Grocery Shopping

Grocery Shopping on a Budget

I hate to admit it, but I have a dirty little secret. I secretly love watching Extreme Couponers on TLC. The fact that people can load up entire grocery carts full of food and toiletries and pay next to nothing is crazy to me. How is this even legal? As I’m typing this it sounds as if those people are robbing the grocery stores. And while I get an adrenalin rush while watching the show, I know that I, myself, will never be an extreme couponer. I just don’t have the time or the cajones to dig through dumpsters. So where does that leave me? I could throw in the towel and just spend whatever on groceries. Or, I could use a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years to save as much money as possible grocery shopping.

Step 1: Create a Grocery Budget

If you’re like me, you’re probably a single millennial working to live on a budget. Your grocery budget is going to look different from mine. I don’t have any dietary restrictions (other than the fact that I don’t like seafood). I’m not vegan, Gluten Free, or Paleo. Which means, everything in the grocery store is up for grabs. My grocery budget is $125-$150 per month which breaks down to about $31.25-$37.50 per week.

If you’re used to spending $50-$100 per week on groceries, trimming your budget is going to be a bit of a shock. But stick with me.

Step 2: Check the Ads

Now that you have your budget in place, you need to check the ads. So stop throwing away your junk mail! That weekly packet of flyers you get on Wednesdays is going to be key to saving you tons of money. If you go to the grocery store without a plan it is way too easy to overspend. By knowing what is on sale you can begin to search for recipes with those ingredients.

When you’re looking at the ad, stick with the front page. The front page is going to have the best deals of the week. Grocery stores try and lure you in with those front page deals. But if you’re a frugal millennial, you’ll know that if you try and stick to just those front page deals, you’re going to score major savings.

Step 3: Create a Weekly Meal Plan

Now that you know what ingredients are on sale, it’s time to create a weekly meal plan. I try and eat 80% of my meals at home, it saves a lot of money, and quite frankly, it’s better for my waistline. With that in mind, create a spreadsheet (or download and print the one I use here) and write down your meal plan. Weekly Meal Plan

If you have no idea where to begin when it comes to meal planning, worry not! A few years ago when I was just starting meal planning I was completely overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to cook or grocery shop, but over the years I’ve practiced every week and have become pretty good. My favorite recipe website is called Budget Bytes. It has really great recipes that are easy to follow and they use ingredients that I (almost) always have on hand. If I see that chicken, spinach, and red bell peppers are on sale this week, I head over to Budget Bytes to see what recipes have those ingredients.

Channel Your Inner Julia Child

I highly recommend you avoid processed food as much as possible. Not only will your waistline thank you, but your wallet will too. I’m not going to lie, I love to splurge on an occasional prepackaged meal and treat, but I don’t focus my weekly meal plan around process foods. Processed foods are really marked up and you are paying for the convenience. Unless chips, cookies, or frozen pizza is on sale, I don’t buy it. When it is on sale, I allow myself to pick up a package or two and spread it out throughout the week.

If you want to see what I’m eating and how I grocery shop, check out my weekly meal plans.

Step 4: Create a Grocery Shopping List

Now that you know what you’re going to eat for the week, it’s time to go get those ingredients! First, take note of what you already have on hand. Americans waste more food than any other nation. So, let’s save the earth and your pocketbook and check to see what you already have hiding in your refrigerator. After seeing what you already have on hand, add the ingredients that you need to buy to your grocery shopping list.

I crate my shopping list on the notes app on my iPhone. That way, I’m always carrying it with me and never have to worry about forgetting it at home. I mean think about it, when was the last time you went anywhere without your phone? As I walk through the store I delete items off of my grocery shopping list as I put them in my cart.

Step 5: Go Grocery Shopping

It’s go time! I played sports growing up, in fact, I was involved in everything from soccer to basketball to volleyball to track and field. Sometimes my inner athlete comes out and it’s easier for me to think in terms of sports analogies. I like to think of everything before hitting the store as practice. Checking the ads, creating a weekly meal plan, and grocery list are all prepared for the big game, hitting the grocery store. Now that you are fully prepared, let’s head the field.

Resist Temptations

As with any game you play, you’re going to have to overcome obstacles in order to get the outcome you want. When you’re at the grocery store, you’re going to be tempted to purchase things other than what’s on your shopping list. Try to resist. The more items you put in your cart that aren’t on your list, the more likely you are to overspend.

While overspending a few dollars won’t totally kill your budget, it will add up. The way I look at it, the more I spend on groceries, the less I can spend on other things. You see, if I go over my grocery budget, I have to take it out of my miscellaneous budget. That means fewer girls nights out, brunches, and shopping sprees. When I put it in perspective, it’s not worth it to me to add extra goodies to my shopping cart.

Grocery Shopping in a Nutshell

If you’re new to budgeting and trimming your grocery budget, this can be a lot to take in. To be honest, I don’t do everything on this list in one day. I spread out the task over 2-3 days. That helps me feel less overwhelmed.

On Wednesdays, my favorite grocery store, Sprouts, publishes its weekly ad. I head over to the website to check out the deals. After sifting through the online ad, I start to develop my weekly meal plan.

On Saturdays, I head over to Sprouts with my grocery shopping list on my iPhone. I scoop up all of my groceries and put them in the refrigerator.

On Sundays, I meal prep and make most of my lunches and dinners for the week. If my meals are prepped throughout the week I’m less likely to fall into temptation after a long workday. I’m less likely to go out to lunch with coworkers. I’m also not tempted to stop by Chipotle after work because I’m too lazy to cook. If all I have to do is pop my Tupperware in the microwave, I have no reason to eat out.

Breaking up my meal prepping and grocery shopping tasks throughout the week keeps me on track and prevents me from feeling overwhelmed. Try it out, and see what works best for you. The more you practice, the better you will be–I promise!

Frugal Millennial Budgeting Infographic

Millennial’s Guide to Budgeting

If you want to get ahead and accomplish your #financialgoals, you need a monthly budget. Most Millennials graduate college with a fancy college degree but no idea how to manage money. The first step to tackling your finances is to create a monthly budget. I get it, you hear the word budget and you want to run for the hills. Most people cringe when they hear that dreaded b-word. But just hear me out, budgeting doesn’t have to be boring, overwhelming, or confusing.

I’ve been studying budgeting for the last 5 years, I’ve read over 50 books on the subject (can you even believe there are that many books out there?!). And I think I have a pretty good idea of what all of the major financial experts have to say about budgeting. But in all of my research, I keep coming across the same issue. The way budgeting is presented is complicated! Most people suggest using percentages and ratios, lots of spending categories, and that gets overwhelming.

Worry not, my fellow frugal millennials! Over the past 5 years, I’ve learned a few things to take the drudgery out of budgeting. First things first, download and print your own budgeting worksheet.

Step 1: Calculate Your Income

Before you can even begin to think about how much you can spend, you need to figure out how much you make. This isn’t complicated. Since it’s 2017 I’m assuming your employer pays you via direct deposit. Log into your bank account and see how much your employer deposits into your account each pay period. Then, figure out how often your employer pays you. Are you paid weekly, monthly, bi-weekly, or bi-monthly?

Let’s say you take home $1,000 on the 15th and 30th every month. In total, you take home $2,000 every month. That was easy! Now that we know how much money you are bringing in each month, let’s figure out how much we should spend.

Step 2: Calculate Your Rent

For most of us Millennials, our rent is a fixed rate and you’ve probably signed a year-long lease. While most financial experts recommend spending 25%-33% of your take-home pay on rent, you’re probably already stuck in a lease for the next several months. So, while your rent should be somewhere between $500-$660 per month (using our $2,000/month take-home pay example), you may be spending more than that.

Step 2.1: Budgeting Utilities

If you’re lucky, your utilities may be included in the cost of your rent. This makes it easy for you to plan ahead and know exactly how much you’re spending each month. If you’re not as lucky, and you are responsible for your varying utility costs, you’re going to have to take a few extra steps.

Electric, Gas, Water & Sewage

Look at your electric, gas, water & sewage bills over the past year, this should be as easy as logging into your online account and looking at your payment history. Calculate your average monthly spend and put that into your budget. This cost shouldn’t vary too much from month to month, but know that depending on your consumption habits you may be a few dollars over or under each month.

In your budget worksheet, fill out how much you spend on rent, and if applicable, add that to your average utility spend per month. In our example, let’s say you pay $500 per month for your apartment and all of your utilities are included. Go you!

Step 3: Budget Your Car Insurance

If you drive a car you need car insurance. This isn’t just me going on a rant encouraging you to get insurance (side note: you also NEED health insurance to protect yourself from bankruptcy). Most state laws require you to have car insurance if you drive your car. If you’re pulled over by the police and don’t have car insurance you better bet you’re going to get slapped with a major ticket. Save yourself the ticket and headache and make sure you are insured.

Your car insurance should be a fixed monthly rate that you pay every month.

In your budget worksheet, fill out how much you spend on car insurance each month. For our example, let’s say you pay $100 per month on car insurance.

Step 4: Budget for Your Cell Phone

I’m going to go ahead and assume that we all have a cell phone, and most of us have fancy data plans to go with them. The most affordable way to use your cell phone is to stay on a family plan for as long as possible. With a family plan, the cost is much less than if you were to get your own individual plan. In fact, what you would pay on a family plan is often half of what you would pay on an individual plan.

Calculate what you pay for the actual phone (if you’re leasing the phone through your carrier). And calculate what you pay to use the phone every month. Add that up and put it on your budget worksheet. In our example, let’s say you pay $30 per month to lease your iPhone plus $20 per month to stay on your family’s cell phone plan.

Step 5: Budget for Groceries

Your grocery category is one category where you can really save a lot of money. Most people spend way too much on groceries that they end up throwing away. The key to saving money on groceries is to go into the store with a plan and stick to that plan! If you’re a single person, shopping for yourself, I recommend spending between $125-$150 per month on groceries. That breaks down to $31-$37 per week on groceries.

Check out my post on how I grocery shop on a budget for more details on how to slash your grocery bill. Then, fill out the grocery section of your budget worksheet.

Step 6: Budget for Gas

If you own a car, you probably need to fill it up with gas every once and a while. Calculating how much you spend on gas every month isn’t too hard. Figure out how often you fill up with gas, and what your average spend is. I fill my car up with gas every 2 weeks. Each time I spend around $40. I give myself a bit of a cushion and allow my gas budget to be $100 per month. That extra padding helps if I take a road trip or if gas prices end up skyrocketing–which they sometimes do in California!

Calculate your gas budget and add it to the gas portion of your budget worksheet.

Step 6.1: Budgeting Parking

If you have to pay for a monthly parking pass for your apartment complex or work you’ll need to add this into your budget. If you only pay for parking every once and a while when you go to events, you can include that expense in your “miscellaneous” category.

For our example, let’s say you also budget $100 per month on gas and don’t’ have to pay for a monthly parking pass.

Frugal Millennial Budgeting Infographic

Step 7: The Miscellaneous Category

The miscellaneous category of my budget is my favorite and soon it will be your new favorite, too! I put all of my other monthly expenses in my miscellaneous category. This includes going out to eat, getting my hair/nails done, buying clothes, toiletries, etc. Some financial experts will tell you that it’s better to break your miscellaneous category into smaller, more manageable categories. If that works better for you, then by all means breakup your miscellaneous category.

Keeping One General Miscellaneous Category

For me, keeping one large, general category has really helped me stay on track and spend less. When I first started budgeting regularly about 5 years ago I split my budget into many little categories. But I found that I was overwhelmed as to how much money I should put in each category. And what about expenses that occurred frequently but not every month, like getting my nails done or buying shampoo? Ultimately having so many categories caused me to spend way more than I do now and it took me a lot longer to create the budget at the beginning of each month.

And thus, the general Miscellaneous Category was created.

Budgeting for Miscellaneous

You can decide how much you want to spend on miscellaneous items every month. To give you a point of reference, I budget $500 per month in my Miscellaneous Category. I break that down into $100 weekly increments and give myself that extra $100 to splurge on a random shopping trip, day trip, or an afternoon at the salon.

For the most part, I try to save my $100 for the weekend. I know that by the time Friday night hits, I’m going to want to grab a drink with my friends, head to a movie, or grab a meal out. Realistically, $100 is enough for a few budget-friendly weekend activities or one extravagant experience.

There was a time when I was going out to lunch and happy hour during the week and found that I was spending my weekly miscellaneous budget during the work-week. By the time the weekend rolled around, I had no money left to spend. I was either really cranky from being a shut-in. Or, more often than not, I was spending $800 per month on miscellaneous items.

Decide how much you want to spend on miscellaneous items each month. Add that amount to your budget worksheet.

Tying Your Budget Together

Once you’ve determined how much you’re going to budget for each category, you need to start tracking your expenses. Tracking your expenses is going to be the key to your success. If you don’t’ track your expenses, how do you know how much you’re spending? You don’t. And odds are, you’re going to end up overspending.

There are 2 apps I like to use: Mint and EveryDollar. Personally, I use EveryDollar more than Mint. I’m just more accustomed to EveryDollar than I am to Mint. Both apps are equally as good. Budgeting Worksheet Filled Out Example

You’ll notice my budgeting method is pretty simple and straightforward. In a nutshell, I try and spend as little as possible so that I can save at least half of my income. In the example above, we end up spending $1,375 of our $2,000 take-home pay. That means we end up saving about 1/3 of our take-home pay or $625 every month. That is a great start! You could put that $625 to work, either to pay off debt or invest in retirement.

You’ll also notice, I didn’t add that $625 to a new category on the budget. There’s a reason for this: out of sight, out of mind. For me, if I see that amount printed on my budget, I know I would be tempted to spend it. Instead, I set up autopay to either pay off debt or invest in retirement. Trust me, if you forget it’s even there, you’ll end up saving a lot more.

Comment below with questions, and happy budgeting!


What’s the Heck is a Raincheck?

How many times has this scenario happened to you? You’re all ready to go shopping, see a great deal on a store’s website or were mailed a great promotional offer. You get in your car, head to the store to purchase the item that is on a great sale, only to find it’s sold out. As a bargain hunter, that happens to me more often than you would expect. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, and a pain in the hiney! The next time you walk into a store and an item on sale is completely sold out, ask for a raincheck.

What is a Raincheck?

A raincheck is a store’s version of an I Owe You (IOU). If an item is advertised at a discounted price and sold out, you don’t have to leave the store empty-handed. You can find a store employee or store manager and ask for a raincheck. The raincheck will allow you to purchase the item at the discounted price once the item comes back into stock.

How Do I Get a Raincheck?

This happened to me earlier this week. I was shopping at my local Sprouts Farmers Market and saw that almond milk was on sale for $1.99. A great deal! When I went back to the milk section to the store only to find they were completely sold out. Bummer! After asking an employee if they had any more in the back, I was disappointed to find they were completely sold out. As I was checking out I asked the cashier for a raincheck. Without hesitation, he wrote one up for me. The next time I’m at Sprouts I’ll be able to snag my discounted almond milk.

Do Stores Have to Give Me a Raincheck?

The short answer is, it depends. Some states require retailers to provide rainchecks for sold out items. Those states require stores to “make good” on advertised offers. Other states do not have the same consumer protection. A store can also say in the ad that there are limited quantities or that rainchecks are not allowed. During the holiday season, when items are severely discounted, stores will often not allow rainchecks. So if you’re trying to score a great deal on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, you’ll want to shop early before supplies run out.

Raincheck Alternatives

Depending on a store’s policy you may be able to purchase a comparable item at the sale price. This happened to me a few months ago. For those of you that have Safeway grocery stores nearby, you’re probably aware of Safeway’s Monopoly promotion. Every spring Safeway allows customers to earn Monopoly tickets for purchasing groceries.

Many of the Monopoly tickets have coupons for free items. This spring I received coupons for free salt, donuts, french baguettes, grocery bags, facial tissue, etc. All of the coupons expire on the same day. I can say from personal experience that the day the coupons expire is pure chaos. I’ve never seen more people at Safeway on the day the Monopoly coupons expire. Needless to say, because many people receive the same coupons and they expire on the same day the store looks like it’s been ransacked. The shelves are completely empty of the coupon items.

Instead of asking for a raincheck, I simply asked if I could get redeem my coupons for items of similar quality. Instead of getting a french baguette (which was completely sold out) I grabbed a sourdough loaf. Instead of regular grocery bags, I snagged bathroom sized grocery bags. Instead of a donut, I got a bagel.

Getting a Raincheck Alternative

The easiest way to score a raincheck or raincheck alternative is to ask. Just ask. Ask a store employee or manager and oftentimes (if you’re nice) they’ll grant your wish. Don’t be a jerk, don’t be rude, and don’t act entitled. If you’re polite and apologetic, more times than not your raincheck or raincheck alternative will be given to you.

P.S. If you’re looking for other ways to save money online, check out my abandoned shopping cart trick.