$864.00 a month. That’s the thrifty estimate from the USDA that my family should be spending on groceries every month. We’re a family of six, with three kids ages 15-20 still at home (noting the 20 yo doesn’t eat at home all the time.) And since we’re nowhere near that figure, we need an overhaul.
Confession time…I have not been a student of frugal living over the years, probably because I found it completely overwhelming on top of my responsibilities as a special needs mom and homeschooler. I grew up in NYC and was used to shopping on the fly as a single adult for 10 years..the whole living in the suburbs/shopping at big box stores has been a hard adjustment. I hated clipping coupons and thought it was useless since as a whole foods mom, I never used most of the stuff anyway. And when dystonia entered the picture, clipping coupons become even less appealing.
After the mortgage, our family’s biggest expensive is food. This is a very controllable expense on my part, unlike the rest of my bills. I am not a frugal living expert by any means, but here are some positive steps that can work for anyone. If you’re new to the idea, I’m taking baby steps right along with you!
Make A Grocery Budget
Begin by tracking how much you’re spending on groceries for a few weeks (gulp.) From there, come up with a weekly or monthly food budget. Allot that money for groceries and make sure not to go over. Be realistic..if a family member requires gluten free foods, it may not be possible to follow the thrifty plan numbers.
After you’ve been doing this for a month or so, see if you can cut back on groceries by $20 per month. Keep going and see how low you can go.
Keep A Price Book
We all love to get a great deal, but how can you know if the advertised special is really saving you money?
Keep a little notebook (a bullet journal would be great for this) in your purse or just keep a text document on your phone with the regular prices of the items you buy most often. This way you can see how great of a deal that advertised special really is. You’ll also be able to see where your kitchen staples are cheapest and adjust your shopping habits accordingly. Your price book will also come in handy when you browse through weekly grocery flyers. You can decide if a loss leader deal is worth driving to the store long before you ever set a foot out the door.
Develop a Few Frugal Pantry Meals
Don’t make your family miserable. This doesn’t mean eating rice and beans all week. (My family happens to love them, but even they would get tired of eating them too often.) Instead think of a few inexpensive dishes your family enjoys like chili, taco salad or bean soup. Often meatless dishes will be your best frugal bet, or use meat in small portions on frugal dish days. Keep some canned items like spaghetti sauce or refried beans on hand so you always have simple meal basics available.
Enjoying frugal meals for even a few days during the month combined with using up any and all leftovers will make a big difference in your grocery budget.
Watch the Impulse Purchases
Make a weekly habit of menu planning and preparing a grocery list. As you’re shopping, think about those impulse purchases like fancy baked items, candy or coffee drinks (if you shop at Trader Joe’s you know what I mean!) Get in the habit of skipping these items unless there’s a good reason to buy them. Stick to your list and you’ll cut your grocery bill by quite a bit each week. It’s amazing how all those little extras add up.
Limit Eating Out
Eating out, even picking up a couple of pizzas means spending at least $25 for a family. Always have a backup plan for when life gets crazy. It’s perfectly okay to have sandwiches, oatmeal or cereal for dinner once in awhile. Be intentional about when you eat out and make it special.
Newbies, don’t try to do all of this at once! Baby steps. If you’re an experienced frugal whole foods shopper, what has worked for you? How does your spending compare with the USDA recommendations?