When Andy and I first got married neither one of us had experience keeping a budget. We made decent (enough) money and while we both brought some debt into the marriage we managed our finances fairly well.
After a few years, I started wondering why our savings account wasn’t growing as quickly as I felt it should. I looked at the numbers and realized we had been nickel and diming ourselves with our debit cards. A dinner out here, a movie there, midnight donut runs, and snack trips to the store all added up and we were throwing hundreds of dollars out the window a month. When I brought this to Andy’s attention, he had the brilliant idea of moving to a weekly cash system for groceries and other food-related items. If we didn’t have the cash, we couldn’t treat ourselves and groceries came first.
When Andy was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, the grocery budget became even more important. Good food isn’t cheap, and to commit to healthy eating requires some financial sacrifices. Plus, we had the added cost of diabetes prescriptions that we weren’t expecting. We knew that we couldn’t eat out as often, so we were able to reallocate some of that money into buying better meat from New Seasons. We stopped buying Mt. Dew, and those funds went straight into our apple budget.
Over the years, our grocery budget has grown and shrunk several times. Some weeks we have a surprising amount of money left over to use for “fun things”. Other weeks, I have to modify our meal plan on the fly because I know we’re running out of money. It forces me to be flexible, creative, and accountable. By setting a grocery budget and sticking to it, our overall household budget has become much easier to manage.
(One thing I must note: Our grocery budget does include non-food-related items like toothpaste, deodorant, toilet paper, and cat litter. But these items make up a very small percentage of our total grocery expenditure. The majority goes to produce, meat, and eggs.)
How you determine your own grocery budget is entirely up to you. Do you eat more protein-heavy meals? Your weekly amount is going to be higher than if you prefer a more vegetarian fare. If you don’t know where to get started, keep track of your spending for a few weeks. See where you spend your money, and what you spend it on. Do you see areas that can be eliminated? You may need to cut out all restaurant food until you get the budget under control. Do you see areas where you’d like to increase your spending? More fresh produce for the win!
I personally use a Google Docs spreadsheet to keep track of our entire monthly budget, but there are other tools available online (both free and not) that are popular for tracking your funds.
It might take a few months to really get into the groove of your grocery budget, but I promise you that your bank account will thank you if you stick to it as much as possible.
How about you? Do you have (and stick to) a budget? I’d love to hear your grocery tips!