Sometimes saving money while eating a healthy diet is as simple as figuring out a budget and then sticking to it. While I know it is not as simple as that, and I know that we all need very specific tips to help that happen, I don’t think it ever goes beyond that. With no budget, we are apt to spend more then we should (or at least I know very well that I am!).
But once you have set a budget, how do you stay in it? Well, one of the most effective things I have ever done for our budget was using a cash system. I know this is not a new idea to many of you, but I wanted to share what worked for me specifically in our healthy food budget.
The funny thing to me is that using cash when grocery shopping seems like such an old-fashioned idea now! But our little plastic cards are really a recent way to shop. Using cash does several things. First, if you only bring your budget amount of money to the store, you can’t spend more then that. Let me tell you, it has saved me from so many extra purchases! Secondly, physiologically, seeing our hard earned cash in person (instead of just a total on the register) helps put how much money we are spending in perspective.
This is how I did this method.
First, once we had a set amount for our budget, I figured out how much we spend on purchases directly from a farm (like raw milk), and from co-ops (like Azure Standard). I subtracted that from our budget, and then divided what was left between the weeks left in the month. That was my weekly budget. I put the cash for my co-op and the cash for my milk in envelopes, and then had an envelope for each week.
When I went grocery shopping for that week I simply took my envelope of cash, and forced myself to stay within it. If you are on a tight budget, this can be harder then it seems. Here are some ways I made it work.
1. Have some flexibility with your grocery list. I figured out before I went what items could go, if I had maxed my budget and had a few things left on my list. Non-essentials, basically. Staying in budget at times meant sacrificing something delicious on our grocery list, but it was worth it to keep in our budget.
2. I also kept a somewhat flexible menu plan, so that I could switch things around on my menu if I found better prices on food item. For example, if I had a certain vegetable on the list, but when I got to the store, I discovered another vegetable on sale, I could switch it around.
3. Start a notebook of store prices. Being able to keep track of how expensive certain items were at the store, allowed me to menu plan more easily on a frugal budget. At first it was really hard for me to menu plan a whole weeks worth of meals that all fit in our tight budget (trying to buy organic and whole foods). However, over time it became easier as I figured out the system.
4. Expect it to be a little confusing and harder to shop at first, but know it will get easier as you figure out what works for you. I was a little flustered the first time I was shopping this way, as I jotted down amounts in my price notebook, added grocery items in my cart together on a calculator, and tried to figure out what I could substitute for higher priced items. But it smoothed out over time.
5. Bring a calculator to the store. I brought one and would add up the amounts in the calculator as I added items into my cart. That way I knew exactly how much I was spending. Invaluable. Especially when all you have in your wallet is cash. I had a real horror of getting to the checkout and not having enough money to purchase everything.
This was single-handedly the most effect way we had to stay in our budget. Why? I was forced to come up with all sorts of menu items that were really frugal. If I had just been buying what I “needed” and then simply accepting however much it cost, our food budget would have been substantially higher.
However, notice I write everything above in the past tense? While this is certainly the most effective way to stay in budget, we have just gone through a challenging time with my health. It seems that most of it stemmed from incredibly low iron stores, which I am almost finished getting treated for (and, though hampered with a cold, I think I am starting to feel better finally!). Survival for us has meant that we haven’t stayed in our food budget very well. We all go through seasons when our “best practices” go to the wayside. And that has certainly been true for me! So if you are in a season like that right now, know you aren’t alone.
But if you really want to cut back on your food budget, try the cash method. Oh, and just makes sure you place all of your money in a safe place! That’s the one problem with cash. If you lose it, it is just too bad!
What about you? Have you ever tried to cash method for grocery shopping? Any tips or experiences to share?