My Secret to Slashing Our $1000/month
Food Budget In Half
Let me just start out by saying that I’m a numbers person. Always have been.
I’m flying my nerd flag high and proud on this one. I just love math, particularly when you can use it to solve a real life problem.
So, it may come as no surprise that my ideal early morning activity is sipping coffee while the rest of the house is asleep. Balancing my budget and planning our family’s finances.
Hi my name is Amanda and I’m addicted to spreadsheets.
Some of you may be like me, in which case can we please be friends?
But I’m sure many of you are scrunching your eyebrows or squinting your eyes because you are reading a post by that math nerd you avoided in school.
To which I say, let me show you my ways!
Background of Our Budget
Chris and I have been on a budget for most of our married years. We started tracking our spending and saving back in 2013 or so, when we were making a healthy double income but still wondering where all our money was going.
(Spoiler alert: student loans, two car payments, vacations, and eating out six times per week.)
Fast forward five years and we are now home owners, have two toddlers, no car payments, a student loan that’s almost paid off, and we still manage to take the occasional vacation.
We did this simply by setting priorities for our future, analyzing our spending, and giving every income dollar a job. I like to say that we now tell our money where to go, rather than wondering where it went.
The Food Budget Then
When we were first analyzing our spending, back in the pre-twins days, we realized we were spending a ridiculous amount of money on food. Like, more than $1000 per month between groceries and eating out.
Plus, we didn’t even have much food to show for that money. It wasn’t as though we had a freezer full of meals or a lot produce in the fridge. We ate out a lot because we didn’t have a plan of how to prepare our food, and we ended up throwing away a lot of perishables. Probably because we were eating out so much.
And don’t get me wrong, those early years of marriage were fun! We had the luxury of meeting up after our respective work days and spending time together at one of our favorite restaurants. Sometimes we would meet in the cafe section of our favorite high-end grocery store. But in hind sight, that money could have served us better elsewhere and we could have enjoyed that same time together at home.
Enter the food budget.
So back then, our first goal was to limit our food spending (combined groceries and eating out) to $1000 per month. There was really no plan of attack, just a knowledge that we had to limit ourselves. We eventually got the hang of it right as we found out we were expecting twins…
The Food Budget Now
Since the twins were born, Chris and I have been able to formulate more concrete plans for our financial future. We want to be debt free. We don’t want to work until retirement age. We want to travel. We want our girls to go to college without loans.
It is easier to make a plan when your goals are more concrete. We broke down our big goals in to mini goals, the first being to be debt free (except for our house) in 2018.
Thanks to overtime and side hustling and following our budget, we are on track to be debt free in August.
One of the huge aspects of our budget that has helped make that dream a reality is our food budget. We spend $500 per month on groceries, and usually less than $100 per month on eating out.
To be honest, the eating out limit has been easy, since it’s quite challenging to take the girls out to eat. Usually we go out to breakfast as a family once per month ($30) and Chris and I get a date night opportunity once per month.
The food budget has been my biggest success. While we are so lucky to have an amazing grocery chain here in upstate NY, Wegmans, it unfortunately is not the most budget-friendly of all the grocers.
When I switched to less expensive and bulk stores, and started following a plan, my food budget was able to go from consistently over $800/month to less than $500/month.
And I should mention that we eat a very healthy and clean diet. Most of our foods are fruits and vegetables, occasional animal proteins, occasional dairy, whole grains, nuts, and condiments. Many know that I follow a particular food plan in which I don’t eat any flour, sugar, sweeteners, or highly processed foods.
Here are the steps I took to slash our food budget practically in half.
7 Steps to Slashing Your Food Budget
1 — Analyze your current spending
You have to start here and there’s really no way around it. It won’t be as painful as you think. Log into your bank account and write down all the grocery store transactions for the past month. Bonus points if you look back three months. If you want to get fancy, you can calculate what percentage of your income you spend on groceries.
2 — Set a goal
Remember what I said earlier? Having a concrete goal will help you create a plan. Maybe you want to pay off your student debt faster? Maybe you’d like to save for a vacation or a home renovation? Decide what is going to motivate you to change some of your spending habits and write it down somewhere. The second part of this is setting your grocery spending goal. It can be as simple as reducing your grocery spending by $100 per month. At the end of this step you should have a spending number for your food budget for the month.
3 — Make a plan for your meals
This is a tough step for a lot of people, but I guarantee it will make a huge difference with your outcome. I highly recommend taking 10 minutes every week to plan out the following week’s meals. It doesn’t have to be super specific, especially if you’re a fan of the mix-and-match meal like I am. I like to take an inventory of my freezer and my pantry and write it all down. Then I plan just my main protein dishes and decide on the sides based on what I have that needs to be used up.
If you’re planning a recipe meal, make sure you note the ingredients you will need to make at least a double batch. You will be glad you have some extra servings in the fridge or freezer for nights when you don’t have time to cook or don’t want to. Write down your meals for the week in your planner or on your fridge. Then, write down the ingredients that you need on your grocery list.
4 — Go shopping
I like to do the majority of my shopping at Aldi and Costco. Between the two places I can get excellent quality ingredients on a budget. I probably go to Costco once or twice per month and shop Aldi the rest of the weeks.
I know which foods we use often and have gotten into a groove so that our shopping lists are pretty similar on a weekly basis. Occasionally I will shop at Walmart Grocery when I’m having a busy week, since I can order everything online and pick it up curbside without having to do the actual shopping. That right there is the ultimate mom hack.
Since I’m a nerd (we went over this), I decide what I’m buying from where based on the per unit price. If I know that frozen brussels sprouts are $1 per pound bag at Aldi, I’m not going to be tempted to buy the bulk option at Costco for $2 per pound bag. If we are talking a minuscule difference, I won’t sweat it. I try to avoid going to more than one store per week, because then the savings are not worth my time. And let’s face it, it’s quite possible that time is a more valuable resource than money. But I digress.
5 — Consume smartly and follow the plan
This next part is important so that you can avoid wasting the money that you just spent! I personally like to plan my meals for the week from my freezer, and I’m purchasing my proteins based on what’s on sale. Similarly, when planning my fruits and veggies, I’m cooking / eating the ripest options earlier in the week. I save frozen options once the fresh stuff runs out. This way I avoid the issue of throwing away produce that’s gone bad. That’s the worst!
6 — Re-evaluate and adjust as you go
Whenever you are working towards a goal, it’s important to evaluate how your plan is working! Be sure to check in with yourself on a regular basis to see how well you are following your plan and make any changes needed as time goes on. Perhaps you’re not eating all your bulk produce before they are going bad so you need to purchase in smaller increments. Or maybe you are buying chicken for your freezer stash and then forgetting you bought it. Or perhaps you planned several new, labor intensive recipes for the week and don’t have the time nor energy to cook those recipes when it comes time. That’s a sign that you may need to simplify your approach in order for you to be successful.
7 — Some advanced tips
Once you’ve done enough budget-aware shopping, you may be able to plan your meals based on what is on sale or what you know is less expensive. For example, let’s say you eat an apple every day with lunch. However, when you go to the store that week, you notice that the bag of grapefruit are on sale. They have a lower price per unit than the apples. In that case you can make a switch to your usual plan in favor of what is on sale.
Additionally, let’s say you always eat the same thing for breakfast every day. You should be able to easily figure out what and how much you need on a weekly basis and just keep it as a “standing item” on your shopping list so that you don’t have to think about it every week and you won’t be wasting food.
Keep it Simple
My last piece of advice here is to keep things simple. Think of your food budget and meal planning as a way to simplify your life, not complicate it. Grocery shopping and meal planning doesn’t stress me out anymore. I know that if I follow my plan, my family will have delicious, healthy meals and we will also be working towards our financial goals. One of my mom mantras this year is to simplify. Because I truly believe that when we simplify, we create more space in our lives for happiness and fulfillment.