Budget // Groceries // Setting a Budget

We have been all over the place when it comes to deciding on a budget for groceries. Part of this fluctuation in budget amount is due to life events and jobs. When we dropped from two incomes to one we had to reevaluate. When we moved cross country and used up a chunk of our savings we once again had to reevaluate. When we decided to move before our lease was up we once again had to reevaluate (yes I see a trend of less than wonderful decisions but we are happy and doing well so that’s what matters). Now we have a second baby on the way and a big trip coming up so it’s time to once again take a look at our budget and with that how much of it we are spending on food.

In general I am not fond of divulging the actual numbers of our budget because really it’s not the business of anyone else however I make an exception for groceries. I think that sharing the actual numbers of a grocery budget can really be helpful for others especially when you are looking to save money and still eat well. Up until now we have been spending anywhere from $550-800 per month on groceries. You may be wondering why there is such a huge gap and I’ll tell you that gap is in large part due to the desire to make more complicated meals, heading to the market to pick up one or two things that “we just have to have right now” and buying more luxury items (prepackaged items, vegan faux meats, bagels and tofutti every weekend).

After really taking a hard look at what we are buying each month (we started this in January) we have come to see that we are buying items that are necessities, are a little more expensive than we need to and that we need to make some smarter decisions when it comes to shopping in general. As I wrote in my last post we are looking at buying a few more conventional items and we are also spending the next month or so trying out some new to us grocery stores in our area. We have also decided to stick to a strict grocery budget. While it is going to be a challenge at first I know after the first few weeks we will find our groove and it will start to become more natural.

Our Current Grocery Budget & How We Came To It

So as I said above we have been spending $550-800 per month on groceries and I’ll be honest up until January it was definitely closer to the $800 per month side of things. We just can’t be spending that type of money right now. We have a baby (including some birth costs) and a trip to save up for so we really need to make cuts. So our current budget is $460. I know a huge difference from the $800, although for the past two months we have been more at $550-580 so not as big of a drop from that.

How did we decide on this? Well basically we decided meals should be on average $5 (or less) and with seven days in a week and three meals per day plus snacks.

($5 per meal x 7 days x 3 meals) + $10 for snacks = $115/week

Our grocery budget does not include alcohol, coffee or other household items (paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, toothpaste, ect) those all come from different budget categories. A meal for the most part serves 4-6 people so some days we have enough for leftovers for all of us and most days we just have enough leftovers for Neil to take to lunch. Also $5 is just an average; some meals cost us $10 and others will cost $2-3.

How are we going to make this work? That I tell you is the test of the month. We haven’t been on this low of a budget since it was just the  two of us but now we have a toddler who can eat just as much as we can and as this pregnancy progresses so does my appetite. In the end I really think we can make it work. Some of the steps we are taking to be successful include:

  • Checking out the weekly flyers for the stores in our area.
  • Taking advantage of coupons including Chinook Book coupons.
  • Taking advantage of our monthly 10% we get for being members at our co-op.
  • Menu planning and making a grocery list.
  • Being flexible with our shopping ie. being prepared to swap out items on our list for less expensive items.
  • Buying items in bulk to eat all week when it’s more economical. For example: buying a 3lb bag of organic apples for the week at $1.50/lb rather than buying a wide variety of fruit at $2-3/lb
  • Eating less diverse meals throughout the week. This one is a bit of a follow up to the step above but by choosing to use the same ingredients in different ways throughout the week I really think we can save some money.
  • Create simple meals most nights of the week. This could mean a variation on beans, greens and grains a few nights during the week. The thing is simple and cheap doesn’t have to mean unappetizing and unhealthy. This also doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun meal or two during the week either. Plan a night where you make a really awesome homemade pizza or a special themed meal but make the other nights of your week more simple so you can afford these fun nights.
  • Buy less convince foods and novelty items.
  • Make more from scratch when possible and when it makes sense. There is no doubt that homemade bread, chia pudding, bbq sauce, soups, spaghetti sauce, and so many other items can be made so much cheaper and healthfully at home rather than buying prepared.
  • Only go to the grocery store once per week. The more we travel to the store the more we pick up and the more we spend. One trip to pick up everything on the list and that is it. We eat what we have and wait until the next shopping day comes around before buying more. This will hopefully prevent over spending and the wasting of food.

So this is how we are going to do it. Now the true test will be how successful we are in the end. Things to note while we are planning to stay in our $115/week budget this is an average for the week as we are prepared to spend more some weeks when staple items are needed and less other weeks when we are not in need of staples. I am planning to share our weekly grocery haul and will share our current weeks in the next day or two along with details about or first shopping trip to a new store.

Do you have a set grocery budget? How do you stick to your budget?


  1. MOM

    I know we have not been the best planners for food budgets. But I have been picking up
    extras of things we use when they are on sale. Things that can be frozen or shelf food.
    Also paying attention to what the sale foods for the week. I have been trying to be a lot
    better too.

  2. M

    It’s just me, so that makes things much easier. This advice is so specific to my own situation, of course.

    The biggest money saver for me is being honest about what I actually will eat/buy and then planning ahead and buying it from the most cost effective source. The best example of this are Clif and Luna bars. In a perfect world I would pack a lunch every day. For a few weeks I omitted them from my shopping list in favor of sandwich and salad stuff that I wanted to be eating for lunch.

    In reality, some nights I don’t get home until 9:30 or 10 and I have to be out of the house at 7:30. So I was just buying a Clif bar in the cafe at work or at a CVS on the way in for at least twice as much as at Whole Foods and even more than if I ordered a few boxes online.

    I have saved a lot of money by just going ahead and buying a bunch of boxes of bars and if I pack a lunch, well, they keep. This goes for stuff like soda and desserts too. If I don’t have any at home, I just buy them when I’m out for more. I know I want those things, so I just acknowledge that and put them on the list.

    I also do need a certain amount of convenience food on hand, so I put it on the list and into the budget and look for a sale and stock up.

    Basically the best strategy for me is to get over what I think I SHOULD be doing with food and be realistic about what my eating and cooking habits actually are. Then shop accordingly.

    • I agree! When we restrict ourselves from having what we want or what we will ultimately buy we usually just end up spending way more money. It’s like at our house we also buy chocolate every week because despite saying we don’t need it we end up making a trip to buy it mid week and then we also end up picking up more items.

      We also keep convince foods on hand because despite the meal planning there are nights that I just don’t want to cook or am exhausted from a rough toddler day so I have soups, healthy frozen items (veggies, veggie burgers, ect.), canned beans, pasta and sauces on hand so that we can save money and still eat relatively healthy.

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