I have the privilege of being around people of vastly different income levels. I call it a privilege because it helps me keep life in perspective. I see people who survive on much less than me and I marvel in their ability to budget their income perfectly; I am far from perfection.
The families that have it together, maintain a budget, and still remain positive and happy, those are the ones that are inspiring, despite their dwindling bank account.
I was speaking with a young woman about her eating habits just the other day, and she said something that struck me. The first thing I zoned in on was her 3 diet cola/day habit. She said it’s gone down, that it had been more. I was starting to make my way into that conversation when it turned into vegetable and fruit intake, which was unfortunately low.
She told me that fruits and vegetables are too expensive and that she just can’t afford to get them in abundance. I remember pausing for a minute and then carefully brining up the subject of moving around some money in her food budget. Perhaps, she didn’t realize that her ~$40/month habit could be better spent on healthier food.
That really made me think about my own food budget and the strategies I take when I want to save a buck or two on the grocery bill. Produce can get expensive and everyone has already heard the strategies about buying produce in season and that makes it cheaper and never buy pre-cut produce, you’re wasting money. I’m not going to speak to the tried and true, already been done, methods, but what I really do.
Here are my top 5 budgeting strategies:
1. Prioritize the grocery list. I know that the majority of my grocery bill is going to be produce, so I prioritize. I buy what’s on sale. If it’s too expensive that day, I move right along and get something else. The prices of produce fluctuate, so if fresh spinach is too expensive, head on over to the freezer section and pick up a box of the frozen.
2. I plan my meals around the produce I buy. This isn’t going to work for everyone, but it works for me and if it works for me, it just might work for someone else. More often than not, I don’t plan my meals at home and then make a list for the store. I plan my meals when I get home based off of what I have. It takes a bit of creativity, but it can be fun. Make a grocery list for the staples, but leave the produce buying to fate.
3. Set personal limits on how much you will spend on an item. There have been many days that I really wanted avocados, but paying $2/each is not something I’m willing to do. I also won’t pay more than $2.50 for a box of cereal (and I am super picky about cereal, as you might imagine). These are my limits. I know how comfortable I am with how much each item costs. If I waiver for too many expensive cost increases, then the grocery bill reflects that and it’s not pretty. If something is too expensive, find a more, and equally as healthy, suitable alternative.
4. Make meals with versatility. That can mean many different things. For me, it means that if I am cooking chicken, I am going to make stock, or I am going to make enough chicken for another meal. It also means, making a little more and taking leftovers for my lunch the next day. There is so much food waste in America and we are throwing money in the trash can each time we throw food away. I am totally guilty of this, but living in Germany (with our tiny trash can that only gets picked up every two weeks) has disciplined me a little more with this.
5. Don’t be afraid to use a coupon. I will never be a master couponer, but I do love a good coupon. Use the coupon websites and check them right before you go shopping. Only print out the coupons for the products that you were going to buy anyway. Stay away from the “oh, there’s a coupon for it, so I’ll try it” mentality. Unless it’s free, it may not be worth it. My go-to coupons are always for the non-food items, toothpaste, laundry detergent, trash bags. It’s nice to save a buck on necessities.
Everyone can use a good budging strategy now and then, so share your strategies with someone and we’ll all benefit!