Budgeting is so empowering! I know we don’t all love it, but really it brings me peace and security so much that I LOVE talking about it. Sometimes saving money means spending more time, and that’s a valid trade off for a lot of people, but I feel in 2021 with lockdowns and uncertainty and kids at home and working from home we need some budget help that doesn’t mean spending more time.
So that’s what these 12 tips are about. These really are the core of how we lived in a bang-on-average american county for the cost of food but spent in the USDAs “thrifty” category (see the reports here) whilst caring for the planet and buying organic food. We didn’t have access to crazy places that were cheap, but we followed these guidelines and practiced and found it really is possible.
Here are a few guiding principles and thoughts to help you!
HAVE A BUDGET!
Don’t laugh but yes, have a food budget, plan out what it includes (takeout coffee? Date night?) and know what limits you need or want to keep within. It’s shocking how many people think they need to spend less but don’t know how much they spend or how much less they need to spend. If you normally use a card to pay you might want to draw cash for the week or month so you can hold yourself to it and actually see it.
2. MAKE A PLAN!
It can feel like it takes time to make a meal plan but actually it’s just a redistribution of time. Have you stood in front of the cupboards wondering what to make? No more of that if you have a meal plan! And it helps you save time AND money in SO many different ways. When you know what’s coming up you can do a task as you have a moment like putting beans on to soak while you make coffee in the morning… oh which is also much cheaper than not having a plan and opening a tin of beans at night.
3. SHOP FOR THE PLAN!
Stick to your plan as you shop. Don’t offroad unless you know where you’ll use something and how it fits in your budget. Otherwise you’re buying extra food and something won’t get used! Shopping with a plan also saves countless last minute trips to the store, so once again, you’re time. It might take you a tad more time initially but you’ll make it up within days with the time you save each day.
4. TRY THE MOVE TOWARDS NO SNACKING.
Never popular but only gets 100% positive feedback when people try it. Snack foods on the whole are more expensive and if you have kids, are a drain on time to constantly get or make. But aside from that, they mean everyone comes to the table less hungry, which equals more picky. And if anyone knows they can snack again later, they’re less inclined to eat what they’re giving which can cause waste. Wasted food = wasted money. They’re also typically trading the lower cost real meal foods, for more pricey snack foods around meals. I dare you, try it!
5. AS YOU SHOP, LOOK AT PRICE!
Do you know the rough cost of everything you buy? It informs my shopping SO much. It helps me judge which spends are more worthwhile and which ones we can pass on. I’m also always looking at different options like kinds of apples to see which is the cheapest per weight unit. It can save a lot over time. It will also help you as you go forward to build your meal plans with an awareness of which meals cost more so you can balance your weekly plan better.
6. DO A FRIDGE CHECK EVERY FEW DAYS!
Ever found a mouly onion at the bottom of your fridge? I’m guilty too. But doing an assessment of my fridge every few days really helps me see what needs to be used and what I’ve missed and make sure I use it. The average amount of waste per household has shocking figures in the US and the UK especially as the majority of people think they spend too much on food – we don’t need to work on spending less as much as on wasting less. That way we’ll automatically spend less.
7. BE OK WITH LEFTOVERS AND “STRANGE MEALS”
Or at least once in a while. As you do that fridge check there might not be all the ingredients for XYZ casserole. But it’s ok for different people at the table to eat different things, or to throw a not normal topping on a pizza or stir some leftover pesto pasta into the meat layer of lasagne to use it up!
8. BUY IN BULK!
If you have the cash flow situation to buy certain ingredients in bulk it can really make a difference. I buy a 50lb bag of flour and the cost goes down by about 30% which massively adds up. Where you live will depend what’s possible but if you have a spare minute ask or look around.
9. TALK TO YOUR PEOPLE!
Firstly, talk to the other people you shop with or for and all be on the same page. You might buy something thinking they need it when they really don’t – or when a conversation could get you to a much cheaper option quickly! But also, talk to people who are like you and shop where you shop and ask how they save if they do. There’s so much power in sharing that within community. It can also be a great way to go bulk on things if you can go in with other people.
10. COOK SOMETHING FROM SCRATCH!
This isn’t one that saves time over buying pre made but the the amount you save may make it worth it! Maybe choose one thing like bread or making beans from dry (very little extra time there!) or pizza. If there’s an item you regularly buy as takeout and you can switch to making it yourself then you double-y save. Smoothies on the go? Pizza delivery? Try picking off one thing you could add in to do yourself and save.
11. TRY WATER OVER OTHER DRINKS!
This isn’t dietary advice just a reminder that water is either free or usually the cheapest option so if it works, drinking more water over other drinks can be a big budget win!
12. BE OK GOING WITHOUT!
This is maybe the hardest one for some people. But it’s also kind of the easiest that takes no time at all! If you’re needing to reduce your spending in the area of groceries, see if there’s anything you can take out. I don’t mean something you fully don’t need or want – those shouldn’t be there anyway! I mean the things you don’t want to let go of but really could for the sake of budget. Which is more important, the loved item or hitting budget – there’s not a right answer but a good question to ask yourself. The fancy granola – could it be oatmeal? The berries – could the be apples? The fancy nut butter – could it be peanut butter?
It’s an ongoing journey of practice and learning – but pick something you can implement today and take it on in your life! We should all be budgeting whether it’s a need or doesn’t feel like a need. Money is powerful, and I truly believe in using it intentionally, wisely, and only using what we need. So let’s budget and budget well for our health, people and planet, and to do good!