As I posted the other day, I made a New Year’s resolution to cut my grocery budget in half. Without compromising on nutrition, taste, and variety.
How do you go about slashing your food budget? I’ll be honest, I’m new to this budgeting thing. But I’ve got some good ideas that I am going to implement — and see if I can actually pull this off! Even if I only reduce it by 30%, that will still be a big improvement.
I’ll be learning as I go — and blogging along the way. Stay with me and we will learn together!
Here are eight steps you can take to help you slash your food budget:
Step One: Establish Your Monthly Average Food Budget
In order to accurately track what you spend per month, you need to enter everything in Quicken (or Excel, if you don’t have Quicken) for several months and then look at the monthly average for groceries (divide the monthly total by the number of months).
It’s hard to see what you’re really spending per month since a lot of the food we buy isn’t just for this month. You might buy a jar of honey that lasts you three months, or a giant bag of rice that lasts for six months. This is why you have to take an average over several months.
I did this for last year, which is how I know what we currently spend on groceries.
Step Two: Set a Goal for Cutting Your Food Budget
It’s important to set a goal — an actual fixed number — for a monthly budget. If you don’t have a number in mind, you won’t stick to it. If you’re currently spending $1000/month on food (average), and you want to cut that in half, set your goal for $500/month. If you think that’s crazy and impossible, set your goal for 25% — $750/month.
Step Three: Analyze Your Food Costs
Next, you need to analyze your expenditures. Only then can you see where you can cut costs.
This month, I’ll be posting all my food receipts. I’m also calculating the cost of food per ounce.
This is very important because you can really tell which foods cost the most and which cost the least. Especially when you compare the foods nutritionally. I’d much rather spend money on real raw grass-fed cheese instead of say, processed cereal or potato chips.
You might also find that you’re spending a lot of money on things you can do without — like disposable diapers or paper towels. Perhaps you can switch to cloth diapers and you’ll have an extra $50/month for raw grass-fed butter.
Step Four: Write a Weekly Menu Plan
Writing a weekly menu plan is not hard to do and it really helps you get organized. (If you’re a blogger, you can join the Organizing Junkie blog’s Menu Plan Monday carnival.)
And I believe menu planning is absolutely essential in economizing. First of all, you are much less prone to impulse buys and buying stuff you do not need. Also, you can balance the week’s costs — a few nights cheaper meals like beans and rice, or soups or stews — and then do something more expensive, like a roast chicken or duck and maybe some seafood on the other nights.
Step Five: Calculate Your Cost Per Meal
Now we get to the fun part. Get out your menu plan and the corresponding recipes, and figure out the cost per meal.
If your recipe calls for 4 ounces of butter and butter costs $2.50/lb ($2.50 divided by 16 ounces = .16 per ounce), that’s 64 cents. Add up all your other ingredients and you will know the cost per meal.
Don’t be too anal. Round up to the nearest penny or nickel or whatever works for you. Don’t obsess about a pinch of sea salt.
Step Six: Modify Your Meal Plan to Fit Your Budget
Tally up the costs for all your meals for the week. Multiply by 4 or 5 (depending on the number of weeks in the month) and see if you are within your monthly budget.
If not, see if you can plan some cheaper meals. Try to do more soups or stews. Make your own mayonnaise and chicken stock. Use potatoes instead of pasta. Use dried beans instead of canned. Bake your own bread… you get the idea!
Step Seven: Write Out a Shopping List
Never go to the grocery store or farmer’s market without a shopping list. This way you only buy what you need each week. You can still buy in bulk, but since you know your costs per meal and costs per week, you know you will be staying within your monthly budget.
Step Eight: Find More Ways to Cut Costs
If you want to find ways to cut your costs even more, try shopping around for cheaper sources of food. That said, I never compromise on certain foods. I refuse to buy pasteurized milk, for example. I only buy real, raw milk from farmers I trust. But I have no problem buying cheap paper towels or toilet paper.
You can also find ways to buy in bulk — either at stores like Costco (where I get my paper towels) or starting or joining a buying club for organic food. You can also join a CSA with a local farm — or buy 1/4 or 1/2 of a cow.
I also find that avoiding processed foods saves a lot of money. I’d much rather spend my hard-earned cash on healthy nutritious food like grass-fed beef and wild salmon, then waste it on nutritionally-empty foods like Doritos and Cheerios.
I’ll have more information and ideas for saving money on groceries in the upcoming weeks and months. Stay tuned!
Photo Credit: Daily Mail
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