My, my, it has been a while, hasn’t it? Last I blogged, I’d just finished a booger of a professional certification and I was on Cloud 9 with spare time and a bunch of ideas to update the blog. And then, a month later, I found out I was pregnant again and all the first trimester fun began. Read: I had (relatively more) time to blog, but zero motivation.
Fast forward through months of undocumented projects and budget ideas (not to mention blogger’s guilt), and here I am: 9 months pregnant and eyeball deep in partially completed and unstarted projects.
For now, though, I’ll share a blog post a friend emailed me from MoneySavingMom.com. This post is close to my heart because saving money and continually tightening the budget are practically hobbies for me. You know I love my budget, but what’s even more satisfying is ratcheting down the budget categories for reasons other than “We have to.” As in, “We want to go on a big vacation next year.” “We want to pay off all our debt.” Or, “We want to pad the savings account so we can buy a _______.” That’s where it gets really fun: when being a tightwad in certain categories means living large in others.
So here’s the gist: how does a family of 3…or 4….or more live off a $400 per month grocery budget? Is it possible? How?
Obviously, you can go check out the original post and all the good ideas in the comments below it, but since we are a family of 3 (two adults and a toddler), and our grocery budget is $400 per month, I’ll share my own “comments” here. Aren’t you lucky?
First of all, I try very hard to keep our “grocery” expenses under the $400 cap. This includes food, cleaning supplies, drugstore stuff, paper products, the occasional trip to the post office, diapers, wipes, and random other things. That said, I do go over budget some months (like when I have morning sickness and I’m starving but nothing looks good for more than a few minutes). And then I rein it in to come in under budget in other months. Overall, I do stay on track with an average of $400 spent every month on household items.
Sometimes I wonder if $400 is too low and I’m pinching that penny a little too hard. Other times, I see and hear examples of families eating for even less, and I’m inspired to not only stick with the $400, but sometimes I’m tempted to lower it just for the challenge or so I can get a new spray mop or ironing board cover or some other equally glamorous item.
There are so many great ideas out there, but how do *we* do it? Currently, this is how:
- Meal planning: This has made such a difference, but it’s an evolving process. I plan on making four dinner meals per week, with leftovers making up the rest. We also order pizza or dine out maybe once a week. Lunches and breakfasts are mostly unplanned and revolve around staples like oatmeal, frozen fruit, and yogurt I keep on hand. I’ll do a separate post on my meal planning strategy later, since there’s a lot to say.
- Shopping “once” a month: This one comes with a caveat. I do one big shopping trip at the beginning of the month, picking up all non-perishables, freezables, etc, as well as any fresh items I need for that week’s meals. This big trip completely fills a cart and usually costs around $150-$200. But with a toddler, I’ve learned it’s really not feasible to shop literally once a month, because we run out of milk or eggs or whatever. So I’ll go to the store a few more times in the month to get specific items we’re out of and any necessary fresh items for a given week’s meal plan. This isn’t a regular weekly occurrence, since we keep a lot of apples and oranges, and other fresh items that last several weeks, but I don’t beat myself up for additional trips to the store. I am very careful to not pick up impulse purchases on these additional trips.
- A local “scratch and dent” grocery store: One of my friends tipped me off to a tiny grocer nearby that sells (for lack of a better term?) “seconds” products. Some items are expired, some are in damaged packaging, and I have no idea where or how they procure the rest! The selection is much smaller than what a regular grocery store would carry, but they have a huge selection of boxed cereals at half the usual price, baking supplies, yogurt, and an absolute TON of fresh produce. Much of the produce is stuff I don’t often use, and sometimes it’s a little (or a lot) past its prime, but occasionally I’ll pick up mesh bags of apples for $1 apiece, bags of Cuties, and just last month I scored with four pounds of organic blueberries for $11. I go to this store just before I hit the big grocery store, so I can cross off some of my list there. I also get many of our breakfast and lunch staples here, like yogurt cups and cereal.
- Coupons: I’ve slowed way down on coupons, but I do clip the ones I *might* use, and the store I shop at sends customized coupons every few months that are really handy. (Free boxes of Cheerios, for example, since we buy a lot of Cheerios.) I recently got our Sunday paper renewal notice, and I’m honestly not sure if the $60+ annual cost justifies the coupons I get. I’m still pondering that one.
- Keeping a price book: This is the only way I’ve gotten a grip on what some of the best prices are on the items we use the most. For example, I can get a 42 ounce container of Quaker instant oatmeal at the grocery store for around $5. BUT…if I wait and keep an eye on the Walgreens ads, I can get the exact same Quaker Oats for 2/$5. And then I buy 4…or 6! Same with coffee: Folgers occasionally goes on sale for $6.99 for the 30+ ounce containers. When it does, I buy 4 or 6. Otherwise, the price is MUCH higher.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Someday soon I’ll show the new baby’s room and all the little projects that are helping it come together.