Are you spending too much on groceries?
It might seem like a crazy question, especially after this year has forced many restaurants to close and resulted in more people cooking at home.
It’s easy to justify overspending by saying things like “it’s still cheaper than eating out.” That may be true, but your monthly food bill plays a major role in your overall financial success. It’s an area that many of us overlook when we create our budget — and it can wreak havoc on our spending if we’re not careful.
That’s why I’m a firm believer in setting a grocery budget of $100 per person per month, starting with a family size of three. So if you are a family of six, your food budget would be $600 per month.
If you’ve never set a grocery budget before, these figures might seem a bit extreme or unattainable. According to the USDA, U.S. households spent an average of about $9,000 on groceries in 2019, or $750 per month. And as household income levels rise, so does grocery spending, according to the data.
But with a bit of planning and clever strategies, you can reduce your grocery spending over time.
There are two exceptions you should know when it comes to my $100 per person suggestion.
For a single-person household, start at $200 per month. This will provide $100 for everyday groceries and an additional $100 to stock up on sale items. For a two-person household, start with $300 per month. This will provide $200 for everyday groceries and an additional $100 to stock up on sale items.
It’s also important to note that these grocery limits are for food only. Toiletries and other items such as paper towels or deodorant are not included in this budget category. You can file those items under miscellaneous or personal care categories.
Here are five tips I use to keep my own family’s grocery budget at $100 per person per month:
1. Make a list based on weekly ads
People often make the mistake of creating a meal plan first, then jotting down a shopping list based on the ingredients they need, ignoring their weekly ads altogether.
But the easiest way to save a lot of money on your groceries is to buy items when they go on sale, so start with your grocery ads first. This gives you the opportunity to price compare between stores without leaving your home.
2. Take note of your current food inventory
Knowing what you have on hand will help you avoid buying what you don’t need.
Monitoring your food inventory also allows you to create a meal plan to use up what you have, which is a key strategy to eliminate food waste and help you regularly clean out your pantry and fridge.
3. Create a weekly menu plan
You can build your meal plan based on weekly ads and what you have in your home. If you have trouble coming up with meal ideas, helpful websites like AllRecipes and Fridge to Table provide recipes based on the ingredients you want to use.
4. Pay for those groceries in cash
If you’re new to grocery budgeting and want to ensure that you don’t go over the $100-per-person budget, a great tactic is to spend with cash.
When you use cash, you’re more likely to stick to your list, since you want to avoid the embarrassment of putting an item back at the cash register when you realize that you don’t have enough money to cover the purchase.
Spending with cash gives you a physical boundary. Once the cash is gone, it’s gone. And it’s quite a different experience than using a credit card. The physical act of counting out cash requires more mindfulness. You actually see where your money is going. As your cash pile dwindles, you’re more likely to slow down your spending.
5. Buy in bulk (when you can)
This tactic isn’t only beneficial for large families; it’s incredibly helpful for single and two-person households as well. Bulk items often have a lower cost-per-unit than if you bought the same item in a smaller quantity. Plus, bulk buys don’t have to be used up all at once. They can easily be divided and broken down based on meal portions, no matter the family size. Use this strategy when buying meat, cheese, bread, rice, even coffee grounds.
Bonus tip to help you save money and time in your kitchen
Batch cooking on a regular basis helps you create a stockpile of meals for busy nights.
The next time you’re cooking, prepare a few meals at once, or double batch your favorite meal to freeze for another night. Then after a long day when you just want to relax, you’re less likely to order takeout because you’ll already have food ready for you at home.
Setting a grocery budget doesn’t have to feel restrictive and can help you become more creative with your meals, while saving money at the same time.