At the end of May we were faced with a pretty hefty chimney repair that took a decent chunk out of our savings. Even though I know situations like these are why we have savings, I hate dipping into it. In any case, a quick look back through our spending in the prior months and I realized just how much money we had been blowing on stupid things. That's not to say we were buying random gadgets that we would never use, but we certainly weren't being good stewards of our money.
Jon and I sat down and hammered out some numbers using our go-to budgeting tool. One of the main areas we had been incredibly wasteful in was groceries. The amount of food we probably had been throwing away was disgusting. The amount of food we had been buying was unreal.
We decided to budget $350 a month for our groceries. Historically, we had been able to eat well off that amount of money if we were smart about it. So far, we are on track to stay within our budget for July (we were over our budget by quite a bit in June; I partially attribute this to vacation). Only spending about $80/week for a soon-to-be family of 5 isn't the easiest, so here are my tips for watching your grocery spending:
1. Shop the meat sales. Jon is a vegetarian but the kids and I are not. We've found the best thing that works for us is to buy meat when it's on sale (the big ones I follow are the $1.99/pound for a family size pack of chicken breasts at Aldi and BOGO meat sales on beef at one of our other grocery stores) and freeze it. For the chicken breasts we will place each breast in its own small Ziploc and then put all of them in a large freezer bag to prevent freezer burn. Even though the kids and I eat meat we are definitely not huge carnivores so the three of us can split a chicken breast and still have some leftover usually. We also freeze the beef we buy. This is good because it allows us to get the best price on meat and almost always have something we can turn into a meal in the freezer (to avoid dangerous spur of the moment grocery trips or eating out).
2. Meal plan. Those two words usually strike agony and trepidation in my heart. Even though I am a type A planner, food is my love language and I am hit by cravings often--even when not pregnant. That makes meal planning tedious because even though something sounds good on Saturday when I'm planning the meal it does not usually sound good the day I'm supposed to make it. Throw in the fact that we have two ridiculously picky eaters and one vegetarian and that just complicates everything. That being said, there is a clear relationship between our dedication to meal planning and the amount of money/food we waste. We've been planning about 4 meals a week (usually some sort of vegetarian soup/slow cooker meal Sunday, 1 meat and 1 vegetarian entree on Monday, leftovers Tuesday, another vegetarian or meat entree Wednesday, we go to small group with our friends on Thursdays, Friday is homemade pizza night and Saturday is leftovers) but I've discovered that 4 meals seems to be too many and we have been rolling over 1 meal that we planned for the prior week into the next. Meal planning gives us a clear vision of what to buy at the store to avoid unnecessary purchases and also motivates us to actually finish all of our leftovers during the week so that we aren't wasting food.
3. Shop smart. We have been huge Aldi proponents for years now. You just can't beat the prices. There is a different grocery store here that we affectionately refer to as the ~fancy~ grocery store that we try to avoid but it's just so snazzy. They also have a much larger yogurt selection than Aldi (Elden loves the mix-in kind of yogurt and Aldi usually doesn't have much up his alley in this regard). We try to do the bulk of our shopping--especially for canned goods, cereal, vegetables, etc.--at Aldi. If we need to get diapers from Target we will pick up some of our pantry staples there. We also have a Costco membership. Our big things from Costco are chocolate chips, fruit, milk (it averages less than $1.90 a gallon in our area), eggs, applesauce pouches, Babybel cheese, and rotisserie chicken. I buy my beef at the ~fancy~ store when they have their BOGO sales. There is another store comparable to Aldi that we like for a larger selection than Aldi has, but they don't accept Visa. Which brings me to...
4. Use cash. Jon and I are not fans of Dave Ramsey. At all. For a variety of reasons.* We also very rarely have cash on hand because we've noticed we actually blow through money quicker when we have cash than when we have to put it on a credit or debit card. That being said, one of the cheaper grocery stores out here (usually similar in price to Aldi, but has more selection) only accepts Discover or cash/check. We do not own a Discover card. We hate writing checks. As such, we would often skip this particular store in lieu of a more expensive grocer that accepts Visa. We decided to take out $100 of the $350 a month so we could do our shopping at this grocer when the needs we have weren't met at Aldi.
5. Kind of coupon. I will be the first to admit that while I love the idea of coupons it intimidates the crap out of me. I am by no means an extreme couponer, but I have found a nice balance with some electronic platforms. I use Ibotta when we shop at the ~fancy~ store, Target or Costco to get cash credit back for the purchases we make. I also use Cartwheel religiously for all of our Target shopping. Finally, we get these Red Plum mailers that have coupons that we usually don't use but I have seen the occasional cereal or diaper coupon that I have snagged to use at the store. Definitely nothing crazy but those little savings definitely add up.
I will likely do a follow-up post to meal planning since it is something that is so effective yet so intimidating. Feel free to share ways you save money on groceries in the comments!
*If you ever want to hear Jon talk a lot (since he is introverted), bring up Dave Ramsey.