Probably the best place for me to start is in the kitchen. With a family of six and two of them in their teen growth spurt years, it seems like we are at the grocery store every other day! How to save money on groceries can almost be as complex as trying to find out the meaning of life. In fact, finding out the meaning of life might be a bit easier! After much research and reflecting back to our “college years”, I found I need to go back to the basics:
1. Create a Budget
2. Meal Planning
3. Using Coupons
Budgets are a necessary evil. No one likes to use them but if you’ve ever tried then you know that all the work is on the front end. After you’ve hemmed and hawed and hashed out the line items and dollar amounts, it is easier the next month. At a glance, you can see where you’ve overspent and where you’ve saved to make adjustments.
Create a food budget. The same principle applies as with a larger household budget.
1. Look at your current grocery store receipts. Write down the categories of foods that you buy: Snacks, breakfast foods, dinner meal items, beverages, prepared foods, recurring food needs (milk, bread, eggs and the like). Calculate roughly where you are spending the most money.
2. How many times do you visit the grocery store? Your receipt tapes will tell you that as well. It is a fact that the more you visit the store on a monthly basis, the more money you will spend. This is not just because you are making another trip. If you go for one or two things, you will inevitably come out with five or six. This doesn’t take into account the gas spent driving to the store and back. Figure out how much you need to make it with one or two grocery trips a month. You may have to return for frequently used items that you can’t buy in bulk.
3. Decide how you can trim those categories of spending. For instance, if you are spending 50 dollars on snacks each month, do you need to? A bag of chips is almost 50 percent air due to the manufacturing process. You are paying 4 dollars for half a bag of chips. Besides that, eating lots of salty or sweet processed foods are not exactly healthy for you or your family. If the kids are complaining, trim the snack budget and choose portioned sized bags of snacks and healthier snacks to help wean them off of their processed snacks for good.
How many times have you walked into the house and had no idea what you were going to cook? If you are a busy mom, that is not anything new. With kids, career, recitals, community activities and the rest of it, it is easy to see where dinner would fall through the cracks.
Don’t worry; there is a fix for this. It is called meal planning. Online, there are meal menus that you can purchase from meal planning services that fit your family’s nutritional requirements. All you do is use the included grocery list to shop once a week for all of your meals. Then, follow the recipes. This is also great if you are trying to lose weight! You will not need to worry about being tempted if you stick to a meal plan.
Since we are in the business of saving money, this is only one option. You know your family. You can accomplish the same thing by polling your family to see what types of food they like the best. If you use your own recipes, you can be your own meal planning service. Here are some pointers.
* Create menu cards – This makes it easier to access the list of ingredients for each meal you are planning. Keep them in a card file with dividers to designate Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Dessert.
* Use the cards to create your grocery list. You can find free printable blank shopping lists on the internet for your convenience.
Make a List
You will be inundated with lists, but moms know how to keep them all together in a safe place. This list we are talking about is an inventory of your kitchen cabinets and the pantry. You are looking to record the names of the items that you use the most. Be sure to include your staple items that can be used to whip up any meal in a jiffy:
* Flour (white and wheat)
* Yeast (if you like to make your own bread. A new idea?)
* Rice (wild, white and brown)
* Pasta (macaroni, penne, shells, etc. whole wheat, multigrain and white if you prefer)
* Broth (chicken, beef, vegetable)
* Cream soups (chicken, mushroom, celery)
* Condiments (salt, pepper, seasoned salt, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning)
You may have more staples depending again on your family’s eating habits. This list is also going to be used for another purpose so you might want to use a mini one subject notebook. When you eventually reach the store (and you will), use this list to record the prices for each item at the store where you shop for them. It is tedious at first, but you’ll be thankful later when you are comparing prices in-store circulars.
I used to be afraid of couponing, but I found a great book: “Confessions of a Couponer”, written by my friend Cara that made it clear and inspired me to try. Coupons are like money in a colorful form. The manufacturer gets a break when you use them so why not? It can’t hurt. Even saving five dollars on your bill is better than paying full price especially for items that you use regularly. Think of all the money that has already been thrown away each time you throw them away from the Sunday newspaper.
Stay tuned for more tips on how to save money and use coupons this week!