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How to Budget Groceries: 11 Easy Tips

Have you ever sat down to go over your budget only to find out that you’ve outrageously overspent on food? Local, organic, artisan goods and trendy new restaurant outings with friends make it easy to do. With food being the second highest household expense behind mortgage or rent, our food choices have a huge impact on our budget. Using this monthly budget calculator can also help guide how to budget for food. 

You may be surprised to find out that the most nutrient-dense foods are often the most budget-friendly. It’s not only possible, but fun and easy to eat nourishing, delicious food while still sticking to your budget. Here are 11 ways to help you learn how to budget groceries.

1. Track Current Spending

Before you figure out what you should be spending on food, it’s important to figure out what you are spending on food. Keep grocery store receipts to get a realistic picture of your current spending habits. If you feel inclined, create a spreadsheet to break down your spending by category, including beverages, produce, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can get an idea of where to trim down spending.

2. Allocate a Percentage of Your Income

How much each household spends on food varies based on income level and how many people need to be fed. Consider using a grocery calculator if you’re not sure where to start. While people spent about 30 percent of their income on food in 1950, this percentage has dropped to 9–12 today. Consider allocating 10 percent of your income to food as a starting point, and increase from there if necessary.

3. Avoid Eating Out

This is the least fun tip, we promise. Eating out is a quick and easy way to ruin your food budget. If you’re actively dating or enjoy going out to eat with friends, be sure to factor restaurants into your food budget — and strictly adhere to your limit. Coffee drinkers, consider making your favorite concoctions at home.

4. Plan Your Meals

It’s much easier to stick to a budget when you have a plan. Plus, having a purpose for each grocery item you buy will ensure nothing goes to waste or just sits in your pantry unused. Don’t be afraid of simple salads or meatless Mondays. Not every meal has to be a gourmet, grandiose experience.

5. Keep a Fridge Grocery List

Keep a magnetized grocery list on your fridge so that you can replace items as needed. This ensures you’re buying food you know you’ll eat because you’re already used to buying it. Sticking to a list in the grocery store is an effective way to keep yourself accountable and not spend money on processed or pricey items — there’s no need to take a stroll down the candy aisle if it’s not on the list.

6. Eat Before You Go to the Store

If your mother gave you this advice growing up, she was onto something: according to a survey, shoppers spend an average of 64 percent more when hungry. Sticking to a budget is all about eliminating temptations, so plan to eat beforehand to eliminate tantalizing foods that will cause you to go over-budget.

7. Be Careful with Coupons

50 percent off ketchup is a great deal — unless you don’t need ketchup. Beware of coupons that claim you’ll “save” money. If the item isn’t on your list, you’re not saving at all, but rather spending on something you don’t truly need. This discretion is key to saving money at the grocery store.

8. Embrace the Bulk Section

Not only is the bulk section of your grocery store great for cheap, filling staples, but it’s also the perfect way to discover new foods and bring variety into your diet. Take the time to compare the price of buying pre-packaged goods versus bulk — it’s almost always cheaper to buy in bulk, plus eliminating unnecessary packaging is good for the planet.

Bonus: a diet rich in unprocessed, whole plant foods provides virtually every nutrient, ensuring optimal health and keeping you from spending an excess amount on healthcare costs.

9. Bring Lunch to Work

Picture this: you’re trying to stick to a strict food budget, and one day at work you realize it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. But alas, you forgot to pack a lunch. All the meal planning and smart shopping in the world won’t solve the work-lunch-dilemma. Brown-bagging your lunch is key to ensuring your food budget is successful. Plus, it can be fun! Think mason jar salads and Thai curry bowls.

10. Love Your Leftovers

Would you ever consider throwing $640 cash into the trash? This is what the average American household does every year — only instead of cash, it’s $640 worth of food that’s wasted. With millions of undernourished people around the globe, throwing away food not only hurts our budget but is a waste of the world’s resources. Tossing food is no joke. Eat your leftovers.

11. Freeze Foods That Are Going Bad

To avoid wasting food, freeze things that look like they’re about to go bad. Fruit that’s past its prime can be frozen and used in smoothies. Make double batches of soups, sauces, and baked goods so you’ll always have an alternative to ordering takeout when you don’t feel like cooking.

Sticking to a food budget takes planning and discipline. While it may not seem fun at first, you’ll likely find that you enjoy cooking and trying a variety of new foods you wouldn’t have thought to use before. Being resourceful and cooking healthfully is a skill that will benefit your wallet and waistline for years to come.

Sources: Turbo | Fool | Forbes | Medical Daily | GO Banking Rates | Value Penguin

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An Overview of Filial Responsibility Laws

An Overview of Filial Responsibility Laws – SmartAsset

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Taking care of aging parents is something you may need to plan for, especially if you think one or both of them might need long-term care. One thing you may not know is that some states have filial responsibility laws that require adult children to help financially with the cost of nursing home care. Whether these laws affect you or not depends largely on where you live and what financial resources your parents have to cover long-term care. But it’s important to understand how these laws work to avoid any financial surprises as your parents age.

Filial Responsibility Laws, Definition

Filial responsibility laws are legal rules that hold adult children financially responsible for their parents’ medical care when parents are unable to pay. More than half of U.S. states have some type of filial support or responsibility law, including:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Puerto Rico also has laws regarding filial responsibility. Broadly speaking, these laws require adult children to help pay for things like medical care and basic needs when a parent is impoverished. But the way the laws are applied can vary from state to state. For example, some states may include mental health treatment as a situation requiring children to pay while others don’t. States can also place time limitations on how long adult children are required to pay.

When Do Filial Responsibility Laws Apply?

If you live in a state that has filial responsibility guidelines on the books, it’s important to understand when those laws can be applied.

Generally, you may have an obligation to pay for your parents’ medical care if all of the following apply:

  • One or both parents are receiving some type of state government-sponsored financial support to help pay for food, housing, utilities or other expenses
  • One or both parents has nursing home bills they can’t pay
  • One or both parents qualifies for indigent status, which means their Social Security benefits don’t cover their expenses
  • One or both parents are ineligible for Medicaid help to pay for long-term care
  • It’s established that you have the ability to pay outstanding nursing home bills

If you live in a state with filial responsibility laws, it’s possible that the nursing home providing care to one or both of your parents could come after you personally to collect on any outstanding bills owed. This means the nursing home would have to sue you in small claims court.

If the lawsuit is successful, the nursing home would then be able to take additional collection actions against you. That might include garnishing your wages or levying your bank account, depending on what your state allows.

Whether you’re actually subject to any of those actions or a lawsuit depends on whether the nursing home or care provider believes that you have the ability to pay. If you’re sued by a nursing home, you may be able to avoid further collection actions if you can show that because of your income, liabilities or other circumstances, you’re not able to pay any medical bills owed by your parents.

Filial Responsibility Laws and Medicaid

While Medicare does not pay for long-term care expenses, Medicaid can. Medicaid eligibility guidelines vary from state to state but generally, aging seniors need to be income- and asset-eligible to qualify. If your aging parents are able to get Medicaid to help pay for long-term care, then filial responsibility laws don’t apply. Instead, Medicaid can paid for long-term care costs.

There is, however, a potential wrinkle to be aware of. Medicaid estate recovery laws allow nursing homes and long-term care providers to seek reimbursement for long-term care costs from the deceased person’s estate. Specifically, if your parents transferred assets to a trust then your state’s Medicaid program may be able to recover funds from the trust.

You wouldn’t have to worry about being sued personally in that case. But if your parents used a trust as part of their estate plan, any Medicaid recovery efforts could shrink the pool of assets you stand to inherit.

Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning and Long-Term Care

If you live in a state with filial responsibility laws (or even if you don’t), it’s important to have an ongoing conversation with your parents about estate planning, end-of-life care and where that fits into your financial plans.

You can start with the basics and discuss what kind of care your parents expect to need and who they want to provide it. For example, they may want or expect you to care for them in your home or be allowed to stay in their own home with the help of a nursing aide. If that’s the case, it’s important to discuss whether that’s feasible financially.

If you believe that a nursing home stay is likely then you may want to talk to them about purchasing long-term care insurance or a hybrid life insurance policy that includes long-term care coverage. A hybrid policy can help pay for long-term care if needed and leave a death benefit for you (and your siblings if you have them) if your parents don’t require nursing home care.

Speaking of siblings, you may also want to discuss shared responsibility for caregiving, financial or otherwise, if you have brothers and sisters. This can help prevent resentment from arising later if one of you is taking on more of the financial or emotional burdens associated with caring for aging parents.

If your parents took out a reverse mortgage to provide income in retirement, it’s also important to discuss the implications of moving to a nursing home. Reverse mortgages generally must be repaid in full if long-term care means moving out of the home. In that instance, you may have to sell the home to repay a reverse mortgage.

The Bottom Line

Filial responsibility laws could hold you responsible for your parents’ medical bills if they’re unable to pay what’s owed. If you live in a state that has these laws, it’s important to know when you may be subject to them. Helping your parents to plan ahead financially for long-term needs can help reduce the possibility of you being on the hook for nursing care costs unexpectedly.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about what filial responsibility laws could mean for you if you live in a state that enforces them. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be a complicated process. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect, in just minutes, with professional advisors in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • When discussing financial planning with your parents, there are other things you may want to cover in addition to long-term care. For example, you might ask whether they’ve drafted a will yet or if they think they may need a trust for Medicaid planning. Helping them to draft an advance healthcare directive and a power of attorney can ensure that you or another family member has the authority to make medical and financial decisions on your parents’ behalf if they’re unable to do so.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Halfpoint, ©iStock.com/byryo, ©iStock.com/Halfpoint

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She’s worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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