It seems like everyone these days is trying to stick to a strict budget. Between "life hacks," DIY projects, and lists of tips and tricks, there are a thousand ways to start trying to budget better. But one of the hardest things to accomplish is grocery shopping on a budget. Why is this?
Grocery Shopping on a Budget
There are many reasons why grocery shopping on a budget can be so difficult for people. One reason is that we think with our stomachs. It might be easier to pass on spending money on a more advanced television package than it is to walk through a grocery aisle filled with pastries without indulging. Another reason is because, well, it's food! Food is vital, it's our energy and keeps us going. It's easy to tell yourself that it's fine to not stick to your budget while grocery shopping because food is a necessity. But necessity or not, there are strategies you can employ to begin grocery shopping on a budget -- and stick to it!
Creating a Grocery Budget
How Much Am I Spending?
The first step to creating a grocery budget is figuring out how much you spend on food. Sure, you may spend around the same amount at the grocery store each week, but are you spending extra money on eating out? What about those quick grocery runs on the way home to get a couple items? Or the days you might not feel like cooking and grab a frozen pizza from the local pharmacy.
The truth is, most of us spend far more on groceries than we realize. Grab a piece of paper or a computer and make a list of everything you eat. Look at your recent receipts or bank statement to see how much you are spending on a weekly basis. Track exactly what you eat and how much you spend on it. Having an accurate picture of how much you spend is necessary to truly begin grocery shopping on a budget.
How Much Should I Be Spending?
Once you have figured out how much you currently spend on food, figure out how much you should be spending. Luckily, the USDA publishes average food prices for families every month. Of course, numbers can vary depending on where you live, but you can use the USDA guidelines as a starting point. At the end of 2018, the USDA suggested these budget guidelines for a family of four:
These numbers may seem a bit out of range to you. The USDA finds that the average consumer spends about 6% of their monthly budget on food; this may be a more effective way to figure out what your grocery shopping budget should be.
How to Stick to Your Budget
So, you've made your grocery budget. How are you going to stick to it? A budgeting app like Qube Money could help. Try these tips and tricks from some of the best budgeters around.
A huge part of sticking to your budget is simply being aware of how much things cost. Because food is a necessity, many of us go through the store grabbing what we need without really looking at the cost. But, if you take a second to slow down and compare, you'll find that you can save a lot of money. If you find yourself drawn to the more expensive option because you believe it's of a higher quality, take a second to compare the ingredients and nutritional information. It may truly be healthier. But you may also be paying a pretty penny just for some packaging.
Also, be sure to check the item marker to see what you're paying per ounce. You might be able to save a couple of dollars by spending a couple more. That is, you may spend an extra two dollars today to get a larger jar of peanut butter. But, because you're paying less per ounce, you're spending less. And you won't have to pick up any peanut butter on your next trip. But be careful to not stock up too much! Sales can trick the consumer into buying more than they need because they don't want to miss the "great deal."
Avoid Your Weaknesses
We all have something that we have a very hard time saying "no" to, especially in a grocery store. So many of us can go into the grocery store to get one item we need and come out with lots of other things we don't need. If you know that you can't make it down that candy aisle without indulging, take a different route. Most groceries these days offer delivery and pickup services as well, which are a phenomenal tool for people who struggle with this.
Name Your Priorities
Most of us aren't great at prioritizing with groceries. But when grocery shopping on a budget, prioritizing is imperative. Tell yourself "if this, then not that" to help yourself figure out what you really need.
Space Out Bigger Purchases
There are a couple non-food items we usually get from the grocery store, and that tend to be a bit pricy. Dish soap, paper towels, bath items. Include your non-food grocery items in your grocery budget, and plan for them. Don't buy these things in the same week, because they tend to make your grocery bill spike. Instead, make a plan that allows you to spread these purchases out over the month without running out of necessities.
Use the same tactics for foods like shrimp and steak that tend to be more expensive. Only buy these types of foods for special occasions to avoid blowing half your budget on them.
Don't Eat Out
Just don't. We all know that eating out is a money-suck, and yet we continue to do it. If you are serious about grocery shopping on a budget, get in the mindset of making your own meals. Of course, it's one thing to attend a dinner for a friend or family member's birthday, or to celebrate a life event. But we have turned eating out into a regular solution to our laziness. So, to combat it, you need to find other solutions to laziness. Know that you are going to have days you don't feel like cooking, and be prepared by having frozen meals or portions that you can quickly heat up.
Keep a Fridge List
Keeping a list of everything in your fridge is one of the most effective tactics for grocery shopping on a budget. The best method for this might be a white board, or a printout of all the groceries you usually have, so you can update your list through the week to reflect what you've eaten.
How many times have you found moldy, rotten vegetables or leftovers in the back of the fridge, and thought to yourself, "huh, didn't know that was in there"? By keeping track of everything in your fridge, you won't accidentally buy extra of something you don't need. You can focus on using what is left and creating meals around what you have at your fingertips.
Buy the Store Brand
The name brand isn't better. If there is a store brand option, buy it.
Love Your Leftovers
Be mindful of what you're cooking. If you're someone who can eat your leftovers for a week, go for it and make a big batch. But if you are easily bored by the same meal, don't cook in large amounts, or plan different meals that utilize similar ingredients. Invest in some good quality glass food storage containers. Your food will taste better and last longer.
Leftovers are a great friend to those who are grocery shopping on a budget, so use them as much as you can. Use a chicken breast you didn't include in the chicken cacciatore to make yourself a fresh salad the next day with a nice chicken breast on top.
Avoid Packaged Foods
As much as you can, buy things that aren't pre-packaged, pre-cut, pre-marinated, pre-portioned, or pre-anything. These foods will save you a negligible amount of time, but will cost you an arm and a leg. Sure, you're paying for convenience, but is it worth it? Opting to do the work yourself might force you to be in the kitchen a tad longer, but it will save you a ton of money.
There are so many tips and tricks these days to saving money, budgeting, and making a side income. But one portion of this equation that we largely ignore is keeping to a budget when we grocery shop. We tell ourselves that it doesn't make sense to budget something that keeps us alive. But by applying a couple simple tactics, you can significantly reduce your grocery budget, and stick to it. Don't keep telling yourself that it's too difficult; use these easy tips today to begin grocery shopping on a budget.
For more information, and tips and tricks on budgeting, visit the Qube Masters website today.
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