How our family lived on $13,000 during graduate school-without food stamps, medicare, or subsidized housing.
This is part 10 of the Living on $13,000 or Less series. Click through if you missed earlier posts.
During grad school grocery shopping was our prime area for overspending. Wait! What am I saying!? It was the only area we could spend. So I needed a meticulous shopping list. One that reminded me of items I normally forget (like pickle relish-somehow I always forget that little guy), had space to write prices while in the store, and give an estimated total.
I ended up brooding over the dining room table, struggling to make my magical list-it took forever to plan each trip. After 2 or 3 times of this the hubster caught me at it and asked.
'Are you doing that by hand?'.
My reply, 'What other way is there?'.
Seriously, doesn't everyone just write their list down-if at all? My sweetheart kindly pulled me over to the computer and patiently explained the magical world of Excell to me.
From that patiently taught lesson and several years of use I can turn around and share our programmed list with you! It can remind of forgotten items, tells how many of each item wanted and which have a coupon planned for it (lovely when the spouse goes instead), space to hand write in prices, and calculates the total! It's all ready for you to download at the bottom of this post.
How I use it
My master tab has my master list of all the grocery items I've purchased. I keep the master list up to date with the most current price I know of-either from receipts or my latest shopping list. As I'm shopping I'll write down prices that differ from my list's estimate. That evening I'll type those new prices into the master list. This is the only kind of change I make to my master list and I do not go to bed that night without updating the list.
Creating my Shopping list
First thing, I copy my master list into a different tab. This protects all the work I put into my price tracking-preventing any accidental erasing of items/prices from the master copy. Then I'll go down and mark yes or no beside each item.
*This is where I get reminded of tooth paste or other items I might forget, since I have to say yes or no to all sorts of items.
Once I'm sure of my decision I'll delete the rows marked no, and then mark how many of each item to get. The list calculates the total and I know if we're in budget or not. Usually we're waaaaay over. *sniff sniff*
So I go through and decide what to cut until we're under budget. Sometimes I'll put 'maybe' by items I need to cut-but hope to fit in somehow-just in case price drops, sales, or coupons create wiggle room while in store.
Sales and coupons
Once the regular priced items total is under budget then I'll look at coupons. Having already prioritized and felt the pain of cutting items I really wanted-I'm much less likely to add items on just because of a coupon or sale.
Plus when I have a coupon for my already planned items there are chances of the deal not working-I want my worst case scenario to already be under budget. Once I've decided on coupons I'll mark them on the list so I don't forget to use them! Once done I'll hit print and I’m ready to go.
In the store I constantly compare prices to the list, to other sizes, other brands-until I know I have the best deal. I only write prices that need updating when I get home (i.e. not sale prices). I also calculate if we're going over or under our estimated total. So I know whether I can add items or need to further cut items off. Many times I can add. 🙂
It took me a few times to get the hang of this system but it was so worth it. Shopping wasn't as stressful, wondering if we could afford everything. In fact this detailed, yet flexible, system empowered me and made shopping fun! I had the power to immediately see where we were in our budget and add or cut as needed. Always coming home under budget is exciting, fulfilling, and encourages me to keep making meals from scratch and searching for deals.
So how about you? If you're ready to try out my system go ahead and download my free shopping list template right here-just fill out the form below. Here's to taking control of our finances and the feeling of freedom that follows!
Let us know how it works for you!
Want more from the ‘Living on $13,000 or Less’ series? Check these out!
Update: You can now click through here to read the rest of the series.