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If you are new to budgeting it can be difficult to figure out how much to budget for food. Unlike other items in our budget, the grocery budget can vary greatly from month to month. As we all know it can be easy to exceed the budget in just one trip to the store. Budgeting for food, both at the grocery store and eating out takes careful planning, but it can be done. A general rule of thumb is: $75-100 monthly per person starting at $300 for 2 people. So a couple would spend $300 (not $200) per month. A family of 6 would spend $700 per month. You can adjust this up or down based on where you live and income level.
Here are my favorite strategies to save money at the grocery store. The most important tip is to take time to do some careful planning BEFORE going to shop.
- Plan a menu for the week - Planning is key to making a food budget work. You will know what to buy while at the store and you won't have to wonder what's for dinner. The plan has been made and the ingredients are ready to go. When planning a menu for the week, look at your schedule. Plan easy meals for busy nights and then you will be less likely to go out to eat or get take out.
- Look at store weekly ads - While menu planning, take a look at the weekly ads from the local grocery stores. This will help in planning the menu. It is more cost effective to cook items that are on sale that week, rather than randomly choosing a menu items that are more expensive. If you purchase items on sale, you can do a quick search on this site for family friendly recipes. Stock up on sale items that you use often and can have on hand. Freeze meat when it goes on sale and use it later.
- Make a grocery list - Know exactly what you need for your weekly menu. Check your pantry and refrigerator for items that you already have on hand.
- If shopping with little ones, make grocery lists just for the kids - When you are at the store with your children, make it a game to stick to the list.
- Set expectations before walking into the store – Will you be getting a race car buggy? Will you be buying gum? A little pre-store conversation in the car can go a long ways.
- Give the kiddos jobs while in the store – carrying something "heavy" like a bag of oranges is a great job. All kids feel good when they can help out mom or dad by doing some of the heavy lifting.
- More grocery store jobs - Crossing off grocery list items; Reading the next item on the grocery list; Reading prices (which is cheaper?); Pushing the shopping cart; Choosing produce
- Don’t over buy on perishable items - Buy what you will reasonably use, even if it is on sale. Don’t buy in bulk if you cannot use it before the expiration date.
- Preserve and store food correctly - Put things in the refrigerator or freezer and plan to use leftover ingredients in another meal.
- Plan for leftovers - Many times it is just as easy to make more of a meal to use later (in a day or two). Especially if some of the ingredients may go to waste if not all of it is being used for the dish. Leftovers are great for meal options a couple of days later or for lunch as well.
- Make from scratch as often as possible - Avoid convenience and processed foods. Stick to the perimeter of the store.
- Buy generic instead of name brands - Generic brands are very similar in quality to name brands and cost 20-25% less.
- Look at cost per ounce - Do not assume that the bigger package is always less expensive by unit. Most grocery stores have a cost per ounce on their price label. Comparing brands and package sizes will help you make the best decision.
- Shop in season - Produce generally costs less and tastes better when it is bought during its growing season. Plan your meals around in-season produce.
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Lastly, plan for the expense of eating out as part of your monthly food budget. Eating out is more expensive than eating at home. If you are spending too much by eating out, then try to reduce the number of outings per week.