Do you find yourself spending money you don’t have, using shopping as a way to make yourself feel better, or constantly going over budget in certain areas? Many people wonder how to shop less without taking away all of their fun, and they hope to see a big difference in their spending patterns.
As my family and I worked to get out of debt, I grew more and more conscious of my spending habits. There were several troublesome areas that we struggled with, including:
- Going out to eat or grabbing take out
- Grocery costs
- Online shopping (specifically Amazon)
Food costs were definitely our biggest struggle. We seemed to spend more on groceries than I thought we probably should be, combined with the amount of money spent at restaurants being higher than we realized.
We also had to create a $300/month miscellaneous budget to accommodate all these random Amazon purchases that we “needed”.
All in all, our budget was a mess and our spending a disaster.
My biggest struggle with trying to control our spending was fighting feelings of deprivation. I hated feeling like we could never do anything or buy things.
The more deprived I felt, the more likely I was to justify purchases I probably shouldn’t be making. I found all sorts of reasons to do or buy things. When I would feel a little guilty to spend money we didn’t properly work into the budget, I would just tell myself it was a reasonable expense and the budget would need to be adjusted.
Needless to say, we went through periods of time where we were slow with our financial progress.
I had to tackle these feelings of deprivation head on and find a way to change my attitude. It was the only way I was going to see the progress I desired.
I have two things that I believe were essential in helping me overcome a deprived attitude: becoming a planner and moving to a once a month household shopping day.
Become A Planner
Becoming a planner is essential if you want to learn how to shop less.
Create a Budget
A budget is a plan for your money. Creating a monthly budget is the first step to gaining control of your finances. You need to know what you can afford to spend and commit to that plan.
Creating a budget will help you evaluate your priorities and know what you need to primarily focus on.
A budget should not be too restrictive–a budget needs to be realistic. The point of creating a budget isn’t to make you miserable, it’s to make you aware. Work on adjusting your attitude towards a budget and don’t let it scare you.
A budget should reflect your spending habits and goals, not be a depressing document that makes you feel like you’ll never succeed. Here are some tips to help you create a monthly budget.
If you have read any tips on saving money on groceries, you have most certainly come across the suggestion to meal plan. Meal planning is incredibly important, but it doesn’t save you money if you’re not intentional with it.
When we were still overspending, I was meal planning religiously each week. But it wasn’t enough. Our grocery costs were still high, and food would sometimes go to waste when we opted for takeout after a long day at work when we didn’t feel like cooking.
After joining a couple of like-minded groups on Facebook, I came down with a new system that made a HUGE difference.
Instead of meal planning by the week, I now meal plan for a whole month at a time.
Here are the perks of once a month meal planning:
- Can take advantage of bulk shopping with nothing going to waste
- It sends you to the store less often–the less you’re inside the store, the less money you spend. Period.
- Gets a dreaded chore (for me anyway) out of the way for a whole month at a time
- You never worry about what to make for dinner.
- You have most of the food you need in your fridge, freezer, or pantry giving you the flexibility to easily make changes to what you feel like eating without wasting any food. Have spaghetti on the menu but don’t feel like it? Just swap it for a meal on the plan next week–you probably already have what you need on hand!
There are a few disadvantages to this system, though. They are:
- Making 30ish days of meal plans at one time can be overwhelming. However, you get a system down that works for you. I will share mine later on in the article.
- Your shopping day can be exhausting. (But remember, this big shopping day is only once a month, and it has saved me so much money it is worth it! More on this in the next section).
- Fresh produce often only lasts about a week. The only exception I make to my once a month shopping is produce. However, I have a strict rule that only produce (and occasionally deli meat) can be bought on a weekly basis. Everything else needs to be bought on my shopping day. If I run out of something, I need to find a workaround for the rest of the month. However, with good planning and practice, you won’t run out of things often. (I actually have plans in the works to reduce the amount of produce I need to buy each week, but that’s a post for another day).
Have One Designated Shopping Day Per Month
I’ve started describing this above, but having one designated shopping day at the beginning of the month has been revolutionary for my budget! It’s a big shopping day, but it’s been essential in helping me learn how to shop less overall.
My giant food list is one thing, but I also do my best to get all household items, gifts, or anything else on that shopping list.
As the month goes on, I may notice that we are running low on something. I add it to the shopping list for the next big shopping day. Resist the impulse to purchase immediately, especially if you can find a workaround.
Some things may not be so cut and dry (if you have a baby that eats formula and you run out, I’m not suggesting you don’t purchase more formula!) But part of this system is being a good planner, so with practice you will eventually get to a point where you can gauge how much more you will need within the month and purchase on your shopping day, even if you don’t immediately need it.
If I think I need something for the house or the kids, it goes on my shopping list for the next month’s shopping day. This greatly reduces impulse purchases. By the time I finalize the list, 80% of the time I realize I don’t actually need or want many of the things I’ve added to the list throughout the month.
However, if I do still want something, I give myself permission to purchase it. I just make sure that I appropriately budget for it!
Giving myself permission to purchase whatever I think I want or need as long as I wait for my monthly shopping day has greatly reduced feelings of deprivation. It’s also saved so much money and helped me identify what I truly want or need. I no longer spend money on things I don’t actually care about just because I had an emotional impulse.
One exception I make to my once a month shopping rule is for produce (as I mentioned earlier), as well as eggs and milk. I set a modest budget for those items and pick that up on the weekends for the week ahead.
It’s awesome to only have to spend 15 minutes in a store on the weekend when my family has so many other things we would like to do on those days. The meals are already planned and the list was already made–I just need to run in a grab the few things I need!
Quit or Reduce Online Shopping
Many people LOVE to shop online. However, I really believe that you are much more likely to impulse shop online than in a store.
Amazon’s “Buy Now With One Click!” is all too tempting. You make a purchase without really weighing how much you want or need it.
I have tricks in place to keep me from impulse buys in stores. These don’t apply to online shopping. For example, if I see a shirt I love at Target, I tell myself I can have it but I have to do a lap of the store before I commit. If I still want it after that lap, I get it (as long as I have room in the budget). But 90% of the time, I no longer feel so strongly about the item after my lap.
It’s all about avoiding impulses, and that is more difficult to do online.
I’m not saying we never buy online, but I limit online shopping to items that I can’t find in store, birthday gifts for the kids (because they usually come with me when I shop!), or if it’s something I want to get but the price is significantly better online. If the latter is the case, it still needs to be purchased on my big shopping day–not mid-month.
Follow the Plan!
It is a lot of up-front work to switch to a once a month meal plan and shopping day, but once you get your system down it really makes a difference.
The first month I did this, I saved over 40% in household shopping and grocery spending compared to the previous month. I was shocked and amazed.
Not every month has been that dramatic in savings, but I have consistently spent much less each month than I used to.
I have learned the hard way that there is one thing you can do that can backtrack all your progress: deviate from the plan.
Even the smallest things can add up to a big impact at the end of the month.
During one month, for example, my kids ran out of crackers after a week and a half. I figured crackers are cheap; I can pick up another box.
The second you start making these exceptions for one food item, it’s not long before you’re making these exceptions for more.
It’s really pertinent that you stick to the plan. You can live without crackers. And actually, you can easily make your own crackers with little effort with pantry staples! This is what I did the next time I ran out of crackers. It took about 10 minutes in total and very simple ingredients.
Finding workarounds is what you need to get in the habit of doing when you run out of things.
What you should do instead is take notes on what you are running out of and when. Then decide if you want to make changes to the next month’s list. Maybe buying two boxes of crackers for a month isn’t enough–make the adjustment for next month. But don’t allow yourself to deviate from the plan to allow replenishing of non-essentials.
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What are your tips for how to shop less? Let me know in the comments!