. Then we look over last week’s menu, because sometimes there are things we didn’t make.
Every week, I try to make sure we have seven dinners planned, but that doesn’t mean we’ll need seven. Often, I make some kind of soup, which creates leftovers that last a few days. Zach and I are very strict about eating leftovers, so we usually only need 3-4 dinners a week (more on that in a moment). So whatever doesn’t get made is transferred over to the next week, which means I often only need to come up with 3-4 dinners.
We go through our cabinets to figure out if there is anything we can make that we already have the ingredients for. I keep everything for stuffed pepper soup and baked bean and sausage stew on hand at all times, so if I really want to save on groceries that week, all I have to do is buy green bell peppers and we can have soup for about three or four days.
For everything else, I either pull out a cookbook or go to Pinterest to find something we haven’t tried. I write down the ingredients (including how much is called for in the recipe, so I know how much to buy) and we stick to the list. That is VERY important. We don’t go wandering down aisles to see if there’s anything else we need, unless we approved certain aisles ahead of time (like if we say we don’t need to buy another box of tea this week, but it would be nice to try something new if there’s still room in the budget after we get everything else). Wandering up and down aisles only increases the temptation to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need (especially if you have kids with you).
I have a friend who actually has the layout of the grocery store memorized (which made him extremely angry when they changed everything a couple years ago) and he writes his grocery list in the order each item appears in the store. Grocery shopping with him is a very quick and easy experience. He just grabs and runs. I’ve started implementing this and it is so much easier to get in, get out, and stay within my budget.
3. Shop Manager Specials
Manager Specials are why “once a month” grocery shopping would never work for me. I know a lot of people really like it, which is great, but it simply wouldn’t work in our house. Manager Specials are completely random and you never know when something will go on sale. Sometimes I like to just take a random trip to the store just to get check out specials. (Since the stores are really close to us, it doesn’t waste that much gas. And Zach and I sometimes walk, as well.)
I know a lot of grocery store chains don’t do this, but Kroger does and it helps us out a lot. They have pretty amazing things on special sometimes. Manager Specials are often left for items that aren’t selling as well as they thought it would or for something that is about to go past its “sell by” date (meat, for instance, is a huge one).
I used to work in the meat department of a grocery store, so I know that the “sell by” date doesn’t really mean anything. I’ve known meat departments to change the sticker so the date is different if the meat didn’t sell as quickly as they hoped.
4. Go Homemade
Which is cheaper, a loaf of bread or a bag of flour?
By the price tag, a loaf of bread is cheaper. But you can get about 4-5 loaves out of one bag of flour. Which makes the flour cheaper. (And if you’re buying in bulk, then all the better.)
One of the best things I ever did for our budget was learning how to cook. Buying ingredients and keeping them around has made it much easier to stay within budget, because we don’t have as much to buy each week as we used to.
If you’re not used to making things from scratch, I’d start small and build your way up. Try recipes with ingredients you know you can use a lot. My basic list of herbs and spices is a great place to start.
5. Make Inexpensive Substitutions
As I just said, one of the best things I ever did for our budget was learning how to cook. Not just how to throw things into a pot together, but how to make my own ingredients and figure out why a recipe called for a certain item.
For instance, I know that if a stew calls for butternut squash, what it really means is “starchy vegetable, but butternut squash is what we used.” Butternut squash can be really expensive, so I decided to just switch it out for sweet potatoes (or regular potatoes) because they’re also starchy. A recipe, after all, is less like a rule book and more like a set of guidelines. It can be altered to fit any dietary or financial need and desire. Some recipes just take more creativity than others. (Baking is the exception, as it is a completely different beast.)
Last week, I tried a new lasagna that called for sun-dried tomatoes. Which are really expensive where I live–$5.99 for a 7 ounce jar. Actually, that little jar is what inspired me to write this post, because Zach wasn’t sure if I should substitute, but I was NOT paying that much for sun-dried tomatoes. (Maybe that’s price is just the norm…but if that’s the case, I will sun dry my own tomatoes, thank you.)
Instead of sun-dried, I got a can of fire roasted tomatoes with garlic (which I could have roasted myself, but I decided to just try it with a can). It was a 15 oz can and it cost $1.10 for the brand name (the generic was $0.88). The jar was $0.85/oz while the can was only $0.07/oz. That’s a HUGE difference. That makes the jar twelve times as expensive as the brand name can (in ounces, of course).
And the lasagna was delicious–I wouldn’t change a thing.
What do you do to stay within a budget?
Stopping by via the Happy Kids, Inc: Bloglovin’ Blog Hop! Have given your blog a follow and look forward to reading along in the future! Would love if you’d visit my blog and perhaps return the follow.
I’m loving your new layout! It’s gorgeous 🙂 Sorry for my long absence, by the way. I think I’ve only been on my computer three times in the past month. I’ve definitely been missing your blog, though 🙂
I am horrible at staying on a budget when it comes to our groceries. I do well for a short time, when I make sure I’ve gotten dinners planned and grocery lists written (which are definitely the two things I need to stay on budget), but then I start getting lazy – or I decide to go shopping when I’m hungry and end up with tons of candy and snacks, which are among the most expensive things I buy.
I was wondering where you disappeared to! I was starting to worry the storm down there had gotten to you. How is it down there, by the way?
Ohh, shopping while hungry is so hard to avoid! I usually manage to skip the snack aisles, though, by just telling myself, “If I want something sweet, I can just bake.” And then when I get home my laziness kicks in and baking sounds like the worst thing in the world. 😛 Though sometimes it doesn’t work. Especially if I’m hungry. 😛
Haha, nope I’m still here. I really want to get back to blogging too, but I just can’t find the motivation for much of anything lately. Just as I thought things were looking up again (after a rocky start to the year) I fell and twisted my ankle and knee this Thursday, so now I’m stuck in bed again… :/ If it’s not better by Monday I guess I’ll need an x-ray.
So, as you can see I am mostly up for complaining, which makes for really horrible blogging 😛 Haha.
Ah, I can never skip those isles… I like to cook, but I’m actually not a huge fan of baking. There are just so many more things to clean up 😛 And while homemade dinners are much more delicious than eating fast food, I actually enjoy pre-made candy just as much as my own.
That sucks! It’s been a few days…has it gotten any better?
Haha! I know what you mean. Blogging sucks when you’re in a bad mood but can’t really talk about it. -_-
Ugh, right? Cleaning is the worst part of cooking.
I totally agree that learning to cook has the biggest impact on the food budget. Glad you pointed out the cost difference in the sun dried vs roasted tomatoes in a can. Someone how wasn’t very confident or new to cooking might have hesitated to make that substitution. Stopping by from Turn It Up Tuesday. Have a great week!
Thanks, Lydia! Making a substitution you’re not sure about can be intimidating, but learning requires us to make mistakes every once in a while. Plus, if all else fails, order pizza! 😛 (Though I guess that’s not very budget-friendly, is it?)
I think you are my long lost twin of grocery budgeting, haha! I also have a $75 grocery budget, a household of me, my husband and 2 cats, and love to shop at Kroger for the manager’s specials! Thanks for the fun post, I’ll be following along in the future! 🙂
Woah, that’s creepy. Is it possible we broke the Matrix? 😛 Glad you stopped by! I look forward to seeing more of you. 🙂