Mary Poppins spoke the truth when she said, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun…. and snap! The job’s a game!”
I love games and I’m always up for a challenge. Though my husband and I never fight, we can be very competitive when it comes to games. (In fact, he rarely plays Big Boggle or SET with me anymore because I win every time… we usually stick to Scrabble where both of us stand an equal chance.)
Over the years I have tried to take advantage of my competitive streak by using it to reach my (normally non-competitive) goals. Most of the time I’m only competing with myself, but just like the my favorite nanny illustrates, when you can find fun in a chore, “the job’s a game!”
Lowering your grocery budget isn’t usually seen as a fun challenge. In fact, just bringing up the topic of grocery budgets is enough to make some people break out in a sweat and get their grumpy face on. So lowering your grocery budget is the “job that must be done” and now I get to show you the “element of fun!”
Remember, attitude is everything here. Scrooge wouldn’t think these games could be any fun, but if you go into them with a positive attitude, you really can have a good time lowering your grocery budget.
With our further ado, here are six of the games I play to make keeping a low grocery budget fun!
If it’s not on the list…
If you have a habit of grabbing impulse items from the end caps in the grocery store or seem to get uncontrollable cravings when you’re shopping, then this is a great game for you! Not only will you have an incentive (i.e, to win!) to avoid impulse buys, you will also be refining your grocery-list-writing skills.
The game is straight-forward. You plan your meals and make a good shopping list before heading to the store. When you’re at the store, you must limit yourself to only those items on your list. If you make it out of the store with only the items on your list, you win! You’ll become a focused, rockstar grocery-list-maker in no time!
How long can I go?
For some people, this one might be torture, but I actually think it’s a fun challenge. If you really want to cut your month’s grocery budget, try to see how long you can go without buying food.
Now, you can set your own rules for this challenge, so maybe your rules are that you can only but milk and a set amount of produce each week. Other than that, all of your meals must come from your pantry or freezer.
An alternative to the “How long can I go” challenge is the no-spend challenge (also called a “pantry challenge”). With a no-spend challenge, I set a specific time limit on how long I will not buy groceries. For us, I usually do a month. In fact, you can go beyond just groceries and do it for all of your flexible spending categories of your budget.
Sometimes I try to see how long I can go without going to the grocery store just for fun.
Cash Budget Game
I have never done a full cash budget, but I have worked with a cash grocery budget before. It’s a really effective way to limit your spending because when the money is gone, it’s gone! No cheating– that’s a given.
With a cash budget you are forced to pay attention to everything that you put in your cart because you don’t want to end up with a total you can’t pay for at the register. #beentheredonethat
The rules are simple, if you make a weekly shopping trip, only bring 1/4 of your monthly grocery budget. If you stay within those parameters, you win!
Just the Perimeter
The next challenge will save you both time and money. The object here is to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Typically the perimeter of the store has fresh produce, meat, and dairy. You will avoid the inside aisles, including boxed, bagged, or canned food. You might be surprised at the money you’ll save when you don’t buy the pre-packaged convenience food which makes the bulk of what is sold in grocery stores (at least here in the US).
How do you win at this one? Simple! You just don’t buy anything that isn’t on the perimeter. Chances are, you will need things from the inner aisles at some point, so this challenge isn’t one you’ll do every week.
Nothing at Regular Price
There are two levels of this challenge. In its simplest form, you would focus on sale prices and loss leaders from your store’s weekly ad. The front page of the ad will have the best deals. Planning your menu around key sale items is a great money-saving strategy.
To increase the intensity of the “Nothing at Regular Price” challenge, you can involve coupons. In a former life (read: when I didn’t live in the boonies), I enjoyed couponing. Couponing is a whole game in itself. I won’t get into all of the details, but trust me when I say you can get lots of food for great prices if you’re willing to put in a little effort to learn this skill. The most effective way to use coupons is to combine them with a sale price, a cashback rebate, or other promotion.
Challenge yourself to only buy what is on sale. Hopefully you’re keeping track of prices on the items you use regularly so you can recognize what a real sale is when it hits. If you make it out of the store without buying anything regular price, you win!
On your Mark, Get Set, Go!
How can we go without a challenge that is time-based? One complaint busy people have is that grocery shopping takes too long, so why not challenge yourself to do it faster? Decide on a time that you’d like to beat, then start the countdown with your stopwatch (or a phone app stopwatch substitute) Don’t forget your list! Your list is what will allow you to speed-shop!
The money-saving factor here is that you will just buy the things you need and won’t take time to browse all of those impulse items that are dying to get into your cart. You do have to be careful here though, because when you’re time-bound, you won’t take as much time reading labels and comparing prices. This isn’t a problem for me usually because I have done all of the comparisons at my local store and already know what’s a great deal and what isn’t. If you’re new to cutting your grocery budget you will want to take some time to compare the prices per unit on the items on your list.
I don’t expect (or recommend) that you use one of these challenges every week. Most of these challenges (except the cash grocery budget) work best when they are not used every week. Also, not all of these challenges are inherently money-saving. You have to couple each challenge with a money-saving mindset in order to see the best results. In other words, don’t rely on one of these challenges alone to revamp your grocery budget.
How about you?
- Are you (like me and Mary Poppins) motivated by challenges and games?
- Have you ever made saving on groceries a game or challenge?
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