It’s a new year, which means it’s time to set some goals that will help improve your life. While you’re at it, consider improving the life of your grocery budget. We all need food to survive, but as with the other parts of our life, sometimes our grocery budget doesn’t always get our best efforts. When we first started our debt payoff journey four years ago, one of the things I did was go back and checked credit card statements and bank statements to figure out how much we were spending on groceries.
I figured we were spending about $600-$700 on our grocery budget each month, as we were making a halfhearted effort to keep things under control.
After checking a year’s worth of statements, turned out that we were spending about $900 a month on groceries. I was stunned. Kind of like when you step on the scale after the holidays and the number is five – or twenty – pounds higher than what you thought it was. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.
Well, after a good year or two of hard work, we’ve consistently kept our grocery budget around the $450 range for our family of six. And we don’t live on rice and beans to do so. In fact, we probably eat healthier now than we ever have. We just used the following tips to cut our grocery bill in half. Our grocery budget got a makeover, and it’s looking good!
A solid grocery budget has to come with a menu plan. Without a plan, it’s too easy to wander through the store throwing things in the cart (and still having “nothing” to eat) or stop off at the local pizza joint on the way home from work. My mom has been using this menu plan technique since we were poor and struggling and we use it as well.
- Make a list and number it 1 through 7 (or 1 through 15 or whatever, based on how long you want your menu plan to be for)
- Think of seven meals for dinner that fit in with your time schedule and your family’s tastes
- Write down what items you need to buy to make those 7 dinner meals (check the pantry to make sure you don’t already have some stuff)
- Write down additional items that are less time-intensive for breakfast and lunch, such as fresh fruit, plain organic yogurt or nuts. For lunch plan some soups that you can make ahead and freeze or sandwich fixins, or make a little extra and plan to take leftovers from dinner.
Now, you can decide what you’re going to have for dinner ahead of time based on the week’s schedule, or you can just decide what you’ll pick from the list as the days dawn. For instance, on Tuesdays I go to Bible study for dinner, so I plan something easy that the kids can make or I do a make-ahead dish like lasagna. On evenings I know we’ll be at home and have a light schedule, I plan more time-intensive meals such as fajitas with homemade tortillas.
The goal is to make the menu plan conducive with your lifestyle so that you can’t make excuses for not following the plan.
Make a List of Meals
To make your menu planning easier, make a list of meals that your family enjoys. One of the keys to a successful grocery budget makeover is to try and keep dinner costs at an average of $5 or so. This is easy if you’re willing to buck up and not be too much of a food snob. In our house, we have mostly $5 meals, but we have a few $10 or $15 meals and then offset them with a few $1, $2 or $3 meals. Let me give you an idea of some of our meals.
$1, $2, or $3 Meals
Popcorn (yup, just popcorn, air popped, GMO free popcorn and organic butter)
Spaghetti without Meatballs
The list of five dollar meals is endless. You can pretty much make any type of soup, salad or other meal for five dollars if you shop the sales and plan wisely. Here are some things we serve in the five dollar range.
Beef Stew (with leftovers from Pot Roast night)
Tacos or Taco Salad
Every once in a while we’ll throw in a bigger meal like fish or steak, but then we offset it with a couple of $1 or $2 meals to keep our grocery budget in balance.
Other Ways to Save Money on Food
The key to making delicious meals at home for cheap is to do homemade and shop the sales. For instance:
- We buy five pounds of organic flour at Walmart for $4.28 so we can make homemade breads and desserts.
- We buy non-GMO pasta at Trader Joe’s for 99 cents a pound.
- We buy grass-fed beef, non-antibiotic, non-hormone beef from a local farmer for under $4 a pound after processing.
- We shop the sales (Aldi is TERRIFIC) for organic and non-organic veggies and fruits
- We buy when it makes sense at warehouse clubs, like when we get organic butter for $4 a pound and 10 pounds of organic sugar for $8
- We make most bread products and almost all desserts from scratch. They taste better, they’re better for you and it’s cheaper
We also grow a garden most years, which will produce a bounty of organic veggies that you can eat fresh or freeze or can and save a boat load of money on your grocery bill. But for the last two years we’ve not grown a garden and are still feeding our family well on this budget.
Eating whole foods and cooking/baking from scratch has changed our taste buds so much that we can immediately taste the chemicals in store-bought processed foods or bakery foods. The apple pie at the local grocery store tastes horrible to our kids now, and they much prefer the homemade pies we make for under $5.
Don’t Have Time?
If you’re feeling like your time schedule is way too busy to live this way, try making your menu plan and then setting aside one day or evening a week to prepare and freeze several meals. Most all pasta and rice dishes are freezable, as are most soups and chili recipes. Cookies and bars also freeze well.
What to do With That Extra Money
Now that you’ve given your grocery budget a makeover, you should have at least a few hundred dollars extra every month with which to put toward reaching your dreams.
You can now use that money to:
- Pay off debt
- Save for early retirement
- Save to pay cash for a house
- Put toward your kids’ college education
or any other number of things that are on your heart. You see, a grocery budget makeover will not only line your bank account with more cash, it’ll help you to live a healthier life, which will give you more energy to do whatever it is you want to do.
Does your grocery budget need a makeover?