Ever since my husband wrote a guest post for the blog about our journey to become debt free, I have gotten a lot of questions about our grocery budget. I can understand why I get this question, because sticking to a monthly grocery budget is hard! It’s even more difficult if you are trying to buy healthy and quality ingredients. It is possible, but it does take some sacrifice along with strategy.
Before I even get into the steps, I want to address the fact that you get to decide how your family eats. I say this because there can be a lot of shaming about what you eat. Whether it’s organic, grass-fed, gluten free, low carb, etc. You have to let go of what other people think (which is hard for me) and trust that you know what it best for your family.
We have personally decided to sacrifice in some other areas of our budget in order to be able to buy the food we feel we is best for our family. One of the things we look forward to the most about being debt free is having more freedom to buy even better quality foods. That motivates me even more to crush this debt!
1.) Shop At Home First
I think you would be surprised by the meals you could put together with the ingredients you already have at home. Before I go to the store, I make a list of the food that I have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. When we weren’t following a budget, I would buy too much food and some would go to waste or forgotten about in the back of the pantry. I hate wasting food and I am now much more purposeful with what I buy and how I use it.
Doing this helps for when you sit down to write your grocery list because you can plan your meals based off of the ingredients you already have on hand. If you are looking up recipes, you can substitute certain ingredients as well. For example, say a recipe calls for cauliflower but you have broccoli in the fridge, you can use the broccoli instead (in most cases). Or one might call for pork but you found chicken in your freezer, switch it out! Be creative!
2.) Plan Your Meals
I know that this isn’t always fun but I do believe that it is important. I am learning this in multiple areas of my life; being intentional with relationships, time, money etc, is an essential component to success. You have to know what you need to buy, that way you can avoid wasting money on the things you don’t need. This means planning breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks.
I try to plan meals that have some similar ingredients. For example, I will plan for both chili and meatballs and can buy a bigger pack of ground beef to use for both. My husband comes home for lunch for everyday and we keep it pretty low key, most days we eat leftovers from the night before. I also pack my daughters lunch and she gets leftovers, wraps, pasta and other simple, healthy things that she loves. She gets juice boxes for school but other than that, she only drinks water. We hardly ever spend money on drinks (I could worker harder on my sparkling water habit lol).
3.) Pay With Cash
My husband and I have paid off over $20,000 of debt in the past 9 months by using a cash based budget. We plan our grocery budget before the month even starts. For example, Thanksgiving is next month, so we budgeted a little more than we normally would. At the beginning of the month, we take cash out of our account and put it in an envelope labeled ‘Groceries’. It really helps to be able to hold the cash in your hand and see how much you spend and how much you have left. You connect with it more than when you swipe a card. It takes some time and practice to figure out how much you spend each month. In order to do this, you need to keep track of what you spend. We do this with the everydollar app, its free and my husband and I can pull it up on our phone any time. Our grocery budget also includes hygiene, household products, and baby stuff (diapers, wipes etc) so we have to account for that as well.
4.) Properly Store Your Food
This is important because if you store your food incorrectly it will go bad before you even get to use it! This used to happen to me and I would get so frustrated. I saw a video on YouTube about food storage and realized that I was doing a lot of things wrong. A few examples that made the biggest difference for me include….
- Tomatoes- I always used to put them in the fridge, but they are best stored on the counter
- Potatoes- I love putting produce in a bowl on the counter, but I was storing my potatoes and onions together and it was causing the potatoes to sprout.
- Herbs- Don’t leave them in the bag and then put them into the drawer in the refrigerator. Wash them and then wrap them in a paper towel, place in ziplock bag and store in the fridge.
- Berries- I find that they stay the freshest when I fill the sink with water, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and soak the berries. I then lay them out to dry on a towel on the counter before storing. I don’t do this every time because #momlife but it works.
- Meat- I often buy meat that is on sale because it is getting close to the expiration date. When I do this, I re-bag and freeze the meat that I am not using right away that way it doesn’t go bad before I can cook it. Or I buy a big roast and throw it in the crockpot to make shredded meat that I can use in multiple recipes throughout the week. I then store the shredded meat in airtight containers in the fridge.
5.) Buy Some Products from a Wholesale Store
Places like Sam’s Club and Costco can be so beneficial, but you also have to be purposeful about it. My husband and I compare the price per ounce to the chain stores to see which one fits into our budget the best. We have a Sam’s Club membership and we get most of our meat from there and then freeze it. We also save money on diapers for our toddler.
I would also recommend shopping at Walmart and Aldi (if you have one near you). They both have improved their healthy and organic options! I have a list of my favorite healthy products from Walmart here.
Lastly, have some grace for yourself if you are just starting out. Like I said, it takes time to get it just right. I learn something new every month. I will say that while sticking to a grocery budget can be difficult, it has been so rewarding. We get to be in charge of where our money goes now, it no longer controls us.