What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t have a budget, and fails every time she tries to make one and stick to it? I really need help in this area.
I asked a few questions, and Denise narrowed down her problem.
…over the years as our income grew, I pretty much just stopped, and now when I try to put a figure on what my grocery shopping for the month should be…it goes out the door with my first shopping trip. I generally try to do a big trip, every 2 weeks. I usually end up in the store several times a week, and I’m always surprised when I get to check out to see the total. I think back, and I realize that I very rarely look at the price stickers, so I suppose that may have something to do with it. I am very impulsive, and if I see a new recipe, etc. that I would like to try, I do. I totally change what my menu plan is, go to the store if I don’t have the ingredients needed, etc. I do buy our meat, eggs, and a lot of our produce from a local farm and farmer’s market…and I get our milk from a Creamery that delivers to a local grocery store, so that does add up the amount I spent, but besides the food being much better for us, I am glad that I’m able to help out the local farmers, so I would hate to stop that. I do not that I could probably get grass fed beef, pastured chicken for less at The Fresh Market, but then it wouldn’t be going local.
So, she isn’t in a financial bind, but definitely wants to get more control over her food spending. Being creative in the kitchen and buying local are very important to her – she doesn’t want to eat as cheaply as possible, but she does want to get more value for her money and not have a runaway food budget. I think we can all relate to that!
Denise currently spends $1200-1400 a month for herself and her two teenagers (her husband is deployed). They rarely eat out, and she likes to cook and especially to try new recipes. (And her recipes look delicious!)
Eating minimally processed real food is important to her, and she likes to support local farmers. Her goal is cut her spending in half so that she can sock away more money for her children’s college fund.
That’s definitely doable! But my advice to her was not to try to cut her spending – yet.
What? Am I nuts? No. Food is very, very personal and not all approaches are right for every person.
I don’t know many people who could suddenly cut their food spending in half overnight, without a drastic motivator such as a job loss. And if Denise can uncover and recognize her spending habits, she’ll have a solid foundation for her budget in the future. Her motivation won’t just be to get to next month, but instead will be a deliberate plan.
Denise’s obstacles are not financial; that’s just a symptom. Her actual problem is that she doesn’t have a working plan of what to buy or what to do with the ingredients she purchases, so she ends up back at the store buying more for a different recipe. Because it’s not primarily a money issue, my advice is to seize control of her planning; we’ll work on the actual dollars later.
Let’s look more deeply into her purchasing habits. Here are a few road blocks that might explain why none of her budgets seem to work for her.
Denise says: (emphasis mine)
my husband grew up really really poor (his words, not mine. I’m not attacking him. I love him very much and am very proud of him and all he does), and so having a lot of food in the house now is a safety net for him, so that plays into my overspending
I usually go big shopping for staples, etc. about every 2 weeks, usually on the weeks that are not military payday…as I can’t stand the crowd and lines. I would aim for about $150 a shopping trip, and I’d start out with a list and try adding things up…but along the way, I’d just blow it. It might start with one thing that we didn’t really need, but looked like someone would like it, and go from there. Before I knew it, I’d be checking out and it would be hovering around the $300 mark or so. and that wasn’t including our milk and dairy, meat, or the majority of our produce. I just don’t know where it all goes.
…if someone gives me assistance, if I have a question about an item, I feel really guilty if I don’t buy it, so I generally buy it and then anything else they show
I find new recipes and want to try them constantly, so I go buy the ingredients and then I mess up my whole menu plan and have all this extra food. That is a huge thing for me. Recipes and cook books just make me crazy…I even read them before bed. That is what happens to a lot of my grocery funds. I can’t believe that slipped my mind….today even after commenting on your blog, I found a new recipe and went out in a yucky storm to get the ingredients needed on the off chance I have time to cook it this weekend. Plus I like to bake to relax…which gets costly.
She’s had some success addressing her spending, trying out a variety of things:
I did my shopping at Farm Fresh or Harris Teeter through the internet, so that it would save me money by me not going up and down the aisles.
I am trying to use coupons a little more. The first couple of times I worked at using them, I saved a lot of money…but then I just couldn’t find the time to do it, so it fell to the side
I do try to use a list most of the time, and if I tell myself I’m only going to go by the list, when I see (or think) of something else, while I’m in the store, I write it down on the list before I take it off the shelf
So, let’s take her issues one by one. This my opinion and my advice, so if you have a different perspective to add please leave a comment! Both Denise and I will be reading.
First, I think she should absolutely respect her husband. A full pantry is security, and just because you have a more mindful spending plan doesn’t mean the cupboards have to be bare. If having food around makes her husband happy and helps her family be prepared to weather the little ups and downs in life, and if it’s not taking away from some other, more important need, then by all means keep those shelves full. Just make sure you are mindful when you stock up, so you have food your family likes to eat.
Next, I think she definitely needs to come up with a list method that will work for her. Lists (and menu plans) are absolutely fundamental when it comes to saving money. Not only will she only buy food that she already has a plan for, it will keep her out of the store.
Marketing companies spend a fortune determining the best psychological tricks to get us to spend money. They have specialists in all kinds of areas whose work is solely based on manipulating shoppers to buy more. That’s hard to resist; staying out of the store entirely is an easy defense. Denise already gets her meat, dairy, and produce from alternate sources including a CSA so she’s halfway there!
The real budget breakers here are unplanned purchases. The stockman shows her a product, and she feels obligated to purchase it. She is creative and loves to cook and bake, and new recipes inspire her. She definitely wants to keep trying out new dishes.
Therefore, my non-negotiable is to get a list and stick with it. But how? By carrying next week’s list with her at the store. Right now, she’s seeing something she wants and adding it to her current shopping list, which quickly spirals out of control.
I advise her to add it to next week’s list. Then she can accomodate those fun dishes into her meal plan, and she won’t end up with a ton of food she doesn’t know what to do with. She can review those impulse items in a neutral environment, at her leisure. Buy only what is on the list.
Notice I have a weekly list? The other plan of attack is to stay out of the stores. Go shopping once a week; if she forgets something, she’ll have to make do until the next shopping trip.
This applies to when she seeks the help of a store employee. She can buy what they show her – but if it’s not on this week’s list, she’ll add it to next week’s list and buy it then (assuming she still wants it.)
Be inspired by cookbooks and magazines. Be impulsive. But be impulsive when you are at home with a pen and paper, not when you are in the cereal aisle.
Denise plans to try my list method for two weeks, and report back.
What would you say to Denise?