If you’re like most people, at some point, something will happen to cause you to have to free up funds quickly to pay bills, even if you’ve set up an emergency fund. Maybe it’s an extended loss of income, huge medical expenses, two emergencies close together, or spending that went haywire for a special event such as a wedding. One way to address a situation like this is skipping next week’s grocery trip.
If you’re in any situation like these examples, you need to free up cash in a hurry, usually within weeks. Typical budget revampers like financial fasts or extreme couponing can drastically change a family’s financial picture but take varying amounts of time to set up. You might need something quicker.
Next to housing, food is usually the biggest expense in a budget, whether you’re a single or part of a large family. If the amount you need quickly is roughly equivalent to a week’s expenditures at the supermarket, skipping one trip will be exactly what you need. Some households make a habit of doing this periodically to pare down excess inventory or save cash.
Skipping a weekly trip for groceries will not work if, in order to have enough food for a week, you add a ton of items to your list the preceding week. In order to make this work, you must spend at least half an hour taking an inventory of what you already have in the house.
Some adults find that they get more cooperation from teens if they explain why menus will be a bit different for the next week, then enlist the kids’ help in food preparation and avoiding complaints. For smaller youngsters, often a simple “Mom’s trying some new recipes this week” is the best course.
You will be using only food currently in your home for next week’s meals. However, you’ll need to identify any items normally on your grocery list that are non-food products you’ll still need to purchase or a perishable like milk (hint: if you try to freeze it, pour out some of the liquid first).
For example, if watering down your almost-empty bottle of laundry detergent isn’t something you’re willing to do, that product goes on your exempt list. The same is true of items purchased on a regular basis like over-the-counter medications and pet food.
Plan the Menus
If your family eats fast food or other meals away from home, this is the perfect week during which to stop or curtail the practice. You’ll need to come up with a menu for every meal eaten at home plus any snacks, using only what’s already on your shelves or refrigerator.
The biggest challenge to most families is not having enough meat or poultry. If you have canned tuna or chicken, that’s a plus. Here are some creative ways to use what you already have:
Revise recipes. Instead of a two-egg breakfast, go for a meal with one egg. If you have egg substitute in the house, use it in place of any eggs you’re rationing.
I heard about a homemaker with six children whose husband suddenly left the marriage. He lost his job and was only able to contribute a minimal amount to support for each child. The homemaker, who was well known for her cooking and ingenuity decorating their home on a budget, wondered how on earth she could cut food expenses further. She decided to revise her recipes, starting with her family’s favorite, Spanish rice. Instead of two pounds of ground beef, the new recipe has half a pound.
Use water. Stretch any soda or fruit drinks you have the house by serving water at meals.
Serve breakfast at night. Eggs are great sources of protein, and omelets can be fun for the kids to help make. Designate one night for a pancake supper.
Use up small quantities. Do you have a few pieces of pepperoni, one small can of vegetable juice, maybe a third of a cup of rice? Gather all these things and use them in a soup. Even one frozen hamburger patty can be crumbled and added to the mix or to pasta.
Let the kids help. Kids of all ages are much more likely to eat a meal when they’ve helped create it, conceptually or using their hands. You can send them on a scavenger hunt of sorts and see who can come up with a use for those four olives still in the jar. Family members might just discover some new recipes they love.
Trade if you can. An ideal scenario occurs when you find another family willing to try a week without a trip to the grocery. You can trade odds and ends, as well as recipes, to make meal planning easier.
Look for freebies. Check your stash of gift cards from eateries. If you find a card that doesn’t have enough credit on it for a family meal, use the balance for take-out to supplement what you already have at home. Do you get mail inviting you to free lunches or dinners sponsored by financial advisers, retirement planners, or attorneys? Now is a great time to accept one and perfect your ability to say NO to a sales pitch.
Are you gearing up to avoid a trip to the grocery next week? To get some additional ideas and share some contagious enthusiasm, check out the sites for cheapskate Jeff Yeager and the frugal Economides family.