Coming up with a grocery budget can be such a daunting task. Let me help you to break it down and make your life easier and your wallet bigger!

Learn how to set your grocery budget - Tips from ShelfCooking.com

I can’t tell you how many times I would just blow money at the store before I finally figured out my grocery budget. Now, I’m much better at only buying what I need and not letting my food go to waste since I’m not buying too much at a time. And I can help you to do the same!

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So grab some chocolate, get comfy, and let’s talk about how to set up a grocery budget. And don’t worry, we’ll talk about setting up a few other budgets while we’re at it!

WHAT SHOULD YOUR GROCERY BUDGET BE?

Let’s start with the million-dollar question: how much money should you spend on groceries?

Here’s the short answer: my suggested grocery budget is $100 per person per month, starting at $300. (You households with only two people just drew a get-out-of-jail-free card!) $100 per person means exactly that: each person in your house – newborn baby, grade-schooler, teenager, or adult – gets $100 per month.

Some of you may be thinking, “Oh yea, that’s totally doable!” Then others are definitely thinking, “What!? Are you kidding me right now? No way will that EVER work.” Before you start freaking out on me, just know that I’ve been blogging about this and following this rule for years! I’ve had so many people who have followed my advice, meal planned, shelf cooked, and grocery shopped the frugal way. For them, $100 per person isn’t only doable, but it’s totally reasonable, too!

However, it won’t be reasonable for everybody. You may live in a place where food is crazy expensive (I’m talking to you, Hawaii!). There may be someone in your house with health issues or dietary restrictions. You may live way out in the middle of nowhere and you only have one store within 50 miles that just happens to be crazy expensive. There may be some veracious teens who can basically eat you out of house and home every. single. meal. If this is the case for you, then that’s okay!

INCREASE YOUR BUDGET A LITTLE AT A TIME

Try as hard as you can to start with the $100 per person per month. I want you to try it for THREE MONTHS (yes, you heard me right). If that doesn’t work, slowly add a little more to your budget each week to make it more reasonable for your family. I recommend increasing the budget by $25 per person per month ($125/person/month). Again, try that for 3 months. If it’s still unreasonable, increase a little more, but never by more than $25 increments.

If you use the shelf cooking method, I promise you it is DOABLE, POSSIBLE, and even completely REASONABLE! Just trust me, and try it. (Still don’t trust me? Head to our Shelf Cooking Community Facebook group and talk to the thousands of people all over the world who can attest!)

HOW TO SET A GROCERY BUDGET

I recommend breaking down your family budget into three categories: grocery, other, and family. So what, exactly, is a grocery budget? You know, that $100 per person per month?

The grocery budget includes anything you could find at a neighborhood grocery store. We’re not talking Costco or Super Walmart where you can buy anything from dog food, to bed sets, to coffins, and lawn mowers. We’re talking your standard, neighborhood grocery store. They don’t have power drills and sheets for your bed, but they have most of the basic items you might need to buy on a day-to-day basis; grocery, pharmacy, pet food, and a small household aisle.

The grocery budget comes down to one main thing: consumables. Consumables are things you use regularly and need to replenish on a weekly or monthly basis. Examples of grocery budget items include food, milk, shampoo, sodas, dog or cat food, baby wipes/diapers, formula, shaving cream, zip-lock bags, basic kitchen utensils and baking items, cleaning supplies, medicine that you can buy off the shelf (like headache or cold medicine), makeup, toilet paper and other toiletries. 

What about eating out? This leads us to our next budget to discuss!

OTHER BUDGET

The next budget I recommend having is what like to call your “other” budget. This budget is money that you set aside for normal, regular, non-grocery expenses, that you spend money on week-to-week. Most of the time, these are want-to-have items, not need-to-have items.

Examples include: home decor, clothing, haircuts, babysitting money, getting the car cleaned, school pictures, lunch with friends, spa treatments, shoe shopping, birthday gifts, date night, eating out, and so on. Again, this is a budget for typical week-to-week, non-grocery spending.

But…what about bills, utilities, lessons, and other family expenses? Enter, our last budget!

FAMILY BUDGET

The last category is the “family” budget. This category includes expected, set monthly expenses involving the family, house, and travel, as well as unexpected expenses involving the family. These are non-grocery, family-oriented expenses, as well as things you save up for. Some of these expenses are want-to-have, but many are need-to-have.

Examples include utilities (gas, electric, cable, internet), medical expenses (co-pays, medical bills, insurance), car expenses (gas, repairs, new tires, registering the car, oil changes), home costs (mortgage payment, homeowners insurance, home repairs, new water heater), and items you save up for (new furniture, TV, or other large household expenses, vacations, new car).

Pro tip: if it can be set up on auto pay, it almost always belongs in the “family” budget. 

HOW TO TRACK YOUR BUDGET

Once you’ve established your budget, you need a way to track your grocery budget. My simple, no-fail trick? Track your budget weekly instead of monthly! For a family of four, for example, you’ll get $400 a month. Broken down, you’ll get $100 a week (assuming the month has four weeks). 

Why do I choose to track my budget weekly rather than monthly? Would you count your calories one month at a time? The numbers are hard to track, it’s hefty math, and it’s challenging to pace ourselves. Budgets are the same way. Break it down so you are only tracking your budget 7 days at a time instead of 30 or 31. You’ll be able to stay on budget 1,078% more effectively! (Ok so that statistic was made up, but is pretty much accurate, I’m sure!)

Here’s another simple trick that will help you track your budget: buy all your groceries (and everything else, for that matter) with an electronic card instead of cash. By electronic card, I mean either a debit card or a credit card, depending on your level of self-control. Just don’t use cash, because tracking cash is a nightmare. (Unless this is how you roll, which I applaud you for because it’s so hard!)

After your weekly shopping trip, put your receipts in your budget envelope for that week and make sure you stay in line with what you have budgeted. If you came in under budget, give yourself a giant pat on the back! Now you’ve got some extra money to put into savings or to spend in a later week if you run into some irresistible sales. If you came in over budget, you’ll need to adjust for the other weeks in the month. 

NEED MORE HELP WITH YOUR BUDGETS?

If you like what you’re hearing about the different budgets that I use, then you should check out my online money program, Budget Boot Camp. It’s a fun video series that walks you through your whole budget and gives your money a purpose! Use the code SCBLOG for 10% off because I love ya 😉

I’m so sure of my program that if you don’t save AT LEAST what you paid for the program, I’ll refund every dime. You’ve got nothing to lose!

HOW TO STAY ON YOUR GROCERY BUDGET

The number one way to stay within an established grocery budget is to become an expert at shelf cooking. One of the primary benefits of shelf cooking is the impact it has on what you’re spending on groceries every month.

WAYS TO STAY ON BUDGET

  • Make frugal meals. Save your meals that include expensive meats and finer ingredients for the weekend, rather than making them throughout the week.
  • Don’t be wasteful! Use, use again, then reuse again! Don’t throw anything away. There are so many ways to repurpose leftovers into different meals if you’re tired of eating the same over and over.
  • Buy extra when items are on sale (as long as your budget allows it) and stock your pantry or freezer with extras for later! Then you can shop your stock of food at home when you need something instead of having to go buy it at full price.
  • Try doing your grocery shopping at a different store! Follow my grocery shopping on a budget tips from this post to learn how to get the most out of your grocery budget.
  • When you’re cooking, make extra and freeze it. It’s really simple to double and freeze what you’re making. You’ll thank me when you have a crazy busy day and forget to set something out for dinner. It’s so much easier (and cheaper) than grabbing take out!
  • Remember that your grocery budget is ONLY for groceries and other consumables. The money that you spend eating out should come from your “other” budget. (That having been said, eating out should happen infrequently, not regularly.)
  • Have someone else do your grocery shopping for you! You can use Walmart Grocery Pickup (click on that link and get $10 your first order of $50) and have your groceries loaded into your car for you OR use Instacart and pay for someone to do your grocery shopping and deliver them to your house. Either way, you’re sure to save money because you don’t have to worry about impulse buys!

DIETARY NEEDS

If someone in your family has special dietary needs, you already know the impact that can have on your grocery budget. Many of the same principles still apply. Use the following tips to adjust to your individual situation:

  • Buy the things that are on sale, and stock up when (if) they go on sale.
  • Pick your battles. You most likely don’t need to buy EVERYTHING from a specialty store.
  • Even organic things can be bought at a discount from places like Costco.
  • Grow your own organic veggies, and you will significantly save on your grocery bill. Gardens can be BIG, and once you’ve invested a little seed money (literally), they are virtually free!

HOW TO SAVE MONEY

Let’s say that your toddler is the one with food allergies. Consider buying everyone else healthy, but not specialty, food so that everyone else’s grocery budget can be cheaper. Since he’s just a toddler, he probably doesn’t eat that much. If the rest of you can eat gluten and corn, there might not be any reason for all of you to eat corn-free and gluten-free as well.

If you choose to buy organic, that’s totally okay. However, if he is the only one with specific special dietary needs, everyone else probably doesn’t need to eat all the same foods he does. It might be tough on him to eat differently than everyone else at first, but he will be faced with that for the rest of his life, so he’ll get used to it eventually either way. 

It will certainly be more work for you to make two separate meals, but it’s an easy way to cut your bill in half. If you make pizza, for example, make him a small one with his special gluten-free foods, and make everyone else’s pizza with non-gluten-free foods. Doing so could potentially save half or more on your groceries!

If you choose to spend more on groceries, that is your choice. We are all 100% free to choose how to spend our money, and if it needs to be groceries for you, that’s totally okay! Just choose other areas in your life to sacrifice and be disciplined in so it all balances out.

How do you do your grocery budget? What do you struggle with? Let me know in the comments!

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