There are two things you can do to start saving some serious cash. Two is not too bad, right? I will show you how I cut my grocery bill in half and how I have peace of mind about our finances. It will take a bit of work at first but once you get a routine established it will become secondhand and you can stop wondering where the heck all your money is going! You worked hard for it and you need to know exactly what’s happening to it, not sitting there despairing at the end of the month asking yourself where it all went.
1. Okay, step number one is to make a budget. Don’t barf I promise it’s not that bad! It took me a bit to iron out my system for budgeting, but now I’ve got one that works well for me and that has been easy for me to stick to. Now it may not be exactly what you like, but this, Budget Sheets Blank, is the excel sheet I created to keep track of all our income and outgoing expenses. You could download the sheet as is and then keep up with everything electronically, but I’m more of a pen and paper kinda gal so I print them out and put them in my handy dandy budget binder. Play around with it because no two people are alike and it will take a little bit of time to discover what will work best for you and your family. Like I said, I print these sheets out and keep up with it by hand, but I’ve heard of people who just get a simple spiral notebook and write everything down in that. I even designed and used a pretty extensive excel book at one point, but I just didn’t like logging everything into my computer all the time, but some people are more comfortable in the digital world.
To make a budget, figure out what your fixed expenses are such as your mortgage/rent, car payments, phone bills, utilities, etc and add them all up. Now you know how much money is guaranteed out of your paychecks each month. Next, you will need to figure out the difference between your monthly income and those guaranteed expenses to figure out how much money you have to budget for everything else such as gas, groceries and fun money. The number you come up with is what you need to assign to these different categories.
I also have a separate sheet where I write down every single transaction we make and have them broken down into their corresponding categories. For example, I have columns for savings, gas, groceries, fun money (any extraneous spending on things we don’t have to have like movies or clothes and such), eating out, unexpected expenses (flat tire, doctors visit, anything you didn’t plan on and that doesn’t include a shopping spree! Ha!) I also have a category for crafts and hobbies since I have so many interests and I have to have a capping off point for myself. This is another great tool that helps me be able to look back and see what we are spending our money on and where we could possibly cut back. I highly recommend doing this as you can keep an even sharper eye on where your money is going. It helps to have a number budgeted for yourself, but if you happen to go over that number, you need to be able to look back at each purchase you made in that category so you know where to stop some of your spending. I will elaborate in a later post exactly how to put together a budget so you can see how it works and just how easy it can be.
2. The next thing you need to do is to make up a meal plan for yourself and then make grocery shopping lists appropriate for the meals you have planned. The quickest way to light a fire under me and my husband to go out and grab something is for me to have absolutely no clue what to cook. At the start of our marriage it became a nasty pattern where we ate out significantly more than we cooked at home. If we did have a home-cooked meal it was because my husband got tired of eating out and he would cook something for us. I knew how to cook, I just didn’t do it. I liked going out and that was the pattern I established for myself in college. I never cooked at home when I lived alone. Ever! I had Dr. Peppers and sometimes oranges in my fridge and if I did cook for myself, it was a can of green beans (so weird) and that’s not exactly a well-rounded meal. This negative pattern carried over into our grocery shopping habits, because when I would cook I would plan out these really extravagant dishes where I had to end up buying ingredients I would probably only ever use for that one recipe. I never had a formal time to go grocery shopping and we would just run to the store to grab something like toilet paper if we noticed we were running out and then we’d come home with 20 things we didn’t plan on or even need. I’m sure you can relate because it’s so easy to do especially when you’re hungry. Everything looks like the most incredible food I’ve ever seen or smelled and I think I’ll just die if I don’t get it when I’m hungry and walking around Wal-Mart. Even twinkies look good to me and those things are just nasty! (Sorry to offend any of you twinkie lovers out there, but they are vile!) All of these things led to a sky-high grocery bill, not that I knew it at the time since I didn’t budget whatsoever.
Personally, I make a monthly meal plan and go to the store once a month. Some people shop for one weeks worth of groceries, others work on a bi-weekly basis, but it’s just whatever works best for you. I prefer to do the monthly planning so I am in the grocery store once. The more trips you make the higher your grocery bill will be. Trust me! It’s ridiculous how much it adds up when I think, hey that looks good and just keep grabbing little things here and there. It’s like I said before, hunger will make even the crappiest foods look amazingly good. The most important tool you can have is a list when you walk into a grocery store. It acts as your blinders so you aren’t as tempted by all the junk they have all over these stores that you don’t really need. So, once I figure out what meals I will be fixing I sit down and write out a preliminary list including all the things we may need around the house. Then, because I’m just that anal, I make my finalized list in the exact order of the layout of the store. While it’s a bit extreme (OCD anyone?) it really economizes your time and helps you get in and out of the store as quickly as possible, which gives you more time at home with your family, and who doesn’t want that?
Yes, it will take some time. Yes, it will be difficult at first. Do not let that keep you from doing this!!! It will seriously pay off in the future if you put in a little work right now. Nothing good in life has ever come easy and I promise it does get easier the more you do it. Let me let you in on a little secret: you will screw up sometimes. It’s okay. I do it all the time. Last month, for whatever reason, I didn’t put together a meal plan and just ran to the grocery store when we needed something and I spent $450 dollars…Oh it just makes me cringe to look at that. I budget $250 for groceries on a normal basis. So, I just want you to take from this that it’s okay to mess up and you just have to jump back on the wagon if you do. If we quit every time we didn’t do something perfectly nothing would ever get done! Now get out your pen and paper and start saving your family some serious cash!