The biggest key to helping us achieve our financial goals has been a regular monthly budget. While some categories like our mortgage are consistent, others, like our electric bill, can be more difficult to plan for in advance. But perhaps the most challenging item each month is our grocery budget. Honestly, we could spend our entire income at the grocery store if we wanted to, but that won’t leave us anything to invest for retirement, college, and beyond.
Thankfully for me, I only help choose the number for our grocery budget during our monthly meetings. I don’t have to be the one who sticks to it. So, instead of hearing from me, I sat down with my wife Alissa this week to understand how she makes it all work.
What are some techniques you use to stay on our grocery budget?
Well, when we were first married, we had a budget of $300 a month.* And slowly we moved it to $350 when our first child was little. And now we are at the point in which our grocery budget is $500 monthly. So, to keep on budget, I do a little couponing. I watch sales. I buy meat when it’s on sale. And I do go back and forth between generic brand and name brand, depending on the cost.
What kind of planning do you do as far as grocery shopping goes?
Well, my planning has been all over the place, depending on our state in life. The most effective plan we’ve had to stay on our grocery budget is when we meal plan for the week. That’s when we sit down as a married couple, plan our dinners for the week, and then I buy groceries according to that plan. Breakfast and lunch are a little easier, as I tend to buy the same things every week.
When I’m at the actual grocery store, the biggest thing for me to stick to the grocery budget is to write down the cost as I put something in the basket. This lets me know how much money I am spending as I shop. If I don’t write down the cost, I can easily overspend.
What are some ways you can save at the grocery store?
When it’s possible, I will buy in bulk. But with a young family, buying in bulk isn’t always effective at this point, though I suspect it will be in the future. So for me, saving in our grocery budget means comparing the generic versus name brand items.
But beyond that, saving on meat is key for our family. We have some kind of meat at every dinner, so buying meat on sale really helps. But, the meat I want isn’t always on sale when I need it. So, I try to be flexible as far as a recipe goes. If I need steak for a recipe, but pork tenderloin is on sale, I’ll buy the pork tenderloin and adapt the recipe.
Earlier you mentioned coupons. How effective have coupons been for you in sticking to our grocery budget?
Coupons have been hit and miss, honestly. I’m not a crazy coupon lady. I don’t really go through circulars because I don’t have the time. I tend to use the coupons that are mailed to me from Fry’s, which is the grocery store we use most often. They mail us coupons based on our shopping habits. So we get coupons for the bread I buy, the turkey bacon I buy, etc.
Our grocery budget recently went up to $500 per month, but we don’t always spend that exact amount. What do we do with the extra money that we don’t spend?
We simply roll it over into the next month’s grocery budget. So, let’s say we spend $493 in a month, we roll $7 into our grocery budget for the following month. That means I get $507 for next month’s grocery budget. We track this through our budget spreadsheet, but I know some families who use cash and envelopes, and they’ll simply add that $7 in cash into the next month’s envelope.
One of the things that often gets accounted for in our monthly grocery budget is that every month we make about 1-2 meals for other families if they had a new baby, a death in the family, etc. So, your grocery budget is really even tighter than $500. How do you handle this?
I feel like whenever we’re generous with others, God is generous with us. And He always provides. Some months we do 1 meal. Some months we do 5 meals. I have a go-to set of meals that I try to keep at a cost of around $10-$15. And I sign up to make meals in the first 3 weeks of the month. I rarely do it in the 4th week of the month because that tends to be when we have to scrimp the most to make our grocery budget work.
Is there an ideal time for you to shop?
Honestly, and this may sound bad to say, but it’s ideal for me to shop without the kids. That’s why a lot of times, I’ll do it on Sunday nights or other times when you’re home with the kids. Because then I don’t have them begging for things, asking for stuff, or putting items in the basket that aren’t a part of our grocery budget. Yes, the grocery store can be picked over at that time, but I can go faster and stick to my plan more effectively.
We have a tight grocery budget for sure. There are some families who probably have tighter, and there are some families who probably think we’re crazy. But how does it make you feel as the one responsible for doing the grocery shopping and sticking to the budget?
Well, let’s just say this. I can’t wait for the day when we are in such great shape financially that I don’t even have to think about how much money I spend on groceries. It is a challenge, and I’m so proud of myself every month to keep our budget at $500. And I’m still feeding our family nutritious and healthy meals, but it can be stressful to accomplish. I know there are families who do it on much less and families who have twice the budget, and it’s still difficult for them. Every family faces different challenges, and I know we’ll deal with our own challenges as our family continues to grow. But because we have a budget, we’ll make it work.
Any final tips on minimizing your grocery budget for any other moms, dads, married couples, or single people out there?
You need to do what’s best for your family. But if you want to stay on your grocery budget, you’ll need to sacrifice. Sometimes, I buy frozen vegetables. And sometimes, I sacrifice my coffee creamer because we only have $3 left in the month, and the kids need yogurt. Could we allot more money for our groceries each month? Absolutely. But ultimately, we have bigger financial goals, and this allows us to pursue those.
Question: What are some ways you minimize your grocery budget? (Share in the comments below.)
*Note: Our grocery budget does not typically include toiletries or other baby items such as diapers. We allot a small amount for those in separate budget line items each month.