Tips & Tricks to Budget in a Time of Inflation

American families are spending more–an extra $433 every month, to be exact. The culprit? Inflation.

The costs of groceries, energy, and gasoline, which account for over a third of monthly household costs, have surged in the last year and continuously increased each month. From December to February alone, the consumer price index (CPI), a measure of the average change in prices of consumer goods and services, rose from 7% to 7.9%.

With these added expenses that may stick around through the end of the year, budgeting tactics are important now more than ever. Finding where to start, though, can feel overwhelming. Can I still spurge on my daily coffee? Should I cancel my gym membership? Do I need to shop for groceries at a different store?

To ease your concerns and help you get started, we’ve compiled tips and tricks for creating a manageable budget plan that’ll put food on the table, fill your gas tank, keep the lights on in your home, and leave room for the little things–without hurting your wallet.

Budget-Friendly Tactics

In times of inflation, cutting costs where possible can leave a little extra money in the bank and help offset rising prices–especially as the CPI has reached the highest index in the last 40 years. Here are a few ways you can save some cash without sacrificing what your family enjoys doing:

Take advantage of free activities in your area.

Whether it be a local event at the park, a pay-what-you-wish donation at a gallery, or free admission days at a museum, your family can still enjoy a weekend outing that won’t cost you.

Skip dinner reservations and host a potluck.

From paying for parking to leaving a generous tip, dining at a restaurant comes with a few added costs. If you’re looking to find a happy medium between cutting back and having to spend every evening cooking in the kitchen, we recommend getting friends together for a monthly potluck. Each guest can bring a dish of their choosing and a bottle of wine for a fun evening inside.

Workout at home.

While going to the gym has its perks, steep memberships can affect your monthly budgeting plan. Instead, work out at home, which provides the same benefits for your physical, mental, and emotional health. You can also look to YouTube for workout routines and challenges or go for a run in the neighborhood.

Schedule an energy assessment of your home.

Home energy audits are a great way to identify energy-efficient measures you can take to reduce your monthly bills. You’ll also walk away with a better understanding of how you consume energy and discover ways to improve efficiencies, such as improving insulation or updating your heating or cooling system.

Choose store-brand items over name brands.

Although it may be your first instinct to reach for name-brand products when shopping for cleaning supplies, household products, condiments, or canned foods, keep in mind that their store-brand counterparts are just as good–and will cost a fraction of the price.

Review gas prices at warehouse clubs or grocery stores.

Sam’s Club, BJ’s, and even several large grocery store chains have gas stations that provide cheaper rates for their members and shoppers. When planning your shopping trip, be sure to stop for gas so you can double up on your savings and condense your commute time.

When and Where You Can Spurge

Saving money wherever possible in a time of inflation can certainly help make a difference in your monthly budget, but finding ways to treat yourself once in a while should not be taken entirely off the table. Splurging on yourself and your family in moderation is perfectly acceptable, but it’s important to keep it to a minimum to help you stay on track. Here are a few examples of how you can spoil your family without breaking the bank:

Designate one day of the week for take-out.

Think Taco Tuesdays, Wings Wednesdays, or Pizza Fridays. Your little ones will not only look forward to this special day in the week, but you’ll also get some respite from the kitchen. By buying a large quantity of one meal compared to ordering à la carte from a restaurant, you’ll get more bang for your buck.

Choose pick-up over delivery.

Having someone bring your meal straight to your doorstep definitely adds more time to your day, but picking it up will put some money back into your pocket if you choose to order take-out. We recommend ordering from a local eatery so you don’t waste too much gas when getting your dinner.

Grab a pick-me-up coffee now and then.

Freshening up your barista skills at home can definitely save you close to $100 a month or more, but we know the joy that comes from going to a coffeehouse all too well. To ensure you stick to your budget, only purchase a latte or coffee on special occasions or during a busy day of errands.

Consider grocery services when in a bind.

When grocery shopping isn’t feasible during hectic work weeks, grocery delivery services are a lifesaver. Relying on these services frequently, however, can add up quickly and put a dent in your wallet. Instead, rely on these services when you’re in a crunch and choose to pick up groceries rather than having them delivered.

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Opt for frozen foods.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the average American family of four throws away up to $2,275 in food every year. To avoid having a fridge full of spoiled produce, choose frozen goods with a longer shelf life in your home. Plus: frozen foods are often a more affordable option than fresh goods.

Eat more veggie-based dishes.

Legumes, nuts, eggs, and other vegetables can serve as a more affordable and healthier alternative to traditional protein sources. Need some inspiration on what to feed your kiddos? We love these simple recipes that’ll get the whole family eating more nutritious meals.

Look for in-season produce.

In-season produce is cheaper, but it’s also fresher and tasty. Buying produce during its off-season is typically higher in price since it was transported from distant locations.

Buy items in bulk.

Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club offer large quantities of dried goods and household products, which helps their members save money in the long run. Stocking up on items also condenses the number of trips you’ll have to take to the store every month to save on your gas tank.

Shop at discount supermarket chains.

Eating healthy doesn’t always have to be expensive. Shop at supermarkets, such as Aldi or Lidl, that offer discounted prices for fruits, veggies, bread, cheeses, etc. You can buy the foods you like without feeling guilty about the price. If your family is also open to meat or dairy alternatives, discount supermarket chains also provide plant-based products at an affordable price.

Bring out your inner coupon queen.

There’s something special about watching your final bill being reduced because of using coupons. Coupon sites, including thekrazycouponlady.com and coupons.com, offer free printable coupons for groceries, cleaning supplies, personal care items, etc. Be sure to search for what you need before heading to the grocery store so you can save as much as possible.

As you begin implementing your monthly budget plan during this time of inflation, keep in mind that this is an adjustment period for you and your family. Start adding changes little by little and stay the course as best as possible. When in doubt, remember that every bit of money saved counts!

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