food_budget_money I was asked to write a little about food budgeting after my series “How to Not Menu Plan” which you can read here: Part One and Part Two.  Let’s be honest, food budgeting is HARD.  Actually all budgeting is hard.  I definitely do not have this mastered, but I do live (survive) on a tiny budget, so I figure I have some experience with this.  I don’t think I can cover all my thoughts here, so I will start with this post, and see if it later becomes a series.  If you have any questions or comments, please let me know!  I would love to include your thoughts in future posts.

My husband and I live off of one small income.  Most months I try to keep our food budget to $50/week.  I often exceed this limit, but have to compensate later when we balance budgets.  It doesn’t help that we like good, healthy food.  I could never live off of Ramen, and sometimes we have pretty specific tastes.  (For instance, I like all our meats to be grass-fed).  That said, we keep our grocery list small, and our expectations low.  Here are some of the principles I try to follow.

Planning to Shop:

  • I know prices, and I keep my own price-point list.  A price-point list is a list of what I am willing to pay per item.  This allows me to shop anywhere, and forces me to be selective.  Even if I duck into Trader-Joe’s, I still will not pay over $2 for a box of cereal.  I would encourage everyone to create their own price-point list by going to Southern Savers (run by Jenny Martin), and printing off her “Buy-Price List” pdf.  Obviously her price-points are extreme (only possible by using coupons!) but they are incredibly helpful as a guide.  If you are interested in couponing, I recommend Southern Savers and her workshops which are worth their weight in gold.  If you ever want me to post about my experience with couponing, please let me know!
  • I use Southern Savers to create all my shopping lists, whether I use coupons or not.  On her website, she keeps current sales lists for every grocery store.  For instance, here are her lists for Kroger.  I click on the latest list, check off the items I want to buy, and print off the grocery list.  These lists are drawn from the grocery fliers, so they guarantee that I will be getting a list of best-priced items.  I can add any items I might need, but try to limit myself to items on sale.
  • I know my grocery stores.  I always get milk from Kroger.  I never get meat from Whole Foods.  I always get my baking ingredients from Aldi’s.  I buy cinnamon from The Dollar Tree.  I shop BOGO sales at Publix.  I love Kroger’s MegaCart Sales. You get the idea!  I try to make only one grocery run per week.  But, I sometimes make two if it keeps everything cheaper.
  • I have a special place in my heart for Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  I can’t help loving these stores.  But, they are often far over my price-point.  So, I have a separate mental price-point list for them.  If I spend more for my produce there, I will forgo snacks, extra dinner items, and maybe that box of couscous I wanted to try (because I have plenty of rice at home).  This mentality keeps things interesting, without indulging too much.

296961544_0156ce76f5Shopping Tricks:

  • I make my own and go without.  There are hundreds of items that I never buy.  For me, they are never even an option.  Here are some food deal-breakers for me:
    • Foods that over my price point
    • Foods that include high fructose corn-syrup
    • Foods that over-processed
    • Foods that I can make at home
    • Foods that are unneccessary to our everyday meals

Examples of things I never buy are:  bread, granola bars, pop-tarts, cream soups, Bisquick, coffee creamer, soft drinks, juice, rice/pasta/dinner mixes, cake/cookie mixes, chips, flavored water, Del Monte items, (most) salad dressing, frozen meals, store-bought desserts (except ice cream), etc…

  • I shop the perimeter of the store.  I get the most items from the produce, dairy, and meat sections.  The aisles are often just “extras”.  This keeps me from buying a lot of packaged items.
  • I pretend that grocery shopping is “me” time.  Sometimes I get a cup of Starbucks coffee and wander through the store.  For some reason, I really enjoy grocery shopping, and this allows me to go slowly, think about prices, and not rush into buying anything.