Making a food budget is hard enough, but keeping on it can be a real hassle. Step by step, it can be done.
1. Don't rush it. Hastily planned budgets are not realistic and are doomed before implemented. As a first step, just collect your grocery receipts in a box or bowl and look them over at the end of the month. Deduct the total of non-food items (i.e. cleaners, paper goods, etc.) There's a start. You now know what you spent last month.
2. Based on Month 1, use that figure, minus the hard goods, as your budget for month two. If you have been using credit or debit cards for food, stop that until your final budget is set. Instead, take the same amount of cash and keep it in a separate purse, using only that money at the grocery store.
This can be difficult if you're not used to dealing with cash. Swiping a card was so easy. Now you have to muddle around with bills, coins, and maybe coupons. If you apologise for taking so much time and tell the cashier you're not used to cash, she'll probably tell you, "More and more people are doing that these days." So perservere, because there's a method in the madness. Chances are you'll be getting nervous towards the end of the month: is this all I have left for five days?
Do you need to adjust the figure up or down? That's your decision to make, but once you make it, you can go into action.
3. You'll have to have a little cash on hand for this next step: buy a Gift Card for the amount you have decided to spend for the month. Use it to pay for the groceries. Your receipt will show you how much is left on the card.
No messing around with adding up receipts.
No guess work and no cheating on yourself.
It restricts you to one store unless you do the same thing for another store.
Like your fuel guage that drops slowly to half a tank, then plummets until the bell and the little red light blinks way too soon, the balance on your card will end just as abruptly.
Make sure you, not your husband, have the card when you go to market.
4. The ability to adjust is easy. Last month's treat (that artisan bread) is next month's no-no. You're the boss. And what a joy it is when the month is over and you still have $20 left on the card. Continue to buy a card for the same amount. This will give you that wiggle room when a birthday or holiday comes along. Kind of like the old Christmas Club the banks were making money on - only this time, you get to keep the money.
In Burlington, Vermont this tactic works very well for shopping at Price Choppers. Any of you who have followed my previous articles know our affection for PC's cinnamon doughnuts! The added budget cruncher here is - GAS.
Some stores will give you a cut on gasoline at certain stations when you spend a set amount on groceries at one time. Shaw's is one of these, at least in Burlington and in Exeter, NH. Price Chopper does it a little differently: use your Rewards card when you shop and the computer keeps track of your spending over an indefinite period of time. Each receipt will tell you how much you will save per gallon, starting with ten cents.
The savings continue to add up. If you drive inrrequently, but eat heartily, the savings will accumulate exponentially, and your trip to the pump will be a happy experience. $1.30 discount per gallon up to 20 gallon max was our best day. Of course, the flip side is the tension created when deciding if you have enough left in the tank to wait until you've done another marketing. But what is life if we don't have little sniggly challenges?