I must confess I finally got around to looking into our family budget earlier this week. It really should have been an exercise I performed earlier in the year but I was distracted by our holiday plans and my dad’s health. To be honest, I did anything BUT look at our finances because I hate budgeting and I would rather live in a state of blissful denial.

However, I am a responsible adult and I could no longer ignore what needed to be done. So I crunched the numbers and updated our sadly out of date budget spreadsheet even though I hated every moment of it.

Although it was a painful process it was a useful one to undertake as it highlighted, in horrifying detail, just how much we have been spending.

It turns out we have been in a deficit situation for some time as my redundancy payout has been hiding the truth – that we are spending more than we are earning.

Seeing those numbers in black and white (and red!) on the screen made me want to cry. I am now the stay at home parent. I am contributing considerably less to the household and I’m the worst offender when it comes to spending as well as knowing where the money is actually going.

I’m supposed to be on top of this stuff. After all, this is supposed to be MY JOB now.

After careful analysis of the numbers we identified the main offending occurs in the grocery shop. We have always tried to shop on a fortnightly basis but still find ourselves heading to the shops in between to top up. So while I was congratulating myself on not spending a huge amount in the fortnightly shop, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the spending occurring in between.

To take control of this situation and to get our budget back in the black, I trialled some new strategies in my last shop which, so far, have come up with pleasing results.

How I took control of my grocery shop

How I took control of my grocery shop (& how you can too!)

1. Set a buget

This is the boring part (well it is for me, anyway!) but it’s essential to know how much you can spend before you head out. When setting a budget, be realistic. Analyse your previous shopping expenses and try to calculate a figure that you can stick to AND afford. We had been routinely spending $500 a fortnight (including the dreaded in-between shops) but I knew we could cut back to $400 a fortnight just by better planning and preparation. For my first shop post-budget, I spent $270 which leaves us $130 for those in-between purchases (which are inevitable to keep fresh items like fruit and vegetables in stock). Remember, you can always review and refine your budget as you go along and you should do this at least twice a year to make sure you are still on track.

2. Take stock of what you already have

I was guilty of making a shopping list from scratch and not really taking into account what items we had left in the pantry, fridge or freezer. Obviously I then found myself over-shopping and not using up all the items we already had which was a massive waste of time, money and resources. This time around I first carefully checked the pantry, fridge and freezer and found that we had enough items for about half the meals we required for the fortnight. This streamlined the shopping list and made for a quicker, cheaper and easier shop. It also unearthed some gold in the recesses of my pantry!

3. Start menu planning

We have always stuck to a loose menu plan but this time around I have taken the time to list the meals for the fortnight and all the ingredients required to make them. You can go further and set a meal per night (we used to do this when I was working) but now that I’m at home full-time I have the time to sort out meals as we go. Menu planning doesn’t have to be a chore and doesn’t have to feature the same boring meals each week or fortnight. There are so many sites out there (too many to list here) that feature sample menu plans and shopping lists to go with them. Just Google “menu planning” and let Google be your guide.

4. Create a full shopping list

Make sure you have EVERYTHING listed for the meals you have planned plus everything else you will need to get you through the fortnight or week ahead. Go around the house and check the laundry, the bathrooms and the bedrooms for other items that can be easily missed when putting together a list. Think about the school snacks, the pet food, the tissue situation as well as your alcohol requirements. Include everything – if you don’t, there will be no point sticking to a list and your budgeting will be adversely affected. If you need to incorporate in-between shops for fresh produce, build this into your list too (and into your budget) so you cover off everything.

5. Shop to a time limit

This really helped me the most. I had an appointment that I couldn’t change and had to squeeze in the shopping beforehand – this included shopping at two supermarkets, packing and unpacking items into the car and then at home, as well as driving to the appointment. Being forced to shop on a time limit helped me avoid some of the time wasters I normally face while shopping (hello Aldi weekly specials!) and also stopped me from purchasing unnecessary items that weren’t on my list. I found this a great motivator and the ideal way to keep me in line and keep my eyes on the prize.

6. Consider online shopping

Online shopping is a great way to save time and temptation. If you cannot resist the lure of the confectionary aisle or you just don’t have the time to shop properly, this could be the ideal solution for you. I have utilised Coles online shopping and delivery in the past but I find that I save more by shopping first at Aldi then going to Coles to get what’s left on my list. I’ve never had a bad experience and I used to be a dedicated fortnightly user of the service so if you haven’t tried it yet, go for it. It might be the perfect solution to stop you making a nightly visit to the supermarket to find something for dinner!

7. Investigate options for shopping in bulk

I have shopped in bulk in the past and if you have the ability to store the items as well as afford to buy larger quantities than this can really work in your favour. I don’t do this all the time as the closest bulk buy store is not all that close to me but it is definitely worth investigating to see how much you could save. In the past I have shopped at Bibina which is a bulk food store here in Newcastle and have been able to get great deals on frozen veggies, sauces and gluten free items. I’ve also heard great things about the bargains to be had at Costco so if you haven’t tried shopping in bulk yet it might be time to see what you’ve been missing.

8. Be strong and stick to the plan

All these things can be hard. Shopping is honestly like being on a diet. You need willpower to stick to the plan. You need to be strong to resist the temptations all around you. You need to be disciplined to overcome the inevitable hurdles and setbacks that come your way. You need be able to move past the weeks where the budget might blow out because everything runs out at once and needs to be replaced. Focus on how you will feel once your shopping is under control and your budget back in the black. Hold onto that feeling and it will help you be strong and stick to the plan.

9. Reward yourself

If you demonstrate the willpower to stick to your list, your budget and your time limit, why not reward yourself afterwards? I know I often see the grocery shop as guilt free “me time” as I’m out by myself doing a job for the family. Instead of wasting this opportunity looking at items you don’t need, why not fly through the shop and reward yourself with a cuppa afterwards? There nothing like a reward at the end of a chore to motivate you to stick to the plan and achieve your goal!

Do you have any other tips to share? I can always do with more suggestions to help keep me honest and on track!

Sharing with Grace, Ann and Bron x