Here’s a little exercise for you. I’ve often alluded to the importance of budgeting, but let’s break it down and put it into practice. How much do you spend on groceries per week? How much do you want to be spending on groceries every week? (Is it just me, or am I spending more and more on food every month?) Now, once you have the number you want to be spending each week, try and keep to it.

I did this exercise for myself last month. I went into Pick n Pay and I had a list of what I needed for the week. I walked the aisles and put the items in one by one while I had my husband doing the maths on his cell phone.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is how expensive some of the items you buy fairly regularly are. Wow! Butter is expensive!

Hillcrest berries are expensive! And I’ve been buying both (in bulk) every month. Also, you’ll probably start comparing prices amongst similar items and buy more no-name brands. That R2 saving here and there adds up in a trolley of goods. Finally, you’ll be less inclined to things to your trolley that weren’t on your list. You’ve limited yourself to how much you can spend, and therefore you’ll opt for what you need over what you’d like to have.

Once I’d completed the list, I was over my budget. So, I looked at everything in my trolley and started taking things out.

There’s no Magnum ice cream in the freezer this week, but I have everything I need.

It’s also helpful not to spend your full allocation on your grocery shopping (we’re learning from my mistake here). It’s inevitable you’ll need to stop at the shop on your way home one day to get milk and other necessities that you’ll run out of.

It will be helpful if you leave yourself a little slush fund to do that.

Give it try – if only for the awareness of what you’re spending your money on. I’ve made some subtle changes to my lifestyle because of it, and I don’t feel worse off.

On the contrary, I’m living within my means, which is what we all should strive to be doing.

Author: Gizelle Willows CA(SA) MCom Finance is Senior Lecturer in Financial Reporting at the University of Cape Town