One of the things that Stay At Home Mum is known for is our $50 week grocery budget, so I guess you could say we know a fair bit about budgeting for groceries.
Of course, not everyone believes the $50 shop can be done, and as a result we all copped a fair bit of backlash and were the centre of much debate. Well, let me set the record straight: I did live on $50 a week. Sure, my boys were only small, and it was something we only did when there was absolutely no money for anything else. When you dedicate yourself to $50 a week you have to get pretty thrifty, and from egg swaps to backyard vegetable trades and barters, I did it all.
Still, the entire situation got me thinking: How much should a family spend on groceries?
If nothing else, my run-in with the $50/week shop haters showed me that there really was no decisive amount, because each family is so different.
So, I wanted to put together a list of all the things that might be considered when setting a shopping budget, for maximum savings and overall family happiness!
What is Your Current Family Situation?
No two families are alike, which is why the first thing you need to stop doing is comparing your budget to someone else’s.
As a parent, you have enough to do without comparing, and there’s no way to tell if the people you’re talking to are being truthful or accurate anyway.
So, when you’re setting your family budget for groceries think about a few things.
Consider the number of people, and the number of children, in your house. Toddlers might only eat a small amount, while teenagers can eat you out of house and home. More adults in the house, like grown up kids or extended family, also increases the amount you’ll spend.
Now that you’ve covered the people, let’s look at the situation. If you live in the city instead of the country, you might pay a bit more for groceries. If someone in your family has a specific dietary requirement or allergy, that can also beef up prices.
You also need to look at what you earn, and how much you want to challenge yourself in terms of keeping your budget low.
All of these considerations will allow you to build a better idea of how much money you might spend on groceries.
Now that you have a foundation, you need to think about just how your family eats. Family eating habits will absolutely break your budget if you don’t consider them properly.
Think about how many meals your family eats at home, what they like to eat for meals and snacks, and how leftovers are dealt with. Also think about where extra money is spent so you can target it. If you regularly find you have to get takeaway as you haven’t had time to shop and cook, you might benefit from family cooking days where you prep in bulk. If your family is into convenience foods, you might look at making some substitutions to save money. The same goes for buying lunch at school or work. Eating less meat, and making your own treats and desserts, can also save money.
It also pays to think about where you’re shopping. Large grocery stores generally offer very good deals, much better than corner stores, and farmers markets usually outdo them all. So think about it!
Other Special Situations
We said before that each family is different, so now is the time in the process that you need to think about your special circumstances, the things you can rely on or change to improve your budget.
By that we mean, can you plant a vegetable garden to supplement your produce consumption, or perhaps get some backyard chickens? If there’s a baby in the house they might need baby specific products like formula. Try and map out times in the year when you might spend more, like birthdays and holidays, so you can either budget these in advance or put aside money so you aren’t stressed and broke. Also consider how you’re going to deal with invitations for potluck dinners (if anyone still does those!), or holding dinner parties in your own home.
Now is also the time to think about long-term saving goals. If you’re trying to cut your grocery budget for your mortgage, set an amount you’d like to save weekly or monthly and stick to it. The same goes for holidays!
Your budget will fluctuate throughout the year, so it does play to think about it in advance. It might work better for you to do a weekly, monthly or yearly budget, taking into account months with many birthdays, or food-related holiday celebrations.
All The Extras
Remember, buying groceries isn’t just about buying things to eat right away. A pretty big part of grocery shopping is maintaining your pantry with more long-term items, things you might refer to as staples. It’s also a smart idea to have things on hand that can be used to whip up a meal on short notice, if you need more food than you budgeted for, or your dinner gets ruined for some reason.
Also consider the other things that come out of your grocery budget, like toilet paper, nappies, paper towels and so on. If you are saving you might be better off separating them from your food bills, as they aren’t really optional.
When you have the money and you’re working on a more ‘big-picture’ budget, it’s also worth considering how much money you want to put aside for buying things on sale. If things are much cheaper than usual, and can be easily stored for future use, it makes sense to stock up for later. This can all impact your weekly grocery budget.
How Much Time Do You Have?
It’s impossible to just write down a number and expect it to work from the get-go. A very low budget does mean that you’re likely to spend more time sticking to it, which means you’ll need more time. So if you work full time or are time poor because of other circumstances in your life, chances are you’re going to find it hard to stick to a tight budget.
People who do have a lot more time on their hands should consider discount coupons (like shop-a-dockets etc), more regularly grocery shopping particularly at times when sale items are out, cooking from scratch, avoiding pre-packed processed foods, and prep-cooking for freezing and eating later.
If you don’t have a lot of time, you can still do pre-prep by making it a family activity on a weekend, or by investing in a slow cooker which can slowly cook simple dinners while you’re at work or running around. Super yummy and with minimal effort!
Test And Improve
Now that you have a really good idea of what your budget should be, it’s time to test it and improve it. Budgets are rarely exactly right the first time. Usually they take a little bit of tweaking, and a little bit of flexibility initially while you get a really good handle on your spending style.
Remember, even if you can’t stick to a super low budget all the time, you might find it possible to dedicate yourself to a lower weekly budget one or two weeks out of a month, which could definitely save you in the long term.