A realistic food budget will teach you how to manage and stick to a monthly food budget without forcing you to starve.
Kimberly Tan is a financial advisor who loves to freelance writing about personal finance. She is very passionate about helping people in managing their finances and see them succeed in it. Reading books while drinking tea is her favorite thing to do in her free time.
Create a realistic food budget that won’t make you feel like you’re practically starving. These easy-to-follow tips will show you how to manage and stick to a monthly food budget
Food is a major expense in every household, just like rent, utilities, tuition, and car fuel, to mention a few. But, unlike non-food costs, grocery expenses can be hard to control.
You may think that it’s okay to spend a little more on food—after all, you need to eat, and you want to eat good food. Perhaps you can cut monthly expenses in certain areas and put the spending cuts on groceries.
Unfortunately, this is a somewhat problematic mindset in financial planning, where the goal is to manage your monthly income. To achieve your financial goals, you need to have the right numbers in your budget—that is, you have to decide on the right amount for every expense category—and stick to it.
How to Create Your Monthly Food Budget
Here are the two main steps in creating a realistic monthly food or grocery budget that you can stick to:
Track how much you spend in a month
First things first: you need to have a clear idea of how much you’re spending on groceries every month and what you’re spending on.
Are you spending considerable sums on snacks and beverages, or are you taking more on the fresh produce section of the grocery? Start tracking these things by keeping the receipts.
Next, based on your receipts, make an itemized list of what you bought and spent in your grocery run. Here’s a rough example:
- Meat – $80
- Dairy – $10
- Vegetables – $15
… and so on.
Pro tip: Track and list your grocery expenses instead of doing it the other way around—listing first and tracking next. Just like time tracking, the first method will give you more accurate numbers.
Make a monthly budget, including a weekly plan
Since you already know how much you spent on food last month, you can use that figure to set your budget for the following month.
Suppose your monthly food budget is $200. You need to spread this figure out across four weeks in a month, which means you’ll have $50 for food and groceries each week. Now, you can plan your meals per week with a $50 budget—no more, no less.
Pro tip: Plan your daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then buy at the grocery the things you need in one go.
Tips on Managing Food Expenses
Here are tips on meal planning and grocery shopping, which can help to make your food budgeting system work.
What is meal planning?
Simply put, meal planning is preparing your meals for the whole week instead of just the one-off. In other words, you don’t just make food for your lunch today. You’re making lunch for the entire week.
This is one way you can drastically cut the money you spend on groceries.
As much as possible, avoid eating out.
This includes ordering deliveries if your city still doesn’t allow dine-in customers because of the pandemic. Even a single occasion of dining out can easily make everything you’ve worked for vanish and mess up your budget.
If you have to dine out, make sure there’s a good, valid reason, like celebrating a birthday or other family milestones. Not wanting to cook should never be a reason to eat out or order food.
Put leftovers to good use.
Leftovers help you minimize your food expenses to keep your budget intact. You just need to be creative in serving leftovers to entice your family to eat them—either you add a simple side dish to it, or make a similar but new dish out of it. Check the internet for tons of leftover ideas that your family will love.
Pro tip: Keep your leftovers fresh by storing them in tightly sealed containers instead of just shoving them into the fridge as you get up from the dining table.
Switch up your dishes.
Having variety in the food that you prepare isn’t only essential but also practical. Feeding your family with the same dish week after week may spoil their appetite, causing food wastage in the long run.
There are many ways you can turn your regular dishes into something a little more special—use a different ingredient, prepare some dip, broil instead of fry, and so on.
Ever felt like all you do is buy food and then bin them because you’ve forgotten you have them until they expired?
Believe it or not, if you follow the tips below, you can cut back on so much food wastage that your bank balance will thank you for it.
Prioritize instead of compromise.
Sometimes when you go to the grocery and find that something you needed to buy isn’t available, there’s a tendency to pick something else and make justifications that you need it anyway. When that happens, the budget for your priority items is allotted for optional items.
Do you really need to buy a new flavor of tea after finding out that the grocery has run out of low-fat milk?
Shop on sale without overspending.
The mere mention of sale can trigger impulse or excessive shopping. You may think that you’re getting a good deal from something that’s on sale without really thinking if you need that item or if you need a lot of it because you can afford it.
You may find yourself justifying that stocking up on things on sale saves you money and time, but if the items you bought on sale ended up sitting for so long in the kitchen shelf, then it’s time to reconsider your position about going on a shopping spree every time there’s a sale.
Do comparison shopping.
Some grocery stores may be more expensive than others, but they are nearer to you and have a wide and complete selection of the items you need.
Meanwhile, the grocery store that at the other town sells cheaper food products, but then it means you have to drive farther and longer, and by the time you reach the store, most of the good buys have already been taken.
If this is the case or something similar, then consider weighing your options. In which store would you be able to save significant amounts of money, time, and effort? Use your judgment to make a wise and practical decision.
Part of comparison shopping also involves comparing prices between two or more brands. Again, you need to consider several factors like quality, freshness, healthiness, and so on.
Final tips on realistic food budgets
Creating a family budget doesn’t have to frighten you, but it does require some essential things like good planning skills and the discipline to follow that plan to the letter (or number). Master these behaviors, and soon, you won’t be running into food budget problems anymore.