Food is a necessary evil for most. For me, I love to hate it and hate to love it. Of all the adult, mom, wife, or human duties that pains me most, grocery shopping is top on my list of dreaded responsibilities! The main reason I detest this one must-do task, is because it's very easy to stroll into a grocery store for a “few” things, only to watch the total tally up way beyond the idealistic range you expected it would be when you walked in the door. One simple, just a “few” things stop, and you can blow through your entire week's grocery budget without even intending to! Worst of all, this one quick-stop shopping adventure wasn't even your weekly grocery trip. So, what do you do when that happens? You either start putting things back (as embarrassing as it is, most of us have been there at one point or another, I'm sure) or you pay the hefty bill, and find a way to almost double your grocery budget for the week to cover the “essentials” you didn't get on your quick-stop shopping adventure.
Throughout my years of trial and error, I've managed to come up with a pain-free method of planning my weekly trip to the grocery store, not cringe when I see the total at the check-out line and stay within my ideal, realistic and within my financial means grocery budget. Because it took me such a long time to perfect my method, I wanted to share it with everyone. After all, food is a necessary evil. We need it to survive and we enjoy to splurge on good foods. But, it shouldn't be something that stresses your budget out so much, that even your budget doesn't want to go shopping with you!
The first step is to create a realistic budget, that falls within your financial means. This budget needs to also be realistic for your family size. Pack a lunch for your kids to bring to school, bring a lunch with you to work, eat breakfast at home before you head off to start your day. These are all things that can save you money on your budget as a whole, but can also increase your weekly grocery budget. When you are determining your ideal grocery budget, be sure that these things are included. Breakfast, lunch, dinner you name it, that's part of your grocery shopping budget.
The next step, I always take a quick peek at what I have in my refrigerator, cupboards and pantry already. Anything essential that's not there, goes on my shopping list. Things like milk, butter, coffee anything you or your family will use or eat everyday. Part of this step is also deciding what you want to have for your breakfast, lunch and dinner options for the week. By all means, meal planning is easier for some than it is for others. Personally, I don't make a full meal plan for the week (however, this is suggested if you are on a very tight budget). I do jot down a handful of meal choices that I would like to have available during the week I am shopping for. Anything that isn't already in my refrigerator, cupboards or pantry that's needed to create these meals goes on my list that I've already started. Utilizing what you already have on hand will minimize your grocery expense for the week. Keep this in mind when pondering your preferred meal options. If all you need to purchase is lettuce to create a complete Taco dinner, then why not put lettuce on your list and add Tacos to your choices for one dinner that week.
Bring your list, a pen, and calculator to the grocery store with you. This day in age most people have a cell phone which already has a calculator. This is what I use, my cell phone calculator. As I cross items off my list, I input the price into my calculator and keep a running total as I shop. When you make it through your list, if your under budget-great! You can either get a few non-essential treats like ice-cream or cookies, or save it to splurge on a fancier meal the following week. If you make it through your list and are over budget, you can take a moment to review your items and decide if you really need everything in your cart, or if you can slim down anything you can eliminate before you get to the check-out.
A few good ways to keep your grocery expense down is to use coupons. Granted, extreme couponing does look interesting, but not all of us have the patience or time to go as far as extreme couponing. Like me, I don't have either. If your like me, then use what coupons you can on your purchases for today. Keep your eyes open for sales or in-store promotions. Sometimes a combination of either will produce more savings than simply using a coupon on a higher priced items. Also consider less expense, non-brand items. In most cases, you can expand your budget even further by picking a less expensive brand than your preferred brand.
Part of maximizing your grocery budget is being attentive to your choices, looking for the best possible price and not shopping with a “grab & go” experience. I know doing this with kids, limited time or limited means can be very difficult. If you don't have an option to go alone, and you must go with kids in tow, break your weekly budget and list down into every couple of days instead of weekly (or longer for some). If your shopping for only 2-3 days worth of groceries, your list will be much shorter and you should be done before your toddler's melt-down begins or before your 10-year old fills your cart with everything that wasn't on your essentials list. If you break your list down to limit your shopping time, just be sure you break your budget down accordingly as well. Otherwise you could spend more than you intend. For example, if you have a weekly grocery budget of $150, you have $21.42 per day, or about $65.00 to cover a 3-day grocery run. Not everyone can afford to eat the best steaks or seafood on a regular basis, so generate your list to stay within your means. If you stay organized and attentive, you will find it helps both your grocery budget and shopping experience, you may even find that your under budget! In that case, you can save the extra funds to splurge on the more expensive luxury's of the food department in the necessities for life!
For me, I've learned the only way to avoid spending an unnecessary fortune on food, all while feeding my family healthy and well balanced meals, is to plan my shopping trip by making an accurate list, creating and following my budget, making wise selections and keeping track of those selections with my calculator while I shop. Since I've been following my well crafted plan of attack towards grocery shopping, I find that this experience isn't has painful for me as it used to be. I'm able to get everything my family needs to sustain, while not spending an unplanned fortune every time I make a trip to the dreaded grocery store!