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Cash Envelope System


As you all know by now, one area where our spending has gotten out-of-control is in the realm of food (groceries and eating out). To try to combat the ever-increasing line item in our monthly budget, I decided to return to the cash envelope system. It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve done cash envelopes. But they helped me once, I know they can help me again.

To start, I’m using envelopes for eating out ($200/month) and groceries ($600/month). This represents a HUGE decrease compared to what we have been spending the past few months. Our groceries, for instance, have trended over $1,000/month the past several months. And our eating out/restaurant budget has trended in the $350-$500ish range. Just a disgusting amount of money spent on FOOD!

Reducing down to $800/month for all food (restaurants + eating out) is a big savings for us!

Here’s how I’ve figured it:

$600month/4 weeks = $150/week. Because I want to save a little money for mid-week perishables (we always run out of milk and fresh produce), my goal is to stick to $110-120ish for my big/initial grocery trip. That saves about $30ish for a smaller mid-week grocery run (and/or leaves some wiggle room for the last half week of the month).

I’ve been doing the cash envelope system for a month now (I started at the beginning of September) and so far, so good. My only “wrench” this month is that I really need to hit Costco to stock up on some bulk items. Does anyone else find it impossible to get out of Costco for under $100?!



Because of our need for some bulk items, I’m actually going to try to limit our grocery store budget to closer to $100-110/week so I can save the excess for two weeks to have a solid $80-ish bucks or so for a Costco trip. This way, I’ll be able to get my bulk stuff but still be sticking to our overall grocery budget!

Do you have a Costco (or Sam’s Club) membership? How do you manage to save while buying in bulk?


  • Reply Klm |

    If you’re trying to save at Costco, I’d focus on things you will use up relatively soon. It doesn’t make sense to me to spend $10 on a huge jar of olives because we don’t eat them that often–so even though it is cheaper on a per ounce basis, having savings wrapped up in 3/4 a jar of olives doesn’t help us. Even with things like toilet paper: yes, you’ll use it up, but could you use the extra money now more? And remember that some things aren’t cheaper–they’re just available in bigger packs–I can routinely beat the price on bread during our regular store’s boho. For our shopping and eating style (we also have 2 little kids), things like organic chicken, almond butter, cheapo coffee (were not picky), string cheese, etc., make sense.

    And definitely stay away from the non-food aisles. I swear I can drop $80 on things I didn’t know I needed…

  • Reply Shauna |

    It is so easy to ad a few $10 items to the cart thinking “hey that’ll make s great snack” Maybe go in with a list of the things you know you save money on there, only buy from that list, write down anything you thought about buying, wait a week and if you still want it and haven’t found it cheaper else where get it the following week.

    I know since I no longer need diapers my club membership isn’t really worth full price. I found I last made a BJ’s run in march to get laundry detergent, dish soap , dishwasher soap and garbage bags, I haven’t needed any more since then. It’s been eye opening for me. The only thing I think I’m not getting a great price on now is coffee.

  • Reply Katie |

    Groceries are such a struggle in our house too. We have four kids (9, 10, 11 and 12) and send lunches to school and do almost all meals at home. (My eating out budget is only $75/month and that’s for occasional lunches out at work and very occasional eating out). A couple things that I think are helping our budget:
    1. I started doing some standard meals. On Sunday night I do homemade pizza. Dough, sauce, cheese (and sometimes pesto/cheese) is SO cheap! We have a ton of activities: soccer, swim team, dance during the week night, so we do a lot of fast things for them: pasta, grilled chicken cooked in batches ahead of time, hot dog and mac and cheese, breakfast for dinner, etc. DH and I will then eat things we batch cook on weekends (he makes chilli for his lunch, I’ll making something for my work lunches with some portions for dinners) or he’ll eat salad with grilled chicken (I get sick of it!) and I’ll eat something like this: http://www.skinnytaste.com/egg-tomato-and-scallion-sandwich/ Quick, easy, cheap!
    2. We do the same as you for snacks (buy big containers and bag them ourselves).
    3. Costco- we get just some basics and it usually last at least a month and it’s only stuff we will go through: gogurts, granola bars, goldfish, detergent, paper towels, toilet paper

    Question about the envelopes: are you still using YNAB? I’m still using YNAB 4 and it’s such a life changer for me, budgeting-wise.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I’m still using YNAB, but over the summer (when our spending really slipped), I was using it more as a tracking mechanism rather than a budgeting mechanism.

      And right now I think I might need a do-over because some of it is confusing. Like, I entered all my groceries in my “groceries” budget as an expense….but I paid on credit card and hadn’t paid the card off. Now I’ve got my credit card listed under “debts”, but it’s confusing because I don’t know whether to enter in payments there (since then I’d basically be doubling up on accounting with the outflow). I’m tempted to scrap my budget and start over. I’m also curious in trying Ramsey’s budgeting software, as I’ve never used it before and it’s free. Still thinking things over in both regards.

  • Reply Constance F |

    I think you can do a lot better than Costco by watching ads and buying only what’s on sale. Typically, those are loss leaders – ie – the store may actually be selling at their cost, relying on making money off you when you buy non-sale items. By sticking to what’s on sale and having a meal plan, and always having your staple items on hand, you will save a lot of money.

    My mom had a sort of routine that went something like this: roast (of anything) on Sunday, usually with potatos, a salad and cooked veggie, Monday, hamburger something (tacos, spaghetti, casserole), Tuesday, roast returns reincarnated into something else (roast beef becomes beef enchiladas or fajitas), Wednesday, pasta dish, Thursday chicken, Friday, fish, Saturday, steak or chicken. She checked all the ads on Tuesday, shopped on Wednesday when all the sale items were available and planned the week around the sale items. We had salad and cooked veggies with every dinner. She would buy large packages and then freeze them into dinner sized portions so she usually got two or more meals out of a pound of burger, chicken, etc. Remember that a true portion of meat is only about 4 oz. Your little girls probably don’t even eat that much. When you’re making stuff with burger, use less burger and more veggies to fill it in. If they’re cooked down, even picky eaters don’t usually notice that there’s less meat.

    I eat lighter than that and usually do a cooked veggie or a salad, but I follow the same sort of pattern. My cheap go-to’s are spaghetti, hamburger tacos, baked ziti, tuna casserole, etc. Don’t buy pre-packaged “taco seasoning” or the like. Buy spices and DIY. Also don’t buy crap like Hamburger Helper. You’re paying nearly triple what an equivalent amount of packaged noodles and spices will cost you.

    For veggies, I have a subscription to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). They provide me a huge box of seasonal produce and enough fruit to last 2 weeks and it costs about $35/batch; I get a new batch every 2 weeks. It’s all organically grown on a local farm.

    With regard to toilet paper and the like, watch Walmart ads and the big drugstores like CVS, RiteAid, etc. But Scott with 1,000 sheets per roll. One roll is equal to an entire package of the cheap stuff. I think Costco has a Kirkland brand that’s similar.

    One last tidbit: when you see super sales on things you use all the time (for me, it’s mayonnaise and peanut butter), buy a couple. Keep in mind that there will be another sale and then go for it.

    I’ve been following this method for years and I feed two adults on about $200/month and we eat really well. I also don’t spend hours in the kitchen unless I want to. Most of my dinners come together in less than 30 minutes.

    You’re doing so well! Keep it up, and you’ll be debt free within a foreseeable time. It’s so great to get these frequent updates!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Thanks for the words of encouragement and all the helpful tips! I love the idea of repurposing Sunday’s roast! I’m a huge fan of the Cook once, eat twice mantra! 😉

  • Reply Katie |

    My Costco strategy is to stick to my list. I check their sale before hand, but after that, I only buy what I planned to buy. That way, I get out of there at around $100 for food. I also always, always buy one or two of their chickens. They are delicious, and I can’t buy and cook them myself for their price. Those $5 chickens are repurposed into multiple meals. I can easily get 3 meals out of one of them. I also recognize that because I’m buying such large quantities of stuff, that it may be months before I need to replenish. It may take 4-5 months to get to the point where your pantry is fully stocked with their stuff (things like flour, sugar, spices, etc) but, after then, you will notice more savings. I buy their bags of flour about twice a year, and they are only $7. Their containers of spices last me for years. You’re playing a long game when you shop there.

  • Reply Chantal |

    Katie’s advice above is perfect–go with her.

    COSTCO is wonderful but go with a planned list. You need, need, need a deep freezer. If you don’t have one spend the money on one now.

    Plan at least one week’s meals and don’t deviate from it.

    Cook double amounts and freeze for as many meals as possible

    Use a big crockpot at least once a week for interesting one-pot meals (get crockpot cookbook)

    Don’t eat out–this is throwing money away and you can do better at home anyway. Maybe treat yourself once a month as a reward for having stuck to your rules.

  • Reply Chantal |

    P.S. COSTCO chicken–yes! buy the two-packs for chicken meals of all kinds and byy a barbecue chicken (cooked) for a nice meal and then make soup with vegetables for the rest of it. Boil it until every scrap can be taken from the carcass and then add vegetables and flavorings..

  • Reply Kiki |

    My Costco is less than 1/2 mile from my house, so it’s very convenient. I have about 10 things I consistently buy at Costco that are cheaper than anywhere. (I have done all the comparisons.) One item is their organic canned tomato products. They are half the price of Trader Joe. Because Costco is so close, I just pick up the occasional item to fill the hole in my pantry. This then does not knock my grocery budget out of whack with a huge shop.

  • Reply Katie |

    Off-topic, but does anyone know what happened to the new blogger, Marie? Sorry if we’ve lost her already.

  • Reply Alexandria |

    I agree with Constance. I’ve never been a Costco shopper because I can’t afford Costco. (Anyone I know who shops there spends WAY more on food). & I mean, when I was most told I should be shopping Costco was when we were at our lowest income (with small kids). It just wouldn’t have fit in our budget at all. We kept our household/pet/food/dining budget to $500/month all those years.

    I am personally not a couponer, but we shop sales at two stores. Maybe occasionally a third (ethnic grocery store). We don’t spend a lot of time/effort shopping and really don’t spend a lot of time cooking either. We eat very well, but keep it to mostly quick/easy homecooked.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Sounds like you have a good system down! Can you share some common meals you make? I’m always looking for new budget-friendly meal ideas!

  • Reply Brianne |

    I really want to become a cash shopper at the grocery store but it’ll take a few months to stop using our credit card for everything and slowly switch over. I do about half my shopping at Winco which only takes debit cards so I’m getting close already. The other half is at Walmart. I like shopping at Walmart to use their Savings Catcher (gives you money back if the item was advertised lower somewhere else) but they are often out of items or have a more limited selection of some. Winco also has great prices on produce and bulk items. We go to Costco too but mostly for paper products. Sometimes they have really great deals that we take advantage of, like Nutrigrain bars in the 48 count box. But even though it’s close, it’s such a pain to get in and out of that I try not to go frequently. The best part about Costco is the shopping carts because I can strap both kids in.

  • Reply C@thesingledollar |

    Cash at the grocery store changed my life. Suddenly: no more random stray super expensive items in my cart! I also like to shop with a list when at all possible, but even without one, cash rules.

    On eating out: what does that mean for you, where you are? If it’s, like, Olive Garden or Applebee’s, you need to stop completely. It’s awful food and super overpriced. If it’s tacos from a taco truck or something, that’s different. Maybe find something near you that’s inexpensive and healthy and not terrible food and go there once a week or once every two weeks.

    Finally: your husband should really be doing much more cooking now that he’s not working, and it’s not clear to me that you’ve switched over there. If part of the problem is that you’re working a 60-hour week and coming home tired and going out to eat, he should be able to solve that by pulling together even, like, pasta and jarred sauce.

    • Reply Brianne |

      C@thesingledollar – if only it were so easy to get a non-working husband to make dinner. Mine has been out of work for 8 months and he’s made dinner twice in that time. He picks the kids up from daycare and feeds them a snack but that’s it. Maybe I should push a little harder, but he’d probably just end up buying fast food instead of cooking and that’s even more money.

So, what do you think ?