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How Does your Grocery Budget Compare?

groceriesThanks to Tiffany, Honey and  Emily an interesting discussion about grocery budgets started in the comments after my Weekly Menu post. I thought it would be fun to continue it and get more input!

What is your grocery budget? What does it include? Does it include eating out? Do you eat out?

Let me begin by saying the grocery budget is still an evolving thing around here. Each family is different with unique tastes and needs. So, the point of this discussion is not to make anyone feel bad rather to help us all figure out if our budget is in line with our families needs. And to encourage each other with ideas if our grocery budget needs a little tweaking!

What is my budget? I am consistently down to under $100/week.  My goal is $75 and a few times I have come in at about $60.  It still always seems to even out to about $400/month.

What does it include? Pretty much anything consumable I bring into the house: Food, diapers, cleaning supplies, toiletries, over the counter meds, paper goods, etc.

Does it include dining out? NO. We do eat out some. Like I said in the post, any food I do not have to make always tastes better to me! I am a firm believer that an occasional meal out helps moms keep their sanity, and that is priceless. :0)  We budget $50/month for dining out.

The ladies also mentioned a helpful link. The USDA a chart with nation wide averages on grocery budgets. It has budgeting at four levels based on food preparations. If you scroll to the bottom of the page there are links that describe each level. The averages are national so you will have to account for where we live. They seemed a little high to me but, check them out and let me know what you think.

Also, how are you doing on your budget? What does it include? Any great tips to help others starting out or trying to get their budgets down a little?

This Week’s Menu

menuI have got several emails asking me what we typically eat.  I thought it would be easiest just to share our menu for the week.

Breakfast:
Waffles (Kashi or frozen homemade wheat waffles) & peanut butter (don’t ask me why peanut butter, THE HUSAND’S whole family does this) & yogurt (x4)
Oatmeal (x2)
Eggs and whole wheat toast

Lunch
Hot dogs, apples & cheese (x2)
Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, banana, granola (x2)
Lunch meat sandwiches, baked chips, fruit (x2)
Grilled cheese (with sweet potato puree  added in), grapes

Dinner
Crock Pot Hawaiian Chicken, Rice
Tuna & black bean patties, pasta salad
Turkey burgers (with butternut squash hidden inside!) grilled veggies
Frozen pizza, salad
White bean chicken chili, bread
Chicken cheese quesadilla (with sweet potatoes hidden inside) tortilla chips
Omelet, whole wheat toast- I love breakfast for dinner
I am finishing up my grocery list and coupon gathering now. I’ll let you know how the trip turns out!  If you have any yummy, frugal, EASY ( I am not a great cook) recipes please share. I am always looking for ways to change up the menu around here.

CouponKatie Answers: Dealing With Unpleasant Cashiers

unpleasantcashierI have received quite a few questions and comments lately about Unpleasant Cashiers. So I thought I would take a minute to share my ideas on the subject and a few resources that might be helpful to new “coupon crazies”.

If you use coupons long enough you will have a negative shopping experience.

We’ve all had one where a cashier sighs, rolls her eyes, or is just not nice when you pull out your stack of coupons.

My overall advice? Smile, be kind and patient.

You never know when someone is just having a bad day. Think about all of the good trips you have had and how much money you are saving! Do not get discouraged and give up on couponing or a specific store.

(As a side note, I am sure my attitude is not quite so gracious as I relay the details of my shopping trips to THE HUSBAND.  However, while in the store I try be a good example for my boys and extend as much grace as possible that day.)

The cashier is outspokenly rude.

(This happened to me recently.  The young lady started off my check out experience by not responding when I said ‘hello‘ while unloading my groceries because she was text messaging someone.  When she did look up it was to ask me what was wrong with my whining one year old.  It got better when I handed her my coupons.  As she scanned them, she told me how annoying it is to her when people come in with a lot of coupons. )

This is where I ask the question, “If I owned this business would I want to know my employees were treating customers this way.”

The answer on that day was YES. If I had more time I would have spoken to a manager. Instead I took my whining one year old home and emailed the corporate office.  I listed specific issues with my experience. I have yet to hear back.

The cashier does not understand the store coupon policy and is giving you a hard time.

This was my nightmare as a new coupon user. It would make my palms sweat, and I would get all flustered. What did I do? I familiarized myself with the coupon policies at the stores I shop at most. If you repeatedly have this issue I would print out the policy and take it with you.

To help I have linked the coupon policies I could find. Wal Mart is the only store that makes their policy available on line. I contacted Target, Kroger, Walgreens and CVS to get their coupon policies.  So far Target is the only one to respond. I have linked to the email they sent me below. As I recieve more responses I will pass them along.  Does anyone else have any advice on handling Unpleasant Cashiers?

Wal-Mart Coupon Policy

Target Coupon Policy

CouponKatie Answers: Saving vs. Spending Less

moneyI have received several emails and comments (which I love) from readers who are saving more (yeah!) but still not hitting their budget. I thought sharing some of what I have learned might help.

The goal is not to just save a lot; the goal is to spend less.

I learned this the hard way. When I first started using coupons and shopping sales, I was saving hundreds of dollars. Unfortunately, I was also spending a lot more than our monthly grocery budget.

What was my problem?

I could not pass up a deal. If I had a coupon and a product was even a little on sale, I bought it. Rookie mistake. I was concerned about the wrong numbers. I loved seeing high savings amounts and percentages (I still do), but was not focused on the amount I was spending.

So I changed a few things. I set a firm grocery budget. Over time I learned that I do better with a weekly grocery budget than a monthly one.

I plan my meals and my shopping one week at a time. When my weekly budget is gone, I quit shopping. It is as easy as that.

This keeps me from overspending and getting to the end of the month and having no money left.
At first I had great anxiety when I would miss a great deal on something because my weekly grocery allowance was spent.  The longer I coupon the more I realize that deal, or an even better one,  will come around again soon. So I encourage you, if it will blow your budget don’t be afraid to pass up on a “deal”.

I also made the mistake of trying to shop the sales at several different stores. I wasted a lot of time and probably money.

As a new couponer it was way too overwhemling.  My advice?

Pick one store.

Plan your meals, make your list, organize your coupons and go to that store.

Once you get comfortable at that store add another one and so on. This way you will gain confidence, knowledge and become more efficient.

On busy weeks I still only shop at one store, other weeks I’ll hit up to four.

Those are just some of the lessons I have learned couponing.  I hope they help in your efforts to save a little money and make your budget work.

If you have any questions leave them; they may lead to a new post.

If you have any suggestions for new couponers leave them too; it is always great to hear what other people have learned.

CouponKatie Answers a Reader’s Question – Saving Money on Baby Food

babyfoodHere’s a question from a reader about how to save money on Baby Food:

My little one has just started solids and I’ve got to add baby food and cereal to my weekly shopping.

Do you have any ideas for saving money on baby food?

I saved a lot of money by making my own baby food. Making your own baby food sounds overwhelming at first;  it really is not. I have done it for both of my sons.

When I started I had a pot with a steaming pan, some good knives, 8 ice cube trays and THE HUSBAND bought me a small KitchenAid food processor- that is all I needed.

I tired to use in-season fruits and veggies.  When they were on sale I stocked up, made my purees and then froze them. It is much cheaper this way especially if you want to feed your baby organic foods. If some things were out of season, then I bought frozen packages and pureed them.

Carrots, squash, peas, corn, spinach, and other veggies I steamed until very soft (helping to retain most of their nutritional value), pureed them, and froze them. In the mornings I would get out what I needed to use that day and just let it thaw in the fridge. If  I was in a hurry or forgot, then I carefully defrosted it in the microwave.

For soft foods, bananas, avocados, cooked sweet potatoes…I  smashed with a fork and then froze them in ice cube trays.  Apples, pears, peaches, and other fresh fruits I pureed in the food processor and froze.  Each cube was 2 Tbsp.  so I would always know how much I was feeding one of my guys.

I usually took one afternoon every two weeks and did all my baby food making.  By the end of that day my freezer was full of ziploc bags containing cubes of all colors.

When we were on the go for the day I took an avocado, a banana, an applesauce cup, rice cereal or the food grinder. It was very convenient to have pre-packaged baby food.

My guys also loved chicpeas, Yo Baby yogurt, kiwi  and oatmael as they got a little older.  When they were over the baby food stage I used a Kidco grinder and fed them whatever we were eating.

That was pretty much what I did to save money on baby and make sure my kids ate healthy.  It took a little bit pf practice and planning, but it was so handy to have all this food ready to go when I needed it.

If you are bottle feeding and using name brand formula there are sites like The Coupon Master that sell coupons. I have never used one of these services but recently saw a $1.00/1 coupon on sale for $.07.  If you have to use a specific forumula for some reason that may be worth checking out.

If you have a question for CouponKatie, please check out the Contact page and submit your questions according to the format listed there.  I will feature as many Q and A’s as possible.