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Grocery Tracking 101, Part II

content ballIn a prior post, I introduced the use of a spreadsheet to fine-tune spending in what I considered our “runaway” category: groceries.  After getting some numbers on the spreadsheet for a month or so, I was able to design a monthly grocery plan around how much we were typically spending on staples such as milk, fruits, veggies, meat, and even household supplies.

Using the figures from our spending during the prior month, I could make a reasonable estimate as to how much we needed to spend in the new month.  I was also able to see what items we were running low on and fit those into the monthly spending plan as well.  In order to stay around $300 for the month, I sometimes need to scale back some areas to make sure everything is covered.  There are months where a certain category might have “$0” allocated because I can’t set any money aside for it, but that’s also the beauty of planning this way.  Usually, the reason I’m able to leave out some categories is because I was able to stock up on it beforehand.

To further refine our spending on food, I went on to analyze the food categories that seemed to be “black holes” in our budget.  Certain things such as snack foods, frozen convenience items, and yogurt seemed exorbitant.  I knew that if I was going to bring our grocery numbers down, these items were going to have to be eliminated.

So I went back to the computer to find recipes for the snacks my family enjoyed and ideas for freezer cooking.  By preparing certain snacks and yogurt at home, I eliminated over $100 each month from our grocery budget.  By eliminating things like frozen lasagna, chicken enchiladas, hot dogs, and pizza I was able to bring our grocery budget down even more.  I haven’t mastered the art of the once-a-month freezer cooking on a regular basis, but I have done it occasionally and find merit in it.  I like to save my freezer items for Sunday dinner so Sunday can be as close to a day of rest for me as possible.  I also like having items in the freezer in case I’m called upon to take a meal to a family. There are a multitude of resources on this topic on the Internet and in the local libraries.

I have finally gotten to the point by using this system where I am able to start the month with a skeletal budget that includes all the items that I am low on along with our predictable staples such as milk, fruits, veggies and meat.  I know how much to allow for these items because I have already established how much we go through each month.  My skeletal budget is usually between $35-$50 less than what I will ultimately spend in the month, but at least I know the necessities will be covered and there will still be wiggle room for stocking up on a bulk item to add to the pantry or when I find a great sale on something.  It also helps me to stay at or below my target for the month in case prices rise or other factors change my estimates.

It may seem like getting the grocery spending down is a lot of work.  In a world of instant gratification, it probably is.  But, I look at it as an investment that I hope will renew a lost art for my kids: the art of homemaking.  Cooking from scratch takes planning to make sure all the ingredients are on hand and it certainly takes more time than pulling something out of a box and tossing it in the microwave.  But, while we are saving money by doing things this way, we are eating more healthy food, and we are teaching our kids the importance of quality over quantity and getting back to the basics.

“Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty.” Prov. 21:5

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