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It takes work to maintain budget

By By Michelle Blaylock, Mom’s Corner
Budget. There are days I absolutely cringe when I hear that word. Keeping this family of eight on a budget can be a full-time job within itself and now with rising gas prices it’s even more important not to overspend in areas that I can avoid it.
Keeping our grocery budget in check can be difficult sometimes. However, it gives me a sense of accomplishment when I know I’ve provided my family with plenty of food and stayed within our means.
When my husband and I made the decision for me to stay at home and be with our children, it was with the understanding that we would have to be careful with our money. Over the years I have learned many strategies to keep our grocery expenses in check.
Strategy #1: First of all it’s important to have a budget or a goal. Even if you are one of the lucky few that don’t have to worry about how much you spend, it’s still important to know where your money is going. I’ve also had to re-think what “grocery budget” means. In our case, we include “all food” this means we also consider eating out, snacks at games and swim meets, food for traveling, etc. part of our “grocery budget.”
Strategy #2: Plan ahead. If I want to stay on budget, I better decide what we’re going to eat before I go to the store! It is just too easy to go to the store and pick up “convenience” foods, which are usually much more expensive than preparing foods from basic ingredients. I find it is hardest to stick to a budget when we are very busy with school activities, sports, and in general family life. This is when I have to look ahead and plan simple meals for “game or meet” days. There are some weeks that we have a lot of things like pasta, sandwiches, Mexican, or crock pot meals because they are quick to prepare and eat. In my case planning ahead also means I have to plan ahead for food at sporting events.
This is one of the hardest areas for me, because I just don’t like to mess with packing the food.
I have discovered sometimes cooking in bulk helps. For example, if we will have several very busy days in a row, I will cook extra and pop it in the refrigerator. It is very easy to quickly add leftover cooked chicken breast to some leftover pasta and add either spaghetti sauce or Alfredo sauce for a quick meal add some fresh or frozen veggies and it’s even nutritious! One word of caution. There is no point in fixing food that won’t be eaten before it goes bad. Throwing food away is just like taking a part of your money and tossing it into the landfill or shredding dollar bills in the garbage disposal. Speaking of bulk, I know many families swear by “buying in bulk.” I agree it can be a huge savings to purchase in large quantities. However, if you cannot use it before it goes bad or you don’t have anywhere to store it, then I question the wisdom of purchasing in bulk.
Strategy #3: Don’t go to the store hungry and more important don’t take hungry or tired children to the store! Hungry or tired children can blow a grocery budget faster than anything else I know.
Strategy #4: Coupons can be very useful. However, before I use a coupon I ask myself these questions. 1. Is there an off brand that will work just as well, but is less expensive? 2. Do I really need this item and will I really use it? 3. Do I have to buy more than I need to use the coupon in the first place? I admit there are some items that I think the name brand is just better or, in the case of our home, there is only one brand of an item we can use due to allergies. I find coupons very valuable for those circumstances.
Strategy #5: Keep snacking reasonable. However, that having been said children need snacks. I try to keep to healthy snacks, even if they are a little more expensive sometimes. We have lots of fresh fruit and veggies. I do try to purchase seasonal produce to help with the cost. I have to limit how much I allow my children to eat at a setting.
Strategy #6: Make what you can. For example, it is less expensive for our family if I buy the ingredients to make veggie dip than it is to buy it prepared. It is also less expensive for me to cut up our own veggies than to buy the prepackaged versions. A cake mix is much less expensive than buying one already made. Not to mention, I can skip the frosting! My children will eat cake without the frosting reducing their sugar and caloric intake. Making a batch of pancakes on the weekend and either refrigerating them or freezing them myself is much cheaper than buying them frozen. This also applies to waffles.
Strategy #7: If the children want something special, like a treat at a game, they have to use their own money. This keeps the children from “nickel and dime-ing” me to death. I give them an “allowance” for each game/event that we attend. They can choose to save the money or spend it on the incredibly expensive snacks at the ballpark or wherever.
Strategy #8: Don’t forget about the sale ads. Also since conserving our gas is important, check with your favorite store and see if they will price match a competitor’s advertisement. There are some stores that will.
Strategy #9: It’s important to compare the per unit price. Usually the larger item will be less expensive per unit, but this isn’t true all the time. I have found it pays to figure out the cost per unit periodically. There are some items that we purchase frequently and I don’t necessarily check the per unit cost weekly. However, I do make a point of checking every couple of weeks.
Strategy #10: If I mess up, and there are weeks that I do, because I’m too tired to stay organized, or I just forget where I was supposed to be and didn’t get things packed up in time. I always remind myself it’s not the end of the world and I can do better next week.
I hope these tips help you. If you have a tip, question or comment for Mom’s Corner, please e-mail it to: moms-corner@juno.com.

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