If you have a family like mine, creating a food budget is probably nothing new. That said, food budgets can be done right and wrong. For years I was doing it wrong and never even realized it. When I did my household budget, I knew nothing at all about meal planning, for example. Meal planning is the very epicenter of any proper food budget. I was simply winging it before.
Now, using proper meal planning principles, following my local deals each week and some other basics, I am using a food budget that actually saves me money….all while eliminating waste.
So how did I learn to do this? Here are the basic changes that turned my food budget around for the better:
I stopped winging it - I used to think that knowing the dollar amount I could spend each week was good enough. I would set aside a specific dollar amount, and go to the store with that in mind. Then I would shop around the store aimlessly looking for things I sometimes ate, hoping for the best.
I started meal planning - Meal planning is the most important change. Meal planning means that I sat down and wrote out the meals my family loves the most. I then broke those meals down into ingredients and took an inventory of what I already had. Comparing the two lists, I would then write out a plan that organized family meals for that time period. Some do it by the week and some by the month. This allowed me to not only fit my budget to a dollar amount, but also to plan out a specific shopping list when I went in to the grocery store.
I embraced technology but still followed my local flyers - There are many grocery apps (I am partial to the Favado app) and so on that can do wonders to make your shopping easier, but you still need to embrace the local flyers and sales that are going on. Sometimes things are simply not advertised and this can help you a great deal in making a food budget stretch.
I embraced the “rice and beans menu” when necessary - When my food budget calls for rice and beans instead of steak and lobster, I listened. In the past I would try to push through and the budget would inevitably fail. Now, when the budget says we eat cheaply, we do. The food budget stays balanced and so does the household budget.
I learned that eating healthy does not have to be more expensive - Writing out a food budget with this in the back of your mind will lead you to making decisions that are not particularly healthy for your family. The truth is, healthy food can absolutely fit in your food budget, even eating organic foods for less money. When you meal plan, you have to consider this and learn all about substitutions. Fresh produce can take you a very long way, but there may be times of the year when you need to eat frozen veggies to save money. Learn to eat the generics and you will be ahead of the game. One of my favorite places for great prices on organic foods is Aldi. Aldi has come a long way in the last few years and
I learned to identify priorities - Sit your family down and learn about what they value in the cabinets and fridge. Everyone should have some of what they like and have input into the budget. For my kids, it is having ice cream in the house. For me, it is being able to make my favorite beet juice. This will keep everyone happy and help you to know what to pencil in first on the budget each month. You have to give yourself some simple pleasures now and then or any budget is destined to fail.
No list, no shopping - If I enter a grocery store, I know what I am there for and it is on a list. If you do this, you will walk out with what you wanted. Impulse shopping went way down when I spent my time hunting the items on my list. Simple, but effective, right?
What are some ways that you plan your food budget?