Are you trying to figure out where all your money is going each month? Is one of your biggest spending categories at the grocery store? Truthfully, groceries are likely always going to eat up a big chunk of your monthly budget, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t zero in on figuring out the right amount to spend on groceries per month.
If you are anything like me, it’s easy to go into a store without a list and a hungry belly, and you end up leaving with about $75 more than you expected. You’ll also find once your children become of age (to snack non-stop), you feel like you are at the grocery store every other day building back your stockpile.
I’ve been on a big eating out and budgeting kick when it comes to topics lately, so you know one of the best areas to save money quickly is by eating at home more. While that may run up the grocery tab, it moves up slower than the decrease in spending by eating out. However, there are still a few ways that you can make sure you are staying within a certain target.
The Always Handy, Budget:
I know, everyone is tired of me saying a budget solves all problems, but if you follow it tightly, it can be such a powerful tool when it comes to finances. Finding a balance of how much to spend on groceries per month is no different.
For some who are on a tight budget, this is more important than others who have some flexibility. For some, the right amount may be what you can afford. That may seem like a silly answer, but some may not have the luxury to buy more expensive items.
The good news: if you are careful, you can find a lot of extremely affordable meals for a family. You may get tired of eating boxed meals, and it may not always be the healthiest, but it will keep your belly full.
The bad news: inflation has hit the grocery stores as hard as anything in the economy. Looking at my history of grocery spend, my bill each month has gone up at least 15 percent, and I’m not getting any additional food.
At the same time, if you are just blowing through money at the grocery store and need help stopping impulse buying, a budget is also handy. I recommend coming up with a monthly number and tracking it as you go. It may take you a few trips to realize how much you truly are spending, but it will get easier and easier to hit your targets.
A budget will certainly help plan out your monthly grocery spend, but there are some other tricks and tips as well.
Stop the In-Between Trips and Plan:
For my family, one of the biggest things that was getting us was the multiple trips throughout the week on top of the “big trip” each week. We may have only been spending the $175 to $200 per week on our big trip, but there were two other trips each week adding up to between $50-75.
The biggest reason for the extra trips was poor planning. My family previously made our meal decisions day-by-day. We would evaluate the ingredients we had available, and just figure it out. Now, we have a board with each day of the week and plan out every dinner. We don’t worry about lunch other than on the weekends, but this has been a huge help for planning.
When making our grocery list, we can go right through the meal plan and add every item we need. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ever miss items and must go back to the store, but it has literally cut trips in half for our family.
Not only has the planning cut down on trips, but it has also cut down on excessive AND impulse purchases. For me, it was the cereal or cookie aisle. I was always coming home with something extra I didn’t need because it looked good. You can justify all day that something is on sale and you saved X amount. But if you didn’t buy it at all, you would have saved the full amount. My wife hates when I say that, but it’s true when it comes to the bargain shopper.
After a few weeks of planning out meals and trying to stop the multiple trips each week, you should get a really good feel on what a true spend should be on groceries per month. Now, remember, you’re going to have a week where things are more. Maybe you have a birthday party to supply, you want to have steaks with the neighbors – and they are expensive – or you have completely run out of snacks, so you need more than usual.
One thing I have learned is that the grocery bill is one of the most volatile budget items every single month. For me, it’s tough because we buy diapers at the grocery store as well as toilet paper and paper towels. You get a trip where you need all three, and you’re at $100 without even buying an ounce of food.
The start of this practice was eye-opening for me, so if you are truly trying to hone in and maximize your grocery spending each month, I highly recommend planning out meals. The cut of unnecessary spending and extra trips each week will add up fast.
Don’t be Afraid to be “Cheap”:
Let me clarify, I am not a cheap person, and I’m not willing to go the extra mile just to save a dollar at the grocery store. I know families that will eat some wild foods because the ultimate goal is just saving some money where possible. They may be more than capable of affording a nice haul from the grocery store, but just refuse to as being cheap is almost a competition.
However, when calculating your cost of groceries per month, there is a big opportunity for savings by shopping the store brand vs. the name brand. An example may be Tostitos chips vs. store brand chips. At times, you can save almost 50 percent if you are willing to go with the store brand.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the option for all things. A lot of snacks, cereal, and crackers are not good options because the store brands just aren’t as good, but there are other items where you can’t even tell the difference.
I would say our household is about 50/50 on name brands and store brands, but in studying grocery bills, I would say we save about 10-15% each month by buying store brands. Don’t just dive headfirst and buy all store brands the next time you go, but experiment with one or two items each trip. There will be some items that are so bad you’ll just throw the remainder away, and there will be other items you’ll be ready to argue taste better than the name-brand item you’ve known for decades.
Don’t go to the store and completely disregard your tastebuds, but don’t miss out on savings if there are items that are legitimately the exact same.
Factor in Your Specific Household:
A friend and I were just recently arguing about how much our families should spend on groceries per month. When I told him what we spend in our house, he about spit out his drink. It was a borderline lecture on how irresponsible I was for spending that much on groceries each month.
I then asked him how many times he ate out each week, and how many times he packed his lunch for work each week. Well, it was no shock to me that he ate out nearly four days a week for lunch when he was working, and his family ate out two meals per week for dinner. On top of that, he only has one kid who is six years old and is pretty much eating the same thing they do at each meal.
I eat out once a week for work, my family maybe eats out once a week, but more like once every two weeks, and we have two little ones who still require their own meal each night. And I’m not one to bash a family for eating out if that’s how they enjoy spending their money, but he was spending triple per month at restaurants compared to me.
My point isn’t to give your friends a hard time about how much they spend at the grocery per month, but to really factor in what your family is like when coming up with the answer. If you have older kids and are constantly going to games/practices, it’s going to force you to eat out even more and you may not spend as much at the grocery store. Your kids may be at school age and buy their lunch at the cafeteria every day as well.
In my case, I have two young kids that keep me tied down at home more times than not. I have a spouse that enjoys cooking, and my daughter is just picky enough that we pack her lunch every day for school. Because of so many packed meals and meals at home, we spend a fortune at the grocery store compared to some families.
That isn’t a bad thing, it’s not like we are blowing money at a casino, we are actually saving money each month by not eating out at restaurants constantly. Figuring out how much to spend on groceries each month is not a simple addition or subtraction math problem, there are several factors that must be considered.
Always be as Accurate as Possible:
If you have read anything I’ve written prior, you’ll know I preach budgets and accuracy. Planning out your costs for groceries per month is no different. Having a history in your budget will always make things easier, and you want to be as accurate as possible.
Don’t be the guy that says, “Oh, I’m really going to cut back on snacks this month and try to find some real deals at the grocery store.” If you are lying to yourself, the only thing you are really doing is setting your budget up for failure, which could put you in a bind later.
If you underestimate what you are going to spend on groceries, gas for your car, and entertainment each month (just an example), you could end up spending hundreds or even thousands more in a month than you anticipate. If you let that happen, you’re already using a budget wrong, but I have to admit I used to be bad at plugging in my estimates just to make it look like I would hypothetically save money at the end of the month.
Hypothetical money means absolutely nothing. That is like banking on a bonus at work or getting a tax return in order to pay bills.
The bottom line is: don’t let the amount you spend on groceries per month stress you out too much. It is an absolute necessity in life and there are plenty of other areas to find cuts if you find yourself in a tough position.
I have talked to so many people who are eating canned vegetables for dinner and sitting in the freezing cold because they can’t afford bills, yet they are able to stay in touch with all their friends on a $1,500 cell phone that is on a plan that costs over $100 a month.
If I’m going to preach anything, make sure you have your life priorities straight. You can go without a cell phone, internet, and cable, but you can’t go without food. There are certainly ways to help save some money each month at the store, but it isn’t the end-all, be-all to your month.
But, if you do truly want to try and be financially responsible (trust me, I don’t really want to be), there are certainly some strategies that I’ve mentioned above that can be a major help. But at the end of the day, no matter how much or how little you spend on groceries per month, having an accurate estimate to help with your budget is the most important thing.