In the current state of the economy, it seems like sticking to a budget is harder than ever. Wages are down, but prices remain high, especially for staples such as food. Circle of Moms member Lucy L. wonders how to stay within your food budget. Here are some simple tricks for staying within your means.
1. Set a Realistic Budget
Perhaps it goes without saying, but in order to stay on a budget, you have to have one! Setting a realistic budget is an important part of a long-term plan to control spending. How much should you spend on food every month? Experts say that you should spend roughly 14% of your income on food, which includes both groceries and meals out. CNBC created this handy calculator to determine your own figure. This number should cover not only food, but toiletries and other everyday items that you might purchase at the grocery store.
2. Leave yourself a cushion
Leave yourself a small cushion — whatever you are comfortable with — as most of us remember things we need as we shop that are not on our lists. Or, perhaps your child is tagging along, and you want to buy him or her a little something extra for being helpful in the store. You might even have last-minute guests for dinner one night and need to buy extra food for a meal you've already planned.
3. Plan meals ahead
Speaking of planning, once you have your figure, start to plan you meals for the week. If you know you'll be out on Thursday, plan for the expense of eating out, and then make a list of your meals for the rest of the week. Don't forget to include items for kids' lunches. If you work from recipes, there are many budget-minded books and websites out there that will help you make great dinners on a shoestring. Eating Well has a column for recipes that are both healthful and affordable.
4. Use coupons only for items you actually need
Look for coupons for items that are already on your list. The downfall of the average coupon-clipper is that these supposedly money-saving devices trigger us to think we need things we actually don't. Remember: It's not a bargain, no matter how inexpensive, if you don't need it!
5. Look for stores that will match coupons
Do you always shop at the same store, or cluster of stores? Shopping at stores close in proximity to each other saves time and gas, but it might be worth making a detour if you find a store that honor's competitor's coupons. The important thing is, again, not to buy things you don't need. The list you show up to the store with should be as comprehensive as possible.
6. Have back-up plans for easy, inexpensive meals
What if you go over your budget or, for whatever reason, find that you haven't bought enough food? Have a backup plan for easy and inexpensive meals that use items you already have in your pantry. (Related: 3 Last-Minute Meals That Use Only Pantry Staples).
Last but not least, try to shop at farmer's markets and farm stands when possible. Not only can locally grown food not be beat for height-of-season flavor, these products are often organic — and supporting local farmers supports your local economy!
What are your tricks for staying within a food budget?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.