When it comes to shopping at the grocery store, beginning-of- the-month Ashley and end-of- the-month Ashley are two very different people. Beginning-of- the-month Ashley thinks she’s the Queen of England. Imported Italian prosciutto for $18/lb? Sure! Aged Parmigiano Reggiano for $25/lb? Okay! Out of season strawberries for $82/oz? Treat yo’ self!
End-of- the-month Ashley is a whole different story. I feel like I’m in Les Miserables, shuffling from aisle to aisle to get the bare minimum staples while looking longingly at the European cheese stand. Poached eggs on toast and mac ‘n cheese have tided us over many times the week before a new month begins.
Keeping a grocery budget is tough. Food tends to be our biggest expense after our mortgage payment, and it’s a variable expense at that. Some months we eat out a little more often to help celebrate a holiday or anniversary; other months we don’t. Sometimes we host several families for dinner; other months we hibernate and binge-watch Netflix, introvert-style. Regardless, we try to maintain the same dollar amount for our food budget every month, about $500.
Usually by the end of a month, we’ve really depleted the contents of our fridge and pantry, so I tend to replenish a lot of our staples while I stock up on the week’s normal menu supplies — and maybe a pint or two of Haagen Dazs chocolate peanut butter ice cream, so sue me. This brings us to a total a little over what we’d normally spend in a week, which already puts me behind where I should be. Then the next week, I plan our menu and buy the ingredients, adding it to our budgeting app as I check out and cringing a little at how far behind I am and it’s only the 7th of the month. This pattern continues until we’re out of dinero and eating ketchup soup. (Okay, not really, but it feels that way.)
While I’m clearly not perfect, I do work my hardest to stay within our food budget each month. What’s great about budgeting is even if I have to go over a little bit, I’m still very close to our goal. This is the most important aspect of budgeting for TJ and me. Yes, we may have slip-ups here and there, but we’re working toward the same vision and tracking everything as we go. I may need to spend an extra $50, sure, but we know that won’t make or break us each month. And we’ve also found that by tracking everything we spend in other categories, we can save a little in one area to help pay for extra expenses in another. Maybe one month we don’t need to buy diapers, so money that would have paid for that will help extend our food budget.
When we haven’t even attempted to keep track of our food budget, it’s gotten out of control quickly. I could easily spend double our budgeted amount on food without even flinching. I love high-quality ingredients and could eat grass-fed kobe beef and white truffles every day of the week. So the fact that we have a set amount and are trying our best to stay within it helps reign in my Kardashian-style spending tendencies.
Some of the pro-tips that I’ve found help me succeed in spending less at the grocery store are as follows:
- Planning a menu and sticking with it. I usually buy one bulk amount of meat for the week from Costco, slow cook it or roast it all in one day, and add it to our meals for the rest of the week. Slow-roasted pork shoulder can turn into Café Rio-style salads, BBQ sandwiches, or tacos really easily.
- Leftovers aren’t just for grandma’s house. We eat leftovers at least three times a week, and TJ hasn’t complained yet (to my face).
- Going to the store less often = spending less money. It’s funny, when I walk into Target looking for bananas I come out with ten new pillows and an avocado hair mask…and no bananas. I try to keep my shopping trips to once a week for this reason.
- I try not to spend more than $300 by the middle of the month. That way, I can breathe a little easier knowing I’m not going to have to pull a Jean Valjean on the 31st.
We’ve also gotten used to not eating out very often, maybe once per week. And even then, we share a meal (except for fries – GET YOUR OWN). This was a really, really difficult adjustment for me. I love eating out almost as much as I love Gilmore Girls. But eating out is the fastest way to rack up spending in our food budget, so we save it for special occasions. And I’ll begrudgingly admit it’s better for our health when we eat homemade meals. One day when we’re millionaires, I’ll have a private chef and buy all the expensive food my heart desires, but for now, we’ll make it work for the sake of our budget.
What are some ways you’ve survived grocery budgeting?