During this time last year our family of four was gearing up for our “100 Days of Real Food on a Budget” pledge. But once the pledge ended (in January 2011) I stopped sticking to our strict food budget of $125/week, and I often wonder how I even managed to do it. Just the other day I was reading some of my old budget blog posts, and on one shopping excursion I somehow left my favorite grocery store (Earth Fare) after only spending $67. If you want to know what I spent at Earth Fare earlier this week….well, just add about $100 – yikes! It is amazing how much more you spend when you don’t have a specific budget in place to help you keep it cheap. The scary thing is though, I sort of was “trying” not to spend a lot the other day. Now my effort didn’t go beyond a conscious thought in my head, but I should know by now that just thinking about being on a budget never really works.
As some of you know, my husband and I were fortunate enough to go on a very adventurous – and expensive! – trip to Asia earlier this month. So, for us, there is no better time than now to get back on the food budget bandwagon. I won’t be doing another official budget “pledge,” but since I’ve already proved this could be done I don’t really have any good excuses to convince my husband to let me off the hook (darn!). So for all of us – me included – here are some budget tips that I could never be reminded of enough. And if you have any advice I left out please share in the comments below…
- Set a specific budget. This tip may sound basic, but as I just said simply thinking about “not spending a lot of money” DOES NOT work! Here’s how to structure a budget…
- Pick a realistic budget amount that you will adhere to each week or month. I personally think a weekly budget is easier to follow because you can’t go too far over budget before you realize you are in trouble.
- Consider using cash in an envelope so going “over budget” isn’t even possible. (For those who’ve heard of Dave Ramsey, yes, we’ve both read his book!) Also, no matter what, make a commitment that if you do for some reason go over budget you will deduct that amount from the following week or month.
- Define what will and will not be included in the budget. Will it just be for food or for household items too? What about alcohol, entertaining, and going out to eat?
- Keep track of all your expenses on paper whether you use cash or not. It is important to see where your money goes.
- Share and discuss the running budget total with the other adults in your household…accountability is what it’s all about!
- Be organized and plan out your meals for the week. Last minute purchases that you haven’t put a lot of thought into can add up fast.
- Minimize waste by saving all uneaten food instead of throwing anything away.
- Know and use what you have on hand especially if it’s perishable. Even consider keeping an inventory list of food on your fridge or freezer so different family members can check off items as they use them. I know my husband is more likely to eat something in the fridge if I leave a note telling him it is there (don’t ask me why)!
- Make substitutions in recipes to reduce how many things you have to buy…or even leave out a small ingredient all together.
- Maximize “cheap” foods like bananas, beans, and pasta. Here are some of our favorite super cheap recipes:
- When making inexpensive meals like soups and pasta dishes double the recipe and freeze the leftovers for when you have one of those days where you just don’t have time to plan out a good dinner.
- Make sacrifices like drinking water instead of milk and skipping juice and other flavored beverages all together. If you really have trouble kicking the juice habit at least water it down a little so the juice lasts longer.
- Reduce your consumption of meat and desserts. Meat can be a big-ticket item and while dessert is certainly a “nice to have” it is by no means a regular necessity (sorry)! Also experiment with “stretching” your meat dishes by mixing in veggies and/or beans.
- Buy produce that’s in-season and if you like to frequent your local farmers’ market try going just before closing time to get some great deals on items the vendors won’t want to haul back to the farm.
- If you can’t afford the organic version of everything consult the dirty dozen list.
- Check your receipt after you get home to make sure your money was spent wisely (most grocery stores accept returns and I’ve been known to take stuff back on occasion!).