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That Grocery Budget: 3 Steps to Stop Food from Eating Your Budget

The Sticker Shock is Real

Moving from Long Island, NY, I naively assumed that our cost of living would go down in proportion to our paychecks when we started to grow our family here in Northern Colorado. Well, you know what they say about making assumptions! I definitely came out looking like a donkey when week after week I couldn’t seem to get our grocery budget under control.

grocery budget

Food had always been at least a top-three spend in our household, but it was quickly becoming a debt that needed managing. And with the holidays approaching quickly, I needed to take command of our spending fast!

Overwhelmed with two picky-eater toddlers, a beef-loving hubby, limited time to grocery shop or plan, and still shocked at the prices of everyone’s favorite foods, I was almost paralyzed as to where to start.

Through the unforgiving necessity to feed my family, and myself of course, I was able to defrost my brain, along with some interesting finds in my own freezer, and in three simple steps took back the control of that interminable grocery budget.

Step 1: Start with a search bar

I knew that I couldn’t depend solely on my old habits when it came to grocery shopping. Sure there were a few habits that I needed to get back to that I had been slacking on, but I was in a new town with another mouth to feed, so it was time to start with a clean slate and do a little research.

Google

Thanks to internet access in the palm of my hand (a/k/a the device I look for when it’s already in my hand, a/k/a my phone that I never make calls from), I can find new inspiration, wisdom, and valid opinions by just typing in a question and hitting that cute, little magnifying glass that makes me feel like our house’s lead detective. 

YouTube

I started with YouTube because, duh. It hits me in all the ways that I learn: audio, visual, and relatable. And it doubles as my reality TV vice — I learn while I get to peek into other people’s lives for 15 minutes or less.

I got some great tips on meal planning and deal-driven shopping that I hadn’t thought of before as well as some best practices that I knew I had let slide. However, that didn’t satisfy my need to navigate my new environment. I needed a local resource.

Facebook

Next up: Facebook Moms’ Groups! God bless these moms! Shout out to all the Facebook Group Admins out there who donate their time to building a safe, encouraging, resourceful space for all us crazies on Facebook.

If you haven’t found a group on Facebook as I just described, keep looking! It’s worth a simple search of “your town’s name, mom” to find a group that you feel comfortable engaging in.

I’m a little obsessed with mine and boy, did they deliver on this topic. A quick post of “Help! Our groceries are KILLING our budget! Like I’m about ready to have to put this family on the bread and peanut butter diet. Got some helpful tips in this video. What are your best budget-friendly grocery shopping tips?” generated 24 comments and some amazing local ideas in minutes.

Step 2: Customize your plan

Another thing that can be just as paralyzing as an overwhelming grocery bill is too many ideas. It’s true that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

So, my next step after researching was to narrow down my plan of action and customize it to my strengths and our family’s needs and abilities. Here were the ideas I was working with after my research:

  • Meal plan based off of your current inventory, coupons, and store specials and stick to your list at the store and your plan at home
  • Avoid multiple store trips within the same week
  • Invest in a deep freeze and make once-a-month, stock-up trips at Costco/Sam’s Club
  • Use a store card loaded with your budget so you can’t over spend (win-win,
    grocery use

    Making veggie stock from vegetable scraps, bay leaves and water.

    you can get one that also donates a percentage to your local school or church)

  • Try cash back providers, such as ibotta
  • Compare your budget to the USDA reported cost of food to ensure you aren’t over-spending for your family/ages (one budget does not fit all)
  • Take advantage of local online shopping, pickup, and delivery options to save with digital coupons and minimize impulse buying (check out your local options with Walmart and King Soopers Pickup)
  • Shop at our Sprouts (double ad day on Wednesdays!) or Esh’s Grocery Market for discounted products and produce
  • Prep produce same day as purchase to promote quick usage, less waste
  • Use produce scraps and meat bones to make your own soup stocks
  • Stop adding paper and cleaning products to your grocery spend and switch to reusable, cleaner options
  • Meal plan slow-cooker recipes on days you’re most tempted to order in or eat out
  • Find a local farm where your volunteered time and labor is compensated in a share of the harvest — check out Laughing Buck Farm 

So many great ideas, but I knew if I tried to do them all I would be setting myself up for frustration and failure.

For example, I’m not a meal planner and most likely never will be, although I have been one in the past. I fly by the seat of my pants in the kitchen, rarely using recipes.

I can meal plan, but I found my joy in cooking by allowing myself to be creative, inspired by what’s available in the moment and leaning on no-brainer, family favorites when in a pinch. It’s become a part of who I am and I’ve learned to accept that there is nothing wrong with that.

Instead of meal planning, I chose three tips to focus on and committed to try others as I felt confident that I was succeeding in my grocery budget goals. My first three:

  1. Decide on a weekly/monthly budget, communicate to the family and stick to it
  2. Check out Esh’s Grocery Market and stick to one trip a week
  3. Get back to prepping produce and making my own stock

Step 3: Act and adjust

You fail 100% of what you don’t try, but of course an outright success is never a guarantee. After my first four weeks of committing and executing my three focuses I was able to cut $160 out of our monthly grocery spending!

Being up front with the family about our grocery budget got everyone on board and ready to make adjustments to what might, or might not be, in our freezer, fridge and pantry. Prepping produce right away was a big win too with zero wasted fresh fruits and veggies. And, I really enjoyed making soups again, especially with the season change.

The weekly trips to Esh’s, however, needed an adjustment. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my trips to Esh’s. My first week I almost ugly-happy cried at the checkout as I watched my total come in WAY under budget. 

grocery shopping

I got all of this for $45.40!!

No, no one in my family is lactose intolerant if you’re looking at that carton of Lactaid milk, but for $1.49 and not having to go to another store, it was worth making the adjustment.

Because you don’t know what Esh’s will have week to week, I ended up doing a little meal planing as I shopped. I’d find a great deal on meat and then I’d shop for a veg and carb that might compliment it.

The first three weeks were fun! It got me out of my culinary rut and it pushed me to create different meals than the four I had been rotating every week. Even my girls started trying different foods because, well, it was the only option.

However, by week four our pantry and freezer stocks had run dry and I knew that I needed to make an adjustment. So, I took the savings from Esh’s and splurged on a King Soopers Pickup order while still staying within our monthly grocery-spending goal.

Now I feel like I found something that’s sustainable for our family and that we can keep building on as my girls grow and our needs change. The key is that when the time comes for change I can just follow these steps to try again: Research + customize act and adjust = success that I can literally taste. 

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