We’re “starting fresh” this January, completing 22 mini-challenges in 22 days for a cleaner, fresher and healthier kitchen and grocery budget. Just joining us? Read about the what’s and why’s on the mini-challenges, as well as the previous days tasks, and jump right on in!
There’s something “accomplishing” about doing something with food, even if you don’t eat it. Do you know what I mean?
For example, the chopping the lettuce and cooking up the mushrooms yesterday. Neither were eaten, but the mere fact that I did something with them made me feel so accomplished. It’s a mighty nice feeling too!
With a clean fridge and a goal to eat what we have already cooked underway, we’re moving on to day 3! Ready to go shopping and fill the fridge?
Ha ha, just kidding. Ya’ll know me better than that! There’s one very important to-do, to do, before we start spending money.
Day 3 – Create a Grocery Budget
All of us are going to fall into one of two categories: we either have a budget, or we don’t. Today’s challenge will be slightly different, depending on which group you fall into.
For those who already have a grocery budget established – verify that your budget is accurate. Are you allowing more than you really spend? Or are you spending more than you allow? After a review of last year’s bills, I’ve been doing the latter. Consider what you’re buying with your budget (soda? junk?) and see if you can cut that out of your budget (and therefore your kitchen) for the next two weeks. You’re over the hump if you have a budget established, so don’t do anything drastic on me. Simply take a look at what your receipts say and see if your return is worth your investment. Adjust your numbers accordingly.
For those who do not have a grocery budget established – having a grocery budget is one of the single most important tasks you must complete in order to achieve our goal frugally. Below is the chips and salsa version of a how-to create a budget, but read my eight-part creating a budget series if you need more help in this department.
1. Review all grocery receipts for the past month and add them up for a total.
2. Consider this total. Does it seem exceedingly high? Exceedingly low? Does it properly align with the size of your family and your nutritional needs?
3. Take this number and divide it in half. For the next two weeks, make it a goal to spend no more than this number.
What’s the purpose of a grocery budget?
First, knowing what you’re allowed to spend BEFORE you spend it is HUGE! Ever get sucked in by the olive oils? Let me explain.
There are SO MANY different types of olive oils to choose from. Some are from Spain, some from Italy, some from California… some are cold-pressed, some are twice-pressed, some are organic… dark bottles, light bottles, tall bottles, fat bottles… and each and every one of them comes with a different price tag. Sure the tiny bottle of olive oil priced at $13.99 looks like it’s better for you in its fancy schmancy jar, but is it really? (perhaps, but we’ll get to that later)
The issue at hand is whether or not we can afford that $13.99 bottle of olive oil. Can you? Unless you have an established grocery budget, your answer is TBD and you’re going home empty handed.
Having a budget gives us parameters to work within. It’s like explaining the rules of the game before playing it. Ever try to unwrap a new game and play it without reading the rules first? Or remember WAY back when your friends were playing some game outside and you wanted to play too. Two questions come to mind: “Can I play?” and “What are you playing?”
We need to know what game we’re playing. Take the opportunity to create your own rules.
Here are a few other simple guidelines to help you out. Don’t skim if you already have a budget. These apply to you too.
- Make your budget match your dinner plate. In theory, dinner plates are 1/4 meat, 1/4 starch and 1/2 should be produce, right? Your budget should reflect this as well. If your monthly grocery budget is $400, then only $100 should be going towards meat, $100 towards starches and $200 towards produce. (This is food for thought people – theory – not financial advice. Marinate on this for a little bit and we’ll talk more details soon.)
- Processed food costs more than real food. Despite what the nay-sayers say, this is true. A simple loaf of homemade bread costs 25¢. Your loaf will be made entirely with real food, nothing artificial and no preservatives. Try to find a loaf meeting that criteria at the store and you’re easily looking at $3 a pop. A “family size” bag of potato chips will run $4.25 where one pound of in-season fruit will be only a buck. Stop wasting your money on the junk and buy the cheap (real) food instead.
- Look at your budget in terms of percentages. Financial advisor Dave Ramsey recommends the average family’s food budget (including eating out) to be 5-15% of their monthly income. There are things to consider though – size of family, where you live, dietary restrictions, etc., – so I’m not saying Ramsey’s estimate is the absolute line drawn in the sand. However, it is a decent guideline to consider. If your grocery budget is sitting at 50% right now, I’d be willing to guess you’re spending a little more than is really necessary on food.
- Convenience costs more than hard work. Want to be able to pull breakfast sandwiches from the freezer each morning? Then set aside an hour on Sunday and make enough for the whole week. Pre-packaged convenience foods are marked up exponentially because there’s very little work involved on the consumer’s end. In reality, you’re paying for the convenience, not the food. Take for example this 4-count box of Jimmy Dean biscuit sandwiches that Groceries-Express has for $7.19. We’re paying $1.80 per pre-cooked sandwich, but we’d only pay $0.56 if we made them ourselves (14¢ for one egg, 13¢ for one sausage patty, 4¢ per biscuit and 25¢ for one slice of cheese). Make them yourself and you’ll end up with three times as many sandwiches for the same cost! Cut out the convenience and get your hands dirty!
Day 2 Update
As you can see, the mushrooms are cooked and lettuce is chopped. In addition, the kids have eaten all but two pancakes! Mission accomplished!