How I Stick to My Food Budget


The Rest / Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

This is a guest post by Corey at 20sFinances.com. His personal finance blog focuses on how to manage your spending and invest for the future.

As any family CEO knows, sticking to your budget can be quite the difficult task. You may set up the designated amounts of your budget before the month begins, but staying under those limits is a different story. One of the biggest mistakes in budgeting that families can make is to overspend on food expenses.

Why It’s So Easy to Slip

Food expenses can be one of the most difficult categories to stay under budget. The primary reason for this is convenience. Think about the last time you didn’t have all of the ingredients for dinner. If you have already begun making dinner you certainly can’t scratch the meal altogether. This forces you to choose between two options. You can either go all the way back to the grocery store or you can take a quick trip to the closest convenience store. The shorter trip equates to happier family members. No one’s stomach is left growling for too long. The only down side to this is the extra fee that you are paying for the convenience.

My father-in-law works for a major distributing company. His company essentially provides the type food that you would find in a convenience store: candy, chips, soda, etc. You wouldn’t believe the success that his company is having right now. Despite the economic troubles of the past few years that has been putting companies out of business, the market for convenience stores is actually growing. This increase was quite surprising to me. You would think that when families are strapped for cash, the convenience spending would decrease as people are forced to plan out their spending. This just isn’t the case. Our culture’s shift towards the convenience factor takes a toll on our food budget.

How I Stick to My Food Budget

Keeping your spending within your budget and avoiding the convenience spending takes some hard work and determination. While it isn’t just a lack of planning that causes your expenses to go up, it does play a huge role. My wife and I have a monthly designated amount of $350 for food expenses. This includes all of our food expenses: groceries and eating out. While this isn’t an outrageously low figure, it is hard to accomplish for most families. To illustrate this more clearly, this equates to $11.67 per day (assuming a 30 day month) for the both of us or $5.83 per person.

In order to accomplish this without sacrificing our healthy diet (we still eat our fruits and vegetables), we do three things to stay within our food budget:

  1. ‘Brown Bag it’: Instead of eating out every day for lunch, my wife and I bring a lunch from home. Most of the time it is a sandwich, fruit and a couple of snacks, in a couple of ziploc bags or reusable container. But there is an occasional day where we will take leftovers.This saves a lot of money on our food bill. Instead of spending the entire amount budgeted for that day at lunch, we spend $1-2.
  2. Plan Out Our Meals: My wife and I created a system that helps us avoid the last minute splurges that result from being too tired to cook after work. Every Saturday, we plan out our meals for the entire week. We cook two big meals each week; we make one on Saturday and one on Sunday. We then eat leftovers through Friday and repeat the process the next week. Thus, instead of feeling like we have to go out to eat and spend a fortune, we have leftovers. It is even more convenient than going out to eat. Who wouldn’t want to have a cheap and healthy meal in the time it takes to warm it up in the microwave?
  3. Go Out to Eat Once a Month: My wife and I have been living on a strict budget for some time. This means that we regulate how often we eat out. We go out to eat once a month and we stick to this almost all the time. This may sound like a huge sacrifice to some, but when we consider what we are able to do with the savings (like a nice annual vacation), it is well worth the sacrifice.

By simply planning out our food spending in ways that are easy to regulate and maintain, we are able to save lots of money. It allows us to put our money toward more important things.

What are ways you regulate your expenses on food?

7 Replies to “How I Stick to My Food Budget”

  1. We don’t cook only twice a week, so one of the things we do is always make sure that our house has a couple staples for quick and easy meals we like- cream of mushroom over rice (we do have a rice cooker) or pasta and sauce. Both are easy and take very little time/effort and are quite low cost when you’re able to buy in bulk.

  2. We employ similar strategies. On Sundays, while we’re watching football, I will make a pot or two of soup to bring as lunches during the week. I will also prepare anything that might take too long during the week (anything that takes more than 45 minutes start to finish is too long) so it’s ready to go. We have a family agreed upon meal plan so no one is surprised by the menu choices.

    We do go out to eat once a week, though. I have earned 1 night off a week!

  3. This is a great post I’m glad there are other meal planners out there! We plan our meals for the week every sunday and try to have at least two big meals a week (monday and wednesday) so we can take the leftovers to work for lunch! Our only downfall though is living across the road from the biggest supermarket in town, we are forever popping over for treats and forgotten items!! We must learn to resist this…

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