Ep: #67 In this solo episode, we'll be focusing on one of the biggest budget busters: the grocery budget. Many individuals and families struggle to balance their budget each month, and a significant portion of their expenses is often spent on food.
Food is not only essential for nourishment and energy but also plays a significant social role in our lives. We celebrate special occasions, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy potluck dinners or eating out. However, overspending on food can hinder our ability to get out of debt and build wealth.
In this episode, hear a powerful example of how using a debt snowball calculator to illustrate how paying extra towards credit card debt can drastically reduce the payoff time.
To take control of the food budget and stop overspending, we discuss three key tips:
These changes will take time and practice, but they will eventually become habits that lead to positive changes in your time management and budget.
Remember, one step at a time, you can take control of your food budget and improve your financial situation. Keep moving forward and taking positive actions on your journey to financial success.
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Welcome and thank you for listening to the Budget Divas show. I am your host Jenn Trinidad and I am here to offer you tips on how to get out of debt FASTER (and stop sacrificing today) with mystery shopping. Today is solo episode in this next series on getting back to the fundamentals of budgeting.
We just moved in our new house in April and after having some renovations done, we are finally at a place where we can enjoy our new home. But being that we’re in a bigger place means a bigger house payment and all the expenses that come with owning a home. And it got me thinking that even I needed to relook at my budget to make sure the numbers balance every single month WITHOUT incurring any debt.
So in this next series, I want to focus the next batch of episodes to getting back to the fundamentals – laying down the foundation and building upon it. Because once you learn it, you can’t UNLEARN it and hopefully it will be engrained in you like a new habit.
In today’s solo episode, we’re going to be talking about the biggest budget buster and how you can master it instead of wanting to pull your hair out.
And that it is the grocery budget. When new clients come to me and tell me they are having trouble paying their bills and getting their budget to work, the first question I ask is “how much are you spending on food?”
For the MAJORITY (not all) but the majority of individuals or families that are struggling to balance their budget every month, the number one budget buster is food.
Now think about that.
Why is that?
Well food not only nourishes our body and gives us energy to keep going, but it’s also a social thing. We have potluck dinners with friends and family, we go out to eat with our loves ones or after work happy hour with co-workers, each celebration we have (birthday parties, anniversaries, major holidays) are all associated with food.
So it’s not that I want you to live on a “rice and beans” or “ramen and tuna sandwiches” diet, but I want you to be mindful of how much you are spending each month so you can get out of debt FASTER and start to build wealth.
Before we get into the tips, let me give you an example of how powerful this is when you look at the numbers.
If I pull up a free debt snowball calculator online and type in $10000 as a credit card balance with 18% interest, if you pay only the minimum amount of $100 a month, you’ll have this credit card paid off in July 2123. That’s 100 years from now. That is way too long to be in debt. That means your entire life plus some will be in debt… until your death bed.
But let’s say you add an extra $200 to that total making it $300 total, now you’ll have that credit card paid off in June 2027 (4 years from now) and you just shaved off 96 years off of your life. Let’s take it one step further and let’s say now you’re putting $500 every month to that credit card. It will now be paid off in July 2025 (2 years from now instead 98 years). Isn’t that amazing?
I would encourage you to try this out yourself. You can google debt snowball calculator and when you input the numbers, the outcome will SURPRISE you.
So one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about constantly refining your food budget until you’ve got it to a healthy number is this is the #1 place where most people spend a ton of their money. Your food budget not only consists of groceries but also how much you spend eating out every month. We all know that eating out is expensive, not all healthy, and can easily mess up your budget if you’re not careful.
Let me give you an example. Back in the day in my early career days, I was 2 years out of college and started to finally get my “adulting” life together. I had recently been hired as full-time staff as a healthcare recruiter after working for the company as a temporary hire for about a year. My income increased drastically from $43,000 to $60,000/year plus with my then boyfriend Alden’s income (now husband), it felt like we were finally on the right path to success.
But instead, the opposite happened. Instead of living like we were on the previous income, our lifestyle started to increase. We went out to eat more often, my co-workers and I bought lunch almost every day and then went out for happy hour, and I started buying more premium foods at the grocery store. Nothing wrong with buying the premium or organic foods but the problem was we didn’t have a plan for the food. And because we didn’t plan well, we ended up throwing away hundreds of dollars of food every month. Fresh produce that we thought we’d eat, meat in the refrigerator that we always meant to cook went bad, and we went out to eat instead because we were just too tired to cook after a long day at work. The worst part was that the money we were literally throwing away with those groceries could have gone to our credit cards to pay off our debt even faster.
Once we started putting a plan into place that meant not slaving in the kitchen for days and having money to eat out without feeling guilty, two things happened. We started seeing our debt going down and we started having more TIME freedom. I didn’t want to be in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove every night or eating the same thing every night just to get out of debt.
So I want to give you three things that we now do so that allows us to have our cake and eat it too.
1. I have firmly into place that I only cook THREE days a week. Not only does this allow me more time on the other days to work on my business and service my customers better but it also gives me time to relax at the end of the night. I’m no longer spending three hours each night prepping, cooking, washing dishes and putting leftovers away. I can actually enjoy my time with my family and have time for myself.
Here is what that looks like. Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays are my cooking days. Now this might change from time to time depending on my schedule but for the most part, it’s Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On these cooking days, I’ll cook two meals so that we have enough food and leftovers until the next cooking day. On the weekends, it’s either getting food from mystery shops or a free for all. Find what you want in the fridge and eat it up or grab something from the freezer. Most of the time I’ll make a huge batch of something and freeze half of it to use at a later time. This has been a game changer for our family. No longer are we stressed about “what’s for dinner” or having to cook something new every single night.
You can implement this in your routine too. Whether you decide to cook 3 or 4 or 5 days a week and take the rest of the days off, it’s up to you. But the goal is to ensure that you’re eating what you cook without it going to waste and stop spending so much time in the kitchen. Or worse, too tired to cook and opting to eat out instead. I hear these stories so many times. The kids had baseball practice and it was too late to make dinner so we went out to eat instead. If you do that 5 days a week, that’s as much as $250 a week if you spend an average of $50 a day on fast food… which is pretty normal these days with inflation and these crazy fast food prices. If we go out to eat to get a burger, fries, and a drink, it’s almost $20 here and that’s just for ONE person. So save yourself time and money by planning out the meals. If you do have a busy week with kids activities or other engagements, dinner might be something that’s fast and easy to put together. For us when our kids were still in school, that looked like taco nights or something in the crockpot that would be ready to serve when we got home.
This is going to take time and practice … it won’t be easy on the first try but as you keep perfecting this month after month, it will become a habit and you WILL start to see changes with your TIME and your BUDGET.
2. The next thing that I do is I take a full inventory of everything I have in my refrigerator, my freezers, and my pantry before the next month begins and I start planning my meals for the following month based on what I have on hand as well as what I want to eat in the next month. My life is not so structured in that I’ll plan out the meals for every single day of the week…. Because well to be real my life isn’t structured that way. I might say I want to cook beef stew on Monday but when Monday rolls around, I actually want chicken curry. So how I do it is I make a list of meals that I CAN make according to what I have and plan to buy at the grocery store for the following month then on my cooking day, I’m ready to make something off of that list. This creates freedom and the autonomy that I need to make those choices on that day without going over my budget and wasting food.
Here’s what that looks like. Before the end of the month, I’ll take EVERYTHING out (including my baking supplies and spices) and do an inventory of what I have, what I need to replenish, and anything new that I want to buy. This will take time but if you do it once a month, it will save you HUNDREDS of dollars each month. Usually I’ll do this when no one is home so I can focus and I’ll either watch a movie or a listen to a podcast and it’s kind of like my “me time”. Then I’ll write down my inventory list on this huge whiteboard that I have on the inside of my door pantry so I can easily see what I have. There are also spaces for my upcoming grocery list and the meals that I want to make for the upcoming month. If you can’t tack a whiteboard to the inside of your pantry door or don’t want to, you can also use good old-fashioned paper and pen. The goal is so you can physically see it somewhere so you know exactly what you have on hand. Then I take a picture of it so I’m not overbuying groceries or ending up with 5 extra cans of tomato sauce.
And it’s also a great way to start fresh. Throw away anything that is old and expired, anything that you are no longer wanting to eat, and deep clean those areas. I love when deep cleaning my extra freezer and my pantry… the end result is so organized and fresh. Think about it, if you were able to shave off $200 of your food budget every single month just by being intentional, how much of a difference would that make in your life? How much less stressed would you be knowing your debt is getting paid off quicker and you’re putting a system into place that is helping you to stay out of the kitchen more often while still feeding your family every night?
3. Save money on food is through mystery shopping. If you’re new to the podcast and have never heard me talk about this before, mystery shopping, also known as secret shopping, is a market research technique used by businesses to evaluate and assess the quality of their products or services from a customer's perspective. In this process, companies hire individuals known as mystery shoppers to act as regular customers and visit their establishments or interact with their services, such as retail stores, restaurants, hotels, banks, or other businesses.
The main objective of mystery shopping is to provide an unbiased and objective evaluation of various aspects of the customer experience. Mystery shoppers may be asked to assess factors like customer service, staff friendliness, cleanliness, product knowledge, adherence to company policies, and overall customer satisfaction.
I like to say it is a cross between an actor and a yelper. You are acting like a regular paying customer but the real acting comes out as there are certain things the mystery shop company wants you to ask in order to test product knowledge. The Yelp part is because we write reports based on our feedback. So just like you would go onto Yelp to review products and services, you are writing reports but for the client instead, painting the picture of what happened from start to finish as if the client was actually there with you.
I will have more information coming on mystery shopping in an upcoming podcast but for now let’s get back to saving money on food. There are food mystery shops – fine dining and casual restaurants, fast food, and even grocery shops that will help you to save money on your food bills.
So since I typically don’t cook on the weekends, what I’ll do is find food mystery shops where we can enjoy a nice lunch or dinner. In the past couple of months, we’ve been to two fine-dining restaurants and almost every weekend we’ll get takeout paid by the mystery shop. It’s a very interesting concept – getting paid to eat at places we normally eat at anyway. This also gives us a good excuse (if you will) to have a nice date day with each other. We’ll go to the beach in the morning, grab a mystery shop that pays for our lunch, run some errands, then head home. The best part is on the weekends there’s not a ton of dishes to wash because we didn’t cook. It saves us time, money, and frees our brain cells from being fried after a long week.
I hope this podcast was helpful and gives you some ideas on how you can take control of your food bill without spending hours in the kitchen or going through the drive-thru each night. If you want to get started ASAP and want a step-by-step training with videos and a deeper dive into this, I have entire courses dedicated to meal planning and mystery shopping in the Budget Divas Program. Go to budgetdivas.com/member where you can find all the information on how to get out of debt faster (and stop sacrificing today) with mystery shopping. It’s going to help you achieve your goals faster and allow you to have much more fun now… and stop all the sacrificing you’ve been doing all this time.
Alright my lovely friends, until next time… keep moving forward one step at a time.