AJ: We love food, and our budget (and sometimes our bodies :)) reflects that. It wouldn’t be realistic for us to set a $300 food budget for ourselves, because that isn’t at all in line with how we choose to enjoy our lives. Generally, our food budget is fairly simple: 50% is spent on groceries (which includes alcohol, toilet paper, personal care, etc), 40% is spent on restaurants, and 10% is spent on fast food. Most months those percentages shift, and a lot of months we under spend our food budget and reward ourselves with extra slush fund savings.
My tips for successfully making and sticking to a food budget:
Plan, plan, plan
KJ: The key to our food budget is in the planning and preparation steps that we (mostly Angela) take. Really knowing where you stand in terms of upcoming meals allows you to know when you have choices. My strength is in identifying the financial aspects of the budget and her key strength is in getting creative to come up with solutions to make it work for our family.
AJ: Don’t budget significantly below what you typically spend in a month on food unless you’re planning on really changing your habits.
KJ: Don’t lie to yourself by thinking you can stick to some uber-rigid and ridiculously cheap plan that you do not want to follow-through. Sure, you could spend $50 per month for food for two individuals (read, eat lots and lots of beans, rice, and pasta). In fact, Angela once forwarded me a blog about a family of four (yes, a FAMILY of four) that would once a year take a month and ONLY spend $100 on their food. While I am not suggesting someone go to that extreme, it just shows that it is possible if you are dedicated to the plan. My philosophy is that just like a diet, if you are too rigid and unrealistic with your expectations then you are ensuring that you will not be able to stick with the plan long-term. Saving typically is not about short-term goals (yes, occasionally there are some very short-term goals), but rather it is often about fundamentally changing your spending and savings behavior, so the more thought out and planned, the better chance you have for long-term success.
Make a menu
AJ: I make my menus 4-6 weeks in advance, which is extreme, but it works for me. It ensures I don’t repeat meals very often and prevents that last minute “we have nothing to eat” panic. I also make grocery lists at the same time I make my menu. Of course I add in any incidentals that come up as needed, but it ultimately saves me time and energy (and money).
AJ: Grocery store loyalty programs and restaurant email lists provide significant rewards. I’m particularly fond of the new Tom Thumb “just for u” program. It takes a little more time to pre-load the coupons to my account through the site or app but the savings are personalized to things I regularly buy and the savings are significant.
Plan for change
AJ: If your day goes long and you don’t make it home in time to feed your starving family a homemade meal, adjust your menu and aim to make up what you spent eating out in the next week’s menu.
KJ: We make sure to build some flexibility in our plans since just like a diet, rigidity is not sustainable. Plans do change, so be realistic that plans change and work into your plan the unexpected work, family, or friends curveball. Stressing out about a sudden change of plans will only make your strategically built plan suddenly crumble.
AJ: For us, being rigid in our planning makes us more flexible when we want to enjoy ourselves. If you plan to always be under budget, just keep adjusting as you go. Don’t deny yourself everything you enjoy now in the hope of indulging for the last 25 years of your life. Find the right balance for you and your lifestyle.
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