Ever since my wife and I got married we made it a point to have a monthly budget for our living expenses as a family. We have been successful in staying within the budget for rent, electricity, water and internet, but we always failed with when it comes to our grocery expenses.
There are a lot of tips on how to budget your monthly grocery expenses on the internet: 1] Bring a list with you to the groceries, 2] Buy only the items that you need, 3] Bring exact amount of money you can only spend, and so on. And while these tips are also good, it does not always work for us.
Our monthly budget for groceries is ₱5,000 per month. Whenever we go to the grocery we usually go out with a receipt amounting from ₱8,000 to ₱10,000. Sometimes we even go to the grocery multiple times a month. Obviously, we were going way beyond our food budget.
We kept on saying that we are adults and we will do better next time but obviously we were failing and something really needs to be done.
The initial plan
One day we went through the list of items we bought from the grocery store, and we found out that we were spending our grocery budget not only on what we need but also on what we want. In fact, the bigger cost are in our wants. #FoodIsLife
Our needs usually include bread, milk, meat, canned goods and vegetables. And our wants are potato chips, chocolates, ice cream, and snacks in different forms, tastes and sizes.
We decided that in order for us to be in budget, we needed to charge the needs to our monthly family budget and the wants to our personal allowance.
So we went to the grocery with this plan in mind. Did our usual route of going through every aisle of the grocery. We ended up with the grocery cart below.
When we arrived in front of the cashier, we were tired and other people were waiting in-line for their turn with the cashier. With that pressure in mind, we decided to not filter our groceries and just charge everything to our family budget debit card with a promise to be better the next time.
The next time we failed again. So as the other following next times.
The plan that worked!
In desperation, we had the idea that maybe we need to separate our needs and wants not when we were in front of the cashier, but when once we placed them in the cart.
There is also that scenario that when we are buying a lot of stuff the needs pile would topple over to the wants pile and we would end in the same situation where the wants are mixed with our needs.
We decided to solve this by putting a basket in our shopping cart and we called this the Wants Basket.
The goal of the Wants Basket is for us to place all food that we do not need and prevent the wants from mixing with the needs. Then on the cashier we will make two transactions. First is we pay for our needs with our family budget debit card, then anything inside the wants basket we needed to pay from our own pockets.
The first time that we did this was when we were buying a small list of groceries. So we decided to get a small cart and it ended our Wants Basket occupied most of the space in the cart.
Having a basket inside a shopping cart is already embarrassing, how much more if the basket occupies more than half of the shopping cart.
Although it was embarrassing, we decided to push through with it because embarrassment will not help us save money, action to our over-budget problem does.
It was a success albeit having the challenge of always rearranging the needs items every time we added stuff. We were within our monthly grocery budget for the month.
At the cashier, it still took longer than our usual time since we had to do two transactions, one for the needs and another one for the wants. This time I really tried to suppress being too mindful of other people because embarrassment will not help us save, action to our over-budget problem does.
The following times that we went back to the grocery, I always made it a point to get a bigger cart regardless if we were going to buy a lot or a few.
Another advantage of the Wants Basket method is that we were more mindful of our wants since it was clearly in a separate container, and it will not fail to be charged to our personal monthly allowance. This made us buy less of what we want and just the same right amount of what we need.
Since we have done this multiple times already and have been succeeding staying in our food budget every time, I can conclude that if we sum the small successes of the Wants Basket method, it becomes a huge success.
I’m happy to let you know we are now within our food budget per month for 3 months now.