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keeping on budget at the grocery store?

582 Views 16 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  ashleyhaugh
This my seem like a no brainer for most of you mama's, but help me out. How do you know how much you're spending as you shop. I keep thinking of try a cash only system but the idea of ringing up the groceries and not having enough cash to cover it freaks me out. So say you walk into the store with $150 to buy food for 2 weeks how do I make sure I end up with only $150 worth of stuff in my basket. The only thing I can think of is trying to add it all up myself as I go and I'm not sure if I can do that when shopping with four kids.
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We talke a calculator and notepad, write down the price of things and keep a running total. DH keeps up with it while I usually select things.
If you take a 'good' calculator just don't ever leave it in the buggy and walk off. Since the tax is 8+% here we usually just figure in 10% extra (because it's easier to calculate 10 than 8). If you get to the register you can always put back a couple of luxury items. My family isn't gonna starve because we can't afford honey or oregano this paycheck, kwim?
Someone suggested grocery gift cards given in only the amount you want to spend. I think it is a great idea as long as you leave all other forms of payment at home not to tempt you.
We keep a running total as we go. We generally round up and don't figure it to the penny. We only take CASH with us and leave all debit cards and checkbooks at home (we don't have credit cards).

I once went in with $12.74 or something like that. My total cam to $12.12! Whew!
I sometimes use the giftcard approach and it works well. I also write a detailed list ahead of time. I plan out meals until tehenext paycheque comes in and check to see what we need in the way of things like TP, toothpaste, etc. I get it all on the list and add in extra if we will need them. I also write the list according to where I will find things in the store - so it is easy to get all of the produce things at once, all of the aisle items without having to retrace my steps, etc.

I also shop at the No Frills store as much as possible. It is a further drive to get there, but prices are cheaper and I don't get tempted by amazing looking displays and new products. I get what I went for and I am happy with that.
I check the flyers when I'm making my list and have a notebook with regular prices of the things I get frequently so I know ahead of time how much I'm going to be spending. I also write the price I expect next to the item in my list so that if I find another brand cheeper I can get it insted or if it ends up being more than I though I know ahead of time and can skip it or choose something else or put soemthing else back if it's something I really need.

That way there should be no surprises at the till and I don't have to think too much when I'm shopping with kids.
You can meal plan for your week (or two) and stick to the list, plus you will get a feel for how the list balances out for your budget. This is how I set up my list (based on the Saving Dinner cookbook):

Meat .................Frozen......................Dairy

Vegetables .........Dry Goods..................Canned Goods

Make a meal plan and a detailed list of everything you need. Take a pen (and your list, obviously) into the store with you. As you pick up an item, write the price (we round up) on your list out beside the item instead of checking off the item like most people do. That way you can easily keep an approximate running total without having to use a calculator in a busy store with four kids! Plus you can easily see which items you've gotten and which you still need.

Keep your list when your shopping trip is over so that you can look back and see how much certain items were when doing your next meal plan.
We are going to cash only and calculator. I always make a list, but now I am going to prioritize it by what we need to actually make meals vs. what are extras or side dishes we could do without and that way I know what items I can put back in order to make it work.
We do the list with prices written down and round up on prices too. The only time we've ever had a problem was at Costco when we bought two of something but dh only put down the price for one.
Our new Martins grocery has these scanner things you walk around with, scan each itenm as you put it in your cart, and it keeps a running total for you. It is also easy to remove an item, and it subtracts it out for you. When we get to the checkout, we just scan the scanner,and pay, its fantastic! I used the calculator from home idea before, but my calculator would turn itself off if there was no activity for a few minutes, so I was always losing my total. I guess there's probably better calculators out there that don't do that!
We usually carry a limited amt of cash in, and you just learn to be very careful, and add as you go.
When I make my list I write down how much the food is, if it isn't in a flyer then I estimate it.

then when I"m shopping as I pick up each food item & put it in the cart I write down on the side of my list how much it was(rounding up to the next dollar). Then I keep a running total as I go along. When I get to the till it is less than my total.

it is easy to do with the kids with you.
I just keep a running (approximate) total in my head, and when I reach my limit, I stop shopping. But I shop at least once a week, and my limit is usually in the vicinity of $50, so that's a lot easier.

Edited to add: I pay by debit card, though, so it's not really a big deal if my order happens to come out to $52 when I only planned to spend $50.
I buy pretty much the same things over and over, so I know the prices of what i'm getting, almost exactly, by heart. The only things that fluctuate are sales (which would be on my side) and produce.

When you are sitting down writing out your list, run a total in your head of what you're spending. Then see if you can find alternatives to eliminate some things off the list.

I've also taken a calculator with me, on those tight weeks.
It took us a while to figure out how to plan, list, shop, and budget for our groceries. (For us, "groceries" means all consumable goods.) These things are all related, so you really need to do all of them in order to do any of them well.

The first step was creating a master shopping list. I used this software to do it, but there's a lot of different (free) ones out there. It took me about four hours, total, to enter all the information that we needed into it. While the software offers some options, how I used it is as follows:

We shop at four stores, Wal*Mart, SuperOne, the $1 store, and our co-op. We buy oxyclean and packing supplies at the $1 store, meat, produce,flour and Fels Naptha at SuperOne, bulk and hard to find items at our co-op, and other dry staples at WM. I entered the things we buy under the heading of the store we get them at. The list automatically alphabetizes itself.

In the case of Wal*Mart, which is enormous, I entered a letter before things in a like category to take advantage of the alphabetizing. In other words, my entries look like, "A Castor Oil", "A Toothbrushes"; "B Toilet Paper", "B Washing Soda"; "C Cornmeal", "C Gluten". This way, things stay organized, but we don't wander all over the store. Plus, the way WM organizes things is somewhat counterintuative (they want you to wander around and spend lots fo $ looking at stuff you don't need). We always go to the health and beauty section first, then walk to other side of the store and start at the back, where the TP, etc. is, so we never have to backtrack, we grab our listed things off the shelves almost exactly in the order that they are listed. This saves us tons of time. (We go to WM once a month, and we are in and out in an hour or less.)

Because we eat virtually no convience food (okay, DH has a strong liking for Morningstar Farms Buffalo Wings) and we make almost all of our cleaning products and toiletries, the number of items that we buy regularly is under 100, even counting all the different spices and fancy vinegars that DH has to have in order to work his gourmet magic. (Also, the only disposable items we use are TP, Qtips, cotton pads and razor blades- other than that we are an all cloth family, and that really helps a lot, both for staying under budget and for list simplification.)

Because we replenish our supply of staples, our meal planning is minimal. All we ever have to do is make sure we have the neccesary produce, and rarely dairy/meat, on hand to make whatever special dish DH wants to create. We have all kinds of staples to make whatever other dinners or whatever we want without really having to plan. (This is called the pantry principle- for a more thourough discussion of this, read The Complete Tightwad Gazette or Cut Your Food Bill in Half.)

We do our shopping in a once a month trip. We do a mini store run less than once a week, and only ever for produce. (Dairy and meat freeze.) Six months out of the year, our farmer's market is open and it's within walking distance, so that makes it very easy.

To make our list, one of us sits at the computer and reads (well, yells) off the items, while the other person stands in the pantry. This is like inventory. Then we rack our brains if there is anything else we possibly need that's not the list. If there is anything, it is almost always a nonconsumable good- like new washcloths or ice trays- that we just may as well get since we're out anyway.

When I get home, I look over our receipts to enter the prices into our list software. This allows the list to keep a running tally of the amount we are going to spend, so when we print it off, it's right there. It also allows us to adjust our list before we even leave to make sure we stay under budget.

We also always take a scientific calculator with us when we shop, as it allows us to keep a running tally. This kind of calculator costs about $12 and is awesome. It is able to give you really precise numbers and show you how it got there. (For example, this past shopping trip I discovered that, when pricing by the sheet, instead of the roll, Scott tissue is the cheapest TP. So we bought the 12 pack for $7, which is nearly a year's supply for us since we use family cloth.)

We have a strict budget of $250 a month for groceries. This is everything- toiletries, food, cleaning supplies, everything. If we bought pizza rolls and bagels and Pantene and Tide, there's no way we could stick to it.

DH bakes once a month. I am merely his assistant. Other than a quick batch of muffins or pancakes now and then, all the baked goods we'll eat for the month are cooked then- bread, english muffins, hot dog buns, tortillas, etc. We freeze these. In the rare case that DH miscalculates, it is my responsability to make quick breads (cornbread, fruitbread, soda bread, Cuban bread or popovers) for the next day or two until we can have another giant baking day. This system also eliminates the need for store runs.

I do the more utilitarian side of cooking, too. I make syrups, yogurt, condiments and goodies, and I feed the freezer to ward off takeout for the nights that DH doesn't feel like cooking.

As one final thing, we have a list on the fridge of things to take with us shopping: Cloth bags, string produce bags, water bottle, sippy cup, snack for baby, calcuator, list, pen, clipboard.

I know that this post was really long, and it seems intimidating, but we developed this system over three years. In order to keep our budget this low, we MUST stay organized.
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i use the calculator on my cell phone. we pay with the debit card too, so its not a huge deal if i go a little over, but i do have an amount in mind when i start, and try to stay as near to that as i can get
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