Category Archives: Meal Planning, Budgeting and Shopping

Budgeting Basics: Five Rules of Smart Grocery Shopping

Doing more with less isn’t rocket science. Want to make your money last? If you read my previous post, “Basic Budgeting: General Tips,” then you know that
creating a budget plan is the first step to smart shopping. Knowing your overall budget helps you determine how much money to spend for each grocery trip, so you can plan ahead. Which brings us to the first rule of smart grocery shopping:

1)  Plan/make a list before you shop
One way to plan ahead is to write out menus for at least several meals,
preferably agrocery list weeks’ worth of meals, ahead of time. Then make your shopping list based on the ingredients you need for each meal on the menu. And if you plan to stock up on staple items, you’d be surprised how many different meal combinations you can create out of the same ingredients during an entire week.

Once you’ve made your list, scribble it on a notepad, the old-fashioned way, or plug it into your smartphone and cross out items as you go. You know the drill. Just don’t make a “mental list” and walk in unprepared: you’ll forget what you came for, and how much, and will end up buying either too much or not enough.

2)  Once you’ve made your list, stick to it
No exceptions to this rule, guys. Make your list and stick to it, no matter how
hungry or tempted to splurge you may feel. Ignore the snacks at the check-out counter, walk by the case of cookie dough ice cream, and don’t habitually buy the specials you didn’t plan on purchasing in the first place. A little purposeful planning and self-control can go a long way in saving you money in the long run.

For college students especially, discipline is a major cost-saver. Never
underestimate the simple power of saying “no” and moving on.

3)  Get a shopper’s card
If your grocery store has a rewards program, sign up and get a shopper’s card.
Enrolling in a rewards program will save you money when buying groceries on sale. During the week, look over the store’s ad for items that can be bought on sale or in bulk, and notice how the money you save doing so can really add up.

4)  Cut coupons
I know, I know. I used to think like that, too: “Cutting coupons is silly. I’ll leave it to my grandmother.” But hey: if you can save money, why not save money? Coupons come in the mail, but this might not be the best option for dorm-dwellers. Also be on the lookout for coupons online, in newspapers and at grocery stores.

coupon clippingTry, though, to only cut coupons for the items you have planned ahead to buy already. Clipping hundreds of coupons for random items in the store is, in the long run, a recipe for wasting money on food you don’t really want/need when you could be saving money on the food that fits your meal plan. Mindless coupon clipping leads to cupboards of uneaten food. Strategic coupon clipping leads to pennies and dimes saved on food that’s already accounted for on your budget.

5)  Buy in bulk
Buying food items in bulk can be an affordable way to shop on a college budget. Essential pantry items (such as rice, olive oil, flour, etc.) and non-perishables are often easily purchased in bulk, and if you can share what you buy with roommates, you can split costs to reduce expenses.

Next grocery trip, pick up a giant bag of rice and compare it to a small bag. The
giant bag is more expensive—but compare the price by ounce. Look at the savings. Makes sense, doesn’t it? And remember, buying in bulk keeps your pantry well-stocked, making the temptation to “just eat out” less of an everyday option.

Hey smart shoppers! Want more tips about smart shopping?
Check out the links below:

Five Grocery Shopping Apps That Can Save You Time and Money
Best and Worst Groceries to Buy in Bulk
Coupon Clipping TIps


Budgeting Basics: General Tips

Cooking on a college budget means planning ahead
Just because you’re on a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to eat poorly. The secret? Plan ahead. If you plan purposefully and well, a few dollars can go a long way in the college kitchen!

Planning ahead means creating a budget
creating budgetFirst, create an overall budget plan. This plan might include, food, gas, utilities, rent, books, “fun money” (hey, we all go to the movies and hit the mall once in a while), and other college expenses. Create a rough but realistic sketch of how much money you’re spending on each category per week/month.

Second, based on this budget plan, calculate approximately how much you can afford to spend for groceries each week. Not sure how much groceries cost? Make a list of the foods you enjoy, then go to the grocery store and write down the price of each item on your list. This one exercise can save you a lot of time calculating the cost of meals later, and will give you a great idea of food prices in general.

Also, remember: some food items may cost more initially but will last for multiple meals. A bag of apples can be eaten over several days, as can a whole rotisserie chicken. A bottle of mayonnaise can last weeks. One bag of rice may contain enough to feed you for quite a few meals. In other words, you might think that spending $5 at the Taco Bell drive-thru is cheaper than spending $10 at the grocery store — but $5 spent at Taco Bell will feed you once, while $10 spent at the store could potentially feed you five or more meals. See the big picture!

pigCreating a budget means being intentional
What do I mean by “being intentional?” Simply this: money doesn’t grow on trees, so if you’re serious about cooking for yourself in college on a limited budget, you need to be purposeful about assessing how much you make—and more importantly, how much you are willing to spend. You will need to make decisions. “Can I afford to have this party with my roommates? Should I cut back in another area of spending?”

You might consider eating inexpensively during the week, then splurging on a get-together with friends over the weekend. Or, conversely, you could take the same amount of money and make it spread throughout the week, eating meals in the mid-price range on a consistent basis. Your call. But whatever you decide: be intentional, make your plan, and stick with it.

Being intentional means knowing how to shop
Let’s say you’ve made your budget plan: you’ve calculated your expenses, assessed how much you can afford to spend on food, and determined how to distribute
finances throughout the week (which might involve cutting back in some areas of spending). Now you’re ready to hit the grocery store. To learn how to shop smart, check out the post, “Budgeting Basics: Five Rules of Smart Grocery Shopping.”

Hey, smart shoppers! Want more budgeting tips?
Check out the links below:

Eight Steps to Creating a Personal Budget
Fifteen Healthy Foods That Can be Purchased for About $2
How to Create a Monthly Budget