Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Grocery Shopping and the Envelope System of Budgeting

This weekend I did some grocery shopping to stock the pantries and refrigerator for the next couple of weeks. As I have mentioned before, in June as part of my No Spending Challenge, I am trying something new - using the envelope system for my grocery budget. My typical monthly budget is $125, so I took that amount out in cash and tucked it into its own special slot in my wallet. Since it is the middle of the month and I've done a bit of shopping, I thought I would update you on how it is going.

When I went up to the cabin on the weekend of the 6th, I spent about $20 in groceries and another $10 at the farmer's market on my way up. When I am at the cabin I love to make long slow dishes on the stove that can cook while I am out working in the yard, or even just kicking back in the hammock! I picked out a few favorite slow cook recipes that would use up some items from my cupboards and would provide plenty of lunches for the following week. It went well! In fact, I am finishing up the last of the leftovers in today's lunch.

That brought me down to $95 for groceries. Last week, I stopped at my favorite Middle Eastern Market to replenish some staples and picked up olive oil, labna, pepper and dried chickpeas, which totaled to about $15. That brought me down to $80 for my shopping trip, and here's how I did...

I decided I wanted to only spend $40 of the $80 I had left. There are still 2 weeks of June left after all! Before I left the house I made a menu of some simple summer dishes I could make for the days ahead; these should last me at least 10 days, if not longer. Again, I concentrated on picking meals where I already had some of the ingredients on hand or that shared some of the same ingredients. (Several dishes called for chicken, for example. This means I could take advantage of the sale on chicken and not also have to get pork, beef, etc.) As I made the menu I made my shopping list, then I packed that, my coupons, a calculator and pen and headed out.

I decided not to go to my usual mega-superstore this time, but instead hit a smaller neighborhood grocery. The megamart sometimes has cheaper prices, but not always. I've been keeping grocery store price comparison and on the things I purchase, I find that it pretty much evens out. This time I chose the neighborhood grocery for a couple of reasons: 1) I would not be as likely to purchase non-grocery items with my grocery money and 2) I was going on a Saturday. The megamart is a madhouse on Saturdays. I didn't think my rising irritation and aggravation would be conducive to a smart, methodical shopping trip.

As I picked up the groceries, I jotted down the prices on the back of the envelope* that holds my coupons. Then when I got a handful of prices all jotted down, I added them up. Math is not one of my strong points - hence the calculator. It comes in handy though, especially since I read an article on The Simple Dollar about "Quantity Surcharges." I had never heard of such a thing before! The stores I go to frequently have the per unit price on the price sticker on the shelf, but if they don't, I check it myself.

When I finished up at the store, I had calculated I would come in at $41 and some change. The cashier rang me up at $51 even - until I handed him my coupons. I didn't have a lot of coupons this time, but the ones I had were great. Several were freebies I picked up off Money Saving Mom. Total cost? $39.70! (I had deliberately slightly over estimated the cost of some of my produce items, just to be on the safe side.)

So now, the trick is to make it to June 30 on just $40. My pantry is full and I have list hanging on the refrigerator of meals to make, so I should be just fine. I am finding that the envelope system is making me a lot more conscious of where my dollars and cents are going. It is an interesting way to budget.

* Since I pay all my bills online, I like to reuse the return envelopes that comes with bills for grocery lists and holding coupons.

Photo by: Fellowship of the Rich


Catie said...

In addition to the usefulness of the envelope system, paying in cash ALWAYS makes you think about where your money is going..... because you are actually watching it going!!!

Dawn said...

See, I didn't used to think that way, Catie. I always hated to carry cash because it seemed like it frittered away so easily and I couldn't track where it went. Of course this was before my strict budgeting days, but an example might be that it would be easy to hit the vending machine because I had money on me, whereas if I mostly used my debit card, that didn't happen. However, I think you are right, but for me it needs to be separate from other funds so that I can really see it going. That's why the "envelope." My mother uses cash for everything - from shopping at the grocery store to buying gas to eating out, but she doesn't track any of it. I think I would spend way too much that way!

Kristy @ Master Your Card said...

I'm not a fan of the envelope method myself, though I see it's value to others. I find that actual cash burns a hole in my pocket because I don't have to account for it in my accounts. I'd rather put the cash in the account and keep track of it that way. But, I'm weird that way.

I'd like to know what you got for $40, though! LOL. I spend way too much every time I go to the store. But, then again, that's my own fault since I'm not clearing out the pantry. I think I'm going to go restock some produce tomorrow, but after that I need to really work on clearing that out. I have so much in there, it's probably easy to put a meal together with it. Just need to stop being so tired and lazy after work! Ahem...for the record, I work 10-hour days where I listen to people moan and groan about the state of things, or get lectured on any number of unrelated topics, or just have some mean and irate customers. It's very draining...trying to remember to be polite to these people. Anyway, I think I could do better with the grocery bills if I paid more attention to the coupons. I really need to get into this habit!

Miss M said...

Wow, we spend way more on groceries. LA is just so expensive, it's nearly impossible to escape for less than $100. Of course Mr M is pretty well fed ;)

Dawn said...

I'm pretty well fed too! :) But yeah, I think middle midwest is far less expensive than big coastal cities. Of course it is just me, so I can be a lot more creative in my cooking, which helps.