Saturday, January 15, 2011

How to Buy Groceries: Part I Budget

Earlier this week I had a request from Tracy to write about how I plan and shop for groceries, plan meals, shop with coupons and use ECBs at CVS.  I tried to write this out as a whole, but the truth is there are many steps involved in buying groceries alone and so I shall break the subject into a series of posts.  I promise to answer all these questions as these posts continue.

I think the first step in planning grocery shopping is to sit down and figure out what you can honestly afford to spend on food for your household.  One website recommends 15% of your annual income as a base amount.  Government websites such as this one at USDA
are based on national household averages.  If you click on the last month's data available in the chart, it will open up a pdf file that shows the average for individuals at different income levels, as well as for various family sizes.  I find my own budget tends to fall almost squarely between the Low cost and Thrifty amounts they cite and it has for years and years now.   A 1950's chart (which I cannot locate at the moment) recommended 25% of the annual income as a budget guideline for foods.  However, it's worth noting that the average cost of food in the 1950's was actually HIGHER than it is now, as difficult as that may be to believe.  Ultimately however, your debt load determines what you can afford to spend. It's all fine and well to say that this chart or that says you can spend this much, but if a chart or percentage figure says you should be spending $200 a week and you only have $100 a week to spend then you'd best plan on spending the $100, at least until you've paid down the debt enough to allow more.

Once you determine what you can afford to spend you have a better idea of what you can afford to buy. That may seem logical but here's where a decision must be reached:

You must determine how often you can/will shop.  Because pay periods for our household are every other week, I shop bi-weekly. Another factor to plan for is storage.    Kay and her husband are paid twice a month but she has seen fit to shop weekly because her food storage is smaller than mine though we each shop for two.  When Chance and I  first set up our household of five children and two adults I had only a refrigerator freezer and tiny kitchen to accomodate our needs.  I had to learn to be very creative in order to store foods and meats safely, including multiple gallons of juice and milk and it was necessary to shop weekly.  These factors must be understood fully before you can even begin to plan your shopping.

You can get creative with food storage.  You might determine that a linen closet would serve better as a pantry than it's intended purpose, or you might use the space under your bed or a dresser drawer.

Then there's another decision to be made.  You could spend the entire amount on food meant to be eaten only in the time frame you've determined works best for you OR you could plan food for meals for the time frame AND build a stock pile.  I prefer this latter method.  It might be more difficult to build a stockpile if you're already spending below the low income averages, but it can be done with careful planning.  This is a decision that only the one who plans meals can make.  And again, food storage makes a difference. 

  I personally think a stockpile is a blessing I can't afford to live without, but in the days when we had an extremely stringent budget it was very hard to build even a small pantry. 

So that's where you begin.  Determining what you can spend, how often you'll shop, where you'll store foods and whether or not you'll plan to build a stockpile in addition to preparing meals. 

1 comment:

Tracy said...

Oh thank you, Terri, for doing this series of posts and sharing your wisdom! I expect to learn much. :)