Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Budgeting for Groceries, and Other Things

Budgeting on a whole is not a lot of fun for most people, but it's necessary if you want to get on top of your finances.

The first thing to do is really look at what you are spending.  For us this means looking at our bank statements.  All of our money is direct deposited into our checking account, so even any cash we carry will show up as a withdrawal. 

Write down all of your bills.  Figure out exactly how much you are spending for housing, utilities, internet, phones, TV, credit cards, etc.  Once you have this number, you will know how much money you need just for bills and then can figure out how much is left over for gas, groceries, fun, etc. 

What I like to do when I get this base number is divide it by the number of pay checks for the month.  Since we are paid weekly, this is either 4 or 5.  That way I can spread out the total bills over the whole month instead of having no pay left at the end of the month when the bulk of the bills are due.

Here's an example (the numbers are made up here, I'm not actually going to tell you what we owe and make):

Monthly bills: $1,700
Weeks: 4
1,700 / 4 = 425
Weekly take home pay: $700
Left each week: $275

There you go.  That $275 is what you have left each week for that month to buy anything else you need for your family.  For us those things are groceries, household stuff like toilet paper and shampoo, animal feed, and gas. 

Since I can't control the price of gas and we already do as little driving as possible, there isn't much we can do to change what we spend here.  The same goes for the animal feed. 

That leaves us with groceries and household stuff.  I generally lump my household stuff in with groceries, so from here on out when I say groceries know that I also mean things like personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies. 

The first thing to do is understand you are going to have to spend as little as possible until you have some extra cushion.  This is hard for most of us.  We like to think we need things that we can easily get by without.  It just takes some determination.

My trick is to use those things I hate to give up (like chocolate and Coke) as incentives.  If I manage to have $5 extra after grocery shopping, then I can treat myself to chocolate OR a Coke.  The rest gets carried over to help the next week's grocery shopping.

Second, look for the deals.  Most stores have their ads available online now.  Take an hour to look through the ads of the stores you like to shop at the most.  For me this is Meijer and Aldi.  For you it might be somewhere else. 

I also clip coupons.  I'm not blessed enough with the time or energy to be extreme with it like a couple of my friends (oh how I envy the deals they find sometimes), but I do better than some.  The key with coupons is to get them every week, organize them, and match them to the best sales for rock bottom prices.  This will take time and effort.  You also will have to give up brand loyalty sometimes.  But if you are serious about fixing your financial situation, you can deal with this.

Aldi does not accept coupons.  So the first thing I usually do is go through the  Meijer ad and see what I can get there are a great deal with my coupons.  Then I go through the Aldi ad and see what deals I can get there.  I then revisit my lists to be sure I have what I need to make actual meals.  You don't want to have a bunch of pasta and rice packs, but no meat or veggies. 

Lastly, I remind myself that giving up things I love (but don't need) is only temporary.  I have learned that I must keep my eye on the prize.  My family has too much debt.  We need to fix that. 

This is just a sample of the work I do to save on food.  This with making so much from scratch is enough that some weeks I only spend $60 on groceries for a family of five.  Keep in mind that we have a freezer full of homegrown meet at the moment, so if you are buying meat this number will likely be higher.

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