I love to cook, new things, different things, things from scratch, and more. Since I enjoy it, I always struggle with my food bill. For years I never knew what I spent, I just shopped sales every week. With that, I usually never really knew what I had on hand and would buy multiples of different items (wasteful). In 2015 I started paying closer attention to the amount of money I would spend and follow some of my shopping behaviors. I kept a notebook for all food shopping receipts for one year. Boy did I learn a lot from that! I spent over $1200 a month on food.
#1 Track your spending
What do you spend monthly on food? Do you shop one time a week, multiple times a week, or a few times a month? It is said the less time you spend in the grocery store, the better your budget, and I believe it. Have you ever went food shopping, hungry? That can hurt your wallet and your waistline. When you track your spending habits and behaviors, you can assess where you are so you can make a plan. When I looked up the national average for a family of 5 on the Family budget calculator in my area, the cost was $979 per month. I don't know about you, but I think that's crazy. I knew that if I wanted to be better with my money, it would start with my food bill.
# 2 Set Spending Limit
You now know what you spend, and it's crazy! What realistic number could you bring that down to that will work for your family? When things were tight in our house, we could only spend $400 a month on food. Honestly, I found it to be hard, and I had to make everything from scratch. I realized we are most comfortable at $500 a month. Wisely budgeting my money I now have $700 I can redirect to something more pressing than food, say mortgage, debt, vacation?
# 3 Meal Plan
Honestly, meal planning has been one of the best things I have done to keep my budget. No more guesswork and less waste. I have a small chalkboard posted to my wall, that a friend has gifted me. I also have a monthly planner devoted to meals that I keep everything in, and I change my menu every Sunday night, so there are no questions about dinner. I come up with themes depending on the season to make things fun and simple like:
Taco n Rice Tuesday's
Chicken n Veg Wednesday's
Breakfast for dinner Thursday's
Pizza Night Friday's
# 4 Cook from Scratch
Don't buy any ready made or frozen meals. The mark up on such items in the grocery store can be upwards of 40%, so you will need to prepare things on your own. Buy a couple of pounds of chicken or beef in a family pack to split for the week/month for your meals. The same goes for prepackaged chopped vegetables, they are expensive! If your not a fan of chopping, plan for it and freeze them if need be. It is the small things that can deter you from your goal to stay focused.
# 5 Strategic Shopping
Now you know what you are making, you know what amount you cannot exceed, let's hit those stores! Wait one minute...you can't do that without a plan. Otherwise, your money will be wasted, and we are watching those $'s. I check the local food circulars to see what stores have the best prices, and this is called comparison shopping. It isn't always convenient to shop at a few different stores, but if you want to save money, it takes intentional work! My main go to's in our area are Costco, Aldi, and Best Market. I am not a big coupon shopper, but some are, and this is the time to use them. When your shopping you are buying for your meal plan now but mindful of the future. As things go on sale, so you have them on hand. When you run out, you don't have to pay full price.
You are budgeting for the month but planning for the week. You can do this! Keep your goal at the forefront, so you know why you are doing this!