Mrs. Micah’s Single Step Personal Finance Challenge: Grocery Budget

Mrs. Micah has given her readers a challenge: “Find one step you can take to make your financial system better or more organized.” We all have areas of our budget that need improvement, and we’re no exception. Our grocery budget category often causes us problems and needs some “fixing”. This month, I’ll work on making our grocery budget “work” more efficiently for us – first by identifying what the problem is and then by coming up with solutions to try out.

First, the problem(s): We overspend our grocery budget pretty much every month (Husband says that means we have it budgeted wrong and he’s probably right. However, I am ever-hopeful that we can spend less on food than we do, but it’s really not practical at this point). This is due to a couple of things: 1) We (I) usually spend a lot on groceries at the very beginning of the month. We’re running low on basics at that point and I often find good sales on things we use. 2) Much of what I buy takes some bit of forethought, planning, and preparation and with our schedules, we can’t always use the food I’ve bought in the time we have to prepare it so we end up eating out.

Now, the (possible) solutions: 1) Instead of viewing our grocery budget as $400 per month, I could break it down and limit us to either $200 every two weeks or $100 per week. Doing that should help fix the problem of spending a big chunk of the budget at the beginning of the month. 2) Husband and I could sit down and come up with meal ideas that we find to be a good balance between healthy/fresh and convenient. From there, I will have a better idea of what to buy when I get groceries. Husband often tells me to buy easy to prepare food, but that’s so vague to me that I end up getting my usual stuff and then we’re stuck again. 3) We could also plan a “cooking day” where we cook up a bunch of meals for the week/month and then freeze or otherwise store them as appropriate. While I like this idea, it just isn’t convenient for us right now.

We’ll probably have to wait until August, or even September to see how these ideas really work, because the next two weeks are super busy for me and then I’ll be out of town for two weeks. We can still try and work the ideas in a bit, but we won’t be able to really test them out until mid-August or even September. Feel free to check in with me and ask how it’s going, though!

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  • The Green Room  On July 18, 2008 at 1:23 PM

    My suggestion to you is to break it down by week. If you buy only what you need for one week at a time that will leave you a little cash for eating out (cheaply of course) when you don’t get to make a meal on a hectic night.

    Consider what your family is going to eat for breakfast and lunch on most days during the week your shopping for. These seem to be the easiest meals to plan for (cereal, fruit, eggs, bread, etc.) Add a couple of simple to prepare meals like some frozen pasta and sauces. Prepared pasta costs more than unprepared ($2.00 or $3 more) but still cheaper and easier to have a meal at home. I’ve also read about cutting the budget WAY DOWN if you make breakfast for dinner one night a week too.
    When you do have to eat out, consider purchasing your prepared meal at the supermarket. You can get a pretty good meal out of there for less than sitting in a restaraunt. For example, the supermarket in my city sells a roasted rosemary chickens for $7.99 and large prepared salads (ceasar salad, cobb salads, etc.) for about $5.00. If you have a bag of frozen vegetables at home you have a healthy dinner for the familly for about $14.00 bucks.

    We’re a family of three and we’re all good eaters but this will leave us some left over chicken which will make either a pasta salad with chicken. We cook bow tie pasta, add some grape tomatoes, basil, and feta cheese. Viola a meal for the next day.

    If you’re a larger family than us this might just get you by for dinner. But if you start to consider what costs a family of four or more to go out to a resteraunt (even a cheap one) including tip, you could spend over twice the amount blowing your entire weekly food budget .

    Best of luck!

  • frugalvettech  On July 19, 2008 at 9:45 PM

    Thanks for all the suggestions! I hadn’t considered the frozen pasta route (other than for tortellini) – I’ll have to look in to that next time I do some grocery shopping.

    Breakfast for dinner is great – we love doing pancakes. We haven’t done that for a while and now that you’ve mentioned it, I want some pancakes for dinner soon.


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