It is difficult enough living on an “average” income let alone having to exist on less. Those who are now on social security or disability alone know how frustrating it can be to buy gasoline for our vehicle, an occasional new item of clothing, or prescriptions not covered by insurance. Even if our monthly checks cover the basics of food and lodging we find there is nothing left over if something unforeseen comes up. Those little “unexpected” items include car repairs, home repairs, or medical expenses which are not covered by Medicare or an insurance policy. And those little surprises can happen far too often. We cannot solve all of life’s issues in one article but as we look for help in coping one area that can be addressed is our food budget. I’ve found some great ways to save money while shopping for and making meals while getting by on a fixed income.
Tip#1: Try keeping a daily log or journal
A very simple but very crucial step towards keeping track of your income – a journal. A simple journal can help when you look back on your notes and daily entries and find that budget you painstakingly worked last month! By keeping a running tab on expenses and your income you can see exactly where each dollar goes and there will be no more surprises when your money suddenly runs short and you have another week or so until the checks arrive. Don’t forget to set aside some for car insurance, taxes, or property taxes if necessary. And if you come up with new ideas that work for your family budget, write them down and use them. Budgeting means making a plan and then sticking with it. Spending without a plan blows the budget away and you run out of money before running out of month!
Tip#2: Coupons are a bonus for the thrifty shopper
One of the most obvious methods of saving at the grocery store are those little coupons we find in the newspaper or in our mail box each week. By clipping and using eight or ten coupons each week I save, on average, from ten to forty dollars on my grocery list. I do not clip coupons unless they are for a brand I will buy. I hate buying things simply because I have a coupon, then see them go to waste because no one likes that particular brand or type of food so will not eat them! There are quite as few people who claim they save 90% or even more on their grocery trips through the wise use of coupons. I’m not that wise I guess but savings of at least 10% is not uncommon when shopping at stores that double coupons and also have a member savings card. It’s all about how serious you want to get with couponing.
Consider also when you shop online using coupon codes. Coupon codes are a smart idea that really works. Not only are they easy to search for in the search engines, but it really does make a difference.
Tip#3: Buying in bulk and cooking with a plan in mind
Whenever possible buy your basics when they are on sale and make large purchases at one time. This saves money in several ways including the gas to get to the store. There is a true discount store close to my house, one of those who expect you to bag your own groceries and it has somewhat of a warehouse look to it. But they have great prices on groceries and a lot of other items that cost just a dollar. I find calendars, plastic or glass bowls, kitchen tools, paper products, and even pet products in those $1 bins for even more savings on things I’d spend twice as much on elsewhere. Items I regularly use like spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, chicken and beef broth, canned milk, and dry pasta are often found just inside the door at super prices and I stock up on these basics whenever I need to. Then I can make a wide assortment of meals with those basic items plus some ground beef and chicken. And that chicken is another food that can be purchased in “bulk” when stores have the frozen bagged breasts or chicken tenders for maybe $1.20 or so per pound. I will buy several bags and separate them into portions that will make a meal for the two of us, put the pieces into a plastic freezer bag, and then just remove one bag a few days before I want to make the meal.
Tip#4: Don’t be compulsive!
As simple as it may sound, restaurants and malls were invented for only one reason – entice people to spend. So it’s not a big wonder if you always find yourself spending over and above what you’d initially planned. Whether going to the grocery store, restaurant, or drug store go there with a plan. And then stick to that plan! I’ve found that when I shop in the neighborhood Walgreens without a shopping list I spend a lot more than intended because I’m looking at far more items trying to recall what I’m there for. Then it’s more probable that I’ll buy stuff we really don’t need. Make a list of the items you actually need then stick to that list! Decide on how many trips to the doctor, grocery store, drug store, and visiting relatives you plan on taking for the next month then set the funds aside for gas. Then when you have a clear idea of how much it will cost for groceries for the next month, set that amount aside too. Utilities must be next because we need our heat or air conditioning, natural gas, or propane (depending on what is used), water, phone, and maybe trash collection. Then next will come the bills. If you are like us and have some credit card debt that must be figured in to the budget next and try to pay them down and eventually, off entirely! I hate paying for Christmas gifts I bought several years ago and that’s exactly what happens when shopping with plastic.
Tip#5: Plan for emergencies
We set aside anywhere from $1 to $50 each month in a special savings account that is earmarked just for emergencies. And one thing you can count on is that “stuff” happens and emergencies occur. That can include funds for plumbing problems, car repairs, or extra medical expenses. Those types of expenses can devastate that well planned budget so having at least some money to cover the cost will definitely help. Budgets can be adjusted according to how much you want to save and priorities will determine exactly how much will be spent at the grocery store or on those “extras” we all want but don’t actually need. Extra items can include picking up that latest movie on DVD, a music CD, or new pair of jeans while grocery shopping (especially when shopping in Walmart). If the budget is tight you simply don’t need those items this month. Try to keep it flexible however because we all need a break from that constricting budget now and then. Just remember that living on a fixed income is difficult but not impossible when you plan ahead.