Good Fundamentals: The sports advice that helped me save money.
Author's note: Three great resources for those who have already mastered thrifty grocery shopping and want to take it even further can be found at the bottom of this post.
At the end of Sunday’s action, I found myself looking at a hard-earned victory: a weekly grocery bill that was less than $150.
Consistently hitting this mark was a necessity if we were going to meet our 2017 goal of reducing our grocery bill to $650 per month, but it was not attainable at first. Week after week during the initial months of 2017, I failed. Repeatedly. In fact, as of the end of March, we were averaging roughly $760 per month per groceries. This was true even though I’d switched to $4 shampoo, eliminated paper towels, and started using money saving apps like Ibotta.
It was true even though I took the following steps each week with great discipline:
- Analyze cupboard and refrigerator contents.
- Meal plan to maximize use of food on hand and minimize waste.
- Grocery shop according to the meal plan.
- Prep food for the week on Sundays to set us up for success in following the meal plan.
Maybe this particular goal was a bit of a stretch. A Gallup poll found that 31% of American families spend $200 or more per week on food. The USDA says that food for my husband and I alone on a moderate budget would be $625.30. We are not a two person household; we also feed a dog, a cat, and a teenage boy. Some household staples just don’t work for us due to extensive allergies. Also, like many families, our grocery budget covers much more than food. Printer ink, toiletries, cleaning supplies, small kitchen items, pet food… all of these things are part of our weekly grocery trip. In addition, the many changes we'd made had already reduced our grocery costs by $100 per month compared to 2016.
Did I give up and rework the budget to give us $110 more per month for groceries?
No. In the face of my repeated failures, the first step I took was to find temporary ways to cover the gap without going into debt (thank goodness for cancelling those gym memberships!). Then, instead of giving up, I starting using a tactic common among coaches: Post-game Analysis.
Each time our weekly grocery bill went over our target in March, I would spend some time analyzing the receipt afterwards. What was unnecessary? Were there less expensive things I could substitute for higher-cost items? Does coconut milk really cost THAT much?
Post-game Analysis isn’t just for Sports.
Achieving a $150/week grocery budget didn't happen instantly. Post-shopping analysis was a crucial part of refining our spending and meeting this week's grocery budget. It has also become a habit: Before victoriously tucking this week's receipt into my wallet, I skimmed down the list of purchases and found an additional $3.99 that could have been saved. (That potential savings did not come from the unplanned $3.87 spent on strawberries and Snapdragons… I decided those pleasures were well worth their cost.) I was able to review why the extra item made it into my cart and consider how I will handle that situation differently in the future.
Failure does not have to mean defeat.
Failure can be a chance for re-evaluation, change, and growth, but only if we look for the lesson instead of blaming ourselves or others. We can take to heart this experience shared by a basketball coach:
“I have always felt that it is important to evaluate a basketball game with the players prior to moving on to the next game. If we play poorly and I am upset, I try not to say too much after the game so that I can have a chance to watch the video and look at the stats in order to have items to improve upon. I don’t want it to be a blame session or me venting frustrations.”
As famous basketball player/coach/broadcaster Jim Valvano once said, “Failure and rejection are only the first steps to succeeding.” This is not just true in basketball. We can apply it just as rigorously to grocery budgets, time management, fitness, creative work, or professional goals.
Admitting that we can do something better is the first step toward improvement. When I began my financial journey, the first thing I had to do was find the courage to look all my bad spending habits in the eye. It was terrifying at first, but it became deeply empowering. But just like relationships or careers, what I've been learning is that we can't apply our post-game analysis just once, brush off our hands, and call the job done.
We have to ask ourselves again and again, "can I do it better?" Because we are deeply human, the answer will almost always be yes. (In fact, you'll see a future post about how we also applied this approach to our student loan debt recently and set some great new goals.)
We will not roll over and accept the status quo for our grocery budget. We will keep taking the same disciplined steps and preparing tasty, healthy food for our family. And on those occasions when the weekly grocery bill exceeds the $150 mark, we’ll keep Jim Valvano’s words in mind, learn what we can from the misstep, and keep pushing toward our goal.
Have you been failing to ask the hard questions? Or falling deep into blame when you miss a goal? Where can you use failure as a tool for re-evaluation and growth instead of a sign of defeat?
More Resources for Groceries on a Budget
Because this is admittedly an area where we are still spending a lot more money than some households, I wanted to provide additional resources for accomplished grocery mavens looking for more ways to save:
- Rachel of Tidy and Teal's Grocery Budget Calculation Chart (This radically changed the way I think about grocery budgeting!)
- Amanda of Centsibly Rich's "How to start a Grocery Price Book"
- A great FREE cookbook "Eat Well on $4 a Day" (pdf)
Post photo cropped from a lovely shot by Scott Haydon Photography (Tacoma, WA).