Alright, let’s get real. In the budgeting world, grocery’s is the hardest. When I hear grocery and budget in the same sentence, I cringe. As an essential need, it is hard not to over spend. It’s hard not to go a little crazy.
When Aaron and I started budgeting, we had to cut back a lot. Before this, I would grocery shop, buy in excess, and buy whatever I wanted. I spent a lot of money on groceries. Learning how to save money was a challenge and something I still work on today.
Budgeting is a process and a lifestyle. It is not something that happens over night, you have to give yourself time…. and a little bit of grace!
By using these tips, I can now feed my family with less than $300 a month! It has saved so much money. Although this is the single hardest category, it is the one that will help the most in cutting down expenses overall and paying off our debt.
We use a cash budget and I have found that using a cash budget in the area of groceries is particularly helpful in saving money.
So how do you cut back, how do you come up with a practical number for a budget, and how do you practically stick to it? Let me share with you what I have learned over the last few years – I know when we were in the trenches of figuring this out, I was looking for any advice I could get!
1. Start by tracking your spending for a month or two
Keep your receipts. At then end of this time period look back and see how much you spent, look and see if there were non-essential items that you did not need or you did not use.
2. Plan for your priorities
If eating organic is important to you, plan for that. If you know that your family has a special diet, keep that in mind. Do not cut out what is important to you but realize that you will have to give a little in other areas. Areas to compromise in could include condiments, additional toppings for recipes, specific flavorings, recipes that have expensive or a lot of ingredients, etc.
3. Come up with a typical monthly and weekly grocery list
At the beginning of every month I shop for what I buy in bulk only one time per month. Then weekly, I shop for things like produce, eggs, and anything that we go through in a week. When I plan my budgeting number, I add up what I typically spend weekly and monthly and find what works for me.
4. Figure out your monthly number
A rule of thumb is between 5%-10% of your monthly income. That is a large gap but the number depends on your eating habits and where you live in the world. What works for one, does not work for all. Aaron and I are at about 7% of our monthly income on groceries – but we are only a family of three right now.
Take into consideration what you spent when you tracked your spending and what your typical grocery list looks like. These pieces of information are very helpful guide in finding your number!
5. Have a separate fund for eating out
This is a personal preference but has saved many headaches. I would feel guilty and very limited if we went out and had to use our grocery money on eating out. For me, being social is an important piece of my life, and that means going out to eat from time to time, but it would be a hassle if I had to factor this into my grocery budget as well! Having a separate grocery budget allows room for going out to eat while limiting what I spend in that area.
6. Meal Plan
Meal plan, meal plan, and meal plan again. It is nearly impossible to stick to a budget without a tentative plan. Not to say plans don’t change, plans change all the time, but I know I cannot go to a grocery store without knowing what I am going make during the week, what I will have for lunches and what I will have for snacks.
If you struggle with meal planning and prepping, or if meal planning just isn’t your thing, check out realplans.com For a small monthly fee or annual fee, they do all the work for you. You can choose which type of food plan you are into (Paleo, Whole30, gluten-free, regular diet, etc.) and then choose from a variety of recipes. They will create a shopping list with the exact portions you need based on the size of your family and your specific preferences. Although a service like this costs you money, it will save on your groceries because you will buy exactly what you need and won’t have food go to waste.
7. Keep a list
When you run out of things keep a list on the fridge or on your phone and write it down. Then before you go to the store refer to your list and add to it based on what you need for your weekly meal plan. I keep a typical list of what I need all the time then change it up based on what I am making that week. NEVER go to the store without a list – this is especially dangerous when you are hungry as well (speaking from personal experience – trust me).
8. Comparison Shop
Know what brands are cheaper and what stores. To be honest, there are stores that I do not like shopping at but I go to because I know they have the same brand for cheaper than anywhere else. I shop at a SAMs or Costco once a month to stock up on my monthly list and shop at stores I know will have the products I want for the cheapest prices weekly. It took some time to figure out where to go for the best prices but I have saved a lot of money in doing this.
9. Don’t let coupons and sales trick you!
What?! We are talking about budgeting and I am not telling you to cut coupons and shop sales?? The best budgeting advice I have ever gotten came from my mom. She says all the time, “It isn’t a deal if you don’t need it.” The downside to coupons is that you buy something because it is on sale and not because you need it and in the end you end up spending more. In reality, after comparison shopping, if I shop at the right place for the right products, I save much more than if I were to go to a store based on coupons and shop there.
That being said, as you meal plan, check out local grocery stores weekly ads. If you can plan meals based on store specials, you will save money! Also, be sure to check out Ibotta as a way to earn money back on certain brands. Use the code sjpihli to get $10 bonus immediately!
10. Get creative
Towards the end of the month, the pantries can sometimes seem a little bare as you wait for the new month to start and a new budget. What a great time to get creative with what you have rather than throwing things away!
That’s it! Planning, prepping, and being intentional has saved me a ton of money on groceries and has been the best thing I have done in trimming my budget overall! Be sure to chime in and tell me what you do to save on money!