“Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, or Do without!”
“Waste not, Want not.”
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Maybe you’ve heard these old adages. Maybe your grandma used to recite them to you during those childhood visits to her house in the summer, cautioning you “not to take too much potato with the peel!” (Or maybe that’s just my husband’s amazing grandma, Rosemary.) And maybe you shook your head at her miserly ways at the time. But we all know deep down that Grandma was onto something!
Our grandparents have some valuable lessons to teach us about the value of hard work, about what strong character looks like, and about self-discipline! And I feel like those valuable life lessons are finally beginning to sink in for me at the ripe age of 27, now that our family has embraced a reduced grocery budget.
When we began cutting back the food bill, I assumed the benefit would be a few extra dollars at the end of each month… but I’m quickly learning that the real benefits go so much deeper. Reducing our grocery budget is a process that is changing mine and my husband’s character for the better!
It’s time to start living a little more like our grandparents taught us. Not just for the physical rewards budgeting will bring you (though those are nice too!) but for the character-building it will bring about in you and in your children.
Here are 10 ways I have found that reducing our grocery budget has had character-building rewards!
1) It makes you less wasteful -
A small grocery budget reminds you to use every usable scrap you can get your hands on! Take home those raw onion slices you picked off your burger at the cookout. (Because who doesn’t use onion to cook with at least every day??) Save leftover mashed potatoes and use them to thicken up soups. Freeze the fat from your breakfast sausage in ice cube trays and pull it back out when you need to sautee something. Just by saving the bits and pieces you would normally toss, you’ll reduce the frequency with which you run out of things, and thereby reduce unnecessary expenditures at the grocery store! Amazing how much longer that pricey bottle of olive oil will last when you don’t pull it out every time you need to fry something.
2) It brings out your green thumb-
Many families on a budget find that a small home garden helps cut down the cost of fresh (expensive!) produce. My favorite tomatoes on earth are the ones I wait for all summer, patiently weeding, watering, and watching. When the time is just right, we harvest them and enjoy the juicy slices over toast with cream cheese, salt, and pepper. Best thing ever! Other easy vegetables to grow at home are carrots, potatoes, and bell peppers. And once you’ve started to garden, who knows where the inspiration will lead you? This week I almost went foraging for nettles to make homemade rennet so I could avoid buying fresh mozzarella at the grocery store!! (Almost… I decided I’d need a few more herbology classes before attempting that. But buying the rennet is still cheaper than buying the cheese!)
3) It improves your self-discipline by practicing delayed gratification, giving you long-term vision for setting and achieving goals-
In our case, the extra (ahem!) four hundred dollars we are saving per month on food alone is going towards the purchase of a home. (That’s right, we determined we were over-spending by about $400 per month! Ouch.) The exact numbers will be different for you, but regardless of the amount, take a moment to think about your long-term dreams. Do you dream of one day taking a vacation, starting a business, or staying at home to raise your children, but you’re held back by the notion that you’ll never be able to afford it? Whatever your income, the truth is that most of us have things we couldcut out or cut back on in order to save toward that goal, but we just… don’t.
4) It makes you moreresourceful and creative-
Necessity is the mother of invention. Because of budgeting, I’ve invented so many new family favorite meals! Fajita Soup was born because I couldn’t stand to see the remnants of a bowl of Velveeta cheese dip and a few slices of grilled chicken go to waste after a 4th of July picnic. Or how about the batch of chocolate chip cookies I overcooked a bit and my family wouldn’t touch them? Those crunchy cookies made a delicious crust for chocolate pie after I processed them into crumbs and added some butter. When your food purchases are limited, the food you do have becomes a precious commodity, and you find you’ll go to greater lengths to avoid throwing it away! And oftentimes this results in the birth of a new favorite treat! You will surprise yourself by how often this happens to you.
5) It enables you to give more freely!-
It’s simple. God says to give, and to do it freely. If our money is too tied up supporting Frito/Lay, Little Debbie, and Kraft, then it’s likely we aren’t giving as much as we could be and should be to those in need. And the blessings for those who give are not only felt in this life, they are eternal! Ever had the honor of bringing a pork tenderloin dinner to a family new to the neighborhood, then sitting down to beans and rice with your own family? Those beans taste a lot better that night than they have before. Bless others and bless your family by being a generous giver.
6) It promotes and models hard work, saving, and resourcefulness in front of your children-
When your children see the careful calculation that goes into “making it work” at the grocery store each week, they’ll pick up on the importance of good stewardship. They’ll value hard work more, they’ll value “special treats” more, and they will become wiser spenders themselves. Keeping a modest grocery budget while your children are young may deprive them of awesome things like Gushers and Lunch-ables (a legitimate bummer!), but the good habits you are instilling in them at an early age are an infinitely greater gift. (Plus, they’ll pick up other life skills like cooking, gardening, and math!)
7) It decreases the likelihood of mindless snacking and over-indulgence-
This one is simple too. When there’s no room in the budget for junky extras, you don’t end up buying (or eating) them. You also are less tempted to pour yourself that second (or third) bowl of cereal, because you know that box is supposed to last all week. Some people argue that it’s impossible to eat “healthy” on a low budget, but that’s just not true! You don’t have to buy fresh, organic spinach or 99% lean ground beef to be healthy. Frozen spinach (at $1 a bag) is great for you! So is frozen broccoli. So are hard-boiled eggs. So is oatmeal. So is bone-in chicken. And none of these will break the bank. Also, the magic key that unlocks the door to weight-loss (as we ALL know) is portion-control. And having a strict budget means built-in portion control every day of the week.
8) It increases gratitude!-
When you don’t have a lot, you are much more thankful for what you DO have. Inversely, the more you have, the less each possession seems to be worth. A take-out container of pasta from the Olive Garden is one man’s trash… but to the man on a strict grocery budget, it is a delicious treasure!
9) It may improve your cooking skills!
Craving cinnamon rolls but Pillsbury wasn’t on the list this week? Maybe it’s time to try your hand at cinnamon rolls from scratch! Or maybe you’ve always preferred homemade chicken noodle soup to the Campbell’s kind from a can. What a perfect opportunity to stretch a dollar by making some yourself! My latest favorite budget-stretching activity is making my own cheese. Once you invest in a few items (cheesecloth, for example) you’ll find that buying a gallon of whole milk is much more affordable than that $8 hunk of fresh mozzarella. And BONUS: It’s kinda fun to feel like an Italian Grandma from the olden days.
10) It re-aligns your focus.
People are more important than things. And we can be content even with very little! The deliberate exercise of making weekly sacrifices at the grocery store helps remind you that what really counts isn’t the food on the table but the people around it! So serve up a simple yet satisfying meal tonight and focus instead on asking questions and listening to your family. Go around the table and say your “highs” & “lows” of the day. Talk about one thing you’d do differently if you had the day to do over. Talk about one thing you did that you’re proud of. Talk about all the great things you’re going to do with the money you’re saving.
It’s true that attitude is everything. Challenge yourself to cut your food-spending this month, and keep an attitude of positivism! Remind yourself that just because you can spend more, doesn’t mean you have to. And remind yourself of all the benefits you are reaping and how much more awesome they are than that box of Gushers.