Budgeting: Savings on Groceries and Entertainment

I mentioned that I helped teach a Budgeting 101 class a few weeks ago. My part of the class was focused on groceries and entertainment. The class enjoyed the materials and I thought you might, as well, so I am sharing them with you:

Saving Money on Groceries and Entertainment

After figuring their “fixed expenses,” (such as utilities, mortgages, car loans, etc.) most people will notice that two categories take up quite a chunk of the rest of the budget. These things are groceries and entertainment costs. With a little help and planning you can reduce these things so that you can have leftover money each month to pay off bills or begin building up a savings account.

Let’s start with Groceries.

Say you budgeted $100 for groceries each week. Let’s see if we can find some ways to reduce it down to $75 and then slowly cut it back just a little bit more over time. Always remind yourself that for every $5 a week in savings you find, you’ll save $260 at the end of the year. That money can add up to things such as making an extra car payment, reducing credit card debt, paying on a student loan, etc. Just keep reminding yourself that $5 can add up to a lot over time!

The first place to start overall is to never shop without a grocery list. By planning ahead you’ll have a better idea of how much you are spending and if you are overspending before you even shop. Alter your meal plan if you are trying to make too many meals that require too many ingredients that you don’t already have on hand.

Next, begin by taking one month to keep ALL of your grocery receipts. Each time you come home from the store, pull out three highlighters and “judge” how well your shopping trip went in this manner:

~Green: These are things that were on your shopping list and you needed.
~Yellow: These are things that weren’t on your shopping list but you truly did need. Key word = Need, not want!
~Red (or Pink): These are things that weren’t on your shopping list and you probably didn’t need them but it sounded like a good purchase in the store.

By highlighting your receipts each week, you’ll start to see just how much “impulse” buying you might be doing. The best tip I can share to try to eliminate too many impulse buys is to put any item that’s not on your shopping list in one part of your cart. Before you check out, evaluate each item and determine if it’s something you truly need (if not, go put it back!)

At the end of the month, take a look at all your receipts. Think of a stoplight when you view your colors:
~Green means Go/Good
~Yellow means Slow Down! (these can add up to a lot over time)
~Red/Pink means STOP (as they are usually impulse buys you need to learn to avoid.)

Are you seeing a lot of yellow highlighted items? Could you have avoided those by planning better and not paying a higher price? Are you seeing a lot of red highlighted items? Could you have avoided those by being a “better shopper” (not shopping when tired/hungry or with the kids, as they are adding items to your cart?)

Don’t forget that you can also save money by using coupons. Most grocery stores offer their own coupons that you can stack with a manufacturer coupon and pair with a sale to get great savings.

Hopefully combining these items, along with my list from “31 Ways to Save On Your Grocery Budget Without Coupons,” will help you save money each month on groceries.

How to Cut Entertainment Costs

The next part of your budget to try to start cutting back on might be Entertainment Costs. These would be outings such as dining out, movies, sporting events, vacations, hobby expenses (books, crafts, scrapbooking) and yes, even shopping trips!

The first thing to remind yourself is that having fun does not have to cost a lot of money. You can even find a lot of things to do for free! And there are several ways to save money on the things you do decide to take part in.

~Crafts: Always look for store coupons before shopping. Places such as Michaels, Hobby Lobby and JoAnn Fabrics regularly have discount coupons. Check your local thrift stores for items as they can be donated. Garage sales are often great sources for materials, as well.

~Shopping Trips: Always look for store coupons before shopping. Most stores will offer discounts during various times of the year. Keep a list of things you’ll need over the next few months and watch for big discount days to take advantage of extra savings. Check clearance spots/racks as you might find things of value there. Never leave on a shopping trip without a list. Use cash and only bring with you what you can truly afford to spend.

~Dining out: Limit yourself to only so much money a month for this and when it’s gone, it’s gone. This will also teach you to appreciate the outings even more and they will become a special event and not just a drive-thru experience. Check for restaurant coupons before dining out. Sign up for birthday clubs as most places often offer discounts. Go on “lunch dates” rather than “dinner dates” as they are often cheaper. Find legitimate sites to take surveys where they offer to pay you in restaurant gift card options. Find restaurants that offer “Kids Eat Free” nights to save more. If you are online a lot, join Swagbucks and work on earning gift cards that way.

~Movies: Go to a matinee, as the prices are cheaper. Follow sites like Living Social and Groupon as they often offer discounted movie tickets. Take advantage of store deals on gift cards such as “Spend $100 in giftcards, get $20 off your next grocery purchase.” (They sometimes include gift cards for theaters.) Rather than go to the theater, wait and rent it on Redbox or Blockbuster Express.

And here are just some of the options you might have for cheap/free entertainment:

1. Full-Moon Walks
2. Library Trips – You can get books, movies and games for free
3. Picnics – Find a new park you’ve never been to
4. Family Game Night –Find board games at thrift stores and/or garage sales
5. Check online for Free Museum Days
6. Find a dog park and watch the puppies play
7. Bike Rides
8. Free Entertainment at Farmer’s Markets, etc.
9. Free craft days at craft stores, libraries, churches, etc.
10. Letterboxing & Geocaching
11. Watch local sports teams and cheer them on
12. Watch a parade – they often have free items to give away
13. Enjoy a snowball fight or making a snowman in the winter
14. Bake cookies and bring to the less fortunate
15. Swap babysitting with friends so you can go out for the evening
16. Visit family nearby
17. Find a “pick-your-own” farm and pick fruit/veggies
18. Find forest preserves and go hiking
19. Take advantage of “free fishing days” where you don’t need a license to fish
20. Take a trip to the Zoo. Watch for discounted tickets or try to find free zoos.
21. Watch your paper for inexpensive classes, such as cooking, crafts, gardening, sewing, etc.
22. Sign-up for free classes offered at hardware stores, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot
23. Swap “free time” with spouse so you can each have a fun day to yourself without needing a babysitter
24. Set up potluck BBQs with friends, switching houses each time
25. Watch Groupon, Family Finds and Living Social for discounted deals in your area
26. Have a scrapbooking night with friends
27. Watch for town-wide garage sales to save on clothing, toys, kitchenware, etc.
28. Watch for discounted days at your town swimming pool.
29. Check to see if your town offers free movie nights or other park events.
30. Have a “backyard camping” adventure putting up a tent in your own yard
31. Have a “something different” day once a month where you do one thing you’ve never done before
32. Play “flashlight tag” at night and catch fireflies while you are out there.

Over time, you’ll start to find more and more ways to save money on outings and still have fun. Take any extra money you would have spent on those outings and put it towards your bills or into a savings account.

By having a budget, creating meal plans, shopping with a list, taking advantage of inexpensive entertainment and planning ahead for purchases and gifts, you can save a lot of money over time. Use Dave Ramsey’s “snowball” approach to paying off debt and take that money and pay off your smallest bill. When that bill is paid off, work on the next one, etc. It may take time and patience but you’ll eventually get your bills paid off and start to build up a savings account. Budgeting can lead to a more secure future for yourself and your family.

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