This has been a bad week for me. Earlier in the week I was looking at one of my financial spreadsheets that I use to track our income and expenses and noticed that back in 2012 while in my Junior/Senior year of college we managed to find a way to live off of only $860 per month on average. Even I was a little bit shocked by this. We might have only made $28,430 that year but we were able to save over $18,000 of it and only spend 36% of our income. So all week I've been wanting to put together an awesome post for you that would provide insight on how we were able to do this and how a few years like this we were able to have $50,000 cash for a down payment on a house, a full emergency fund, and about $10k in Vanguard when I left college.
But, alas, I have failed you this week and haven't gotten to putting that article together yet and don't want to try to rush through it now and end up totally botching the articles potential. So, I pledge that I will work on putting that article together for you soon. But in the mean time I'll give you one of the Saving Tips that we learned in college.
ONLY GO GROCERY SHOPPING ONCE A WEEK (at most).
We started doing this to because of our busy schedule while we were both in school but after a while it turned into a habit that we have continued to this day nearly 6 years later and we've been able to identify several ways that this will help you save money and effort.
1) You save on both time and gas. Whether you just need a gallon of milk or enough food for the whole week you are going to have to spend the same amount of gas, time driving, time waiting in line, and potentially getting the kids packed up and ready to go. So, each trip to the store that you can cut out of your week will automatically save you that much in time and gas.
2) Frivolous purchases. The people who design grocery stores are super (market) smart. They have billions and billions of data points to analyze to try to get you to buy more crap with each visit you make. Next time that you go to the store notice how many times you want to make a impulse buy (p.s. it has been found that men make more impulse buys than women so for added grocery saving men could stay at home and tend the kids for their wives). I know that I have a weakness for impulse buys and have found that the fewer items that I'm getting the more tempted I am to get things that I hadn't planned on buying, or even need. This not only has to do with tricky super market layouts, sales, and gimmicks but also the mindset of making a smaller purchase. When I have a full cart of groceries I can't help but think and worry about how much it is all going to cost so I don't want to add anything that isn't a necessity at that point. But if I only have 3 items and know that the bill will be just a few dollars then it's easier to justify an extra few dollars on something that catches my fancy.
3) Makes budgeting easier. We have a grocery budget of $175 per month for a family of 4 and only go shopping on the weekends. This means that we can safely spend $35 per week on a month with 5 weekends or $43 if there are only 4 weekends (we try to use part of that extra $8 per week to build up our supply on hand for months with 5 weekends). Before ever going to the store we know what we are allowed to spend on that trip so that we will be able to make our grocery budget for the month. And after a while what you buy will become habitual and you'll gain a sense of what it takes to stay within that weekly budget. (p.s. my wife just handed me the receipt for the groceries this week and it came up to $36.23, right on schedule).
4) Decreases waste. We have a tenancy to stretch our food out quite a bit. Often by the end of a week our meals are a bit more lean than they are at the beginning of the week and our fridge isn't keeping much cold. But this forces us to use the items that would normally get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about until it had started to stink. My wife has become a master of culinary creativity and can make an awesome meal out of very little ingredients as a bonus result of our having to stretch out what we buy.
I'm sure there are other cost benefits to the practice of only shopping once a week, but I can't think of them right now. So if you have any other benefits that you can think of let us all know about them in the comments please.
And for all of you that are worried about us malnourished our family with only spending $175 per month, don't worry, we eat plenty but have found ways like this to save on groceries so much that $175 is plenty for us to live healthily on. One of the things that my wife studied in school was nutrition so she is constantly keeping our health and nourishment in mind.