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How to Keep Track of Grocery Spending

If you are anything like us, and every other person we know, you are always kind of shocked/frustrated/surprised/humbled/annoyed by how much you spend on food.

The struggle is real. We talked last week about the power of awareness: being hyper-aware of what, when and why you are spending goes a long way toward spending less.

But what if you are already pretty aware and still annoyed? We are right there with you.

Here are some strategies to combat the most common excuses (at least for us!) sabotaging your food budget and help you spend less, starting tonight! (Or at least tomorrow.)

“But I’m just too tired to cook after work.”

Money-Saving Strategy: Meal Plan

The primary reason budgeting with YNAB works is because of the Four Rules. The rules give you boundaries and a framework to think about, organize and plan your financial life.

Sometimes we resist structure, but structure gives us freedom. It is true in finances, and time management and pretty much every area of life, which brings us back to meal planning.

If you sit down ahead of time and plan out and shop for your meals for the week. You have removed the friction. After a long day of work, you don’t have to think about what to make or what you need to get, you just open the refrigerator and consult the plan. It’s almost easier than ordering takeout.

Ok, that’s probably not true. But it is WAY more affordable. And pretty simple. The hardest work is already done way before you come home tired.

“By the end of the week, I’m just over it. I don’t care about the plan & can only order Chinese.”

Money-Saving Strategy: Stock No-Brainer Dinners Everyone Loves

Not eating out is a muscle, and you have to flex it and keep flexing it, and it will grow stronger. Make it easier for yourself by stocking some emergency, no-brainer dinners that everyone loves. For our family, it's ravioli and orange chicken. They are always in the freezer, and I know they take zero effort and the kids will eat them. Orange chicken saved me just last night!

A no-brainer dinner should be just that—so easy—like turn on the oven easy. And something that, for the most part, you actually like to eat.

Frozen pizza? Turkey Burgers? Chinese Chicken Salad from Costco? Pretty much anything from the frozen aisle at Trader Joe’s? There are short-cuts. You have to find what works for your family and make sure you always have some options on hand.

Because every time you avoid the impulse to order take out, you save money. You also flex that muscle and it will be a little bit easier the next time.

“I budget $XXX for groceries and that should be enough, but we always overspend.”

Money-Saving Strategy: Shake Up Your Budget & Lean On Mobile Apps

Try setting a weekly grocery budget and going one week at a time. You are more accountable, and working with a more finite amount of money.

You don’t go to the store without your phone (you don’t go anywhere without your phone), so reference your grocery budget, at the store, before you start shopping. If you know you only have X to spend, you will likely make different choices.

If you are going to the store several times a week or every other day, stop doing that. It is humanly impossible to only get the one thing you came for. I am sure there is science somewhere to prove this. The less you go to the store, the less you will buy.

“I could save money buying in bulk, but I just never have enough. I don’t have enough money to save money. Ugh.”

Money-Saving Strategy: Budget For Bulk

If you’ve got room to store it, or an extra freezer, buying in bulk when prices are lower is a great strategy.

In order to make sure you are able to take advantage of these opportunities when they present themselves, create a specific budget category for bulk purchases. You can fund it directly, or sweep leftover money from groceries (or whatever) at the end of every month. It might not happen overnight, but that money will grow and you will be able to buy ground turkey galore when it is on sale.

Just make sure you keep track of what you have and continue to meal plan so that ground turkey turns into chili and tacos and spaghetti sauce and gets eaten.

“But what counts as grocery spending? Should I categorize detergent & shampoo separately?”

Money-Saving Strategy: Keep It Simple

We recommend keeping things simple—whatever you get at the grocery store, categorize to groceries. The reason to break it out, would be to change something. But whether or not shampoo is in a different category you will have to buy shampoo. The more simple and painless you can keep your budget, the more likely you are to keep up with it. And that is the goal—keep budgeting, over time it will save you loads and loads of money.

“Sometimes I just go out or to the store because I know there’s nothing at home and it seems easier, but it’s adding up!”

Money-Saving Strategy: Meal Plan

If you are thinking, "This is very similar to #1,"... you are right! But it is such an important one, I'm just going to double down on meal planning!

Meal planning (and shopping specifically for your plan) is huge. It will save you time and money and reduce your what-will-we-do-for-dinner stress.

You shouldn't go shopping without consulting your budget and your meal plan. If your shopping list is just a random list of things to buy—well, how is that working out for you? I imagine, you end up wasting food (and money!) and not having the right things, which leads to unnecessary going out. More waste all around.

It takes some discipline, but ultimately, planning ahead will make things much easier and more affordable.

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How to Keep Track of Grocery Spending