Scaling Back: What I Don’t Buy

I often get bewildered looks from people when they find out that I only allot between $300-$400 per month for my grocery budget. My family consists of the five of us as well as two indoor cats and a few fish … if we want to be technical about it since we spend some of our grocery money on them, too.

My first response to their quizzical expression is, “It didn’t happen overnight.” I feel like I need to put their minds at ease because they will often become frustrated with themselves if their budget is two or three times mine, especially when their family size is smaller.

There is nothing wrong with a grocery budget that exceeds $300-$400 if it isn’t strangling you financially. Our budget used to be two to three times this amount, too. I just found myself in a position financially where that would not work for us anymore so I had to put on my thinking cap and get creative in order to bring down the grocery spending.

I have mentioned here before that one of the techniques I used to help me really analyze areas I could pinpoint to reduce my spending on groceries was a spreadsheet with individual categories listing EVERY SINGLE ITEM I bought at the grocery store. I didn’t have a “dairy” category, I had a “cheese” category, a “yogurt” category, a “milk” category, etc. I actually found I was spending so much on cheese that I further specified what types of cheese I was buying so I could determine if I could cut back more! So, my first tip to bringing down your spending on household items and groceries is to make sure you have a good understanding of exactly what you are buying.

After I had analyzed my spending to death, I found a few problematic areas and decided to eliminate them altogether. While I would love to say that I eliminated dairy from my budget because about a third of my grocery budget seemed to be devoted to dairy products that did not happen. However, I was able to cut it back significantly after I understood where that money was going.

I stopped buying yogurt and started making it. I stopped buying a bazillion of the little bags of shredded cheese and started buying one five pound block at the warehouse store and shredding it myself. I actually stopped buying the mega-container of Parmesan cheese at the warehouse store and bought two smaller containers at a local grocery store where it was a similar price per ounce. I reduced my spending by buying only what I needed and was still able to get at a good price.

It is important to note that sometimes the warehouse stores offer the best deals and sometimes they don’t. The warehouse stores are usually a great place to find deals and get good prices as long as you know what a good price is and if you will use up what you buy. When I found Parmesan cheese at a local grocery store for the same price per ounce that I was getting at the warehouse store, it was a no-brainer to only buy the amount I could actually afford and use within the month.

There were other items that I had been buying at the warehouse store that didn’t make sense for us to continue buying on our new restricted budget. I love the convenience of being able to go through the warehouse and toss a bunch of stuff in the cart with the notion that I won’t be back for another month. But, $400 later, I still didn’t have everything crossed off my list.

I found a flaw in this method of shopping because theoretically, I should have been done with grocery shopping for the month after the shopping trip at the warehouse store, but I wasn’t! Unfortunately, I knew I would still run out of eggs, milk, and fresh produce, which would send me to another store during the month and send my budget off the charts again.

After taking a critical look at what I was spending at the warehouse store, I started to restrict myself to things that would honestly take me a month to use and were, without a doubt, the absolute best price I could find anywhere. When I did that, I found that my warehouse shopping list became much smaller and I was no longer spending $400 there.

Two of the more expensive items I stopped buying at the warehouse store were paper towels and paper napkins. While these were definitely a great price and I didn’t have to buy them every month due to the large quantity, I could no longer afford $30 in paper products for the month or even every other month. I started using rags in place of paper towels and cloth napkins in place of paper ones. Even though I could usually find sponges at the dollar store, I stopped buying those, too and started using dishrags to wash the dishes. They smell nicer and, when they stop smelling nice, I toss them in the washing machine instead of the garbage can. All of this took some getting used to, but once we were in the habit of grabbing a rag instead of a paper towel or a sponge, we didn’t miss them anymore and we had just whacked $30 off our budget.

Another area of our household budget that took a pretty heavy hit was cleaning products. I went from purchasing humongous bottles of laundry detergent, fabric softener, dish soap, etc. at the warehouse store to making my own laundry detergent, using vinegar for fabric softener (no, we didn’t walk around smelling like a salad), and I even learned how to make dishwasher detergent and my favorite cleaning products by trying out recipes I found on the internet. Right there, I slashed our budget by about $50! It is quite amazing what God will do with our creativity and initiative if we are willing to look at things a little differently.

While all this cost cutting was a necessity for our family, it was also a way for my family to become good stewards of what God entrusted to us and to concentrate our spending on what was really important.

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” ~ John 6:27

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