3 Tips That Will Truly Help You to Manage Your Grocery Budget Better
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3 Tips That Will Truly Help You to Manage Your Grocery Budget Better

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Once upon a time, there was this girl who was very careful with her budget. So careful that her husband trusted her implicitly, and she carefully maintained her grocery budget with cash each month, so as not to overspend. She was so insistent that this method worked, she even wrote profusely on the topic.

This worked well for several years. Then this girl discovered that upon returning home from an overseas trip, she was pregnant with her 4th child. Then two homestay students arrived, fatigue and nausea ensued, and general chaos was reigning in most areas of her life as she sought to keep up with everything. Foolishly, one of the things she dropped was her careful cash management system. And didn’t pick it up again for 4 months.

Until this month. After being informed by her ever-loving husband that she had gone over budget for 4 months in a row, particularly so this past month, she has learned her lesson well. Her wallet once again contains cash and she has a written list, detailing what she has spent and what she intends to spend and the balance of her budget.

If she sticks to the plan, she and her grocery budget may just live happily ever after.

3 Tips That Will Really, Truly Help You to Stick to a Budget

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Image by Images of Money

1. Use cash.

I can’t say it strongly enough. Cash is tangible, it hurts to pass it over to the cashier, it’s beyond embarrassing to get to the till and realize you don’t have enough, and when it’s gone, baby it’s gone.

Even if your family does the rest of your budget online (as we primarily do, through debit cards, online payments and a budgeting software system), make your grocery budget cash!

Just go to the bank at the beginning of each month and take out what you’ve got budgeted for that entire month (usually I leave about $25 in the bank, just to cover any small trips my husband might do to grab something random, because otherwise I tend to overlook those and go slightly over budget). Use your choice of a special cash wallet, a basic envelope or baggies system, and divy it up as you prefer (by the week, or kept whole).

For those who are really, really adamant about not using cash, I suppose you could use a debit card and keep a meticulous record of each and every purchase you make, which you have with you ever time you go to shop. It’s not ideal, though, in my experience.

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Image by Heather McCall

2. Before you spend any of it, determine how that money will be spent.

At the beginning of the month, after I make my first meal plan, I like to sit down and determine what I will spend where, and how much is left for remaining purchases. For example, here’s my money breakdown this month:

Budgeted Amount: $400

*Note that it would have been $450, but my husband had already spent $30 the day that I wrote up this budget buying raw milk and cheese, and I’m leaving $20 in the bank account for unaccounted for purchases.*

Azure Standard Natural Foods Co-op order: $170

I make this order monthly, and it usually varies between $80-$180, depending on what we need.

Extra Foods (local grocery store): $88

I had budgeted to spend about $90 before I went, based on the fact that this store gives a 15% discount the first Sunday/Monday of every new month if you spend $100 or more. I brought a calculator and tracked exactly what I bought, and the total came to $103 and then $88 after the $15 discount!

Ennis Meats: $60

This is my meat/deli store out in the country, where I purchase grass fed and free-range meat products, including nitrate-free sausages and that type of thing. I had planned on spending $40-$50, but they had cases of the turkey breakfast sausage we like for a good deal, so I splurged and bought one, but I did so knowing that my budget could handle it.

We had already started the month with some vegetables, and a ton of free local apples and pears (from gleaning in the park, and a friend’s yard), so I skipped the produce store for now. We also already have a freezer full of grass-fed beef purchased earlier this summer, plus 11 pastured chickens that I bought off my mom last month.

Budgeted money remaining: $90

I won’t shop this week but will try to use up everything that I have. After that, I will do a big produce shop for the rest of the month (probably $35-$40, and I might spend another $20-30 on a case of pears for canning). The produce will last because I use up those things that go bad faster first, saving the hardy fruits and vegetables for later, plus I’m using something called a Blu Apple, which helps to keep produce fresh for longer, reducing waste and trips to the store.

The rest will go towards a smaller shop at my local store for things that we run out of or need to fill in the ingredients list for my meal plans. This will include fresh eggs, I’m sure and a few other random grocery items (and if anyone knows a great source of pastured eggs for a decent price in the Fraser Valley, I’d love to know it- I lost my source of eggs this winter).

If I have extra (which is rare, but it happens sometimes), I will save it up towards future meat purchases. Otherwise, I try to set aside meat money at the beginning of the month, except this month when I was already buying meat and needed a large co-op order.

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Image by ilovebutter

3. Go with a detailed list.

Not just a list like this:

  • chicken
  • broccoli
  • pasta
  • milk

But a list like this:

  • 1 large whole, free-range chicken ($3.99 per lb, so approx. $15-$20 depending on size)
  • 2 large heads broccoli ($3)
  • 4 packages brown rice pasta ($12)
  • 4 half-gallons raw milk ($20)

Now, you don’t have to estimate the prices like I do (and yes, those are estimations, but they’re very educated guesses because I pay attention to prices). I realize it adds time to your planning. I’ve come to feel that it’s worthwhile, however, because it allows me to guesstimate a ballpark figure of how much I will spend at each store on each trip.

If I’m going to hit up 3 stores while I’m out, I will have a list that tells me I expect to spend:

  • $90 at Extra Foods
  • $40-50 at Ennis Meats
  • $35 at 2 EE’s (my produce market/farm)

This way, I can pay attention to how things are adding up as they enter my cart. I will know if I’m overspending before I even get to the counter and I can make a decision to remove something if necessary. Or, if I have underspent at 1 or 2 stores by the time I get to the produce market, I might be able to splurge and stock up on a sale on organic potatoes, or a discounted case of tomatoes to turn into sauce, or simply on an expensive veggie or fruit that we love but rarely buy.

Not only will a list like this help you to be very cognizant of the money that you are spending (before you even hand it over), but it will keep you on track with your purchases. If fresh salmon or mandarin oranges or fair trade chocolate weren’t on your list, then unless you know you have the extra room in the budget, you’ll rethink them.

You’ll also get through the store faster, particularly if you use a list that groups like items together. The list I use is divided by baking items, diary, produce, cleaning, toiletry, canned goods, etc. and it really does help to streamline my time in the store. Having 3 young children who get antsy pretty quickly while shopping, this is invaluable.

It really does work.

This month, for the first time in 4 months, I am on track to finish right on budget, with plenty of food stocked up in the freezer and pantry to go into next month. Can I just tell you that it feels really good?

I know that managing your budget like this requires a bit more thought, more time, more effort.

However, if keeping your food expenses affordable and finding ways to shave down your budget are goals that you have, these techniques will ensure that you stay on track and move steadily towards those financial goals!

How do you manage your grocery budget? What practical things that you do make the biggest difference for you? If you’re struggling with the budget, which areas are hardest for you?

Top image by Editor B

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  1. These are geat tips! I started using cash about a year ago and that made a huge difference. I’ve always done the detailed lists with price estimates and love it! Being a number person has definately helped me at the grocery store too, I can typically keep a running total in my head so I know when I have to put something back, or can pick up a little something extra. One tip that I would add is never go shopping hungry! I’ve spent so much extra just because I skipped on having a snack before going to the store. This month, I’ll have to track how we’re spending our budget so I can start implenting step two. Thanks for the great article!

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Cash is really the way to go – it’s what we use for all our purchases, except gas and the bills that can be paid online.
    It’s a huge relief to me to KNOW how much I have – no wondering involved. I open my envelopes and there the cash is.
    It’s like Dave Ramsey says – you’re intimate with your money. It’s Uncle Ben instead of swiping a card. 🙂

  3. Staying within budget is so hard for us. I am coming off a $250.00/month budget (eating non-real food) to $450+ and I can’t keep it under control. I think I struggle most with the extra purchases throughout the month (i typically shop monthly) such as fresh produce and my husbands “work drinks” (Gatorade). I can’t convince him that water is F_R_E_E and healthier. I like your tip on writing down approx cost per store and breaking out 1-whole chicken, etc. I tend to lean toward “chicken, milk, lettuce” kinda lists.

    1. @Danielle, My husband has his preferences too. Instead of trying to convince him to stop, I sit down with our budget and ask him what to cut out so we can afford everything. I’ve found it helps, and he doesn’t feel like I’m beign too pushy.

    2. @Danielle, Can you pre-plan in the beginning of the month for those drink purchases for your husband? Just setting it aside from the start and planning for the remaining money might help a lot. I would also see if you can get him to drink something like Emergen-C instead. There are lots of great flavors and it has a similar taste to a sports drink, but less sugar, dyes, etc. and vitamins to boot. If you buy a case with 30 (or something like that) packets, it’s much more cost effective.

  4. We are a family of 5 who currently spends about $250/week on real, natural, organic food. We buy locally when possible and really focus on eating whole foods. How do you keep your budget to $450/month for a family of 5? Do you do your shopping once a month and then just fill in extra items as needed? I go every week, so maybe that’s part of my problem with spending so much money. I’d love to cut our food budget down to $450/month! Any tips would be greatly appreciated!!!

    1. @Christina Y, I’m not Stephanie but I do know that every family its going to look different because every family has different eaters (amounts, even between men or women or children of the same age…for example my husband eats A LOT more than most men but he bikes a long distance to work most days), different allergies (or none), and most importantly, I think…different places that they live. Food prices, and deals that you can find, differ GREATLY from area to area. And one family that might spend a certain amount that sounds less on food, spends more on housing, or on gas, or heating, etc. etc. we all have to work with where God has us. The family he has given us, and the place we have been given to live. As we work on it, there are things we CAN change eg. find different deals around town etc. but there are some things we cannot change. I know for example that my family’s budget is higher than Stephanie’s for food, but MUCH less for housing since I’ve had this conversation with her before. Its important to do what we can to eat well and lower our budget but we must keep these types of things in mind. I hope that helps. Also, I know Stephanie has other posts on this topic if you search her site.

    2. @Christina Y, Actually, that’s really a big part of my strategy. I find that if I shop more frequently, like weekly, I spend much more. I just end up buying more things that would be nice, but maybe aren’t truly necessary. When I do big shops once a month, and then only a fill-in-the-gaps shop halfway through the month, I’m forced to work with what I have. It’s amazing what you can come up with, and how much more frugal your food and meal choices get, when you know you won’t be running out to the store in the next few days. That aspect of how I shop alone probably saves me at least $100 or more per month. That is part of the reason that I was going over budget in the summer- because I was allowing myself to do smaller shopping trips more frequently and I didn’t have the bigger picture view of my overall budget!

  5. Hi there. I am relatively new to this blog and am really enjoying it. I love these tips, but am really at a loss for how to acomplish this! We are a family of 5, and I easily spend $200-$250 a WEEK at the grocery. Unfortunatly we live in an area that does not have the option of getting “local” food. The nearest farmers market is about 30 min away. So most of my shopping is done at the local regular grocery store. We do have a meat market but their prices are more than the grocery store and I cant afford it. We have no place to buy raw milk or eggs or cheese, and I do the best I can with some organic options at the grocery (staying away from processed packaged food). I usually buy organic milk, eggs, chicken. Fruits and veg. from the produce section (some organic, some not) fresh bread from the bakery, beef (organic when I can afford it- but we definatly dont have grass fed anywhere locally), oatmeal, coffee, tea, organic flax seed crackers, and the occasional frozen yogurt. I just feel like I am spending so much more than you are on food that is a lower quality. And I definatly shop every week, probably twice a week, because we live week to week financially, and I would never have enough money up front to shop for a whole month. Any tips on how to improove what I am doing, or start from the very beginning (when grass fed and raw milk and that sort of thing are just not available). Budgeting just seems so “perfect world” for me. In my reality, it seems that I am constantly running up to the store and in a panic saying a prayer that the little money I have will buy the lots of items that we need.

    1. @Dani, I can totally understand where you’re coming from. We haven’t always been able to do this either, and although things are certainly still more expensive where I live than those who live in farming communities or in the midwest (for example), I know that I am blessed with decent prices.

      I think that the foods you are buying sound very good considering the lack of options that you have found. You’re buying whole foods as much as you can, that’s key. A few things that might help you are to make some of the more expensive items, like whole grain breads or yogurt. Those can be budget killers for me, too, but making them myself isn’t really that difficult and does save a lot of money.

      As far as not being able to spend much up front because of a fluctuating income, I would consider trying to do something like an eat-from-the-pantry-and-freezer week (or several weeks, as long as you could sustain it). Eat a lot of beans and lentils and rice, use up absolutely every random thing that you have. Know that you won’t get to eat your favorite meals for those weeks, but you’ll still eat. In the meantime, save up any extra cash that you would have used for grocery shopping. Use this to begin to stock up on bulk foods or better deals in the beginning of the month, with a plan for how you will use those foods specifically in your menus.

      It’s hard trying to get out of that week-to-week place and to shop with several weeks or a whole month in mind. When I first began to do this, I would just buy a couple of larger bulk items each month, with the meager bits of extra money that I had, and make do with a few cheaper meals in order to make it work. Slowly but surely, I began to have more of a pantry and freezer stock, with things bought at better prices, and that was when some of the strain began to lift from my budget.

      And I just want to encourage you that it sounds like you are truly trying to serve your family and do the very best you can, which is really all that any of us can do. It sounds like you are working hard to feed them real food, which I applaud. 🙂

  6. Thank you for these tips! I am going to try estimating the costs of everything this week and see what effect that has. We currently budget about $600 on groceries/month which is a real improvement from the $800-900/month we were spending at this time last year! However, I would still like to bring it down a bit more, and I think this will help. Thanks again!

  7. Thank you for your honesty. We all slip up sometimes in our efforts to manage our food budgets. It’s inspiring to read about others that pick themselves up and try again.

    Great tips, and I agree that cash is the way to go! I like to write down my prices before I shop, as well. It’s fun to try to get under my goals, but mostly it keeps me sane knowing that I’ll have the money for the food we need.

  8. What has been hardest for me has been the pregnancy as well. I was throwing up so much I couldn’t easily go to the store, and even looking at flyers made my nausea worse. So since my husband had time off work, he took over the shopping for the worst months for me, and is still doing it now. However he is careful with our money as well and great with knowing what to get/what not etc. we certainly have gone over some over the past few months, mainly due to having to buy things I could actually keep down. Now things are better as I am able to eat normally again (SO thankful!!!) But pregnancy sure does make things difficult.

    One thing that helps me a lot is to look at what is kicking around the fridge/freezer/pantry and make sure I use those things up. Sometimes its tempting to not use them and buy more things instead.

    Over a year ago I did try the cash system but it didn’t work well for me. I temporarily lost some of the money causing me some panic, and I was overall really stressed about having that issue of losing it. But this is coming from someone who HAS lost her wallet 4 times, and some of the money one other time. So maybe that’s it. I can totally see how its better to use cash. No question about it. But it isn’t going to work for me right now, so we have to be extra extra careful about keeping track. And yes sometimes it does not work out well, like during pregnancy.

    The other two tips are also things that we do and the most helpful is definately a detailed list. I must add too that menu planning is essential for all of this to work. Without a plan, its harder not to run to the store just for a few things here and there and it adds up. Normally I do not do that at all and its my rule. But some seasons of life I think are more crazy than others.

    1. @Nola, I just wanted to agree that it really is hard during early pregnancy. That was definitely what kicked off my months of poor spending, and I had to really force myself to get back to the careful planning when I felt better. I think sometimes there are just seasons where we can’t do everything as we think it should be done, and that just has to be ok!

  9. These tips are all well and good, but you only include what you consume as food. How do you plan and how much do you budget for personal and household items? Is that a separate budget or done only periodically? I find, too, that supplements and herbs/medicines tend to put me over the top. How does one plan for illness or is there a separate fund for those items, too? Thanks so much.

    1. @Nance, I plan them separately in our monthly budget. Every month I set aside $40 for unexpected illnesses or supplements that we may need to re-stock on.

      I make my own household cleaners and the main ingredient I have to buy each month is the vinegar, so I already account for that. Before planning our monthly budget I try to do a quick inventory of what we have so I know to adjust. Of course that doesn’t always happen, and those months we go over budget having to pick more essential oils, castille soap, etc.

    2. @Nance, We do purchase personal and household items out of the money. They are primarily bought through the co-op, or some of them might be included in the local grocery store purchases. I do a lot of things like making our own items, keeping what we use very simple and minimal, buying in bulk, etc.

      But, I don’t include supplements or very many things like herbs in the regular budget. Those things are separate and go under our medical expenses or our miscellaneous budget. We just have to carefully evaluate those things as we need them or as I have a good opportunity to stock up on something at a good price (like going in on a herb order with friends or family).

  10. I too, found that cash works very well, but my husband was a little resistant to me carrying $400-$500 in my wallet. So instead, I opened a separate checking account (free, of course), specifically for groceries. Every two weeks an automatic transfer occurs from our main checking into the grocery account, for which I carry a debit card for. This has worked out great for us.

    1. @Deb H, That is a really good idea! Carrying cash would probably not work for me but a special checking account for groceries is definitely something to consider. Hmm…

  11. Thanks so much for the great tips and ideas! We use some of them, but there is always room for improvement.
    I would also be interested in your answer to Nance’s question above, on how household items and supplements fits into your budget.
    Thank you again for sharing your experience!

  12. Thanks for the reminder/encouragement about the cash system. I’m really going to have to get back to that. What has helped me lower my monthly spending is just going to the store less. With fall here and homeschooling, activities, field trips, etc., I just don’t have the time anyway! So I’ve been doing one GIANT trip a month to pick up the pantry staples, frozen meats and veggies and such and then giving myself a weekly allowance for extra milk and fresh produce throughout the month. Its so nice to sit down to plan my weekly meals and know that there are beans, rice, chicken, and some veggies already there to work with.

  13. I sometimes use cash (but I admit it’s so I can round up and use the change to save up to buy something fun….). But I still use an envelope system.

    I use a webapp and android app called EEBA (www.eebacanhelp.com) that is envelope budgeting, but you can use debit or cash (or credit, but we don’t do credit cards). I have a premium account with them that allows me to reconcile with my bank accounts. As soon as I spend money, I enter it into my phone on EEBA and I know how much is in my grocery envelope or gas envelope or whatever. It allows me to enter what account I used to purchase items (my cash or my checking account) and then you can see the totals for each account. We’ve used it for 6 months now and love it.

    Using the envelope system has helped us so much. It’s motivating to see how low I can get the grocery envelope so I can roll the extra money into another envelope for extras or to save for a goal.

  14. (Sorry, it’s a bit off-topic, but it really hit hoem for me reading your grocery shopping tips)

    I really wondered what was wrong with me when it came to the cash vs. debit thing. It seemed like EVERYBODY agrees that spending cash hurts and paying with plastic just hides the pain.

    That has never been the case with me. Cash feels like toy money, I feel the hit when I swipe my card because I have a mental tally of what’s left in the account. Grocery shopping with cash is always a disaster for me.

    Interestingly, a few years ago, I watched an episode of “Til Debt Do Us Part”. it’s a Canadian personal finance show. Normally, Gail (the host) keeps everybody on a strict cash budget. But for one episode, one with a young couple living on one regular salary and one tips-based salary, she actually advised using debit. The girlw ith a tips-based salary reacted like I do with cash, treating it like free money, rather than as a substantial household contribution.

    So now I wonder if there’s an age-based dimension to it. For those of us who were raised with computers and cellphones and cards, have the dynamics changed?

    1. @Kate, That’s so interesting! I do wonder if those who are more technologically inclined would feel similarly to how you feel?

      It’s funny, but although I run a website, I am actually the least techie person. I can barely use my iPhone, always have to ask my hubby for help with electronic devices, and hire out my coding/technical web work whenever possible. I don’t even like using online budgeting or planning systems, and definitely prefer my meal planning, budgeting, weekly calendar, to-do list, etc. all to be on paper.

      I’m curious if anyone else feels this way?

      And it should go without saying, but if this is the way that you are… don’t use cash. Use debit, in a very well-managed, well-recorded way so that you know exactly what you are spending and how much is left. I bet that would work much better for someone like you, even if it’s a disaster for me. 🙂

  15. I do have a good source for pastured eggs in the lower mainland, although you may not like the price! It does include delivery though (biweekly), and we’ve been very happy with this system thus far. Please feel free to email me if interested! 🙂

    1. @Jana, I’m unfortunately trained to want to buy cheap eggs, because I was previously buying seconds (imperfect) eggs off an organic farmer that our family knew. Anything beyond $3 or $3.50 per dozen starts to sound really pricey to me. I might have to just deal with it and figure out a way to pay more, but for now, I’m trying really hard not to!

      1. @Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home,

        I typically buy mine from Azure (but they’ve been out the last two months!) @ $9.10 for two dozen. Which is more than $3-3.50 a dozen, but less than $6.99 (for 1/2 a dozen!!!) from my local health food store. Azure’s last at least 6 weeks or longer so I don’t worry about buying them more than once a month.

    1. @Marcia, I’d say a good place to begin is to simply track what you spend for a month or two. Get a feel for how much you’re already putting out, and then put that into the context of your overal budget. Is it higher than you want to be spending? On the lower side than you expected? For us, we work somewhat with what seems like a feasible amount based on how much food we need (and the quality we want to buy) then look at our budget to see if we can spend that much. Once the budget starts getting really tight (as the food prices rise, as our kids get older, etc.) , then we reassess our budget to see if we can bump the grocery budget up a bit to accomodate the need.

  16. Wow, thank you so much for sharing these tips. We are blowing beyond our grocery budget, and I am also very hungry and pregnant 🙂 I was aware of the cash system, but your suggestions for a DETAILED list, powerfully coupled with the meal planning, help me know how to make it really WORK effectively. Thank you for arming me with these great ideas!!

  17. Great post! We have been on a cash budget for 2 years and love it. It keeps us accountable to what we are spending, we are in control of it and not the other way around. I make a weekly trip to the grocery store and wish I could do a 1x a month trip. It is my goal to try this for a few months so I only have to worry about stocking up on milk and produce every week. We do not have a freezer, so meat for month could be an issue. We want to buy a freezer and then invest in 1/2 cow and 1/2 pig so we have meet for a year, but not in our budget right now! I just hate buying the high priced grass feed beef at the grocery store and there are not any other options in our area:(

  18. Good reminder. We are in a weird time right now, with getting through early pregnancy, and all of my meat purchases are done in bulk at various times of the year, so those are offset in our spreadsheets. Doing everything online actually has made this easier, I just enter receipts when I get home, and the spreadsheet tells me how bad the grocery budget is for that month. We’re at $350(ish) for a family of 4 – one of the 4 being the baby in utero who already demands that I eat a ton more!

    I know a lot of people just pinch their pennies on bulk order months, but being able to spread them out – at least according to the spreadsheet – makes my monthly buying a lot easier. It also means I stick to my plans for how long a bulk purchase should last. I set limits on the per lb price of many items, go to the store with my menu plan written down (so I can write down what I am buying each item for)and set a limit on how much money I can spend on produce each week. It really helps. Everything else I have a set amount that we can buy and use each month. There are certainly times when we feast on eggs and beans as we get toward the end though!

  19. This is great information, but I am still blown away that you can feed a family of 5 for $450/month. We are a family of 5, (kids re 6, 4, 2) and I can barely keep it @ $800/month. We just started using cash, but it still feels like we are going to be just barely making it – I don’t buy processed foods, but we do have dairy and gluten allergies. So, we major on fruits, veggies and lean meat (much of this is supplemented by wild game/hunting). What am I missing? How does your co-op work? What are tips on cutting/reducing/finding items in bulk or @ co-ops. We are trying to go mostly organic even though it is pricier. Any additional thoughts/tips would be greatly appreciated….

    1. @Mah-rya, We also have food sensitivities. My little girl is on a very strict dairy-free, gluten-free, everything-free diet (well, almost :). We also generally avoid wheat for the rest of our family because we are more sensitive to it, and we do buy some pricier alternatives.

      One of the biggest things is really that I buy in bulk through the co-op. If I had to buy spelt or kamut flour through a regular grocery or health food store, I would pay out the nose for those silly little 5 lb bags. I have a grain grinder and so I can buy 25 lbs of grain at once, storing it in a closet until I’m ready to grind it. Things like that make a HUGE difference. We also don’t eat meals that are heavy on the meat very often. Instead, I incorporate smaller amounts of meat into lots of meals, using a 1/2 lb of ground beef in a chili with lots of beans and bone broth, or a 1/3 of a large sausage to make a big veggie and potato soup. I also use ground beef a lot, bulking it up with other veggies, lentils, grains, etc. to make it stretch further, and try to make sure that we have bone broth at least once or twice a week to help stretch the animal protein further. Sitting down to a chicken thigh or breast with rice and veggies is a VERY rare thing for us.

      I do also let organic slide if I feel that I can trust a farmer or grower. I try to follow the dirty dozen and not worry as much about the other produce, especially if I can at least get it local and seasonal. I make so many things from scratch. And we don’t have much in the way of beverages (aside from some raw milk- but certainly not a glass at every meal or anything like that), water, herbal teas, and some fair-trade coffee. We also try to stick to leftovers, homemade yogurt or muffins, fruit or veggies, etc. for snacking.

      This is just a small explanation, but really my book explains it all much more! 🙂

      1. @Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home, I think the hardest for me right now is eggs. My daughter’s #1 food sensitivity is eggs, and I used to just make a quiche or breakfast for dinner, etc. if the grocery budget was running low. I can’t do that anymore, and it’s been a little frustrating. My hubby also doesn’t eat beans, but I am making some meals with meat for him and with beans for the rest of us.

  20. This is the kick in the pants I’ve needed! I, too, have in the past been a very budgeted person when it came to groceries. However, with a cross-country move that changed prices and my food sources, going off of WIC, adding another baby, and then health issues pushing us to the GAPS diet, I’ve pretty much been shopping without a budget. That = ouch!

    It’s still hard for me to know what is a reasonable budget for a GAPS diet…do you have tips? We were previously $400/mo also. I’m thinking $550 or so. My husband’s a lean guy, so he needs LOTS of protein.

  21. Interesting article. I live in Delta and we do almost all of our grocery shopping in Bellingham, which has reduced our $1400/month budget (no kidding! Family of five, trying to eat organic in the lower mainland…!) to $800-900/month. NOT $450! Anyway, I’m curious about your Azure Standard co-op — are you picking up in Blaine or do they deliver to Canada? Does you co-op need another member…??

  22. Great tips and comments! I really struggle with this area too. I have tried to keep a budget in the past and I became discouraged and just quit using it. I try to buy as much organic, natural foods as possible, but my husband is not on board with my desire to eat this way. He does not like homemade foods, preferring to eat out or buy processed foods. He does not eat leftovers. Many times I end up having to cook 2 different things for us. He will go to the grocery store and buy junk food and candy just about every week. I have become discouraged (especially since I am dealing with fatigue from pregnancy) and just feel like buying him food from fast food restaurants everyday. Any tips? suggestions?

  23. HELLO! I have to say I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. Have been budgetting groceries and just recently switched to using cash system (SO easy to overspend on debit card), You mentioned the food co-op and local country farm store where you are able to get organic, grass fed, free range prodcuts…. how would I go about finding out about if our area even has access to these things? I live in northern Illinois, close to WI. I have NO clude where to even begin. I also dont know of anyone locally who are even into these kinds of things. I have shopped locally at Trader Joe’s and local farmers markets but thats as close as I have been able to find. Do you have any posts/places to go that you would suggest? Suggestions, ideas, etc? THANK YOU FOR YOUR BLOG. I SOOO appreciate having this as a resource for a newbie like me! 🙂

    1. @kristen marie, A few good places to start looking for local sources of quality food near you is eatwild.com and localharvest.org. You can enter your zipcode and see all the farms, farmers markets, etc. near you. Good luck!

  24. I loved this post. After several years of winging it, I needed a change. Now I plan my meals out two weeks in advance, buy groceries with cash and always seem to have money leftover at the end of the month!

  25. Very nicely written. I too make a note of the prices of items in my grocery list before shopping and it helps me in guessing how much I will be spending on that trip. Its like writing down the expense on paper before actually spending it. We are two adults at home but our grocery bill reaches $400-$475 every month. Everything has become so expensive, and I am not even buying convenience items. But I try to save money in other areas like clothes, entertainment, etc.

  26. Stephanie, I loved the link you included with the story you wrote about your debt (you wrote it in 2008) and how you learned to be frugal! What a testimony!

    My husband and I are currently in the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class, and I am working on using cash more than our debit cards (We haven’t used credit cards since we got married, but I still don’t think twice as much about debit cards as I do cash.)

    I get a lot of our produce on the marked down racks at our local healthfood store (like Whole Foods but locally-owned with local produce, meat, etc.). Tonight, I went to the grocery store with just a few things and just a little money. I found 2 whole free-range/no antibiotic chickens marked almost half off as well as organic lettuce and herbs marked half off! Then, as I was checking out, a $5 off your order coupon spit out, and the cashier let me use if on my groceries! The Lord is so good to provide!!

  27. @Terri Whitaker, I’ve been researching the GAPS diet because my daughter has food sensitivities, but I am thinking we may have to save up and wait. Stephanie said (in another comment I left on another post she wrote) that she spent about 20% more with GAPS. My other thought is to just do GAPS with my daughter, but I am afraid she will not understand why my husband and I can eat rice, pasta, etc. when she can’t…

  28. This is such a great set of tips – just what I need because I’ve also been over budget for the last few months. I hadn’t come across number 3 before, so am going to give that a try.

  29. Hey ya’ll, I just wanted to provide some encouragement for those of you who think, “I could never go to the grocery store just one time a month.” As of right now I can’t either. My hubby and I are living overseas and do not have a car. So I go to the grocery store 2 or 3 times a week. We do use the cash system. It is great for us! I was a math major in college, so I love numbers, proportions, and all things budget 🙂 I have learned that you can go to the grocery store 3 times a week and not overspend (keep in mind that I have to carry everything home with me). I do have to stop in the store sometimes and pray for self-control 🙂 It was a bit of an adjustment the first few months we were here, but now it is not bad. You can do this! Find the system that works best for you and do it! Stephaine, thanks for being real and for the great tips! I love this blog and its community.

  30. Have you looked into the phone ap “Out of Milk”? It’s a grocery list/pantry list/to do list ap, but the awesome part is that it keeps track of prices! You put the price in for each item one time, and if the price changes it will keep a list of the historical prices. It also tracks tax and coupons, so when you make up your grocery list it will tell you exactly how much you are going to spend. So it’s a list, price book, calculator, everything. My grocery bills are so much more exact since using it, and if you keep your pantry list updated, you’ll also know what you have, so no question at the store if you need more oregano, or whatever. I’m not affiliated with them or anything, it has just helped my budgeting so much!

  31. Great set of tips. We ALWAYS overspend on food around here. I am horrible at budgeting and we constantly overbuy. I have tried meal plans but I do find them really hard to stick with :S I just never seem to have the time to either make everything or am never prepared…perhaps one day I will be!

  32. Those are great tips! I actually do most of them but I say that because I haven’t seen those around. I don’t actually do cash, but I will tell you why it works – I only shop once per pay period, and I budget each paycheck separately. So by the time payday hits, I’ve already scheduled any applicable bills to be paid and I track everything down to the penny. The grocery budget amount goes onto the grocery card (separate checking account) and then I go shopping a day or two later for everything I need for the next two weeks. For some reason, mentally it’s a lot easier for me to spend cash than it is to spend money with a card, probably because a stack of cash looks like a stack of cash, but a quick check of my online balance is kind of a solid reminder.

    But I think the biggest moneysavers are the fact that I only shop once every two weeks, and also what you said about make a DETAILED list. I do the same, and I divide it up by sections according to the route I go through my store, so I’m less likely to miss something. Makes it go quicker and I know I won’t get too much or too little of something that I need for a specific recipe. I do plan 2 weeks worth of meals at a time (again, something that is already done the day before we even get paid) so I have a pretty good idea of the exact amounts of ingredients that I need.

    The only other time I shop is when I have extra and the local produce stand is having a good sale… last week I picked up a 20lb box of apples for $5.95… can’t beat that, and I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.

  33. Pregnancy has definitely caused problems in the food budget! I wasn’t able to eat much for 7 months and now that I can I’m so pregnant and tired (baby is almost here) that I can’t cook much. We started to buy a lot of prepared foods since I couldn’t cook and my husband works full time. Things were definitely cheaper when I was making every meal from scratch, all our bread, tortillas, crackers, and always using dried rather than canned beans. I can’t wait to get back to it.

    Also, my husband seems to spend way more at the grocery store than I do. Part of the problem is that when I put “shredded mozzarella” on the list so we can have lasagna, he comes back with small bags of organic mozzarella which costs 4 times as much as the normal store brand bag because he really wants me and the baby to be healthy. It’s very sweet but not sustainable for us. I think I’ve talked him down to only buying milk and the dirty dozen organic by default. Also he is very sweet and often comes home with treats like chocolate milk or ice cream. Thoughtful but not something we need to spend grocery money on on a regular basis 🙂

    We are fortunate to have chickens and we eat a lot of eggs. I think meal planning will help (although it will have to wait until after the baby is born). I need to get better at using things up. For example I know we have a ton of bulgar in the freezer I got in bulk a year ago but we never eat it! I think grain salads will feature prominently in our future.

    1. @annie, Nus

      Just a tip for the bulgur, if you have access to a grain mill, you can make bulgur flour! It works great & you end up using slightly less because it’s so dense. 🙂

  34. These are great tips! I take a somewhat different approach. I plan my meals, and then order my groceries online from a local store that allows customers to pick up already-bagged groceries for a fee of $6. I have a disability, and my husband is a notorious over-spender, so the $6 is more than worth it! Plus, you can just search for the next item on your list, as opposed to walking the aisles and being tempted to impulse shop. You can see the total price as you add items, so staying with the budget is very easy. The store I use is Hy-Vee, but I’m sure there are others.

  35. I love the suggestion of eating through what you have for a couple of weeks to afford a larger bulk order. I have not been thrilled with the options at Costco, so I think online might be the wat to go. I want to reduce my packaging consumption and I feel like many bulk stores just package three items together and call it bulk. While I like the bulk section at Whole foods, it can add up very fast if you don’t pay attention to how much is on the scale.

  36. Thanks for motivating me again. We just had to replace our furnace (it was old and a safety and health hazard) and it was a painful bite out of our bank account – leading me to try and assess if we could cut costs to help rebuild those savings a little. I have been trying to transition to whole, organic foods but with just the two of us we can’t eat through most bulk produce before it goes bad. So I try to walk a fine line between getting good deals but keeping in mind that we can’t eat or store some larger quantities. We use a spreadsheet in Excel to budget from month to month but I’m always trying to tweak it. After the furnace fiasco I decided we’d try to go from $325 down to $200 this month (with $50 for non-food household items) and I’m still not sure if we’ll be able to stay under. I make our own whole wheat sandwich bread and try to avoid processed pre-packaged foods but it somehow still adds up – halfway through the month I’ve spend about $130 already…I do use debit instead of cash, but meticulously track what I’m spending and go through the receipts to breakdown the costs when I enter it in the spreadsheet. I do a weekly meal plan from which I make the grocery list after checking what we have in the pantry and freezer, but I should probably try to move to a 2-week shopping plan and see if that is helpful. I like your method of detailed lists though – if I’m vague I tend to pick up an item or two that wasn’t originally on the list. I also agree with a previous commenter that shopping when you are hungry is a budget disaster waiting to happen!

  37. Hi Stephanie. Have you ever shared what you buy at Azure? I often wonder if there’s other things I could be getting there and just don’t think about.

  38. Another really helpful tip is to keep a food diary. Make a list of the price of the products you buy, and then review it over time. Sometimes the price of something gradually creeps up without you noticing, and this allows you to compare prices across different shops etc easily, or swap to a cheaper alternative.

  39. I would also really love to hear what you order at Azure Standard, I’m trying to decide if I should start ordering through them and just give up going to the grocery store entirely (we get all our meat, produce and dairy at the farmer’s market pretty much) Thank you!

  40. I am just curious how you pay for your azure order. I thought it had to be paid online, so do you account for that and take out the leftover of your budget in cash from the bank? Or can you pay it in cash?

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