Why do people think it is so scary to be on a budget? People think that only people without money use budgets and if they had more money they wouldn't need to budget, which is totally false. I know many families that are financially secured that have budgets. In fact, they are well off because they followed a budget. Some think budgets are restrictive and prevents them from spending the little money they do have. In reality, a budget can be one of the most freeing things we could ever have. It lets you know where you spend your money and if you need to prioritize your spending habits. It shows exactly what was spent and what is left. It can also be adjusted to meet income and needs.

A budget is particularly useful for those trying to feed large families. As my new bride and I discussed this, she had some great examples that she used when she had a lot of hungry baby birds to feed. Here are six ideas we came up with to help you stay within your food budget:

1. Plan meals ahead of time

When we shop without meals planned, we seem to buy what looks good at the time, or just random things that we may eat, at some point. It would be easy to end up with a year's supply of Raspberry Zingers. Without a menu, we spend more money on things we don't need and it takes longer to shop. When meals are planned, we buy only those items that are needed. We also find that our shopping is done quicker. We already know what we want and if we put our list in order according to how the store is laid out, shopping is done effectively and economically. We plan meals out of our leftovers for the week, too. This may save you from another store run later in the week, which will save time and money.

2. Bulk buying

Buying in bulk requires a shopping lobotomy. Our brains are not programmed to spend $200 to $400 on five items, even if we know these are items we use most, and will last a long time. In the beginning, it may be hard to change the way we have shopped for twenty or thirty years, but we can ease into it. A good way to start buying in bulk is to purchase your most used items when they are on sale and then move on to other items.

3. Stretch main dishes by using other foods

Add in veggies, pasta, rice, beans, or grains to your main dish. Adding these items to our meals not only stretches our meals farther, but adds nutrition and balance to our diet. When we add these items our family never notices and it tastes just as good.

4. Cook from scratch

This goes with buying in bulk. Once we have items in stock, it's easier and more enjoyable to cook. At times, we double our recipe and freeze it. This not only makes it easier for another meal but it keeps you honest. You know on those nights that you just don't feel like cooking you still have frozen meals you can reheat instead of going for fast food.

5. Use leftovers the next day or combine in other dishes

I take leftovers for my lunch the entire week. Usually, I only get to the third day when my stomach stops me in my tracks, and refuses to digest one more ham sandwich. If you don't like leftovers, try combining them in a favorite dish. If your family really loves a certain dish, they will never notice the hamburgers from Monday, the enchiladas from Tuesday, and the homemade pizza from Wednesday, all mixed in your ham hock and beans for Thursday. I joke, but have fun with it and let your imagination flow. Perhaps, have a buffet night with all the week's leftovers.

6. Shop with coupons for items you use on a regular basis

I know two ladies who are "coupon queens." They have a coupon for everything. If they don't have a coupon for something right then, or it is not on sale, they won't buy it. They will wait. These women are fierce and serious when it comes to saving money. I think they may have worked for the CIA. They have highly classified data that they never let out of their sight or share. They have a detailed map of the shopping area, and priorities of which targets to hit first. They have planned in advance what they want. They get in, get what they need, and get out. They are usually so effective and have such a low casualty rate (in this case it is a low total purchase price) that their husbands don't even notice they went on another mission. If being a "coupon Rambo" is not you, buy what is on sale and buy store brand or generic brand items.

Here are a few more ideas: We wanted to get the children involved as well: a) Have your children eat at a friend's house once a week. b) Have kids go to grandparents and eat more often. c) Last but not least, find a couple in the neighborhood that doesn't have kids, and tell them that we will send ours over to hang with them if they will feed them three to four nights a week. That's about eighty percent of your budget, right there! (You know I am joking, so no mean emails).

So get started today, and remember "budget" is not a dirty word. When it comes to eating, it just may be the best friend you've ever had.

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