By Laurie Jones
At the start of the new school year, you may feel like your family’s schedule isn’t the only thing getting a little tighter. With the rising cost of school supplies, clothing, and extracurricular activities, your family budget may also be feeling the pinch.
One way to help offset the extra expenses is to reduce your spending at the grocery store. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend hours clipping coupons or sacrifice healthy and tasty home-cooked meals with your family.
With a little planning and organization, you can provide a healthy and balanced diet your whole family will enjoy. Here are a few tips for getting off to a budget-friendly and healthy new school year.
COMMIT TO EATING AT HOME DURING THE WEEK
Eating out is typically more expensive than preparing meals at home.
Decide at the beginning of each week the meals you will prepare each night, and stick to the plan. Without a plan, you may be tempted to pick up fast food or eat out when your schedule gets hectic.
Post your weekly menu in a visible place so that your family will know what to expect and will be less likely to try to convince you to abandon your plan.
Check out some of the free apps and websites designed to help you easily plan weekly menus. The Food on the Table app helps you create a healthy, balanced meal plan and will even match your grocery list to the store deals and coupons at your local grocery store.
USE YOUR MEAL PLAN TO MAKE A SHOPPING LIST
Never go to the grocery store without a list. Check the weekly ads for your local grocery store and use the sale items to create your meal plan and shopping list. Don’t forget to include the staple items you will need for the week, such as milk, bread, eggs, and snacks.
STICK TO THE LIST
Grocery stores add thousands of new products to the shelves each year. These items are displayed in very attractive ways to entice you to try them. It can be very tempting to try these new products, but resist the temptation to veer from your list and to exceed your budget. Adhering to your list will also help you to avoid food waste. If every item on your list is designated to be used either for your meal plan or your staple items, you will find that you are using most of the groceries you purchase each week instead of throwing them away.
SHOP ONCE PER WEEK
If you have made a shopping list using your weekly meal plan and your staple items, you should be able to buy all the groceries you need for the week at one time. Stopping by the store several times during the week will almost always cause you to spend more overall than if you buy groceries once a week.
TRACK YOUR SPENDING AS YOU SHOP
It can be quite discouraging to find out in the checkout line that you have spent far more than you expected. But, you can avoid the shock of overspending by tracking costs as you shop. As you place each item in the shopping cart, simply write down the price of the item on the side of your grocery list and keep a tally as you shop (don’t forget to account for tax).
If you have an approximate idea of your spending, you can approach the checkout line with the confidence that you have remained within your budget.
SHOP WITH CASH
When you shop with a debit card or credit card, you are likely to overspend. However, if you are shopping with cash only, you will be more aware of your spending as you shop and less likely to go over your budget.
It takes time and concentration to shop smart. Shopping with small children or even a spouse can cause you to rush your shopping trip and overspend on impulse purchases. If possible, leave the kids at home and give yourself plenty of time to focus on your shopping trip.
SHOP THE EDGES OF THE GROCERY STORE
You have probably heard before that shopping the edges of the grocery store is good for your budget and your health. It’s true.
The center aisles of the store are dedicated to mostly processed and high-calorie foods. While they provide plenty of calories and fat, many of these foods do not deliver the nutrients that your body needs to function at its best. The foods found on the perimeter of the store, such as fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy, provide more vitamins and minerals per calorie, giving you a better value for your money.
TRY SOME MEATLESS MEALS
Americans spend, on average, between 20 and 25 percent of their weekly grocery budget on meats. Cutting out some of this spending can help you reduce your food costs and give you more room in the budget for other healthy items like fruits and vegetables.
This doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian family. Incorporating even one or two meatless meals per week can make a big impact on your budget. You may find that your family doesn’t even miss the meat when enjoying a hearty vegetarian meal. For ideas on tasty meatless meals, visit www.meatlessmonday.com.
No matter how tight your family’s budget, with a little planning, you can provide fresh and delicious dinners your family will love without sacrificing flavor or breaking the bank.