I always thought of myself as a pretty frugal spender at the grocery store. Yes, I had certain things I’ve always splurged on, like a high quality protein powder or an extra bottle of wine.. I even believed that my budget of sticking to $150 per week for my family of three seemed very reasonable.
However, when I sat down last week to really dive into our finances (my husband and I are choosing to make some big changes in order to pay off our debts) I realized that our food spending had expanded way beyond just groceries.
It leaked into eating out at restaurants, grabbing lunch on the go, making random trips to the supermarket; my weakness for breakfast sandwiches and my husband’s love of gas station snacks.
Okay, so there’s a lot more that needs to be cut down on in order to lower our overall food expenses; but after running into the advice Jordan Page (from http://funcheaporfree.com) had to give about how much a family of three can really survive on, it presented a very exciting challenge – to cut our grocery bill in half.
So here is how Jordan’s advice works: your budget for groceries (including food, personal/cleaning products, diapers, beauty, etc.) should be $100 per person, per month. For my family of three, that means $300 per month in groceries.
My first thought, and maybe yours too, was…
HOW ON EARTH AM I GOING TO DO THAT???
I had my doubts about being able to scale back that much, but I realized that cutting it in half we would be saving around 300 extra dollars that could be used to pay off debt and eventually used for the fun things in life (massages! vacations! Disneyland!).
So I did a little more research into Jordan’s methods for budgeting including tips on how to grocery shop and meal prep (I highly recommend watching her videos on YouTube!!) and I felt inspired. I mean, if a mom of six (soon to be eight!) kids could spend only $50 a week more than what I was currently spending, I could do it too.
How I got started
I started off by evaluating what our target grocery bill would look like each week.
Again, $100 per person, per month for our family of three is $300 a month in groceries.
That breaks down to $75 per week, given a four-week month.
I knew that I was going to have to make some cutbacks with what I was purchasing in order to drop our bill from $150 to $75, but I didn’t want to sacrifice quantity. My husband does manual labor for a living and you can only imagine his concern that we would be “starving!”
Some the things that had to be taken out of our necessities, aka “grocery” budget:
- Alcohol *wine not Wednesday will resume… I just budget for this category elsewhere 😉
- Prepackaged snack items
- “Easy” meals (i.e., frozen dinners)
- Going all organic
- Lots of meat and dairy
What I knew was that we would be making some sacrifices to get our bill down and I also knew that I wanted to keep some our values in tact; for example, my husband and I believe in eating an organic diet, but the truth is we often pay double for organic meats and produce. So I still buy some organic produce items when they are on sale but save natural/organic for meat purchases.
Because our meat purchases might be on the pricier side due to keeping them organic, we opted to only cook 2-3 dinners with meat in them per week. This was easy for us because I like to cook vegan/vegetarian and I have so many well-balanced recipes on hand already.
I think its a pretty well-known fact that it is tremendously cheaper to cook your meals from scratch than it is to buy pre-packaged and “easy” foods, but let me reiterate the point that this would be something we would be cutting back on. Yes, this includes individually-wrapped snack bars, cracker packs, frozen pizzas, chips, etc. I still plan on having some of these items on deck, but through the advice of Jordan, saving the pre-packaged snacks for on-the-go circumstances.
And lastly, alcohol. This one’s pretty self-explanatory but my husband and I felt a little sting when we realized our after-dinner cocktails were costing us a pretty penny on our grocery bill. Alcohol is now factored into a different budget that we save for our own “treat yo’self” spending.
What I planned for before hitting the store
Plan. Your. Meals. Ahead.
I cannot emphasize this enough that this is the most important part to save hundreds on shopping in general! I have made meal plans and created grocery lists from them for many years now, but really never with a budget in mind. That left a big opportunity for over-spending because I had no idea how much the meals I planned for were going to impact the total bill until I was at the register.
How did I plan?
Step 1: I took inventory of everything I already had.
Yes, I literally took a notepad and listed every item that existed in my fridge, freezer and pantry from a half a bag of flour to a jar of fig jam. DO NOT SKIP THIS PART. I kept the list for future reference and to save the work of having to re-do it every week, by simply crossing off items I used and adding items I gained.
Jordan’s tips on meal planning introduced me to this step, emphasizing that it is super important to take stock of what you already have so you can build meals around that, eliminating food waste and keeping your bill low. For example, if you have half a bag of spaghetti noodles and some frozen chicken breast then you can make a couple lunches for yourself by only needing to buy a jar of marinara.
Step 2: I scanned the ads.
I really only needed to scan one ad because there is just one store I primarily shop at. And as Jordan advises, don’t make multiple trips otherwise you will end up spending more.
So I looked through the ad with my inventory list next to me and found items on sale that would be good matches for what I already had. Ground turkey on sale? Perfect to pair with the can of black beans and pack of tortillas I already have. Taco Tuesday meal complete!!
Step 3: Made the list and tallied the total.
I had no idea how much my total bill would be or how much food I would be getting with what seemed to me like a very small amount of money. I did not want to end up with a lack of food for the week, so when I made my meal plan for the week I was sure to include every meal from breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, all the way to dinner for seven days.
Next, I used my grocery store’s app to put a price next to each item on my shopping list, then added up the total. I was so shocked that my total hit just a little under $73!! I hadn’t gone over budget!
What happened next
I bet you’re curious to find out…. Did we starve?? Did we run out of food? Was my bill not what I expected when I was at the grocery store???
First off, to my husband’s shock (and to mine too, honestly), I came home from the grocery store with what looked like the exact same amount of items that we would purchase with our previous $150 average.
We were able to make all of the meals we planned for, plus freeze extras for leftovers for the next week!
So what did my total come out to when I reached the register??
I went over my target goal by $4 (I like to round it up) but I simply took that $4 out of my own personal “luxury” spending budget.
You may be wondering, “Well how did you go over when you originally estimated you were only going to spend $73?” Well, sh*t happens. I’m kidding, but in all actuality it does. When I got to the store I realized I had completely forgotten to write down milk and some other random item that we were going to need for a recipe I’d planned for.
So I added to the long list of things I’ve already learned that under-budgeting is a huge necessity, especially if you might run into last minute items you need or run out of.
I’ve learned more than I thought I would from starting to take control of my spending and its given me a sense of pride. Oh, and I never thought I would say that I’m excited to go to the grocery store, but hitting my budget goal for the second week in a row felt pretty damn good when I hit the store yesterday!
If you want to hear more about how I meal plan or if you would like to me to make a post with my family’s whole meal plan with shopping list, let me know in the comments below!