We all do it - we all grocery shop. Whether you are feeding a family of six or just yourself, you always need to be cautious on how much you spend on food. If you don't keep track, you will find yourself overspending on unnecessary items. When I first got married, I never thought twice about spending money on food - I thought of it as a need and thus would buy what we "needed". At the time my mindset was to purchase whatever we wanted - we made enough so we can spend some extra moolah. However, after I started keeping track of my spending I have found on average we spent well over $500 a month on groceries! This works out to over $6,000 per year, for a family of TWO! When I saw that we were spending so much, I decided to dedicate myself to budget our expenses and cut that number down. While it took us a while to get used to a budget and get where we are today, we are now spending on average $200 a month.
When people hear the word "budget" they often associate the word with living paycheck to paycheck, living on government assistance, or living deeply in debt. This is not always the case. It doesn’t matter what your income level is, you should always budget so you don't end up eating most of your income away and you can save for that family vacation or new car that you've been planning.
Set a Budget - Budgeting can be an easy task, if you put your mind to it. If you want to start keeping track of your spending, you need to establish a realistic budget. This is always hard for people to do as they throw out a low number and within a month realize that they just cannot achieve this goal and thus completely abolish budgeting. Set a realistic budget that works for YOU and YOUR family.
Learn from the Past - In order to set a realistic goal, you need to be aware of what you are spending each week. Keep track of your spending for the next 4 weeks. It would help by saving all of your receipts in an envelope. Go through each receipt and write the totals down on a spreadsheet. If you want, you can categorize it by type (food, beverage, household, etc.). This way, you see how many times a week you are shopping and how much you are spending in a month.
Needs versus Wants - You need to know what you want to include in this budget in terms of needs and wants. For me, I include food, beverage, toiletries (such as shampoo, deodorant, etc.) and household items (such as cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc.). You might only include food and beverage. Others might include pet food, dining out, and clothing. You also need to separate the needs and wants for each category. For example, do you need that specific brand of shampoo or can you try a cheaper brand, or can you minimize snack foods and replace with fruits and veggies? By minimizing unneeded costs you can save a lot on your grocery bill.
Create Planned Amounts - Do you feel better when you estimate your grocery trip to be $200 but the actual bill adds up to $125? It is always better to overestimate than to underestimate. Giving yourself some wiggle room will allow for any unexpected surprises in your bill - such as an overcharge on an item that you didn't catch or if an item is not on sale one week.
Make a List and Stick to It - Before you go shopping, make sure to check through your pantry, fridge, freezer or stockpile and see what items need to be replenished. Write those down on a list. Then, look through your local flyers and see what items are on sale. Write down the sale price next to the item along with the store it is on sale at. You can organize your list by category and store. This way, you can either price match items at one store (if they allow price matching) or shop at different stores. The tough part of the shopping will be to stick to your list. If you spot an item that is not on your list, ask yourself "is this a need or a want". That way you come out of the store satisfied with your savings and happy you stuck to your plan!
Bring Cash - If you find yourself not being able to stick to your budget, try bringing cash when you go shopping. This way, you know you don't have a "back up" plan to just charge your visa. By creating a shopping list around your planned amount, you will know approximately how much to bring with you when you do go shopping, and thus you will be less likely to splurge or purchase "wants" on the side if you did not bring enough. If you don't have enough when the total bill comes up, don't be afraid to put some items back.