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Health, Home, and Happiness: Using Cash for Groceries

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Using Cash for Groceries

A couple months ago (actually, about the same time I started GAPS) I started taking cash out weekly for groceries. I had previously put all my grocery money in an envelope for the month (we are doing Dave Ramsey's program and use cash for most things), but too often ran out of money before month ~grin~. In an effort to keep on track with our budget, and still have a good variety of food to eat at the end of the month, I switched to taking out money each week and then sticking to that. I take $100 out per week, on Saturdays. So if a month has 5 Saturdays, we spend $500. This dollar amount is what works for us right now, every family will be different.

I started the weekly shopping vs monthly as an experiment one month, and found that it had benefits that I wasn't anticipating.
  • At the end of the week as I run low on money or groceries, it kept me to using things up. At the end of the week when the fridge is empty, I see the forgotten bag of broccoli or plate of leftovers on the bottom shelf before it has a chance to go bad.
  • We don't have the 'feast or famine' approach to grocery shopping any more. Each week we usually have enough for something fun; ingredients to make a special dessert, a big tub of cashews, avocados, or a bag of Sun-Rype at Costco.
  • I don't forget to set aside money for Wednesday's fresh eggs.
  • We have the same amount of fresh produce each week, so it's easier to stay in the habit of using it.
The 'not wasting food' benefit is my favorite.

Why cash? 
 Because it makes me pay attention to what I'm doing while shopping. I stick to the list because I know that's what I have enough money for, rather than having items meander into my cart and then surprise me at checkout.

What about credit cards?
Sometimes because of the amount of money different families spend on food, they depend on the 30 day delay that a credit card has to float their food budget. If this is the case, you can still do 'envelope' grocery shopping, just buy gift cards to the stores that you shop at (most stores that take credit cards also have gift cards available) in the dollar amount that you set aside per week.

Irregular expenses
We bought part of a (grass fed local!) cow a couple months ago, so I have over 100 pounds of beef in my garage freezer. To allocate for big expenses like this, I 'pay myself' the cost per pound into a cow envelope from my groceries every time I take beef out of the garage freezer and put it in the kitchen freezer.  Yes, I'm a bit of a nerd. But it allows us to spend more money at once on something like this without throwing the budget off kilter. 

Monthly vs Weekly
I know that for some people shopping once a month works best, and that's what I did when we lived 1-1/2 hours from a major grocery store, but I prefer to do it once a week.  When we shopped once a month we'd eat all the fun and easy meals in the beginning of the month, and seeing how much food we had, we tended to eat more than we needed to.

Which way works for you?

10 Ways to Find More Grocery Money
What do you eat on GAPS? (A relatively recent weekly grocery haul)

Part of WFMW and Pennywise Platter Thursdays
And staying within your budget is a Finer Thing!

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Blogger Mary Ann said...

I do a combination of both. I do small grocery trips weekly and then shop at either Sam's Club or Costco once a month. (We have both memberships as gifts from our parents!)The bulk items last us at least all month if not longer. I do use all cash; it does make me more aware of spending!

One thing I've started doing for bulk and local purchases is to set aside a set amount of cash each month for that. This pays for local grass-fed beef, grain, orders for coconut oil and herbs, etc. I'm hoping this year that I'll have enough set aside to help me purchase more fruits and veggies in season to freeze and can.

February 10, 2010 at 7:20 AM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

We are doing Crown Financial's Money Map, which is very similar to Dave Ramsey's baby steps. I have allocated $70 a week for groceries and seem to do okay. Although, looking back over the last year, I averaged more like $100 a week. Putting back for our beef and irregular purchases is where I struggle. I agree that there are benefits to weekly shopping. I've learned I do better shopping our local HFS and grocer than BJs/Costco. I tend to get more than I really need at those places.

February 10, 2010 at 7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so enjoy your blog. I too use cash. I tried the cc way and paid it off every month but I noticed i wasted and spent more. My store is just a block from the house so i go a couple times a week. Buying just what we need. I am very careful when planning to first see what I have that i can use.

February 10, 2010 at 7:36 AM  
Blogger Cara said...

Good ideas!
I understand with Costco and impulse buys. I've finally trained myself to shop for what's on my list and nothing else, and I'm used to it now. It took a while though, last summer random things kept 'appearing' in my cart! :o)

February 10, 2010 at 7:37 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I love hearing how others go about their grocery shopping!

I drive an hour to get raw milk and fresh eggs, so I get enough for the month.

For everything else except fresh produce, I shop at Whole Foods.

And my menu is the same every week.

Breakfast is always some sort of bacon and egg meal along with kefir.

Lunch is some variation of nuts, cheese, milk.

Supper is roast chicken one day, leftover chicken another, frozen fish one, canned salmon another, liver one, hamburger/beef for one, and eggs or leftovers for the 7th meal. I change up the veggies, grains and ways of preparation, etc.

But that makes shopping really easy. I get 4 chickens, 4 frozen packages of fish, 4 canned salmons, 4 things of red meat, 4 livers. And then the usual oils, butter, spices, nuts, rice, etc I buy as needed.

There is a little of the 'fight or flight' at the end. But this works well for us right now. Someday when we can afford half a cow, that will change somewhat.

February 10, 2010 at 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We stick to cash and I shop about every four days. I tried the weekly thing, but it never worked for me. Too often plans would change and then food would go bad. When I did the Integrative Nutrition program my counselor encouraged me to try shopping more often and I love it. I typically plan three meals in a row, one with rice, beans or both and one a soup. Four the third I either try something new or use something I've put up during the summer. The fourth meal is leftovers or, if there are none, we may eat out (although that rarely happens). I have a grocery store very near my house, so it's not a big deal to stop in twice a week. We also have a small kitchen with limited storage, so it's better to have less at home.
This is always an interesting subject to read about!

February 10, 2010 at 10:17 AM  
Anonymous jeanne said...

Thanks for the tips. I am just now starting to actually take my grocery $$ out each week. Last year I used my debit and/or AmEx and deducted receipts from a month allowance. It took our gracery spending from between $850 -$1000 a month to $600 - $700. This was great, but now my goal is $125. a week for a family of 5 (with 3 teenagers) and this includes packed lunches for 4 people and household goods.

February 10, 2010 at 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post. I'm trying to get into a proper weekly shop with no top-up trips to the supermarket mid-week. Thanks for sharing.

February 10, 2010 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger In Word Adorning said...

This is good advice. I've done cash and it keeps me from impulse shopping, the debit card total is always a big surprise.

I shop weekly fresh food and meat. The herbal/organic/wholistic items I buy randomly as I run out or if I'm going to that town. I'd love to simplify it to one day each month but we live too far from everything for one day of travel. Our budget for 7 is $150 per week, including food and household items. Thats using coupons to stockpile some extras and non-food items.

February 10, 2010 at 1:53 PM  
Blogger Nadine said...

We are doing Dave Ramsey...and we have paid off two credit cards that were totally maxed out...yeah!!...
its been hard...but so very worth we are working on the truck...must get that out of our
We do still eat well and eat organically as much as possible ...that is important to us and we keep that part of our priorities ...with little boys that are asthmatic and autistic we make little exceptions there...big groceries is once a month , fresh fruit and veggies are once a week.

February 10, 2010 at 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do bulk shopping (drive an hour to an Amish store for flour, cheeses, eggs, meats) the first week of the month then "regular" grocery shopping weekly. I love your "cow" envelope - good idea!

February 10, 2010 at 8:42 PM  
Blogger Melissa, Multi-Tasking Mama said...

Using cash is definitely one way we have significantly decreased our grocery spending..great tip!

February 10, 2010 at 9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We do "cash" too! We do once a month shopping @ Costco & for our Azure co-op order. I think you would like Azure but you can't use cash. Then we do every 2 week shopping for produce when needed....We live 45 min from the stores so not easy to just run into town...have to be prepared w meals!

February 11, 2010 at 5:41 AM  
Blogger Cara said...

Fun to see what others do too!

I don't think I'd mind shopping more often than once a week if it wasn't for getting the kids in and out of the carseats (lol) But having a weekly cap keeps my spending in control.

I do similar to what a lot of you do; I only go to the health food store or other 'little' stops once a month or so. I just usually pick a week that I have less to get, so have more $ left over.

February 11, 2010 at 7:36 AM  
Blogger chanelle said...

We're Dave Ramsey followers too. Debt-free except for our house!
I love your idea about paying yourself for the meat. We've wondered what to do about big expenses like that, and I think that's a great idea!

February 11, 2010 at 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Starting this year we began pulling out cash once a week ($80) and it seems to work out. I have to be honest with myself and realize that realisticlly we use another $20 through out the week on random things. I would recommend this type of spending to someone who is new to saving and being frugal. Weekly shopping works for us, because as the week ends (and the "goods" start to disappear) we know we will be back at the store soon. BTW, I love this site.

February 11, 2010 at 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Catherine B said...

We have been forced to use only the money in our bank account (essentially cash) for 2 years now and I could not agree more with your points. Thanks for sharing!

February 11, 2010 at 8:30 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Use Azure Standard (or whatever bulk co-op is available to you), especially for non-perishables--and often great deals on quality health & beauty & supplements/herbs/homeopathics. And Dave Ramsey or no, a full freezer & 5-gallon buckets of staple foods (wheat, brown rice, beans, steel-cut oats, etc) that you use regularly are insurance of their own sort. A full pantry has gotten us through a lay-off, or the lean time after a move or at the beginning of a new job, more than once.

February 12, 2010 at 8:23 AM  
Blogger Amy @ Finer Things said...

Solid advice. I need to buckle down some more on our grocery spending.

February 16, 2010 at 2:13 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

My hubby is even more geeky than me - so we have a spreadsheet that we maintain online so both of us can see where every little penny goes throughout the month - and keep on budget. We like to use credit cards for the points, but since we keep things in categories, I can easily see how much I've spent on groceries. If I've spent half my budgeted amount about half-way through the month, it feels pretty good. We will also put in anticipated expenses, and adjust for our beef or CSA which have to be paid up front. So the cost seems spread throughout the year, as opposed to making one month really ugly (unless it comes out of tax refund!) It is really nice because I feel free to buy food from multiple locations, and we can earn grocery money through the credit card points, but it keeps us on track so we don't overspend.

May 15, 2010 at 4:26 PM  

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