Getting started with a budget:
First, determine how much you typically spend on food each month.
If you have not lived with a grocery budget in the past, you may be unsure of how much money you typically spend on groceries. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to spend one month keeping track of how much is spent on food (including eating out, snacks, and trips to the grocery store). You can easily keep track of how much is spent by posting a paper on your fridge and writing down the amount spent on food every day. Or, you can keep a folder taped to your fridge, and put every receipt in it. At the end of the month, add the amounts on each receipt. It would also be helpful at the end of the month to categorize the money you spent on food. Three or four simple categories will help you see where your money has been spent. Three good categories are: "Eating out", "Grocery expenses for food", and "Grocery expenses for snacks." Doing this may be a good motivation for creating and using a grocery budget. If the amount you have spent on food in one month is surprising, then you may find that even simple changes will decrease the amount of money spent on food each month.
Second, create a grocery budget.
The first step is to know how much you have available for a grocery budget. Write down your monthly income. Write down fixed expenses for each month, such as rent or mortage payment, utility costs, transportation costs. Then, figure out how much is still available for grocery expenses. If there is not much available, it will be necessary to shop very wisely in order to live within that allotted amount of money. If your income is large enough that there is a lot of money available for groceries, it is still wise to create a grocery budget that uses less than you earn. By doing this, there will be money to set aside in savings accounts.
Third, set a goal for motivation to live with a grocery budget.
If the amount you currently spend on food is surprisingly high to you, then that may be enough motivation! Create a budget for a little less than what you currently spend. Each month, adjust your budget to be a little less than the month before. Continue this pattern until your grocery budget is what you consider to be a reasonable amount.
Another motivation for living within a grocery budget is to have a plan for what you will do with the money you have saved. Perhaps you can use it to save for a big purchase, perhaps you can reward yourself (if you save $50 a month on groceries, perhaps you can save $25 and use the other $25 to go out to dinner, or to purchase a new item of clothing, a movie, or book, etc.). If you have children they might notice that there are some food items you don't buy as often anymore. Include them in your budgeting. Perhaps if you save $50 a month on groceries then you can use $25 for a family activity that your children would enjoy. Help them look forward to it.
Other factors to consider when budgeting:
Grocery budgeting is all about balance. Each person's budget will look a little different. Your grocery budget will reflect these unique factors about your life:
- Your income.
- Your lifestyle (single, single parent, married parent with both parents employed outside the home, married parent with one parent employed outside the home, young children, teenage children, employment that requires travel, etc.).
- Tastes and food preferences.
"Big" expenses in grocery budgets
Typically, the biggest expenses in grocery budgets come from purchasing foods that are "convenient." (And, depending on your lifestyle and your income, that convenience may be more important that limiting your grocery budget, which is fine). However, if you are under the necessity to live within a limited grocery budget, here are some guidelines about eliminating big expenses:
- Eating out is more expensive than buying prepared foods at a grocery store.
- Buying prepared foods at a grocery store is more expensive than buying ingredients from a grocery store and preparing foods at home.
- Buying ingredients at a grocery store is more expensive than buying ingredients in bulk or on sale at a grocery store.
- Frequent trips to a grocery store are typically more expensive than limited trips to a grocery store.
- Buying food in a grocery store is more expensive than growing food in a garden.
As mentioned above, the least expensive way to eat is to grow your own food, buy ingredients on sale/in bulk and prepare your foods from scratch. The most expensive way to eat is to eat out for every meal, every day. Most of us have food budgets somewhere between "least expensive" and "most expensive." The extent to which our eating habits are near the "least expensive" end of the spectrum is the extent to which our grocery budget will decrease.
Finding a balance between the least expensive and the most expensive is the key to creating a budget that works for your income, your lifestyle and your tastes and preferences.
So, here are some ideas how home food storage can decrease your grocery budget:
- Buying in bulk is almost always much cheaper than buying in smaller quanties. For example, 20 pounds of rice is cheaper per serving than buying a small box of rice. (I will post some more specific examples soon). Stock up on foods in bulk quantitites (items such as flour, sugar, grains are easy to store an inexpensive to buy in bulk. They are available at a very low price at our church's Home Storage Center in Kansas City. See www. provident living.org for a price list). There are several posts on this blog about buying/storing bulk foods. See them for more information.
- Buying on sale is cheaper than buying regular price. Watch the sales, then stock up on grocery store items that you regularly eat. Canned goods, box mixes, baking ingredients and many other items such as salad dressings and condiments will store for a long time (at least a year or two). Some foods (such as cheese, meat, tortillas, and butter) can be successfully stored in the freezer for a year or two. Use your freezer (especially if you have a deep freeze) to store foods that you have bought on sale.
- Every shopping trip costs money. Try to limit shopping trips to once a week (or less). For example, a shopping trip once each day is typically going to be more expensive than a shopping trip once a week. Also, a shopping trip once a week is going to be more expensive than a shopping trip once every other week. If you have food on hand, you will probably make less trips to the store and that alone will save money! Many families who live on tight grocery budgets shop once a month for the majority of their groceries, then make one or two other "quick" grocery stops during the month for milk and fresh produce.
- Plan menus and stick to a grocery list. Impulse buying is one of the most expensive parts of a grocery trip. By planning menus in advance, writing a grocery list, and sticking to the grocery list, you can eliminate impulse buying at the store. More importantly, you can plan menus that use your food storage and that include items that are on sale at the grocery store this week. This does take a little advance planning, but it pays rich dividends in the money saved on groceries. Also, it is easier for me to stick to my grocery list if I'm not hungry when I go shopping.
- Breakfast foods can be expensive or inexpensive. Breakfast foods can be one of the biggest expenses in a grocery budget. I have a lot of information about breakfast foods in a limited grocery budget. This topic will probably get its own post soon. However, if you eat a lot of cold cereal, consider replacing just one breakfast a month with something that is much more inexpensive (such as oatmeal).
- Use inexpensive foods from storage to stretch more expensive foods. This topic, too, will have its own post soon. Here is a quick idea. Look at your grocery budget. If many of the expenses come from more expensive foods, such as meat, consider using foods from storage, such as rice, to "stretch" the meat. For example, chicken served over rice will require less chicken per person (and, therefore, less expense) than plain chicken.
- Don't waste food. Use leftover food in creative ways for future meals, or freeze leftover portions for a ready-made meal a few weeks later. Even one leftover portion can be frozen and later taken to work for a lunch for one person. By wisely using all the food you buy, the same grocery budget can stretch even further.
- Without food on hand, you have to pay full price when you need something. If you have stored the majority of the main ingredients that you use for cooking, then when you need something, you already have it on hand. (And, hopefully, when you bought it for storage, you bought it at a sale price or a bulk quantity price). If you don't have a good storage system, then every time you need an ingredient you must buy it at the store for whatever price it is currently selling for. The same principle applies to the concept of eating with the seasons--buy fresh produce when it is in season because the price is much lower than at other times of the year.