In order to grow your fund, you need to set a grocery budget. The idea of setting a budget can be extremely overwhelming. It’s very important that you take a deep breath and set a realistic goal. Here’s the steps to follow to set your family’s grocery budget:
1. Gather up all receipts, bank statements, credit card statements etc from the past few months. Go through each of them and figure out what you spent at the grocery store and what you spent going out to eat. Start with 3 months ago and figure out what you spent in that month. Do the same with 2 months ago and then what you have spent in the past month. Add all 3 numbers together and divide them by 3.
Now pick your jaw up off the floor. It’s going to get better. (If you don’t have your statements, spend a good 5-10 minutes racking your brain to try to figure out what you might have spent. I’m sure it will come to you, eventually.)
The reason I told you to add up what you spent going out to eat is because I want you to get a realistic figure. You could have gone out to eat for dinner every night in that month and only spent $150 at the grocery store. Obviously $150 would not be your realistic budget amount.
2. What you spent in the past month is a great starting figure. I want you to divide that number (your monthly average) by 4 and that is your new weekly grocery/dining out budget. If that figure seems incredibly overwhelming, you can go ahead and reduce it by 10%. If you reduce it too much, you are setting yourself up to fail. While you are learning to coupon, you need some wiggle room!
Be sure to pick the date that your grocery budget will reset. Mine resets every Thursday.
3. For the next 2 weeks, I want you to take a very realistic approach to couponing. I don’t want you to set your expectations too high. It is very important that you don’t overwhelm yourself because couponing can/is very overwhelming at times.
Here’s what I want you to do:
- Gather up the store ad(s) and plan your menu based on what is on sale. Before going to the store, I want you to visit their website and read thru their rewards programs. (Be sure to check out my tips on how to shop at your store.) It’s also great if you can find a blogger who covers your store’s deals (find that list here or google your grocery store’s name. Usually a blogger will be listed on the first page of results).
- Pick one drug store to shop at. Shopping at more than one will be very overwhelming when you are starting out.
- Check out the Walmart and Target deals and add them to your list if you want/need to.
- Read through the Getting Started series if you haven’t already.
- Go shopping by yourself or with a friend. Don’t take your kids on your first trip out if you don’t absolutely have to.
- Keep saying to yourself “Okay. My weekly grocery/dining out budget is X amount. I am NOT going to spend over that amount and anything that is left, I can add to my fund if I want.”
4. After the initial 2 weeks is over, I want you to take a look at what you spent verses what your grocery budget is. If you managed to save a substantial amount less than what you spent, go ahead and reduce your budget by another 10%. If you spent close to your budget amount, wait another 2 weeks before evaluating it again.
5. Every 2 weeks I want you to compare what you spent verses what your budget is. While in theory it would be great if your budget was $250 a week for groceries and you only spent $50 and were able to save the other $200 in your fund, that is not always practical. There is a chance that you were overspending on groceries/dining out and other areas of your budget were suffering because of it. It is important that you get your weekly grocery budget down to a practical amount.
The Smith Family (Mom, Dad, Daughter, Son) has not followed a grocery budget for some time. Mrs. Smith goes to the grocery store a couple times a week without a shopping list. She throws whatever appeals to her in the cart and when she gets to the register, she groans as she swipes her credit card. Mr. Smith goes out to lunch everyday and picks up take out a few nights a week. On the weekend, they stop for fast food and go out for dinner on Sunday night.
When Mrs. Smith sits down to figure out her grocery budget, she adds up what they spent at the store. She is pleasantly surprised to see she is able to feed her family of 4 for just $450 a month. But then she adds up all their dining out costs. She is shocked to realize she has spent an average of $1100 a month on food for the past 3 months. No wonder they are starting to feel the squeeze in their bank account and their bills are getting paid a little later than they used to.
So Mrs. Smith decides to set her budget. She could say “Ok, I am going to set my budget at $100 a week.” But that isn’t realistic for her family. They have got to change their spending habits and if the first week out of the gate she sets the budget too low, they will fail and say this isn’t worth it and give up. So following this advice, Mrs. Smith sets her budget at $275 a week. She gets out the ads for her local grocery stores and sets a meal plan for the week based on what is on sale (she doesn’t try anything new, she sticks with meals the family likes and she knows how to cook). She plans at least 5 meals that she will cook and 2 meals of convenience foods. (The Smith Family is less likely to go out for pizza if they know they have a couple of their favorite pizzas at home in the freezer.) She also makes sure to get plenty of breakfast and lunch foods, snacks and beverages. She also prints out the lists for her local drugstore (I suggest you only start with one when you are getting started) and checks the under $1 lists for Walmart and Target to see if she needs any of the items.
Mrs. Smith heads out to the grocery store (she decided it wasn’t worth her time or gas (hehe) to go to 2 stores) with her list in hand and she sticks to her list. She picks up what she needs at the drug store and Target and Walmart. She comes home smiling because she only spent $199. She has $51 to last her until the week is out. But Mr. Smith forgets his lunch one day and spends $11 on fast food and she ends up running through a drive thru to get milkshakes. At the end of the week, she realizes that she still has $33 left! She is very proud of herself and feels like this is going to work for her family. Since the Smith family is still feeling the pinch, they decide to leave the money in their bank account to cover bills. But they celebrate at home with a family game night (free!) and their store bought pizza.
The next week comes and Mrs. Smith is starting to get this figured out. She still has groceries left from last week. There are better sales this week and she feels more confident and decides to shop at 2 grocery stores instead of just one (after all she did have some money left last week to cover the additional gas and the second store is having a great sale on meat). She also finds dining coupons for her husband to keep in his truck (in case he ends up going out to eat again). By the end of the second week, she has $68 left!
Mrs. Smith sits down and takes a look at her budget. Since she had $33 left the first week and $68 left the second week, she decides that she can reduce her budget by $30. Her new weekly budget is $235.
And so it continues for the next 3 months. Every few weeks she is able to reduce her budget even more. By the end of the 12th week, she is now spending just $125 a week for her family of 4. Their bills are caught up and they no longer feel the crunch in their bank account. They decide that they are now comfortable with setting a weekly grocery/dining out budget of $150. Each paycheck, she withdraws her grocery budget in cash. She spends as little as possible and deposits the difference into her fund. Since she would have spent the entire $150 if she wasn’t couponing, she feels great every time she makes the deposit. And by saving for something her family wants to do (maybe it’s a trip to Disney or a new TV), they are on board and actively try to keep the budget down (because face it, it’s hard to do it without the support of everyone in the household).
And that my friends is how the Smith Family does it!
Please feel free to add your comments below. If you feel like I missed anything, let me know!
Go here to learn more about my weekly grocery budget.
If you are new to Couponing, you might want to take a moment to read more in my Getting Started Couponing series.