How’s your grocery budget? Do you know what you spend on groceries? Does it feel like plenty of money or are you always scrambling to get by on the 2 items left in your fridge at the end of the month? In the last couple years that we’ve been paying off our student loan debt with gazelle-intensity (aka: Dave Ramsey Style), I have had a few different systems for trying to keep the grocery budget down. Everything from price matching at Walmart to shopping at Aldi to meal planning monthly.
Basically, I’ve spent the last couple years trying to come up with the perfect grocery budgeting system and strategy and it dawned on me last week….
THERE IS NO PERFECT SYSTEM.
You have to do what works for your family in your current season.
There is no trick. There is no magic grocery budget number that everyone should strive for.
The only way you can fail is not to have a budget at all or to be buying groceries on a credit card you can’t afford to pay off.
Otherwise, there is so much freedom in your grocery budget! Take that in. Sigh a deep breath of relief & let yourself off the hook! Just because there’s a blog post about someone’s $20 organic grocery budget, it doesn’t mean that has to be your budget too. There’s no competition.
Any amount you choose that you can afford and that takes care of your family’s needs is the right amount. And it might change over time. That’s okay too.
SO, WHAT SHOULD YOUR GROCERY BUDGET BE?
Remember, there’s no right answer to this! But I want to help you figure it out.
To find your grocery budget number, ask yourself a few questions about your situation:
1. What can you afford?
The most basic rule of personal finance is don’t spend money you don’t have. Food + Shelter should be first in your budgeting priorities. But, think about what you can afford as it relates to your other financial priorities too. A good rule of thumb is not exceeding 10-15% of your take-home pay on food. We have chosen to be quite frugal in some grocery choices so that we can save more money towards our down-payment goal and so we can get out of student debt faster. But, we also choose to snack on fruits, eat meat at most dinners, and invite people over for meals a couple times a month. So, we’ve made a grocery budget based on our income, financial priorities, and lifestyle priorities.
2. What items are in your grocery budget?
Do you include household items and pet products or are those separate categories? I’ve done this differently over the years. Currently I have a food budget that includes eating out, having people over, my husband’s diet protein shake powder & snack bars, formula, and baby food Diapers and household categories are separate. Remember, there’s no wrong way to do this. But what’s included in your grocery budget should determine your overall number.
3. Dietary Needs?
If your husband goes on a diet that requires you to buy twice the amount of meat you usually buy and $50 worth of protein shake powder and specialty protein bars, then your grocery budget should increase. Hypothetically 😉
4. How much food do your people eat?
I have 3 kids under 4. My grocery budget will likely be less than someone who has a few teenagers at home.
5. How much time do you want to spend on grocery shopping?
If you want to coupon, spend time meal planning around the ads, price match or go to a few stores for great deals, then you will be able to save more money. But that costs you in time. Decide what makes sense for you in your current season.
DO SOME BASIC MATH
When we started going over the grocery budget a few months in a row, I re-evaluated our grocery budget with a pen and paper and some basic math.
I realized that with a baby on formula, and my husband eating healthy snack bars and drinking protein powder, the same grocery budget as we previously had just wasn’t realistic.
For us right now, $540/month is realistic, including formula, entertaining, etc… Could we spend less? Probably. Could we spend more? For sure. Sometimes, I do.
Don’t base your grocery budget off my grocery budget. Write out your answers to the above questions. Figure out what type of food you buy, how much food costs at your stores, how much food your people eat, and then figure out your own grocery budget number.
KEEP YOUR NUMBER IN MIND AT THE STORE
If I go to the store for a week’s worth of food, I aim to spend under $125.
If I’m shopping for 2 weeks at a time, I give myself $200 (ish) knowing I’ll probably need to pick up a few fresh produce items by day 10.
If I stock up on formula for the month, then I can spend about $105/ week on the rest of our food.
I WANT TO CUT MY GROCERY BUDGET BUT DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START.
I used to always feel like I had to cut our grocery budget lower and lower. But you don’t!!! If you have a food budget based on your family’s income, financial goals, and lifestyle priorities, then great! Leave it alone and spend your energy thinking about something else.
But if you want to cut your grocery budget down, for whatever reason, here’s what to do.
1. Figure out how much you’ve been spending.
If you’re not sure what you’ve been spending, do some homework. Check your online bank or credit card statements and add up every transaction at a grocery store last month. Are you spending more or less than you thought?
I highly suggest figuring out what you’ve been spending if you’re not sure! This process will be VERY insightful.
2. Start with a little cut.
Baby steps! If you aim to cut your grocery budget in half right away, you will probably fail. It’s hard to go from spending $800 a month to $400 a month. Instead, aim for 10-20% lower than you’ve been spending and see if that’s doable. Going from $800 to $720 doesn’t seem like quite as big of a deal and you’ll be more motivated to keep cutting by the small wins!
WISE FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT IS…
Deciding what the best use of your limited time and financial resources are in your current season of life.
So, what’s your season? What are your priorities? What do you have time and money for?
As a stay-at-home-mom, I have more time to meal plan around the sales than someone who is working 50 hours per week and coming home to hungry, tired children after work.
At the same time, I am working to grow an online blog & business, so I spend the nap time hours each day working instead of doing focused menu planning or coupon cutting.
Though we are frugal in order to get out of debt and save up for a down payment, we also choose to prioritize hosting our friends. So that factors into spending more than we might if we never had anyone else over to dinner.
The bottom line is: Know your season of life and plan accordingly.
We were out of food and I forgot to put in my Walmart Grocery Pickup order… The penalty was having to take 3 kids under 4 to Walmart. This is what happens when you forget your season and don’t plan accordingly
HOW TO TRACK YOUR GROCERY SPENDING
Once you’ve figured out your realistic grocery budget goal, I suggest one of these 2 ways for tracking your grocery spending:
#1 – CASH
Cash doesn’t lie.
If your weekly grocery store budget is $100, carry that around with you until it’s gone. Then, don’t spend anymore. You can take out cash weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly – whatever works.
Here’s how we used cash for a long time.
Here’s a good tutorial on making your own sturdy cash envelopes that fit in your wallet.
Her picture, not mine
I used to love using cash. I’m a spender by nature and I liked how concrete cash was. When it was gone, it was gone. It felt easy in that sense. There are a lot of drawbacks to using cash though.
Some people feel like it’s harder to track because they just kind of randomly spend it. If you’re saving for something, you’re piling up a lot of cash in an envelope either in your wallet, purse, or house. Your wad of dough could get lost or stolen.
You have to hassle with going to ATMs or the bank more too.
Which brings me to my favorite method for tracking our grocery budget.
#2 – YNAB
YNAB is an online budgeting tool that functions like a virtual cash envelope system of sorts. (I’m a YNAB affiliate, by the way. That means I love it so much and refer people there so frequently that they give me a referral commission on anyone who signs up for YNAB through my links. You can read THIS to find out what I do and don’t promote on this blog.)
You set your budget category for the month, then either connect it to your bank account/ credit cards OR enter all your spending manually.
Whether you connect YNAB to your bank or enter your spending manually, you categorize each transaction. As you categorize transactions in the GROCERY BUDGET category, that number goes down.
We’ve tried every budgeting tool out there, and this one is worth it’s weight in gold. It’s $50 a year (after the free trial), which you will more than make up for once you start using it to track your spending. Plus you can do a free 34 day trial without even entering a credit card.
Seriously, try it. It’s awesome.
YOU CAN DO IT!
I really hope this post helps you think through your grocery budget more effectively.
I hear people bemoaning grocery budget spending all the time. Heck, I moan about it too sometimes, and I’m certainly not perfect at it! Last month, I went over budget. Which is probably why I felt inspired to write this post.
Let’s tackle it together.
- Figure out what you’ve been spending.
- Figure out what a realistic grocery budget is based on your income, needs, and season of life.
- Figure out how you’re going to stick to that budget and track your spending.
- Adjust as needed.
- Email me if you have questions!!!
I’m serious about that last step. Let me know if there’s any way I can help by commenting below or shooting me an email!
Good luck & happy budgeting,