When my family began to budget and be more careful with our money after I stopped working, one of the areas we had to hit hard was our weekly grocery bill. It took a little planning and several efforts, but we finally got to the point where we could meet our budget and still have enough food to eat for the week. There are lots of ways to save money at the grocery store, and here are some that worked for us. Each week, I make a menu that includes what we’ll have for dinner each night the next week. This simple step becomes the basis for our grocery list and ensures that we will have exactly what we need and not a bunch of food in the cupboards that I can’t figure out how to put together into a meal (cooking isn’t my strong point). Denise Schofield, in her book Confessions of an Organized Homemaker, goes a step further. She includes “menu selection sheets” in her planning notebook (ie. a Day-Timer planner). These sheets list all of the main dishes she routinely serves for dinner as well as their ingredients. This makes creating a menu, and a grocery list to go along with it, a little easier. I try to include one or two meatless meals and some “cheapie” meals in each week’s menu to help keep us under budget.
Another thing we do before heading out to the store is to check out the food ads for several grocery stores near us. We buy the bulk of our food at a grocery outlet type store (you know, the kind where you bag your own groceries) and then hit one or two other stores for the items on our list that they are having a good sale on. If a store is having a good sale on something not on my list, I may scratch a planned menu item and substitute it with a meal made with the sale item, or I may just purchase the sale item and save it for later use.
Price lists are another good method for finding the best prices at the grocery stores you frequent. With this method, you record the best price you have paid for an item, using grocery store receipts and ads. You can have a separate sheet in your price book for each main category of food you purchase. Take your price book with you to the store and see if you are getting a good deal on an item.
On the first day of the year, I sat down at my computer and began to put our family budget on the computer. I promised myself I would do that one day and when our new computer came with the necessary software on it, I could find no more excuses. I was a little intimidated but I soon got the hang of it and have come to really like keeping my budget on the computer. If you are considering using budgeting software, read on and maybe your decision will be made a bit easier. As I mentioned, my computer came with the Quicken software. It also came with Microsoft Money. I knew nothing about either one of these programs so I took some time to explore them both. After playing in each program for a while, I decided Quicken seemd a little more like what I was looking for and I liked the way it was set up. The one drawback I found was not having an instruction manual since the software came with the computer. To help with this problem, I began copying the Help Menus as I used them. This way, I could put all of them into a Quicken file and easily refer to them whenever necessary. I also found some articles on using Quicken at www.stretcher.com. You can find all of the articles if you go to the author index and look up Karen Jones. These articles gave me some great ideas for additonal ways to use the Quicken software as well as some tips that I didn’t find in the Help Menus.
Aside from being able to put numbers into the computer and have them “magically” calculated for me, I also like being able to show a transfer of money between my accounts with the click of a button. I am still figuring out all of the features available for tracking investments, but I can tell you that I am looking forward to using the internet and Quicken to instantly update my investments. However, the best part about using budgeting software is being able to create reports that show me where my money has gone and what my monthly/yearly budget looks like.
If you decide to keep your budget on your computer, I must pass on this very important advice. Back-up all of your work! I failed to do this and then had to start all over on our accounts and budget after the hard drive blew up in our computer. Although it was a lesson I learned the hard way, I’m grateful I learned it in February and not in November.