How to Save Money: The 30 Day Grocery Challenge
By Erin Lozano
Cutting costs is about getting creative. It’s also about refocusing priorities. You may be spending less money than you’re used to, and buying fewer luxuries. But if you’re going to be settling in to cost cutting mode for a while, can you make it a good time? Call it a game, and mitigate the stress of worrying about money? There are ways to reduce spending, especially when it comes to saving money on groceries that won’t make you feel broke and lonely.
Enter the 30-Day Grocery Challenge: 30 days, $200 limit on groceries.
Months back, I decided to give myself a challenge and spend no more than $100 that month on groceries. Eeek! Yes! That was $25 a week on a family of four for food! A hundred bucks was slim cash. It got incredibly challenging, but it also got really fun! It pulled out my most creative self, and gave me ideas for cost cutting in other areas I never would have considered had I not entered the challenge. It also taught me the value of food, what I most enjoy at dinner, and how much I can save if I just put my mind to it.
To make the challenge user-friendly, I’ll publish a weekly update with recipes and helpful ideas. Feel free to comment with your progress, challenges and recipes. The rules of the game are that you have $200 for the whole month. So if you under-spend one week, you have that surplus to add to your balance for later in the month. Don’t overspend! It’ll make it really hard to eat later in the week. Get resourceful! It’ll go a long way.
Here are some tips to getting to Day 30 well fed and on budget.
1. Take inventory of your pantry and freezer.
- Go through your entire cupboard and pull out the staples—pasta, rice, beans, grains. Line them up in order of weeks. How many meals can each of them contribute to each week till they are gone?
- Then pull out the long neglected items—the canned garbanzo beans, hearts of palm, and Thai chili soups—and set them aside to start planning how you can turn them into spectacular feats of cuisine as the month unfolds.
- Label the items in your freezer in order of the weeks you want to eat them in your 30- Day plan. It may be gratifying to save those burgers till Week 4, when creativity is waning.
- Take note of the condiments in the fridge. What can you make in the next 30 days that you can use those pickled lemons in?
-Use your $50 a week to augment what you already have.
2. Uncover your favorite all-purpose recipe books.
Hint: Vegetarian chefs are known for their remarkable creativity with staple ingredients and a few dashes of produce. These can be prolific help on a budget, and refill your reservoir of recipe ideas when wondering what to make with the three bags of rice you found in the back of the cupboard. Pick up one at the library, borrow one from your neighbor, or find several at a used bookstore.
3. Plan, plan, plan.
- Once you have inventoried your food supply, make a list and don’t buy anything you already have!
- Make a loose meal plan for the month, based on what’s in your kitchen, and what you think you might buy on your budget. As each week begins, make a more detailed meal plan for that week.
- Keep the grocery trips to a minimum, and never shop hungry. To stay inside the budget, it’s best to buy once, maybe twice for the week. Bring your list of items you have (keep it in your purse or your car). Cross items off the list once you have eaten them.
-Keep the perishable food items to a minimum, especially if you live alone. Avoid spending too much of your weekly allowance on produce, meat, and baked goods that won’t get eaten before their expiration date.
4. Get creative with single ingredients.
If you purchase a main course item on special, like fish or meat, consider serving part of it as a main course one night with rice or veggies, then mincing up the rest for tacos or casserole.
5. Stick to it.
After a couple of weeks, the challenge can get a little dicey. Week three, you may start looking longingly into the grocery market freezer at the $5 Ben & Jerry’s. The trick is to stay on track, stick to your daily plan, and know that in 30 days, you can have your specialty ice cream.
6. Talk about it!
It’s best to start this challenge with a partner or a group. Enroll people at work to take the challenge with you. Get your neighbors in on it. You will keep each other on track and hold each other accountable. And truthfully, it’s just more fun that way. You can go so far as to make a big progress chart in someone’s garage, trade recipes, or trade items you have a surplus of for items your neighbor has a surplus of. The possibilities are endless there, and the encouragement that kicks in when you’re ready to quit is priceless.
When you get into the challenge, it becomes a ritual, and all of a sudden, you find yourself through one week saying, I can’t believe I did it! The success feels fantastic. You feel freedom in it, more than what you might imagine on a reduction plan. Throughout the 30-day challenge, I was able to craft awesome new recipes, learn how to make granola really cheaply, and get the value of my dollar out of every meal.
Is it sustainable after the first month? If you have a great time, and it’s a breeze for you, keep at it. For my family, we got busy after we completed the challenge, and let the plans slide. But the experience of those 30 days gave us cost saving, valuable habits we still use today. I find myself shopping with that hawk-eye for value. And certain weeks, I take stock of the pantry and launch a mini-challenge to last through the week.
Join us! Take the 30 Day Grocery Challenge and tell us how it goes. Happy eating, and even better, happy saving.
Erin Lozano is COO of GreenSherpa.com, a unique Cash Flow Management tool makes your financial future as important as your financial history. Automated to all of your online banking and credit accounts, Green Sherpa handles expenses and plans up to twelve months ahead to give you 100% visibility on your goals.
More articles on saving money here at SMW