Spending Diary: 13 Ways I Stick to My Grocery Budget
I don't enter any grocery store without a list. Sticking to a list is hard -- especially with two youngsters begging for everything they see. To avoid a grocery store meltdown over wants vs. needs, I give my kids choices. When looking at cereals, for instance, I let them choose between two options. I just make sure that each is cheap or on sale and I'm okay with whichever they pick. I do this for fruit snack flavors, types of crackers, yogurt varieties, etc. This makes them feel as though they're getting what they want, yet the items are already on my list.
One thing that makes it easier to make a list and stick to it: a weekly meal plan. If I know what we'll be having for dinner each night, creating a list takes very little extra effort. (Breakfast and lunch during the week are simple affairs, so I don't need a meal plan for those.)
In our weekly meal plan, I always include one dinner without meat. If our budget is tight for the month, or I exceeded the grocery budget the week before, I'll throw in a second meatless dinner to save some cash. Often we have vegetable omelets, homemade veggie pizza, or bean burritos. During the summer, vegetable pasta salad and caprese salad with crusty bread are rotated in. If we're really feeling lazy, sometimes we have grilled cheese and soup. I always make sure everyone feels satisfied on these nights by setting out extra protein, such as apple slices with peanut butter or cottage cheese and sliced fruit.
No matter where I'm shopping, I look for the weekly sales list first. Kroger places weekly circulars at the store entrance, while the local Whole Foods and Trader Joe's use chalkboards. This information lets me know immediately what's on sale so I can check it against my list, grab it, and move on.
This may be the single most important thing I've started doing: We never -- I repeat, never -- set foot in the store anytime during the week except on grocery day. That means buying enough staples to get us through the week and avoid repeat visits. I know if we break this rule we will surpass our grocery budget, because if we go to the store, we always think we need (really, want) something else besides what we went in to buy.
Remember that make-a-list-and-stick-to-it tip from earlier? Sure, stuff makes it into our cart that wasn't on the list. My solution to this is the way I check out: I unload the cart first with the things on our list. After the cashier rings up those items, I ask for the total. If we're under budget, I pick a few items that weren't on the list and add them to the haul. An occasional splurge is fine, so long as we're not overspending.