Funny enough, some of the most commonly asked questions I receive are about food budgeting. I’m kinda obsessed with going to the grocery store (it’s one of my favorite hobbies – I’M SUCH AN INTERESTING PERSON) and I always post our hauls on stories, so it kinda makes sense that people wanna know how we make it work, especially since about 90% of our grocery shopping is done at Whole Foods. Luckily for us, WF is one of the closest grocery stores to our apartment! But we definitely frequent a few other local chains around here, too, like Shaw’s, Stop ‘n Shop, Wegman’s, and Trader Joe’s.
Living that grad school life, though, means we’re on a pretty tight budget. So, I’ve compiled my ten biggest tips for how we made & keep to our food budget. I am certainly not perfect, but I have made looooots of progress over the past few years!
When I shop, I’m shopping for a family of three – me, my husband, and our 1 year old. I take into account meals throughout the week (B, L, + D), snacks, any special foods for Sophie, and food for recipe testing that needs to be done that week.
People are alllways commenting to me that, “yeah, healthy eating is nice and all, but it costs too much money” and to that I say, NO! It doesn’t have to. Sure, it costs more than eating top ramen for every meal, but would you rather pay for healthy, real food now or medical bills later? 😉 Food is medicine, and I 100% believe that to be true.
- SET YOUR BUDGET. Ahh, the most important step! Set your budget. Take 1-3 months to keep your receipts & record all purchases. What are your spending habits? How often are you taking trips to the store? What is the average amount that you spend weekly/monthly? You can’t set a proper budget if you don’t already know your spending habits & food needs. For example, it would be pretty unrealistic for a family of ten to set a budget of $150/month, you know? So. Depending on your family size & food needs, find a number that is realistic and achievable.
- DECIDE WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU. Are you faithful to any particular brands, or is store-brand your go-to? Do you like to purchase frozen meals, or make everything from scratch? Do organic eggs matter less to you than a good quality olive oil? Decide what’s important to you and take that into consideration when setting, but also keeping, your budget. I like to buy as much of our food organic as possible. That’s my “thing.” But remember – we don’t keep to any specific diets and try to be balanced in all things. Ya girl ain’t gonna turn down a chocolate cake when it stumbles in her path!
- MEAL PLAN. Ohhh meal planning saves you SO MUCH moolah! It’s something I struggled with for a long time, but I feel like I’m finally getting good at it. Typically I plan out all of our dinners for the week on Saturday/Sunday (pinterest, baby!), go to the store on Monday morning, and then we’re set for dinners until the following week. I don’t write down which specific meals we’ll have on which specific days because I like to have some flexibility throughout the week based on our schedules & cravings. If you haven’t gotten into meal planning yet, something that helped me a ton initially was to take a piece of paper and write down all of our favorite dinners. Then, from that list, I would take 3ish each week, then add a couple new meals from the interwebs or one of my cookbooks to try out. I plan for 5 meals each week, with the other two nights being wild cards (ie cereal for dinner & leftovers).
- HAVE A LIST – AND MAKE THAT LIST BEFORE YOU ENTER THE STORE. So, related to meal planning: don’t go to the grocery store without knowing what you need. When you go without a plan or a list, it is so much easier to spend way more money than you intended.
- H.A.L.T. I remember learning this concept in a finance class in college – don’t make any big decisions when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I often “escape” to the grocery store after a long day, when Sophie’s in bed, because it’s my happy place. But I have to remember that if I’m not in a good frame of mind, the grocery store will either overwhelm me and I’ll panic and have a breakdown, or just go on a raging spree. Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self, friends.
- KEEP YOUR CALCULATOR HANDY. Guys, this is my NUMBER ONE BUDGETING TIP!!! Literally every single time I go to the grocery store, I track every item on my calculator on my phone. This prevents me from making impulse purchases & helps me stay aware of how much is in my cart. It’s also a great way to take note of (& eventually you’ll start remembering!) how much each item costs. Over time, when making your meal plans and grocery lists, you’ll start to be able to guess pretty well at how much everything will cost you before you even go to the store.
- DON’T BUY SOMETHING JUST BECAUSE IT’S ON SALE. Ahhh the ultimate trap. We see something we love on sale and think YES!!! VICTORY!!! and throw it in the cart. But…was it on your list? Do you actually need it, right now? If you get to the end of your shopping trip and see that you have a little money left over (reason #857 to record everything on your calculator as you go!), go back and grab it. Alternatively, I know some grocery stores send out coupon newsletters each week (like Sprouts, if you live out west!) and if you’d like, you can use that to plan for your meals in the week ahead! That way you can know about the sales in advance, before you get to the store, and take advantage of them!
- THE CASH METHOD. Back when we first got married, we used the cash method. At the beginning of every month, we would take out our whole grocery budget in cash and place each week’s allotment in a separate envelope. When you go to the grocery store, just take one envelope with you. If you are sincerely worried about spending more because you also have your debit/credit card on hand in your wallet, leave the wallet at home (but take your drivers license! ;)) This is a good beginner budgeting tip for practicing self control – haha!
- BULK BUYING. It’s nice, in theory, to buy a lot of something for less money. But it’s also easy to walk out of Costco having spent your entire month’s budget – you know? So when shopping at a store like Costco or Sam’s Club, keep in mind how those purchases will affect the money you have for the rest of the month. Be especially mindful when buying things that are perishable, like produce. If you don’t use it up fast enough, it can go bad and then there’s all that wasted money and food…ugh!
- SET A CONSEQUENCE. My sister-in-law and her husband have a great system where if they overspend in a certain area one month, the amount that they overspend is subtracted from the following month. For example, if our grocery budget was $400, and we spent $450, the next month we would only have $350 to work with.
I hope these tips & tricks are helpful for you guys! It IS possible to buy good, high-quality food on a budget – you just have to shop smart 😉
Do you have any grocery/food budgeting hacks that work well for you and your family?! Leave a comment down below!