Learning how to food budget
I decided to participate in a challenge I stumbled across last week. It’s called Project: Food Budget and was created by Emily Levenson.
This challenge began in October of last year (feels weird to refer to 2011 as last year!) but you can join in at any time. And January 2012 seems like the perfect time to start something like this. The only rule is you post your progress on Thursdays so, tomorrow I will post my first update!
The idea is that you set a weekly grocery budget and then post about your progress, for the next year. I have slowly been whittling down our weekly grocery spending, which is very exciting, but I would like to cut it even more. Before I started paying attention to how we shopped and what we bought, we easily spent $115-125/week on groceries… for two people. That’s a little ridiculous!
The secret is really about meal planning. I try to plan every meal, not just dinner. So the way I will approach the challenge is by posting what my meal plans are along with what the budget is for the grocery trip, then I will update with actual spending. This is basically the same exact way Emily does her posts.
I typically shop at Kroger. I use the Kroger Plus Card and manufacturers coupons. I rarely use the loadable coupons that Kroger offers through their website because you cannot double those and, if you have a coupon loaded for a certain item but also have a paper coupon for that same item, you can only use the digital coupon. This really stinks if the paper coupon is a much better deal (and those coupons are typically doubled anyway).
Now that we have started actively managing our food budget, we average about $75.00/week on groceries. That’s a significant improvement over what we had been spending, but I would still like to try to get it lower. We are taking a couple different approaches to this:
1. Eat a lot more produce. Vegetables and fruit are some of the most cheapest things you can get at the store. Eventually, I would like all of our produce to come from a local farmer’s market but, for now, we are buying it at Kroger. I’ve found that when our cart is made up of 50% produce and 50% everything else, we actually spend way less than $75 total.
2. Eat less meat. Slowly but surely, I am trying to integrate more vegetarian dishes into our weekly rotations. I’m focusing on filling the protein gap with beans. Beans are so unbelievably inexpensive and, more often than not, are better for you than meat anyway. When we do eat meat, I stick with chicken breasts that I buy in bulk as well as ground chicken or turkey. The ground turkey is kind of a splurge, but it’s healthier than beef. Right now, we have meat 4-5 nights a week. My goal is to reduce this to 1-2 nights a week.
3. I eat leftovers from dinner for lunch. This used to really gross me out – I am not a leftover person, normally. Plus, I have this weird thing in my mind where I equate lunch food with lighter options and dinner food with more dense options. For example, I would never have Indian food for lunch. I would feel so gross the whole rest of the day, like I had way too much food way too early on. But, that’s all changed now that I’ve adjusted what I’m cooking for dinner. We just don’t eat bulky, dense dinners anymore. And so I don’t mind to have the leftovers for lunch. That has saved a ton of money, plus it cuts down on what we have to buy at the store.
4. I try to make staples that we would normally buy. For example, I am perfectly capable of making bread, cookies, desserts, snacks etc… There is really no reason to buy those things at the store. And, if I make them at home, I know exactly what is going in them and I can make them more healthy.
5. Mostly drink water. We used to be huge Coke drinkers. Like, huge. I still enjoy it from time to time, but now it’s a special luxury rather than an everyday thing. We also used to drink a ton of juice. And while I still buy juice occasionally, I try to buy smaller containers and limit my intake – it’s really just sugar water anyway. The only other drinks we ever really have on hand are milk, coffee and tea. That is basically it.
So those are five different approaches we have taken to our food spending. So far, they seem to be paying off. Ultimately, my goal is to spend $50-60/week on groceries. To get to that goal I think I’m really going to have to increase my couponing. That makes me nervous because I don’t quite understand it all entirely, but it’s also exciting to learn something new.
Tomorrow I’ll post my first Project: Food Budget update. I’m very excited to start on this journey!