There are many benefits of creating a monthly budget. Not only does it make you aware of your finances, but it also shows you ways to save more money. After looking at my family’s monthly spending, we noticed ways to trim the fat. For example, we used this grocery budget calculator and realized we were spending more money on food than the average family. In an effort to reduce spending, we decided to get into the habit of making grocery lists. Here is how sticking to the grocery list has helped my family stretch our budget.
Stretching the Food Budget
Financial advisors often recommend making a list to prevent over-spending during shopping trips. When you know exactly what you need, you are less likely to buy unnecessary items. However, you can stretch your food budget even further by comparing prices. Often times, there are off-brand alternatives right beside their more expensive name brand counterparts. Growing up, my brother and I would make a game of it in the store to see who could save more money on each item by finding the cheapest option first. This also took away some of the stigma of not being able to afford the familiar brands since we saw first-hand how much money we saved. In the end, we rarely noticed a difference in quality anyways.
Another way to save is to join loyalty rewards programs or discount buying clubs. While many are free, some require you to purchase an annual membership. You can share the financial responsibility with another friend or family member and save a ton by buying in bulk. Not only do you get fresh produce at good prices, but it also encourages you to cook more at home.
Making the Grocery List
Like my roommate always says, the only way to get better as something is with practice. So, every week we also do menu planning as we make the grocery list. We choose which recipes to use for the week, and determine what we need from the store. Since we want to work within a thrifty mindset, we tend to avoid recipes that use expensive or exotic ingredients. Instead, we choose family favorites or search for new ones that use produce which is in season.
Once we have the list, the next step is to look through the refrigerator and cabinets so we don’t buy ingredients we already have. In an additional effort to promote a healthy diet, we also leave processed and sugary foods off the list. Since a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle cause health issues, we want to make better food choices. However, enforcing them can be difficult when you spot your favorite snacks, especially if you shop when you are hungry.
We have also applied these same budget techniques for my parents’ household. My dad has always been frugal and closely monitored the monthly budget. In particular, how much we spend at the grocery store. My mom typically does the grocery shopping and likes to buy treats for everyone. Although this is a thoughtful gesture, it can quickly get out of hand. Not only can it blow your budget, but it can also lead to arguments over money. As peacemaker, it is my job to make sure my mom is sticking to the grocery list.
Sticking to the List at the Grocery Store
As soon as we arrive, I take out the list and map out where to go first. I can already here exclamations like “Oh, look! These are on sale,” or “That’s a good price for that.” Each time, I return to the list and tell her the next items we need to get. The first stop is the produce section. My hope is that she will be too busier bagging the fruit and vegetables to wander off. Experience has taught me that it can be dangerous, because she adds things to the cart while no one is watching. The items she slips in are usually not on the list and fairly expensive. However, she seems just as focused on sticking to the list and supporting our goal to save money.
We made efficient work of it and actually cut down the time we spent in the store as well. Unfortunately, this was where things began to unravel. My mom has a frustrating habit of leaving people in the checkout line while she returns for items she “forgot.” Not only was I stuck waiting with the cart, but I was also nervous about explaining the extra items to my dad. Luckily she returned with only a few small things and we were quickly on our way.
The Final Grade
So, the pressing question: how did we do at sticking to the grocery list? All in all, I would give my family a B+ in our efforts to reduce the monthly grocery bill. Everyone had a positive attitude and made real efforts to enforce the new rules. However, old habits die hard. Instead of focusing on what we did not do correctly, we looked at what we did right and exercise patience for the rest. Success comes when we support each other to stay under budget and resist temptation to buy things we don’t need.
On the positive side, making a list prevented us from buying ingredients we already had. It also limited how much we spent on the “extra” or unnecessary number of items we bought. Over the course of the month, we greatly reduced excess spending in our food budget. Furthermore, it also revealed negative behaviors we could continue to work on in the future. The checkout dash proved to be the most costly to our budget. On average, we added an additional $50-100 with each run. While it didn’t break the bank, it could cause financial strain if you are living on a bare bones budget. Dealing with irresponsible spending patterns can be frustrating, but have to remember that creating new spending habits takes time.