Budgeting is not something I’ve ever been very good at. In fact, years ago when I desperately needed to stick to a budget, I really stunk at it! Like, I was awful. It took years of over spending and putting groceries on the credit card and fixing whatever I darn well wanted for dinner to realize that that wasn’t a very good way to do things. Shocker, I know.
Oddly enough, now that we’re older and don’t have to penny pinch quite as much as we used to, I’ve actually gotten pretty good at setting a budget and sticking to it! It took me years and years to hone down what works for me. So, what I’m setting out to do here is lay out point by point what has helped the most. What are the things I think about and consider when shopping? How do I make the most of a meal plan? I don’t claim to be an expert home economist or anything. I’m just a mom who’s spent the last 19 years figuring out what works in her world. Take the advice you want and leave the rest, friends. I hope it helps.
First things first, each and every family is different. There’s not going to be any magic formula that will be a perfect fit for everyone. But I think it’s important to know exactly where I’m coming from when I tell you my tips.
We are a family of six people. Two parents, two teenage boys, and two growing girls are the people I’m feeding day in and day out. One of the boys eats as much as his dad and the other one eats about as much as I do. This means that instead of thinking that I’m cooking for 2 adults and 4 kids, I really need to come at it like I’m feeding 4 adults and 2 kids.
Also, there are certain ways of cutting a grocery budget that I am simply not interested in. Whether it’s because of time constraints, the area we live in, or general laziness (#honesty), I won’t be doing any of the following:
- planting a vegetable garden
- keeping chickens for eggs
- shopping at more than 1 or 2 stores each week
- making my own breads, yogurts, broth, granola bars, etc (not that I haven’t done these things, it’s just not on a regular enough basis to count on it for budgeting purposes)
- buying and storing a whole side of beef
Lastly, all four of our kids are in school full time, and they take their lunches most days. We keep breakfasts pretty simple (think frozen waffles, cereal, fried egg sandwiches), too, so most of my food budget is based around dinner time.
All of that said, here are the Top 10 Tips I can give for making and sticking to a food budget that will actually work for your family.
Beth’s Top 10 Tips
1 – Set a Realistic Amount as your budget goal.
If you look at various budget recommendations, it seems that 10-15% of your income is what most experts would say should be spent on food. That seems to include all eating out and coffee stops and everything. In our budget, though, we have two separate tallies. One line item is grocery store fodder and another is for eating out. To me, that keeps things a little clearer.
That said, you have to be realistic in what you’re setting aside for your specific purposes. Look at your spending history, decide if your goal needs to be lowered or if it can comfortably be sustained at your current spending level. For me, it turned out that I was more willing to be thriftier in other areas so that I could maintain more of a status quo with what I was already feeding my family.
2 – Only buy in bulk what you know will be used.
We have a Costco membership and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. However, there are only certain things I will buy there. Things like toilet paper, paper towels, shower gel, chicken broth, breakfast cereal, peanut butter, milk or juice boxes for kids’ lunches, frozen waffles, and ground meats are the staples. There are other items, of course, but they are on an as-needed basis. Basically, if you are not 100% sure you can use it up before it rots or goes bad, leave it at the bulk store and just pick it up at the grocery. Otherwise, you’ll just end up throwing your money away along with the rotten produce.
3 – The weekly grocery store flier is your friend!
It’s just that simple, folks. Look at what’s on sale before you head to the store. It will save you so much money in the long run. Especially if you look at the sales before you menu plan. Which leads me to my next point…
4 – PLAN your menu! Don’t fly by the seat of your pants.
This was probably the biggest issue for me. Once I figured it out, though, everything else sort of fell into place. You decide whether weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly planning works best for your family, then go from there. For us, our schedule changes frequently enough that I keep us on a weekly meal plan. And remember the old adage, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail!
5 – Plan for your life, then plan for your meals.
Every Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, I sit down with my planner and map out our week. Who needs to be where and when? What nights will we all be home for dinner? What days are going to be super busy so that dinner needs to be super simple?
Using that information, then, I look at the store ad and see what is on sale and what I can make work with what we have going on. This keeps me from overbuying and spending too much. But it also keeps me from under-buying and needing to go back to the store repeatedly throughout the week, thereby spending more than I’d like.
6 – Shop with a list!
Seriously. It’s that simple. After you’ve planned your week and planned your menu, make a list of everything you will need. From produce to meat to spices to whatever you’ll need for lunches and breakfasts. Make a list. Take that list to the store. And, here’s the key, only buy what is on the list!
7 – Buy the fresh produce that is in season.
You don’t want to buy fresh oranges in June or corn on the cob in January. It would be too expensive and it just wouldn’t taste good. Instead, recognize the seasons when things are freshest and most ripe and buy them then. Otherwise, stick to frozen or canned. For everything there is a season, remember. And a time for all the produce under heaven.
8 – Learn to love leftovers.
In our house, we plan on one leftover night a week. We also usually have one big meal (maybe Saturday lunch or dinner) that shows up on my menu plan as FFY (Fend For Yourself). These meals serve a dual purpose. First, you actually end up eating the food you’ve bought and prepared versus throwing it out after it turns into a science experiment in the back of the fridge. Second, it gives me a night or two off from actually cooking! Win-win!
It’s worth mentioning here, though, that if you have a hungry teenager in the house, it’s good to set the ground rule that leftovers can only be taken to school for lunch AFTER leftover night has passed. Otherwise you can be left in a bit of a lurch.
9 – Ask your family what they want to eat.
If you ask your kids what sounds good to them, they’re more likely to eat it than if you just spring something on them. And the more likely they are to eat it, the less likely you are to have wasted your money. Makes sense, right?
10 – Shop alone or online.
Take kids shopping and you’re going to buy a whole bunch more crap than you intended. Am I right? Leave kids at home, and not only do you avoid buying stuff you didn’t want or plan to, but you also get to shop in peace. As my kids have gotten older I have realized I actually enjoy going grocery shopping. And now that I only take them when I want to, I find I enjoy having them along a whole lot more than I used to. Does that sound harsh? Oh, well.
If shopping alone isn’t possible for you right now, I know a ton of people who are having success with using various delivery services or the curbside pick-up at their local store. My cousin was raving that simply keeping herself out of the store and buying things from her kitchen saved her tons of money on impulse purchases.
So that’s it, friends! What do you think? Any other suggestions we need to know? Share away in the comments!