Monday, January 7, 2013

Cart of Savings

I had written this post a couple months ago, but hadn't really moved on it for some unknown reason. But as soon as Heather, the H in H&K Style Journey posted her dry erase meal planning frames as "Pinned It & Did It, " I remembered this post and figured it might as well go live!

Despite the fact Scott is now working, I'm not easing up on our budget, not even on groceries. It just makes financial sense to prioritize expenditures. In other words, we'll never NOT be on a budget so why get used to this doubling of a cash flow? Besides, I want a house... NOW.

What's our budget?
Groceries are our biggest expense after housing. I have a strict $60 a week budget to keep us in line. It used to be $75 and Scott may push me back up there with promises of cheese now that he's moved from contract to permanent.

What are groceries?

The goal of groceries is to keep you full and healthy. If I'm going to let us break budget, it's only because I can justify it by saying it was mostly vegetables, because I believe no one should be withheld vegetables. Not included in this budget are items like shampoo, toilet paper or chips even if we pick them up when grocery shopping. The first two are "household" while the last is "entertainment". These have separate budget totals in my... mind. Ya, our finances are about 90% in my head. It's a good thing I live up there! However, my new years resolution to "Stay on Top of Things" may mean putting it down on paper so Scott can access it a little easier!

What's my plan?

Every Tuesday, we create a menu for the week while we eat supper. We may not follow this menu exactly all week, but having a rough idea of what to eat not only helps develop a list (and preventing us from throwing in items that we may not need that week) but it also makes coming home from work a little less onerous, as there are no seemingly big decisions to make on an empty stomach. Sometimes I'll flip through the flier while I wait for Scott to come home, and take into account specials in our meal plan, but more often than not, we stick with what we're craving.

Once the menu is made, I check the pantry to see what items we need for these meals. Next I add in any breakfast or lunch items (we usually make enough supper so we can have left overs for lunch) and any items we might need for events happening that week. This coming week we have very little up... phew! I also check the message board by our fridge where we are supposed to (but often forget to) write down what items we need. If the list looks long, I mentally tally up the items and stick any "discretionary purchases" in parenthesis.

I always organize this list by major department. Not only does this strategy make it easier to shop, as we will forget fewer items (unless Scott is flirting with me, which he did the other week, and I forgot both lettuce and chicken) but it also keeps us out of tempting aisles like the snack food aisle.

How do I shop?
I shop once a week, always on Tuesdays, as that coincides with Safeway's Customer Appreciation Day at the beginning of every month. I almost always go to Safeway, partially because that's where my mom always went when I was growing up, and partially because it has good prices and selection for the items I'm buying. I used to make a list and then compare deals in different flyers, but Safeway was more consistently lower priced, if it wasn't always. I will also admit that the fact that there are two Safeways closer than any other grocery store also plays into it. I will go to Bulk Barn about once a month to top up spices and quinoa, both of which are ridiculously over priced at Safeway, even if they are better quality.

I always start in Produce and end in Meat. Not only is this pattern due to the organization of the store, it's also good for my spending mentality. I start with vegetables and fruits, so I make sure I stock up on them before I've used up my budget. Once those are out of the way, I start to worry about hitting that $60 too early, so knowing meat is the most expensive part of my budget helps keep everything else more in line.

I try not to look at sales once I'm in the store -- which seems counter intuitive to a very budget conscious shopper, but if I don't need it at full price, I don't need it at a dollar off. The exception are expensive items like cereal and coffee. I don't consume either, but Scott has a bowl and a cup every day, so it feels like they're never NOT on the grocery list.

Whether I do it in my head (more likely if I'm shopping by myself and can mentally chant along), or on my phone, I keep track of the cost of what's in my cart. Even if I'm picking up 5 items at $3 or less, I still do this as it keeps you focused on what you're needing and not what looks good out of the corner of your eye.

 What happens afterwards?
After the groceries have been unpacked, and for the most part eaten, I like to keep track of what hangs around in our pantry, what goes bad in our fridge, and what is covered in frost at the back of our freezer. These items go on a mental "do not buy" list, unless I can find a way to justify them. I keep an eye out for new recipes I want to try to keep our menu from going bland -- but limit it to one a week, so we don't get tired of being adventurous, and let any additionally purchased items go to waste.

At the end of each month, I total up what we've spent, remembering to account for household, entertainment and grocery. While there are no obvious reward or punishment for staying under or going over budget, it helps keep in the mindset. If we've blown our budget on October, I know we have to work hard to keep it under in November. The same applies between each week. Since cheese is our greatest weakness, I do use it as a bargaining chip -- if we blow the budget, we don't get to buy cheese the next week.

Also, I try really hard to only shop ONCE a week. Running into a store for "just one item" always means coming out with four. And shopping "every two weeks - with a quick top up halfway through" also does the same for me. 

I also look at the cost benefit of making instead of buying premade for many items. While it doesn't always make sense (ie: bread), making pizza dough instead of buying frozen pizzas, or granola bars instead of those Quaker "let's pretend their healthy" bars are not only cheaper, but healthier AND sometimes kind of fun to make together.

Sixty bucks a week does not go far all that easily, especially not in the Canadian Prairies -- the land of short growing seasons. But with planning and little work, it keeps our bellies full!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post on meal planning!


  1. Great post Cara! Meal planning and budgeting is so important. With four people (and a dog) to feed daily, I really have to be on top of my grocery planning. By doing my dinner menu weekly, I do the same as you, look in my pantry and see what I already have and work around that. Then I supplement to finish up my list. I also use coupons and sometimes hit up two grocery stores depending on the weekly ads and how the coupons correspond to the sales.

    Looking forward to you next post on meal planning! Heather

  2. We have fallen off the wagon with being proactive on meal planning. We did pretty well sticking to a budget when we were though! I plan to get us back to that. And just budget planning in general. We starting by saving receipts, decent start anyway!

  3. Wow, that's a tight grocery budget - mine is usually double that, and sometimes triple! It does include things like kitty litter (expensive) and I do tend to stock up on things that are on sale (meat, especially). I do meal-plan and only shop once a week. However, occasionally, I'm able to skip a week or only buy greens/meat for lunches, so that does save some.

  4. This is really impressive. I have to be on the cheapy cheaps but have never made a budget in my life! Probably should get organized with that...

  5. I love this post! Our grocery expenses are out of control ($90!), and I can't blame that entirely on us living in San Francisco. We do have a standard list with about 50 items on it, and we just circle what we need on the list when we run out. I also agree with shopping by department; it makes it so much easier. We need to get better about all the little fun impulse items that find their way into the cart.

  6. Happy 2013, Cara! Do treat yourself to the fancy ice cream once in awhile, okay?


Thanks for stopping by! Let me know what you think!