Have you had a hard time setting up your grocery budget for 3? I know I have! In fact, our grocery budget is easily the hardest part of our budget. Things can really spiral out of control in our grocery budget if we don’t carefully plan for it. And sometimes I feel SO overwhelmed by couponing and looking through grocery ads. It can be confusing getting started. Not to mention the fact that I get SO DISTRACTED by all the delicious things you can buy! (I’m looking at you mini Cadberry eggs!)
But, we have worked really hard to nail down our grocery budget. Here is everything we eat, spend, and do for our grocery budget for 3.
Ever since we got serious about buckling down with a budget, it has been apparent that our grocery budget is by far the most likely category in our budget that we will overspend on. Sticking to our grocery budget has taken commitment. We both work full time and that makes the drive thru for fast food tempting just about every day. Especially knowing these days that I can get healthy options just as easily as I can get unhealthy ones—either way it completely blows up the budget.
We have a small category in our budget for eating out so that we can treat ourselves every now and then but eating out too often can definitely spiral into one out of control budget.
Here is an idea of what we buy each week during the month, to keep our grocery budget for 3 under $400 per month. While our goal is to stay under $400, we’ve found that with the right planning and in summer when our garden is producing well, we can spend about $200—half of our goal! But we leave our grocery budget set at $400 and if we end up having extra money, we throw the extra money towards our financial goals (which right now, is aggressively paying off our massive debt).
Creating a grocery budget:
Obviously you have to start by creating a grocery budget. But don’t just pull a number out of thin air! Take out some of the guess work by tracking your spending. What did you spend on groceries last month? Look it up on your bank statement. Are you surprised by how much you spent? Or maybe you didn’t spend as much as you thought? Either way, having this number of what you are spending is key to setting a new goal for what your grocery budget will be. Set a goal that will cause you to exercise some restraint, but that is not completely buckling. In the past, we were spending between $450-$550 on groceries, but we were also spending almost $200 a month eating out! We decided to set a budget of eating out at $100 per month, and then reduced our grocery budget to $400 per month. It might take you a couple of months to figure out a grocery budget number that will actually work for you and your family. But as a general rule of thumb, it should be fairly easy to keep a budget for 3 under $400. (As an aside, we also include house hold items, such as cleaner, in our grocery budget).
Some tips for sticking to your grocery budget:
(1) Each week, check your local grocer’s ad for items that are on sale.
Every grocery store I can think of has a weekly ad and most stores post their ads online. Grab their ad and check out what is on sale. Note the items that your family likes to eat. For bigger grocery chains, you can check out websites like Southern Savers where they show you how to combine coupons with the deals of the week. In addition, make sure you are keeping in mind coupons that you might have or my personal favorite, using cash back rebates and coupons to score even more savings. I personally enjoy the cash back route a little more because it doesn’t involve quite as much planning as couponing.
(2) With those sale items in mind, create a meal plan for each day of the week.
Now that you know what foods will be cheapest this week, create a menu for each day of the week. Keep in mind that your meals do not have to be fancy. (and maybe should not if you are trying to pay off big debt). You don’t have to compete with anyone on Pinterest. Just find foods that your family will eat, and conjure up some dinner ideas. You should also plan out lunches, breakfasts, and snacks as well. You don’t have to plan out when and what meal will be eaten each day, but have a running list so you can have those sale items at home and then your family can choose what they want to eat (especially for breakfasts, snacks, and lunches) The extent to which you are prepared with meals on hand is the extent to which you will succeed in your grocery budget.
(3) Create a shopping list that coordinates with your meal plan.
Now that you have meal ideas, create your shopping list. The majority of items on your list should be sale items, but you don’t need to beat yourself up if you need a few things not on sale. Keep those non-sale item things in mind though, so that when they do go on sale, you can stock up! When you are creating your shopping meal plan and shopping list, keep in mind that convenient pre-made foods and snacks are expensive and can quickly blow up your budget. As a general rule of thumb, making something at home will be cheaper than pre-made.
(4) Never ever vary from your grocery list.
Never vary from your grocery list. Ever. Not even if you see something at the store that you think you absolutely need. If it is not on the list, don’t buy it. This will do a few things– 1) It will teach you discipline. Buying only what you intended to buy at the grocery store is probably the number one thing that will help you stick to your grocery budget each month and 2) it will help you be more careful planning your grocery list for the following week.
Here is a rough example of what a month of grocery shopping looks like for us. We try to eat healthy, but we splurge every week for a treat of some kind—usually one or two bags of candy, ingredients for cookies, or ice cream. This helps us feel more balanced and makes us less likely to binge eat/spend money. By all means if you can skip the treats, save yourself some money and calories.
We do a lot of our grocery shopping at Aldi, Sprouts, and we take advantage of deals and coupons on Amazon.
Week 1 Grocery Shopping List
Brown rice ~$1
Ground Turkey ~$3
Sweet potatoes ~$3
Fruit (whatever is in season and on sale) $6
Vegetables (whatever is in season and on sale) $5
Whole wheat thin bagels $2
Greek yogurt x2 $6
= $37.50 (plus tax)
Week 1 Meal Plan:
Dinners: eggs + bagels, chorizo bowls, sweet potato nachos, chicken and cheese bagel sandwiches, spaghetti,
Lunches: dinner left overs
Breakfasts: eggs, oatmeal, or smoothies
Snacks: fresh fruit, greek yogurt, fresh vegetables
Week 2 Grocery Shopping List:
Peanut butter $4
Oats (whole rolled oats in large container, $1.99, Aldi)
Italian Salad Dressing $3
Chicken $10 (on sale $1.89/lb, Aldi)
Total =~$44 (plus tax)
Week 2 Meal plan:
Dinners: Italian chicken and rice, Thai noodles, left overs, eat out,
Lunches: left over dinners
Breakfasts: oatmeal, eggs, smoothies, overnight oats
Snacks: fresh fruit, cheese, vegetables, peanut butter oat bites
Week 3 Grocery Shopping List:
Diapers (Target) $15
Toilet Paper $6
Cleaning Spray ~$4
Frozen pizza $3.50
Pasta sauce $2
= $60.50 (plus tax)
Dinners: frozen pizza, broccoli spaghetti, banana pancakes, sushi bowls, chicken and rice, left overs, soup
Lunches: left overs, sandwiches
Snacks: Fruits, vegetables, cheese, boiled eggs
Week 4 Grocery Shopping List:
Tilapia (on sale Aldi) $5
Deli meat $4
Unsweetened Coconut flakes $2
Sweet potatoes $3
Fruit $6 (on sale seasonal items at either Sprouts or Aldi)
Vegetables $5 (on sale seasonal items at either Sprouts or Aldi)
Brown rice: $1
=$41 (plus tax)
Week 4 meal plan
Dinners: Coconut tilapia with sweet potatoes and broccoli, chicken with rice, omelets, left overs, banana pancakes, chicken sandwiches
Lunches: sandwiches, left overs
Breakfasts: smoothies, overnight oats, eggs
Snacks: toasted bagels, fruit, vegetables, Greek yogurt
Your grocery budget does NOT have to be a big deal. With a little careful planning you can easily create and stick to a grocery budget. It is crazy how taking a tiny amount of time– ten minutes or less– to plan out some meals based on what is on sale each week can literally save you hundreds of dollars!
What things have you done to stick to your grocery budget? We’d love to hear from you!
P.S. If you want to learn more about how to save more on groceries, sign up for this FREE grocery budget makeover workshop: