Last week’s frank and honest discussion answering, “What are Your Monthly Food Costs?” was quite eye opening. I so appreciate everyone sharing, and yet am nearly at a stale mate with how to begin addressing the varying ranges. Reading the comments gives valuable insight, for sure.
One of the first priorities I recommend when asked for advice on lowering food expenses is to discipline oneself to track every single transaction for one month.
I’ve shared before that I am a “Type Z” person, so this task may come naturally for wonderfully, organized Type A people, but for me, it’s daunting, overwhelming, and yet one of the most crucial aspects in really understanding where a large portion of our budgets siphons out each month.
Just like any weight loss program, which requires you to track every thing you eat for a certain amount of time, noting all food expenses during the course of a month is going to revolutionize the way you think about your monthly food costs, and ultimately, how you spend.
For instance, have you ever gathered your evening recipe ingredients together and found that you forgot the sesame oil for your Simple Sesame Chicken, thus running to the store for just a “few things?” Typically, those “few things” get lost when the monthly budget gets calculated. Discipline yourself to Mark it down under groceries.
Did you swing through the drive through tonight when you realized you forgot to start the crock pot? Mark it down under eating out.
Did you buy Gatorades and chips for your guys during their soccer games? Mark it down under snacks.
Some of you are already completely overwhelmed just trying to get dinner on the table, so tracking a month of expenses seems like a lot to ask. Just begin with baby steps. If one month is too much, challenge yourself to one week at a time. If you are serious about lowering your expenses, I encourage you to just start somewhere.
One of my friends shared that when she first began this process, she kept her worksheet in her purse and jotted each transaction down just like she did in her check register. She began examining it, and since she realized she spent more money on fast food during the weekends, she started planning more meals for the weekend to curb that tendency.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. When you are handed your receipt, just jot down the total. Don’t worry about adding it up until later.
Now honestly, for this Type Z leaning gal, that sounds a bit stressful, so I kept a little zipper pouch in my purse and every single time I purchased anything in the food department, I added the receipt to that purse. I didn’t stick it in a pocket or my wallet, it went in the special food pouch. That way, I had them in one spot and could deal with the tracking at a later time.
This may seem tedious, but you will be surprised at the areas in which you spend. You may realize your meat expenses have skyrocketed, and you need to brainstorm creative solutions for making it more manageable. Or maybe the convenience foods that you purchased for the kids’ lunches are 1/4 of your monthly budget, necessitating the need to implement that bulk baking strategy you’ve heard me speak of earlier.
In order to facilitate the ease of this
chore, discipline, privilege, we are providing a FREE Printable, Monthly Food Tracking Worksheets in two different styles. One budgeting worksheet with the weeks separated, and one budgeting tracker where the days are separated. Pick the style that seems easiest for you to implement, and make this tool work for you.
Once you have that food budget in line, you won’t have to continue doing this every month. Some choose to continue it because tracking keeps them accountable, but after awhile, your food budget will be second nature, and may only need a quick overview every month, which is where I am at now.
Where are most of you at in terms of tracking your food budget?
Many of you had a guesstimate of how much you spent each month, but have you ever tracked your food budget in a detailed manner or are you more of a “as long as the money is in the bank we’re good” kind of person?
There’s room for everyone, and all different opinions, since we are all on this journey together. 🙂
So what are you cooking up for Tasty Tuesday?
Those that are linking up, please remember these few requests. Due to the large numbers of links, I ask that you not link up more than TWO POSTS in one week, and recent ones are recommended.
Simple Rules for Tasty Tuesday Parade of Foods – As always, please link directly to your recipe post and not your blog URL, so that everyone can find the recipe months from now.
Also, link back here in your post so that everyone can join in the fun, it’s just common courtesy of blog carnivals. Please do not link up a recipe meme that you have started. Thanks for your understanding.
Thanks for the hard work on the worksheets. I’d love to think I would be disciplined enough…but I am a “if the money’s in the bank we’re good” type of person. On the other hand, I hate going to the grocery pumped up because I have a lot of good coupons, matched with the sales, and I stick completely to the list…only to walk away from the checkout feeling defeated because it ended up being way more than I had hoped it would be. I am going to do the receipt idea you have suggested. That’s a good place to start for me.
I love the idea of a separate pouch in my purse for all receipts! They tend to get lost in the mess of Kleenex, gum wrappers, and 25 pens I seem to carry around. We do have a special canister on the buffet at home for all receipts so my husband can take them and enter them in our spread sheet. That is – if I can find them in my purse and remember to put them there!
I linked up a post on the possible links to the early puberty onset trend. I thought it might interested to your readers.
Thank you so much for this opportunity!
I am a type Z person too. I tried several different grocery budget systems and threw in the towel after a few months. It was helpful though and I really should start it back up again. Perhaps I will try your budget sheets. Thanks!
In April of this year I began a serious lowering of our grocery budget because my husband was scheduled to stop working at the end of August. I set a monthly budget amount (about 60% of what we had been spending) which had to include all household (paper products, cleaning supplies, etc.), personal care products, eating out and vitamins. I used a free spreadsheet that I found online to track every receipt total. Additionally I made a “best price” list of things I buy all the time, that I can carry with me or refer to when looking at sales fliers and I began using coupons more deliberately than I had before. Yes I am type A; no, it isn’t really fun! However, as of September we have succeeded in meeting that budget. I no longer have to add much to the best price list but I do continue to put all receipts into the spreadsheet. I find seeing the total add up through the month allows me to adjust if I’m over half by the 15th . Occasionally I want to quit, it is a fair amount of work, but we are working toward a goal of setting up a ministry that will require us to live on a lower income. It is worth it!
Thank you for hosting! This week I have shared the following seasonal farm-to-table recipes that promote the benefits of good health through nutrition from eating fresh unprocessed seasonal produce:
mizuna-n-sorrel chimichurri on zucchini pasta
brazil nut pesto cream & heirloom tomato alfredo
The Intentional Minimalist
I started keeping a running total for each month in the same notebook that I have my produce shopping list in. After 2 months of tracking, it’s fun to see the changes. My goal this month is to do only 1 stock up and focus on using whatever is leftover in the garden.
Yesterday, I found green beans and carrots, enough to include in a Minestrone Soup that I made for dinner.
Thank you for this! This has been the one part of our budget that is a constant challenge for us! Honestly, last month I gave up tracking everything because I just got tired of how much I wasn’t accounting for! We’ve tried to “give every dollar a job” but when it comes to food it’s been hard.
I posted on the other thread as well. I find all of this interesting and these are some of my favorite blog posts.
I do track my spending, actually for everything. We went through Financial Peace and this is one habit I kept. It keeps me on track. Yes, I’m the nerd. I also use envelopes. Using the envelopes is wonderful. Honestly I don’t think I would have to track my expences while using envelopes but I really like to keep tabs on the money.
Something that might help with budgeting this area. Dave recommends food to be between 5-15% of your income. My current percentage averages at 7% and that includes eating out.
This is the second time today – in less than two hours – I’ve come across that “separate pouch for receipts” idea. Hmmm, maybe it’s a hint. Sure would cut down on the clutter in my purse. I’ll have to try it.
i just mentioned to my husband this week that we needed to do some serious tracking, as it seems we are bleeding cash. . . and all towards food and personal items. thanks for the forms. these will be helpful!
I am married to an accountant and as a result I have been tracking our food expenditure for over 20 years. I can remember when there were 4 of us plus countless hungry teenagers and I could feed everyone for $45.00 a week.
This year I am averaging about $9 a day just for my husband and myself. However, we are now part of the gray haired brigade and have some health restrictions that mean no white potatoes, regular pasta, white flour, white sugar, etc. I also have to make sure I get enough protein so we buy protein powder for shakes. Milk is also an issue now so we have to buy soy milk. This eating healthy gets expensive:)
Last year, with the same restrictions, I could feed us on $5 per day. That is quite a jump in one year!
I have mentioned the site/program in the past on your blog, but thought I would throw it out there again (no commission or anything, although I wish I got it for the amount of people I have recommended it to!!) – youneedabudget.com. It goes great with Dave Ramsey too! There are quite a few people on each site referencing the other. It has been a total life changer for us, but this last year was a huge eye opener! Our food expenses have gone up every.single.month since this time last year. Noticeably higher. At first I brushed it off as being the Holidays, etc., but then it came blatantly obvious that it was just the cost of food in general going up. I am actually going to the store less, buying pretty much my usual stuff each time, and still going over anywhere between $25 and $75 each month. I have 3 LOs (4, 2, 6 months – hence my limited grocery store trips) and need to get myself organized enough for coupons and sales ads again. Coupons are tough b/c I rarely use what they offer so I am hoping to at least get some freebies for our local food pantry or something.
I just looked back through the budget and early last year I was spending between $250 and $300 per month… the last three or four months it’s been closer to $500!! Sheesh! Granted our children are adding a bit more to that cost as they get older, but not THAT much!
thanks for the idea about using a ziploc bag for receipts. Mine always get stuffed into the pockets of my purse as I’m gathering kids and groceries to head to the car. I’m going to try it this month and hopefully have a better idea of exactly what the grocery budget is being spent on. Thanks 🙂
As Renee mentioned this post goes hand in hand with Dave Ramsey as well. My husband and I also keep our costs down by using e-mealz and working coupons. I’m not an extreme couponer but do save around $25-30 per shopping visit with very little effort. Thank you for sharing this! It’s a reminder to keep a watchful eye on our spending habits.
Great resources and ideas, thanks!
Thanks for hosting!
I grabbed your printable too. I use southernsavers.com for coupons and already track my savings on a monthly basis, but it would be nice to know how much I spend on a weekly basis after coupons. We try to keep our weekly grocery budget around $100-$75 for our family of four. (This number includes personal care, paper products, etc.) My job cut hours so we have resorted to this budget. This budget is often not even good enough as we sometimes go over. Hopefully tracking each and every penny will help me determine where I can cut costs or where I am overspending. I was going to the farmers market every other Friday for my produce, but recently have not been able to make it. I think I need to make it a point to GET THERE!
I can finally say that our food budget is great! We spend approx 150-250$ bi-weekly.
Why the gap differences in numbers?
Because life happens and budgets come first. If we have an unexpected bill come in, that comes first. We don’t live beyond our means, and we have the gift to make meals out of very little.
Sometimes our shopping trips are “bulk” buying trips to stock up the pantry, then we are good for a couple of months. However, that always costs us more than a regular shopping trip.
However, our priorities in buying food is:
3. Unexpected bills (it happens all the time!)
We cook and rarely go out to eat, and buy very little processed foods.
Due to our budget, which is checked weekly, we don’t have any more issues in overspending in food. Though it took us years to get here and it is an ongoing process. How rewarding!
It makes it clear what ‘wants’ vs ‘needs’ are in the grocery bill, and questioning ourselves “Are we actually planning on cooking with X THIS week?” “Can it wait?”
Very much enjoying your posts and look forward to more!
I pull out cash for the month for our grocery budget. I also write down each grocery purchase….but there are still times that I forget to write the small things when it comes to our other cash pull outs. I am excited to start this though, to help me see where all our money goes.
This is a BIG area of focus for me right now! I found the spreadsheets too difficult to manage and stick to (I created one of my own that I’ve tried to work with off and on), but I have found a FANTASTIC FREE website that is absolutely incredible and almost automated (one you get it set up). http://www.mint.com check it out!! Once you get it set up (took me about 3 total hours, but that’s because I really messed around with categories and added every bank account, retirement savings account and loan that I have to it). When you go shopping it AUTOMATICALLY puts your purchase in a category based on where you shopped and what categories you put that store into before (or it guesses based on the store name). You can break it down even more by SPLITTING up the shopping trip into multiple categories (So for Target I usually split that up into groceries, household supplies and clothing if I bought things out of each category). OR, just leave it in the category that it chose. You can even set up a monthly budget for each category and it will give a pie chart or bar graph to show you how you are doing (and you can set it up to send emails when you go over budget). There is just SO MUCH it can do for you, and MOST of it is automated beyond initial set up. Did I mention it is FREE?!?!
Yes, Mint is great. I have blogged about it a few times and it will definitely be mentioned again this month. 🙂
@Denise, I’m trying mint.com and love the IDEA of it, but do yourself a favor and don’t go crazy adding a budget and categories until you’re sure that it will update your bank account properly! In my case it keeps leaving gaps of a couple of months in my bank’s transactions, and unfortunately without it keeping up with my purchases the rest of the cool features seem pretty useless. I do love the features on it though, and am trying to find an alternative if anyone has suggestions for a budgeting site that you can upload bank transactions to.
thank you for the printables! I also like the idea of a separate wallet for receipts and will start doing that just in case i miss something. i have started doing envelopes again and i’m sure that will help. so loving this series!! 🙂
I personally dont have time to put into tracking my purchases every single day, but I do keep a pretty accurate tally of them in my head. It also helps that I have several bank accounts (4) that my money goes into every payday, direct deposit specific amounts going into each. Only out of one do I spend freely, and that is the one that groceries & other incidentals come out of. Even so, Im not squandering much and never have been much of a fast food/drink/latest fad junkie. I’ve been thinking recently that I should probably move another $50-$100 per pay to either a bill account or a savings account. I dont really NEED it.. but its nice to know its there and when I find a great deal on meat or some other deal, I can spend largely on it & stock up for a much lower base price, which helps out hugely in the long run.
Well we seriously went OVER budget last month. It was an eye opener. I had a lot of excuses run through my mind when I totaled it. Hubby had some health issues and had his appendix removed, I’m 7months pregnant with #3 and was trying to take care of recovering DH and 2 kids. Sadly these are the times when being prepared with OAMC makes all the difference. I already started stocking my freezer with go to meals. This month I will be tracking and aiming to do a LOT better. Plus seeing how often I was at the store and how much was spent was crazy! I spent far less many months and well honestly I didn’t feel like we had that much more food wise than normal. Loving the posts~
We do the cash envelope system so when the money is gone it’s gone. If I’m desperate for something I take from the Household envelope which is everything from tp & toothpaste to haircuts to sheets. So we stay pretty close to the same number each month. I have tracked every purchase in the past but haven’t for awhile now.
I have just started reading Dave Ramsey’s book “Total Money Makeover” and realized in looking back over my bank statements that we have been spending waaayyy too much money on fast food and prepackaged meals from the grocery store. I’m 32 weeks pregnant with baby #2 and it’s been a lot more intense than with the first one, so basically whenever I haven’t felt up to cooking we’ve been grabbing fast food or deli meals on my way home from work. I’m doing much better now, so I’m having to make up for lost time as far as reigning in our grocery budget goes, as well as tuning up our finances overall and prepping for baby’s arrival. Couponing hasn’t really worked for me, as I’ve found (in restarting my price book) that it’s still cheaper for me to buy off-brands from our bag-your-own-groceries store than it is to use a coupon for a name brand product at our local grocery store. I do, however, get a 10% discount at the grocery store where I work (cake decorator), so our quarterly meat sale is definitely a good deal for me. I hope to be able to purchase a chest freezer soon so that I can take better advantage of these sales plus OAMC, as right now I only have room to freeze basic ingredients rather than freezing whole meals. I also put all of my receipts from my “big” grocery trips in a separate pocket of my wallet to be added to my price book (on my computer and smartphone), but the quick little trips have been getting lost in the black hole of pregnancy hormones!
Janelle – congrats on the arrival of your new blessing. Understandably, that is a needed time to loosen up a bit, but it sounds like you are getting it under control. Hormones are a wonderful excuse and that sweet baby in a few weeks will make it even better. 🙂
I’ll have to show the picture of my “red neck” freezer spot. I kept saying I didn’t have room for a freezer since we don’t have a garage or a spot in the house to put it. Now, I am a true redneck. I have a extension cord running from our house to our shed with a chest freezer in there. It totally works and for the most part the cord is hidden (except the fact that is runs up the side of the shed through the window). 😉 Where there’s a will, there’s a way. hahaha
So happy I’ve found your blog/sight. I’ve been unemployed student for 3 years and UE ran out. I got a job but it’s part time and I mean really part time. We’ve resorted to using food pantries to help with the groceries. So in my search to find ways to put food on the table and pay everything else while finding more work I’m grateful for a resource like this. The hubby and I really try to find the best way to make our dollars stretch during this time and it’s not easy. Thank you again for your resources. ~Meg
I am sorry for your season right now. I totally know how you feel, but you will be amazed at how you can get creative in making things stretch. Hope my experience helps a bit.