Reader Question: How to Determine a Grocery Budget?

02/27/2010. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

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This is a question that I get asked quite frequently and I have a few tips that might help you to figure out what a good weekly budget is for your family.  I thought I would also share how our weekly budget works.

The short answer to this question is it depends.  I don’t like blanket budgets because every family is going to be different.  For example I do not have double coupons in my area so my prices are higher than others might pay.  I also have 2 in diapers- so that is an added expense for us each week.  Personally my philosophy is that you just want to live within or below your means. I could certainly spend less but I try to have a varied menu each week.  Also I don’t have any of the great grocery stores like Kroger, Publix and Food Lion that seem to have exceptional sales from week to week.

When we moved to California and I started learning to coupon we had an extremely tight budget.  I made $30 per week work for us including every single thing from diapers to groceries to cleaning supplies.  Let me tell you that was a struggle!  But we both moved here without jobs so we needed to save every penny to avoid dipping into our savings.  Once we were both employed, I increased the budget to $50.  That includes pretty much everything from dog food to toiletries.  The two items I do not include are diapers and formula.  This seems to be a very workable budget for us but I would encourage you to find the range that seems to work for your family.

Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Evaluate how much you currently spend each week. Aim to reduce that by 10% every week without sacrificing too much quality in your menus.  If you are new to couponing this is the easiest way to immediately see a difference in your weekly budget.

2. Pay attention to waste. Before I started my frugal adventure we would go through the fridge every week and toss a ton of food.  Produce that was past its prime, items that expired etc…  Now I aim to stop the waste entirely.  So I always think every week about what we will really eat.  It doesn’t mean I am stingy but I don’t buy 4 pounds of bananas if we can only eat 2 pounds.  I also try to freeze as much as I can.  So this week we had a bag of potatoes that needed to be used.  I went ahead and mashed them up and made a casserole that went into the freezer for a future meal.  If you are regularly throwing away items than you are essentially throwing out your money.  You might try scaling back a little on what you buy or try to come up with creative ideas to use those items up before they expire!

3.  Start menu planning! This alone should help to save quite a bit each week as you are planning ahead for what you might need rather than just buying whatever looks appealing when wandering the grocery aisles.

4. Get creative with recipes! I almost never follow a recipe exactly.  More often than not they require a long list of ingredients. I try to omit or substitute as many items as I can.  For example, if a recipe calls for Provolone cheese and you have Mozzarella on hand- can you substitute that ingredient?  On my menu this week I wanted to try a homemade pizza recipe with Butternut Squash and Pine Nuts.  Those two ingredients would have killed my budget so instead I found great deals on fresh mozzarella and Roma tomatoes.  Our family had a nice roasted tomato and mozzarella pizza instead.  Just as good for a fraction of the price.

5. Be honest with yourself. I would really encourage you to be honest about how much time you have and are willing to spend from week to week.  If you can spare one hour per week to prepare and organize coupons I would think you can really get your budget down.  You will likely need to spend a little extra time at the store as well if you are using coupons, but in the end you will save yourself from making extra runs to the store to grab those last minute ingredients anyway.  If you simply can’t spare that time, or you don’t want to invest the time, you can still reduce what you spend by buying low and stocking up.  See my vlog about this HERE.  You will likely wind up spending more than what a couponer might spend- but every little bit counts so even just a small difference in your budget can really add up over time.

And now for you!  What tips do you have for finding a workable budget?

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