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budget

One of the biggest budget busters in our house has to be the grocery budget. With one more child on the way our expenses are certain to increase, here are five free surefire ways to save money at the grocery store:

Create a Menu Plan

At the end of each week create a menu for the following week, or two. List out the meals you plan to make that week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Having a defined menu plan ensures you are not guessing when you make your List. You can also use the plan to maximize your use of ingredients, like Beer Butt Chicken one day, then chicken casserole with leftover chicken the next.

Bring a List

Don’t go to the store without a plan of attack. Based on the menu plan you created you should be able to build a list of all of the ingredients you need for each meal, add to that the various staples you always seem to need and you have your list. Stick to the list when you are in the store don’t venture off into the electronics department either, if it isn’t on the list don’t get it.

Shop Alone

It sounds like a strange way to save but trust me it works. I spend at least 50% more on groceries when my wife goes shopping with me. She will even tell you that if she is going with me we are not going to stay under budget. Having other people, adult or adolescent, around while shopping adds another level of potential distraction and temptation. Go it alone and you will notice a difference.

Buy Generic

There really is not that big of a difference between most store brand and name brand foods. Try various generic products where you would normally buy name brand. You will find some are not going to work but most of them will. Try discount stores like Aldi as well, they specialize in generic and I have found their quality is actually a little better than Walmarts Great Value Brand.

Price Match

I don’t like to drive all over town so I do most of my shopping at Walmart. The problem is they don’t usually have the best prices on meats because they don’t run sales like Kroger or Food City.  Walmart, however, has the low price guarantee and will match any competitors advertised price for the same product.  All I do is bring the ad that shows Tyson chicken for $1.99 lb and when I check out I tell the cashier I want to price match. After a confused look and a manager later I end up paying the sale price at Walmart. Saving on Gas and time.

Do you have any tips you think people should know about? Leave a comment and let us know then subscribe to feed for free updates so you don’t miss any other great tips.

Bonus Tip

I don’t know why I didn’t make this a 6 tip post, I left off using a Price Book to track grocery store price trends. If you haven’t read my post on using a Price Book yet then check it out as the Bonus Tip.

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Now that you have spent a month tracking your spending, or at least gone back and accounted for a months worth of spending it is time to setup your budget. Next week we will talk about maintaining and reassessing your budget.

two_dollar_bill1

Creating a budget is the first step to financial freedom recommended by most personal finance advocates. There a many ways people go about creating and managing their budgets.  Budget software abounds everywhere from You Need a Budget, Quicken, GNUCash, to Budget Pulse, Mint, and beyond. You can also just use a simple spreadsheet or a piece of paper for your budget.

Budgeting in its simplest form is just creating categories for your spending and assigning yourself a maximum value for that category. A truly complete budget should result in a zero balance of cash for the month, everything coming in should be assigned to a specific category leaving you with no “excess” income. This way you know what you can spend and where you want to spend it. If you spend more in one category you will have to sacrifice in a category somewhere else.

Lets talk a little bit about the categories you are going to use for your budget. Categories you use for doing your budget most likely should not be as granular as the categories you use to track your spending.  Keeping your budget at a higher level keeps your budget smaller and easier to manage as well as ensures you are less likely to go over budget in a specific category.  I think most people give up on budgeting because they budget at too granular of a level and are constantly “blowing” the budget in certain areas.  This leads to discouragement and a feeling of failure that is easily removed by eliminating the pesky budget.  You should be granular but not so granular that you are spending an entire day updating your budget and reallocating funds. So while you may have a dining out budget item, you shouldn’t probably have a dining out: breakfast budget item.

Don’t forget to include your income, you can’t achieve a balanced budget if you don’t include the income as well as the expenses. Use your most recent paychecks to estimate if you are paid hourly, if you are salaried you should have a good idea of what your checks will be each month.

When looking back at your spending for the past month make sure you identify how much you spent on each of the categories you have chosen for your budget. You can use this amount as a basis for how much to budget. Determine how much money you want to go to each category, be sure include your savings and other investments, as well as your estimated income, keep in mind you want to end up with 0 dollars left over.

If you haven’t already you need to site down with your spouse, significant other, or whatever and discuss your budget. You both need to agree to the budget and agree to stick to it. Otherwise you are almost certain to fail, trust me, I know.

If you are interested in a simple spreadsheet for setting your budget moving you can view my GoogleDoc Budget Sheet

Photo: (doublep)

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