Setting a Grocery Budget

Isn’t it amazing how time can get away from you?

I cannot believe that it’s FRIDAY. I have no idea what happened to my week; what I even really accomplished. Stuff got done, don’t get me wrong, I just have no real recollection of who, what, when, where, why and how.

At any rate, I’m sliding in under the wire with the post I promised last week (when I shared with you some tips for meal planning on a budget) about setting a grocery budget.

There are lots of ways to go about setting a budget, so let’s get your wheels spinning on a few different options and you can figure out what might work best (and be most realistic) for you.

Side Note Before We Jump In: I can’t stress realistic enough. I’ve read plenty of articles about families of six living on a $35/week grocery budget. And while I’m not saying that isn’t possible, I AM saying it’s not realistic for us. I simply can never imagine a time when I will omit meat as a staple in our diet. No judgment either way for those that have…but I’m a Nebraska girl and meat is where it’s at! And I like to include as much fresh as I can (as opposed to lesser expensive canned and frozen options – which I’m not mad at, it just all has a time an place in my meal planning and cooking).

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics = 15%

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that Americans spend between 11%-15% of their annual budget (which is after tax, take home income) on food each year. A simple mathematical equation for figuring your food budget based on this information is to determine what your monthly take home is and calculate out the 15%. Divide that by four and you have <roughly> a weekly grocery budget.

Grocery Budget Calculator

Iowa State University website hosts a grocery budget calculator that will help you assess your spending, suggest what you should be spending and give ideas to cut costs.

Assess and Re-Assess

Or, you can do what I did…which was mostly a process of trial and error based on what I could easily find in my budget and later making adjustments based on what grocery necessities were costing (based on a standard of eating I wanted to achieve. I suppose we could all just live on hotdogs and mac and cheese if we want to get down to the nitty gritty).

When I first set out to establish a grocery budget, I had to start by putting pen to paper and figuring where my money was going each month. This included ALL spending (mortgage, utilities, phone, fuel, groceries, entertainment, etc.).

That was compared to my income followed by a critical review of wants versus needs. Setting a strict budget meant NO SPENDING ON CREDIT!

As it turned out, with my adjusted income (remember the story I shared about changing jobs at a far reduced salary?), I was easily outspending what I was bringing in every month. Not only was my debt rising, it also meant nothing was making its way into savings.

Cuts had to be made.

Cable TV was the first to go.

This essentially became my grocery budget and I worked a plan to stay within that budget for two months.

After the 2 months, I re-assessed.

While I was staying within the budgeted amount, I wasn’t eating as well as I would have liked and it was a struggle not to over-spend. I knew that I had other areas of spending I could trim that could help me increase my grocery budget AND start stashing money into savings.

So, I made a small adjustment to the grocery budget (it’s amazing what the additional $25’ish could accomplish) and the rest tucked neatly into my savings account.

At that time, as a single gal, I spent no more than $100 on groceries monthly, and had separate budgets for Other Necessities (i.e. household, health and beauty items), Entertainment (i.e. eating out, trips out of town, unnecessary shopping, movies, etc.), Fuel, Etc.

Once J and I merged our lives the budget increased to $250/mo. Feeding a man requires a little more than what it took to feed only myself.

And now with the addition of our kiddos we stick to $350/mo (though, in full disclosure, because our oldest two are part of the foster system, they do get a few grocery benefits that amount to about $50/mo and will continue to receive that benefit until age 5).

Our babe has his own budget for formula, food, diapers, wipes, etc.

And anytime things start to feel tight (think: as the kiddos grow and begin eating more OR when the baby came on the scene and we needed a budget for his necessities) we return to our budget and re-assess.

Wants versus Needs.

It might mean foregoing some non-essentials more frequently. Or finding a bit of side-work for a few extra bucks. Or spending a little more time finding rebates, sales, and discounts to tap in to. Or getting more creative in the kitchen and figuring out ways to make meals that stretch further and don’t cost as much to make in the first place.

We make it a priority to keep our debts low. Other than my student loans and our mortgage (which we pay extra on every month in an effort to pay them off sooner) we strive NOT to live on credit AND to have a comfortable cushion of savings should push ever come to shove.

It’s not always easy.

We certainly don’t live a glam life (like I have the energy for that anyway LOL). BUT we are still making memories as a family on the cheap.

I can’t tell you the last vacation we went on. Actually, I can, it was our honeymoon over FIVE YEARS ago…unless you count the trip to New Mexico we took over two years ago, where we landed at our sweet friends home (they graciously hosted us) and mostly hung out visiting and bobbing around their pool and relaxing.

Our eating out at least a couple times a week as a couple without kiddos has drastically reduced to maybe a couple times a month.

I could go on and on…but put simply: it’s all about priorities.

A grocery budget is just one place to start.

Do you need a budget? Do you have a budget that needs re-visiting? Are you feeling at all compelled and inspired to take another run at this? Have you devised another method for figuring your grocery budget that you wouldn’t mind sharing? Let us know in the comments below!

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