Saturday, June 8, 2013

The $30 Grocery Challenge

A few months back I had a conversation with my cousin about budgets and grocery shopping.  I told her my grocery budget was around $30-$40 a week and her mouth proceeded to drop.  She told me she spends about $100-$150 a week for her family of four and did not understand how I spent so little.  To which I looked at her and said, "you can't spend what you don't have".  With my husband starting a new job after we moved here our income was cut by more than half and sacrifices had to be made.  I couldn't do much about our regular bills, they were what they were, but I could control what I spent on food.

It occured to me that most people probably spend at least $100 a week and the idea of dropping that bill down to $30 seems impossible.  Anyone I have shared my budget with automatically asks what kind of stuff we eat.  They assume with a small budget I'm limited to spaghetti, mac and cheese, hot dogs, and the like.  While I am all about some hot dogs and mac and cheese, this is not an every week meal for us, and is usually more of lunch than dinner.

So this is how the $30 Grocery Challenge was born.  Like many others there are weeks I go over budget by a few dollars or somehow justify spending extra on this or that.  There are weeks I "forget" to meal plan and by Wednesday I'm scrambling to figure out what the heck we are going to eat.  This challenge is to help me stick to my budget and challenge everyone else to decrease their grocery bill.  Maybe $30 seems impossible when you're spending $100 but maybe $60 seems doable.  If even that much of a drop makes you nervous, start by decreasing your bill by $10 a week.  So If your budget right now is $100, next week make your budget $90, then the week after that try $80.  Having a small grocery budget forces us to not buy all the snacks, and junk food.  It makes us conscious of what we are putting in our shopping carts and makes us second guess buying all the little extras that "look good" in the moment.  It also makes us appreciate the food luxuries like Little Debbies, sodas, and chips.  These, I'm sorry to say, used to be staples in my weekly grocery trips and can increase your grocery bill buy $10-$20 easily.  I'm happy to say (and my hips are too) they are not any more.  I only buy snack cakes when I have a coupon and can get them at a great price (nearly free), soda is bought for special occasions like cookouts and parties, and chips are in our cabinet only when I've scored some free salsa or chip dip, and even then I refuse to pay $3 a bag.

Seriously, it's physically impossible for me to put a $3 bag of chips in my cart.

So every week I will post my meal plan for the week, grocery shopping list and total after coupons to prove how much I spend and that it can be done, and the recipes I use (if the meal requires one). 

Here are a few tips on how I make it on a $30/week grocery budget, and how you can decrease yours:

#1 Meal plan-this is essential!  There are so many times in the past I did not meal plan and just went to the store, bought some food, and spent a crapload of money.  Only to get home, look in the fridge and realize there's nothing to eat.

#2 Have a variety of recipes.  After you cook the same thing for so many weeks you get bored and that's when you start to stray and spend more in order to get a variety.

#3 Use your freezer to the fullest.  I'm in love with freezer meals.  They are fantastic and such a lifesaver for a busy family.  I also stockpile meat when it's on sale.  I don't buy 10 lbs but I buy family packs of whatever is on sale each week, divide it into meal portions in freezer baggies and that way I have it for future meals and don't have to pay full price.  For years I have had a large deep freezer to take advantage of, now that we live in an apartment we are limited to a regular refrigerator freezer.  Even with a small freezer you can still take advantage of freezer meals so don't let that deter you.

#4 stockpile/couponing.  No I don't mean stockpile like the people on the Extreme Couponing show.  You don't need a basement grocery store or a whole seperate room full of food to stockpile.  When items are at their lowest, with coupons, I try to buy about 4-5 of them.  For example, Quaker yogurt bars were on sale a few weeks back for $1.79 a box.  I had a coupon for $0.75 off of 1 which at my grocery store doubled to $1.50 making each box $0.29 each.  So I bought 5 boxes.  Occasionally when there is a really great deal on an item I can get for free I will buy up to 10 but no more than that.  Space in an apartment is limited and I only buy this quantity of items for things we go through quickly like ketchup, rice,cereal, etc.

#5 Plan ahead.  Our local pool was not opening for almost a month when I bought the yogurt bars but my first thought was how great they would be to take with us to the pool, park, zoo, etc.  The same thought occured to me when I bought 4 cases of Capri Sun juices a couple months back for $0.75 each.  These are regularly over $2 so I was so excited to get them so cheap.  During the summer months they are a necessity in our house.  If I had waited until I actually "needed" them, I may have had to pay full price or not get them at all.

Are you ready to start saving some money?  Are you ready to stop spending hundreds of dollars a month at the grocery store?  Start this week, take on the $30 Grocery Challenge!

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