Imagine this with me. (You don’t have to close your eyes, but concentrate hard, ok?) Your palms are sweaty as you stand in front of the cash register. The kind clerk at your local grocer has just rung up the ramshackle items you haphazardly threw in your cart for the last 30 minutes (come on, do you really need Corn Nuts and a barrel of beef jerky?).
You are suddenly having trouble breathing. Somehow you just managed to spend enough to feed a family of five for a month. As you hand over your hard-earned cash, you realize not only will you never eat all this food before it expires, but also you won’t be able to buy anything else for the next 2 weeks (and after all this sweating, you’re running low on deodorant).
Pretty bleak, huh? If this exact situation, or one slightly similar, has ever happened to you, you may need to revamp your grocery-shopping style. Or maybe you are one of those people whose pockets are filled with Captain D’s and Domino’s Pizza receipts wondering why your wallet is bare. Either way, read on; help (if you are willing to accept it), is on the way.
Let’s face it: food can be expensive. And unless you’re magical, you need it. With the guidance and tough love of my parents and people like money-managing expert Dave Ramsey, I think I’ve found the way to keep the food bill in check.
…Drum roll…JOY TO THE WORLD! (Sorry, too early for a Christmas Vacation reference?) The solution is Menu Planning!
This may sound horrid to some of you because, yes, it does contain the dreaded word “planning.” But once you start, I bet you will enjoy the feeling of control and all that excess cash.
Here’s how it works in my house:
Each week before I head to the store, I pull out my handy-dandy, menu-planning note pad. I have one of those nifty magnetic ones so it’s always right there on the fridge. I then write out each day between this week’s shopping trip and the next trip. (So far, pretty easy, unless you don’t know your days of the week.) Now here’s the challenge — filling out what I’ll eat for dinner each of those days.
My strategy is to pull out my cook books. If you’re new to cooking, don’t go crazy. Challenge yourself to try one new recipe a week, and then fill the rest of the days with “standards.” At my house, the repeat guests are generally quesadillas, homemade pizza and even Mac n’ Cheese. And everyday doesn’t need its own meal. If a recipe will feed you/your family more than once, then you’ve got left-overs! Side note: When I was growing up, I never liked eating left-overs (sorry mom!); but now that I cook and buy all the groceries I love them. Side note over.
Once I’ve mapped out my week’s menu plan, I go through each of the recipes and write down the ingredients I don’t already have on my grocery list note pad (also a nifty magnetic pad). As a budgeter and generally busy person, I find myself picking meals with the least amount of “weird” ingredients and time spent over the stove. I then double-check the pantry for “staples” we are running low on, add those to the list. Then I’m ready to go to the store!
Easy as 1,2,3, right? Like my first budget tip (no cable bills, remember?), this one is take it or leave it. But try it out for a month! You’ve really got nothing to lose, other than those depressing, spend-all-your-money-on-food grocery trips.
Tomorrow is the end of this money-saving series, and I’ll be covering what is, quite possibly, the most important thing to remember as you’re getting serious about money: Cash is king.
What do you struggle most with, money-wise (or money-dumb, as it were)? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll tell you my solution to your money-saving woes.