"$30 a week in groceries? That's impossible!"
I cannot tell you how much I've heard this statement in the past month. Even after posting 4 weeks of my journey in the budget, explaining what we purchased and how we did it, coworkers and friends still seem to be in denial. But it is the truth...It may not be exactly $30 each week, but for the past 30 days my grocery bills added up to $138.56, an average of $5.61 for the two of us to eat each day. Two weeks' bills were very close to $30, the other 2 were closer to $40...but regardless, we saved a lot of money.
When Andrew and I went on this budget to save for a house down payment, I thought we'd be eating rice and beans most nights. I was so wrong! With the right planning, we haven't had to sacrifice quality just to save money. Actually, we have already met our goal for a house down payment, but we have no plans of stopping the budget. Why would we? I now have all my meals planned out and go grocery shopping once a week. The amount of money and time I'm saving is too good not to keep going!
So I'd like to share what I've learned to help you start your goal of eating on a budget. Whether its cutting back just a little bit or going as extreme as I have, these 6 "rules" will help keep you on track so you can go from wondering where all your money went to being proud leaving the grocery store.
Always, Always Meal Plan
Never go to the store without a list, a plan, or any sort of direction. I will admit that in the first 4 weeks of my $30 budget, 2 of them I went to the store without a clear-cut plan. The outcome? A bill that cost me $40, not $30. Always plan your week's meals ahead of time. You may use my schedules or come up with your own, but here are the pointers for really making it work:
- Plan on buying only 1 type of meat to stretch out between at least 3 meals. My staples are a whole chicken, pork shoulder, and beef chuck. This ensures you won't spend an excessive amount of money on meat for the week which is usually the most expensive component on your shopping list.
- After the 3 meals of meat, plan on doing at least 1 salad entree and 1 pasta dish. Both of these shouldn't add many expenses to your bill.
- Plan on workday lunches to be leftovers from previous nights' dinners. Or, make a simple pasta salad. From experience, I suggest not purchasing food for sandwiches. A half pound of lunch meat is at least $5 for less than a week's worth of meals...its just too expensive if you are sticking to a low budget.
Stop Buying Snacks
Have a meal plan and stick to it. And don't put snacks into that meal plan. No more random purchases of chips, cookies, and other unsubstantial foods. Don't tempt yourself by putting these items in your shopping cart. If you really need some sort of "snack", you can easily make your own by buying raw ingredients. My favorite snacking item these days is homemade hummus and carrots. Now, I will confess that I will buy a bag of potato chips now and then just to have to accompany my lunches, but in all reality I could just slice up a potato and fry it to save a few dollars. Just stay away from the typical snacks you don't need other than to literally "snack" on. This includes cookies--just make your own and it will REALLY feel like a treat!
Stop Buying Processed and Prepackaged Food
So this goes hand in hand with the previous statement but is so important, it deserves its own section. Stop buying processed and prepackaged food. Processed food is not only bad for you, its expensive because you are paying someone to do the work for you. So don't buy that jarred spaghetti sauce--buy simple, canned tomato sauce and add spices to make it your own. Don't buy salad dressing; find a great recipe on pinterest or concoct something yourself. Even boneless, skinless chicken breasts should be avoided--they are more expensive since someone had to make it convenient for you to cook with. Finally, please please please stop buying shredded cheese. Buy a block and shred as much as you need as you go.
Stop Buying Frozen Food
Another similar point is to stop buying frozen food. Thanks to Pinterest and my love of cooking things from scratch, I had naturally been avoiding the frozen food aisle for quite some time. Then I randomly needed a bag of frozen peas and carrots for a fried rice recipe on my meal plan, and realized I hadn't been to this section of the store in a long time. And then I looked around at what food surrounded me--just a ton of frozen dinners and side dishes for people that don't know how to cook. Save your money on these prepared foods. Some frozen foods can be great for your budget--like that $1 bag of peas and carrots I bought. But for the majority of frozen meals, you're paying extra just for the convenience of it. And unfortunately this applies to ice cream too. Take the expensive ice cream off your shopping list and instead buy a $1 pint of heavy cream. Then you can make your own.
Stop Going Down Every Aisle
Okay, so we've gone over having a meal plan and a list. So naturally, if you don't need something down that cereal aisle, you shouldn't go down it, right? Its amazing how many of us still will. Don't tempt yourself with foods you don't need by avoiding every aisle possible. I'm pretty proud of myself for never going down the chip and cookie aisle or the frozen foods section. And I get out of the grocery store pretty quickly which is always a bonus. If you are in the habit of browsing the aisles because that's what you do each week, break that habit!
Only Grocery Shop Once a Week
Before the days of budgeting, I was a culprit of stopping off at the grocery store at least every other day after work. I'd get all excited about a recipe I discovered and disregarded the wonderful amount of food I had in the kitchen from previous shopping trips. One week I realized I had spent over $100 in groceries. Woops! It was time to stop. Now that I'm on this budget, I only go to the store after I've made at least 7 dinners for us. If I forgot to buy an ingredient for a recipe I planned, I just have to find something else to make with the ingredients I do have. Applying this rule to your plan is possibly the most effective way you can save money, I promise, because it will force you to find meals out of your existing pantry items.
So bottom line: pay attention to the foods in your pantry when you plan your meals for the week. Go to the store with a list of what you need and stick to it. Try not to make recipes that call for processed foods. And don't go down any aisles you don't need to. Good luck on your budgeting journey and comment if you've got any other rules you go by at the grocery store!
To see the first 4 weeks of my $30 grocery budget goal: