One of the hardest things for me has been sticking to a grocery budget. I kinda love to eat. Well, there is no ‘kind of’. Me and food have this thing. Everyone has their vice. Food is mine.
That leads to problems in the grocery budget. I can easily make a “milk run” to the store and end up spending $75.
So this month, I’ve implemented a new set of guidelines to make it easier to stay within our grocery budget. This has sort of worked out as a guide on how to grocery shop on a budget.
Set a Grocery Budget
This is the most basic of the basic. Obviously, you can’t stay within your budget if you don’t have a budget to begin with.
I think groceries are one of the more difficult things to budget for. Most people underestimate what it costs to feed a family. Even the cost to feed one person can be surprising.
The USDA recommends the following:
- Single Adult: $160 – $350
- Family of 2: $375 – $470
- Family of 4: $625 – $1,230
Now this totally depends on your own financial situation, but I think those numbers are a little high. We have our grocery budget set at $400 per month including cleaning items and toiletries.
Now before we really got on the ball, we could easily spend $500 on groceries without thinking about it. So I guess those numbers work if you’re an eyeball shopper – buy whatever catches your eye.
But if you try, it isn’t hard to shave a couple hundred bucks off your grocery bill each month. Grocery shopping on a tight budget just takes a little bit of extra work. But it’s totally doable.
Make Meal Plans Before You Go Grocery Shopping
You need to go to the grocery store with a plan. A grocery list is a good start, but doing meal plans before you make your grocery list is even better.
I noticed we were throwing away way too much food. We were throwing away salad that wilted before we could eat it. I had to throw away lunch meat that went past its expiration date. I’ve found ground beef in our freezer with freezerburn because we forgot it was in there.
It was so wasteful!
We started doing meal plans so that we knew where nearly everything we bought at the store was going. It wasn’t just grabbing a couple of pounds of ground beef because we would probably eat hamburgers or spaghetti and meatballs or tacos in the next week. It was buying 2 pounds of ground beef because we needed 1 pound of lasagna on Monday and 1 pound for hamburgers on Thursday.
Limit Grocery Shopping To Weekly Trips
The next thing we did was schedule a time each week to go to the store.
Part of this has to do with the meal plans. We make meal plans for a week and we only buy for what’s on our meal plan.
The other reason weekly trips help you to stick to the budget is that you can break your budget into weekly chunks. With our $400 budget, we can spend $100 each time we go to the store.
Actually, we shoot to stay under $75 each trip. That gives us a little bit of a buffer in case we do need to make an unscheduled run for something.
Before, we would just get whatever since I knew we wouldn’t spend $400 in one trip. But we might spend $150. Then a couple of days later we would make a quick run for something else and spend $30. And so on. We might end up going to the store 10 times in a month. When you go 10 times, those small trips can really add up.
One side benefit to these weekly trips is the amount of time you save. Our weekly trip may take an hour. But our 3 small trips each week would take 30 minutes a piece. Cutting grocery shopping down to once a week saves at least 2 hours per month.
Do A Cash Based Grocery Budget
The other change we’ve made is to do our grocery budget in cash. At the beginning and the middle of each month we draw out $200 and put it in an envelope.
Every time we go to the store, we take our envelope and pay in cash.
This helps to control spending. It seems like it’s harder to spend money when you have to count the bills out. Swiping a piece of plastic just doesn’t have the same effect.
It also helps you to keep track of how much you have left for the month and serves as a hard spending cutoff. When the cash is gone, it’s gone.
Does This Actually Work?
So far, this is all working fabulously. We’re almost 1/3rd of the way through the month and have only spent about $100.
I don’t feel like I’m missing anything either. We’re not on beans and rice here. We’ve eaten really well. It’s amazing how great you can eat and still stay within a modest budget.
How do you handle your grocery budget? Do you have any special tricks that you use?