I am a stay at home mom (SAHM) so I am always looking for ways to save money for my family. Our medical school budget is split into three parts: Bills, Gas, and Food/ Necessities. Unfortunately we have paid off all the bills that we can and cannot cut our bill budget anymore (well unless we win the lottery… but that is just wishful thinking!) As for gas the only way to cut our budget is to not drive anywhere… and I don’t think my husband would be a fan of running to work and school. That leaves me having to get creative with our food and necessities budget. My husband and three kids love their groceries and they sure know how to clean out our cupboards. My journey as a SAHM and med student wife continues to be a challenge for me but here are a few helpful tips I have found along the way…
Shopping Tip 1: Always make a list!
Making out a shopping list that only includes the items you need, will help you stay on budget. I do allow myself one treat each week that is not on the list since I usually find something on sale that would make my week go from ordinary to extraordinary! Note: I only allow an extra treat when I have wiggle room in my budget. Every once in awhile I forget to get something on my list (this happens more frequently when I bring the kids with me shopping.) If I don’t have time to run to the store, I will ask my wonderful med student husband to pick it up for me. However you should know that my husband is notorious for going to the store and coming home with bags and bags of snacks, treats, and too much food! The best part is not only did he go over budget but sometimes he even forgets to pick up what I asked him to grab for me (Haha, this is one of the joys of marriage!) I also find when I bring the whole family shopping I tend to go over budget because everyone likes to put individual treats in the cart. Always make a list and stick to it! Another helpful tip for grocery shopping is make a weekly menu! A few years ago I started making a weekly menu to save time and money at the grocery store. I bought a small whiteboard and some dry erase markers and each week I make out our menu. It took awhile for my family to get on board with this new plan, since my family likes to eat how they feel. Over time this little tip has saved us money (which is AMAZING!!!) but at first it may be hard sticking to the menu. Trust me, as long as you stick to it you will see a difference in your budget! A bonus tip is to plan your menu around what is on sale at your local grocery store that week.
Shopping Tip 2: Bring your own reusable bags!
Not only is this tip better for our environment but it also pays to help save the earth (literally!) Many stores offer incentives and will pay you to bring your own bag. Usually it is only a few cents but over time that adds up! So do your part and bring your own bag! My favorite bags are the Target bags because they only cost you a dollar, they are sturdy and hold up to my heavy grocery items and Target gives me 5 cents for every bag I bring with me! Score!
Shopping Tip 3: Buy yourself a small calculator or use your phone app!
When I first began this journey of living on a budget, I often found that when I took a running tally of my groceries I was always off. I went to the Dollar Store and bought myself a small calculator to bring with me everywhere. You can also use the calculator app on your phone but I find it easier to do it the old fashion way! Trust me, your calculator will become your best friend when you are trying to stick to a budget. Every once in awhile I will get strange looks in the store since I have my calculator in one hand and my list in the other, all while pushing the carriage and grabbing all the items on my list. The best part about using a calculator while you shop is that you will know if you are over or under budget before you get to the checkout counter. It also gets you familiar with the prices of products so when you get to the checkout counter you will know right away if something rang up incorrectly. Don’t be afraid to ask for a manager if you think something is mismarked and always take a picture of the price with your camera phone because most stores will honor the mismarked price if you have proof.
Shopping Tip 4: Use coupons, they will save you a ton!
I still consider myself a coupon virgin because I am still new at it but I saved my family over $125 the first month I tried it. I cut coupons from the weekly ads in the newspapers. I sign up for any e-coupons that get sent to my email. I also have coupons sent to my phone that can be scanned right from my phone. The best way to coupon is to tell your friends and family. My family and friends will save their weekly newspaper coupons for me and any other ads that I may be able to use. The more coupons you have the more you can save! Make sure to check out the stores coupon policy because some stores will allow you to double or triple coupons. Other stores may only allow you to use one manufacturers coupon and one store coupon per item. Also, some stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond will take expired coupons, so you’re welcome!
Shopping Tip 5: Buy store brand products!
If I don’t have a coupon for a name brand product then I will buy the store brand. Some products you will see only a few cents of difference and then others you will find are dollars less than the brand name products. Most of the time the quality of the store brands are just as good or even better than some of the name brands. I usually will buy store brand on my canned goods and my frozen foods.
Shopping Tip 6: Take advantage of reward programs!
I always sign up for free rewards programs. It usually is a great way to save a little extra! Some of my favorite programs offer free “cash” or store credit if you spend a certain amount of money. Most of these programs you have to read the fine print to check and see if there is an expiration date (and make sure you take advantage of it before it expires!). Other programs work as an additional coupon that you can just scan at checkout. I also use cash back apps like Ibotta, which takes the hassle out of searching online ads to find rebates and coupons for certain products. Ebates is a similar program that offers cash back rewards if you online shop off of their website. I like to use Checkout 51 to save me money at the grocery store. This is also a free money savings app that saves you the time and effort of cutting coupons by doing it for you. Shopkick is my favorite in-store app that you sign into using your phone and Bluetooth where you earn points for simply walking into certain stores and scanning certain products. Sometimes you can double or triple your points if you purchase the item and scan your receipt. You can cash in your points for gift cards, purses, TV’s and other cool items. So what are you waiting for, start downloading and start saving!!
Shopping Tip 7: Buy online!
Over the years I have found it more difficult to find the time to get to the store to shop. Besides grocery shopping and my obsessive Target shopping addiction, I don’t shop in store as much as I used to. I find online shopping much easier since I can essentially shop around and check product prices at multiple places while sitting in the comforts of my home. Heck, most of my shopping is done late at night after I have put our kiddos to bed. I love online shopping because I often find the deals to be better than in-store. Many places will even allow you to use multiple coupons online while in-store that may not be the case.
Shopping Tip 8: Buy in Bulk!
Since our student loans get distributed twice a year, I have found that buying in bulk has saved us a ton of money on certain products. There are many wholesale clubs that offer special perks and some even pay for themselves if you spend a certain amount in a year. Do not worry if you do not have any wholesale clubs nearby, you can buy many bulk items on Amazon. I buy our paper goods and non-perishables in bulk at our local wholesale club. On Amazon I buy our cat food, baby diapers and wipes, since they have the best deals with their Subscribe & Save program.
I hope these tips help to make your shopping work for you and your budget! Check back soon for more budget friendly tips! For travel saving tips check out Traveling on a Med Student Budget