How to Save on Groceries: Shop at More than One Store

For years, I would only shop at one store a week. I blamed it on having limited time, and little ones to cart around. I didn’t realize how much it was costing me to pour all of my money into one store. After noticing other stores weekly ads and doing a little research online, I thought I could actually save quite a bit by shopping at a discount market for some of our staples. I also got a membership to a big box store to buy some items in bulk. Now my grocery shopping routine looks like this:

  • Once a week for produce and milk: big chain grocery store (i.e. Kroger, Whole Foods)
  • Twice a month for big shopping trip after I’ve done our meal plan: discount store (i.e. Aldi, Save-A-Lot, Coopers)
  • Once a month for non-perishables I can buy in bulk: big box store (i.e. Costco, Sam’s Club)

What about you…do you shop at more than one store?

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How to Save on Groceries: Meal Planning

Well, we left off last week with a little bit of homework: make a monthly budget for groceries. If you were surprised at how much you’ve been spending on groceries, it’s okay. Through this series we will learn how to reduce that monthly amount. Some of you may even cut it in half! Now that you have a number to work with, let’s talk about practical ways we can lower that number. The first place to start is meal planning.

Meal planning sounds scary. When I say “meal planning,” what comes to mind? Does it sound a little scary? Time consuming? What if I said that meal planning could save you tons of time and money? Not only could it save you, it will. How often each week are you running to the grocery store to grab ingredients for dinner? How often do you give up on dinner because you didn’t have time to cook/plan and grab fast food or take out? With a little planning, you could save numerous trips to the store and take the stress out of meal time.

What is meal planning? Meal planning is simply sitting down at the beginning of the week/every other week/month (depends on how often you would like to go shopping) with your calendar and recipes and making a plan. In our family, I know that I have a set amount of cash for the month. When it’s gone, it’s gone. We divide the cash in half, and refill our money envelops on the 1st and 15th each month, so I plan on two main grocery trips per month (each time the envelops are refilled). I sit down with our family calendar (so I know when a family member will be gone and can plan accordingly) and recipes and a notepad. I plan every meal (three meals a day for two weeks…even plan nights for eating out or eating leftovers…it’s better to plan than not to plan). I make the grocery list from the recipes I planned. Then I go through the list to see what I already have on hand and cross that off the list. Then, I’m ready to shop!

What if our plans change? A meal plan should be flexible! If you planned to cook spaghetti tonight, and your husband calls and asks if the family can go to the in-laws to eat dinner, go! Put your spaghetti in the freezer and save it for another time (that’s one less meal that you have to plan in the future).

Do I really have to plan every single meal? Yes. Planning everything ensures that all of the ingredients for every meal are purchased. Even if you plan to have cereal every single morning for two weeks, if you plan for it, you know it will be there and won’t run out. I plan cereal for breakfast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every single week.

Can you give me an example? Yep. I love examples. Here’s our meal plan for this week…

  • Monday: B- cereal and fruit, L-PB&J, D- @parents because husband was working
  • Tuesday: B- bagels and fruit, L- Salad/chicken nuggets, D- date night out
  • Wednesday: B- cereal and fruit, L- PB&J, D- Burrito bowls with chips and salsa
  • Thursday: B- bagels and fruit, L- out, D- I have bookclub, so the family is eating frozen pizza while I’m gone.
  • Friday: B- cereal and fruit, L- deli sandwich, D- out
  • Saturday: B- pancakes, L- salad/chicken nuggets, D- Swedish Meatballs and veggies
  • Sunday: B- bagels and fruit, L- leftovers, D- Grilled pork chops and baked potatoes

Are there any tools that can simplify the process? Yes! I have used two tools that I particularly love. The first one is called Emeals. I discovered Emeals after I have my second daughter and was in the newborn-no-sleep-phase. Emeals made meal planning so easy. Basically, you pick one of their numerous plans (i.e. family plan for Aldi/Kroger/Wal-Mart or plan for 2 people) and they generate a meal plan and grocery list for you every week. The plans are super affordable (around $5/month) and it will save you so much time and money. The recipes are very family friendly (for those of you that cater to picky eaters). I used Emeals for about a year, and then missed some of my favorite recipes that I hadn’t made in a while. So I switched to Plan to Eat. To use Plan to Eat (also $5/month), you load in all of your favorite recipes, or clip them from websites (so convenient!), and simply drag them into your meal plan (calendar). Plan to Eat automatically generates your grocery list. You can visit these sites to learn more about them, but I have used them both and they are both fantastic and well worth the $5/month.

Convinced yet? Do you think that meal planning could save you a little time, money and sanity? Please, leave comments with any questions you may have! For next week, try meal planning! See how you like it. I’ll meet you back here next week to talk about more ways to save on groceries.

 

from the archives

How to Save on Groceries

Let’s face it, we all have to eat. It’s a fact of life. If we want to live, we must feed ourselves.

Luckily for us, we have a great deal of options when it comes to food. We can decide where to get our food, how much we want to spend on food, what types of food we want to eat, etc. When it comes to budgeting, food is something that must be considered and included into any good monthly budget. With a little thought and planning, we could drastically decrease the amount we spend each month on food. For the next few weeks, we will be talking about different things we can do to make savings happen.

First things first, you must make a budget. If you do not have a budget, read the small series on budgeting, then meet me back here. To come up with the number to budget for groceries/eating out, look back at the past few months and start there. Chances are, over the next few months you will be able to shave that number down, but start where you are now.

Once you have a fixed amount to spend on groceries for the month, I recommend getting the money out of the bank at the beginning of the month. If you see how much money you have to spend, you are less likely to overspend. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You will be force to plan and allocate accordingly to stretch your money for the month.

After a few months of using cash, it becomes fun! It’s a game to see if you can make it to the end of the month (the first month you might eat Ramen Noodles for the last week!), or even have money left over!

Next week, we will talk about something that I love to do and have been doing for about six years now…meal planning! Your homework for this week is to come up with a realistic, workable grocery budget. Have a great week!

from the archives

How to Conquer Credit Cards

There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence so important, as living within your means.

-Calvin Coolidge

We’ve all done it. We approach the check out line with three gorgeous pairs of shoes (insert your weakness here…tractors, electronics, etc. Pick your poison.) and the cashier offers us a deal we can’t refuse…10% off if we open a credit card. Not only do we save 10%, but we don’t actually have to pay for it yet. And with one little signature, we have entered into the world of credit card debt, a dark, scary place that most of us find ourselves trapped in for quite some time. Hook. Line. Sinker.

In March of 2011, the average credit card debt per household reached a staggering $14,743. Cardholders have on average more than 3 credit cards with average interest rates of 14.83%. We start our relationship with the credit cards in college, and unfortunately do not break up with them for years. It’s so easy to make the minimum payment every month, not touching the principle owed, while sky-high interest compounds daily. We’ve all heard Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman yell at us about the desperate need for everyone to cut up their cards and get rid of their debt, but it’s much easier said than done. So how do you stop the vicious cycle?

We spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to make impressions that don’t last, on people we don’t care about.

-Tim Jackson

  1. Stop Spending. Again, easier said than done. If you do not have money set aside in an emergency fund, you might be turning to the card for every out of the ordinary expense. It’s time to put the brakes on spending and get rid of the card. The first step to paying off credit card debt, is to stop increasing credit card debt. Debt is just a symptom of the underlying problem of overspending and undersaving. Peace of mind and financial freedom comes when we learn to live within our means, and that begins with a step back to consider how we spend the money we have.
  2. Consider Your Options. When it comes to paying off debt, you have to know exactly how much you owe first. Make a list of all of your cards, along with the balance and interest rate. After you know what you are dealing with, you have a few options.
    • Borrow money from savings. This is a controversial way to pay off credit card debt depending on your investment philosophy. The plus side is that the gain is higher using the money to pay off debt than it will earn sitting in a savings account. For example, if you have $1000 on a credit card at 18% interest and $1000 in a savings account earning 4%. To pay off the credit card balance plus one month of interest would be an extra $180, versus the $40 you would earn on the money sitting in a savings account. That’s a savings of $140 in interest! The bad side of paying with savings is that it depletes your savings account. Without money in your savings account/emergency fund, you are more likely to turn to a credit card when an unexpected expense comes up (i.e. air conditioning goes out in the car).
    • Negotiate with the credit card company. A simple phone call to the credit card company could save you several interest points. Call and ask for a better interest rate and they will most likely work with you.
    • Balance transfer offers. This is another controversial way to pay off credit card debt. Several credit card companies will offer a special introductory offer to new card members in which you can transfer balances from other cards at 0% for a certain time period. This could be a reasonable offer if you have good credit and you are absolutely positive that the balance will be paid by the time the offer ends (i.e. You have a balance of $2000 and you are planning to pay it off with your annual $5000 year end bonus). Beware of transfer fees (usually anywhere from 3-5%), annual card fees and the end of the promotional period.
    • Debt consolidation loan from your local bank. If you have good credit and a good relationship with your local bank, you might be eligible for an unsecured loan to consolidate and pay off your credit. The benefits are a lower interest rate than the credit card company, and a fixed monthly payment. Beware of the term. If the term is too long, you might pay more in interest than you would have if you would have left the debt with the credit card company.
  1. Make a plan. To get out of debt and stay out of debt, you have to have a plan. Not only do you have to have a plan, you have to be committed to the plan and stick to it.
    • Make a budget. How much do you make each month? How much do you spend? There are several tools available to help you with budgeting, my favorite being pearbudget.com. After you know what you make and what you spend, examine what you can cut out. Any extra money can go toward…
    • Debt snowball. Factored into your monthly budget should be your debt snowball. Snowballing is a simple way to paying off debt, starting with the debt with the highest interest rate. For example, you have three cards, A, B and C. A has an interest rate of 20%, B of 18% and C of 14%. According to your budget, you can afford to put $150 toward your debt snowball and the minimum payments on B and C are $50. Your snowball amount would go toward card A, while you would pay the minimum on B and C. Once card A is paid, you would move onto card B, paying the minimum $50 plus the $150 debt snowball you were paying on card A. Once card B is paid off, move onto card C paying the debt snowball amount of $150, plus the minimum on card B, $50, plus the minimum of $50 that you were paying on card C. By the time card C is paid off, your snowball would have reached $250. After all your credit card debt is paid off, you can use the debt snowball you created to put toward your…
    • Emergency Fund. It’s recommended that you have 3-6 months of expenses set aside in an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses and emergencies. Having this fund eliminates the temptation to use credit cards, thus wiping out credit card debt for good.

Credit card debt is not easy to conquer, but with a plan and some motivation, you can conquer it for good.

from the archives

Goal Setting in 2013

It’s almost time for a new year! This is a great time to think about goals that you would like to set for the next year. Maybe you need to get serious about paying off some debt. Maybe you’ve always wanted to run a marathon. Maybe there’s a dream vacation you would like to become reality. Now is the time to put those goals on paper and start making plans to achieve them.  Here are some tips that I’ve learned over a few years or goal setting that I wanted to pass along. Enjoy and happy goal setting!

  • Be specific. Who doesn’t want to be healthier? Who doesn’t want to be a better person? The bad thing about these goals is that they are vague and unattainable without specifics. A better goal might be, “Eat three servings of veggies a day” or “donate $20 a month to charity.” These goals can be measured, and you will feel accomplishment when you achieve them.
  • Dream big. Make your initial goal a big one, one that could take an entire year to achieve. For example, your goal might be to run a marathon in 2013 but right now, you are running approximately 0.00 miles per week. Set the big goal, then break it down into weekly mini-goals that work toward your big goal. This could work for losing weight (lose 50 lbs. this year…roughly one pound per week), becoming a reader (read 12 books this year…read one book a month), etc.
  • Don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t take on too many goals than you can realistically achieve. Keep your list to about three-five goals that you can master in a year.
  • Do your homework. Find people that have done what you want to do. If you have debt that you want to pay off, find a blog or book of someone that has successfully paid off debt. Learn from them. Copy them. Do what works. The internet is your friend when it comes to research.

What are some of your goals for 2013?

Our Condolences

It will go down in history as one of the events that is so traumatic that you remember exactly what you were doing when you heard the news.

I was sitting on my couch at home. I had just finished homeschooling my kids and putting a load of laundry into the dryer. I sat down for a moment of quiet…and a quick check in with the outside world via Facebook. First, I read about the officer that was killed on duty in Memphis. She had four babies. Girls, like mine. As if that wasn’t heartbreaking enough, I kept scrolling only to find the name of a small Connecticut town over and over again in my feed. I brushed it off the first few times I saw it, but then saw the words “shooting” and “elementary school” and “kindergarteners” and that was enough for me to click the news link.

Tears. No words. Babies. Just babies.

In the midst of these heartbreaking days, let us wrap this community with prayers. Our President offered comforting words at the vigil held on Sunday. From everyone at The Bank, we offer our deepest condolences to the families affected by these tragedies. If you would like to help financially with the family of Officer Martoyia Lang, please click here.

Creating a Budget on an Irregular Income

Maybe you are someone that works on commission, or maybe your work is seasonal. Whatever the case may be, you’re income is irregular. When I say irregular, I mean that monthly, the amount varies as opposed to a salaried employee where income is generally divided evenly over the course of a year. Irregular income can make budgeting tricky. Budgeting is still of vital importance, because if you do not have a plan for the money you bring in, it is more likely to be spent in other ways. One of the biggest temptations for people on variable budgets is to overspend in prosperous months. A little bit of planning can help you prepare for the times of plenty and the lean times.

The first step to creating a budget on an irregular income is to list all of the expenses required for you to live each month (i.e. mortgage, food, clothing, utilities, gas, insurance, etc.).

Next, go through each category you listed and rank them in order of importance. Typically, the four most important expenses are food, housing, clothing and transportation. After everything is ranked, you have a working budget.

When you receive a paycheck, simply pay from the top down of your budget. If not everything is covered in one check, just pick up where you left off with the next paycheck. It can be tricky, and take some time to keep track of, but managing your money, no matter how irregular, is a sure way to build financial health.

Here are some other helpful articles for budgeting on an irregular income:

Upcoming Community Events

I wanted to update everyone on some really great things going on in the community in the coming weeks. They all support wonderful causes, so bring the whole family out and enjoy!

  • This Saturday, October 6, from 3-6pm is the Annual Ruritan Fish Fry for Grand Junction. Grand Junction has the largest Ruritan Club in West Tennessee, and all proceeds go to benefit community activities and scholarships for the city of Grand Junction. Tickets are $10 each. The event will be held at Grand Junction City Park. There will also be live entertainment, and a drawing sponsored by The Bank.
  • Also on Saturday, October 6 at 9am will be the Annual St. Jude Trail Ride. All proceeds benefit St. Jude. The ride will start at Hines Farm, just south of Saulsbury, TN. A Billy Cook Roping Saddle will be raffled as well. Raffle tickets are for sale at The Bank for $5 each. The saddle is on display in the Grand Junction branch.
  • On Saturday, October 13 from 8am-5pm the Annual Heritage Festival will be held at Ames Plantation. There will be exhibits, live music, arts and crafts, historical displays, antique tractors and farm equipment, and more! The Bank will have a booth and will be raffling a shot gun and gift basket.

Hope you can make it to some of these great events!

Dragon Boat Race

On September 22 from 8am-3pm, there will be Duncan Williams 2nd Annual Dragon Boat Race held at Mud Island. Teams of 22 people of all skill levels will participate in racing authentic Hong Kong style 46 foot dragon boats at Mud Island River Park. Portions of the race will benefit the Tennessee Clean Water Network which works to protect Tennessee’s water sources. The Bank will have its very own race team, “The Bank Castaways,” and will be holding a bake sale at the Piperton branch on Friday, September 14 during normal business hours. There is still time to volunteer at this great event. If you are not on a team or volunteering, you can still come and watch the boat races! Bring the family, picnic blankets and have a great time enjoying the beautiful park and races. Hope to see you there!