Tightening the Belt on Food Spending

As we wrap up another nine-week session of the Navigating Your Finances God’s Way Bible Study, I am finding that the question of how to reduce the grocery budget continues to crop up.  Session after session, participants find that one of the most logical places to reduce their spending is in the food category, yet everyone seems stumped about how to do it. I have written a variety of articles on the subject, and I would like to address some new ideas that maybe haven’t been touched on previously.

I know I have talked about the benefits of eating at home versus eating out.  It is definitely easier on the budget if we prepare our meals at home rather than pay someone else to make them for us.  I think what sends us rushing to the nearest restaurant is a lack of planning.  If we don’t even know what we have on hand or what to make with the ingredients, we head out to the nearest restaurant, especially if we are pressed for time.  

One way to avoid “restaurant-by-default-dinner night” is to devise a plan.  Have a general idea of what everyone likes and design a menu plan around those meals.  Next, check your pantry and refrigerator for what you do have on hand to make those meals, and then create your grocery list based on what you need to buy to complete those recipes.  

Be sure to consult the grocery sale ads to find good prices on anything you have on your list.  If necessary, the menu plan can be shuffled around based on different sales that crop up in the grocery ads each week, but at least you will have a general meal plan to work from before you hit the store.

Another problem with whittling down the grocery budget is not knowing what we are buying.  When I finally sat down and analyzed my grocery shopping habits, I found I was spending quite a bit of money on snack foods and prepared items.  We have become a very rushed society, always running somewhere or another and it is the norm to have handy snacks in the pantry to grab on the go.  In the same vein, we often rely on microwavable meals that can be heated up in a minute or two and quickly devoured so we can make it to the soccer game or track meet.  

One of my remedies to bringing down the amount of prepared snacks I was buying was to go back to Mother Nature and purchase more fruits and veggies.  It is just as easy for my kids to grab a piece of fruit or a carrot as a quick snack rather than grabbing a granola bar out of the pantry.  It also makes my shopping go a little faster because I don’t have to read labels and decode ingredients.  

Unfortunately, my kids had gotten used to grabbing granola bars or snack crackers so there was some complaining as they adjusted to this new way of snacking.  However, if I have time, I will make certain snacks from scratch on occasion as a treat, but mostly these types of snacks are not a big part of our diet anymore (and we are all still alive to tell about it).  As a result of these changes, I reduced our grocery budget by about $75-$100 per month.

Another item that my kids really liked, but we have done away with due to cost is boxed cereal.  I found cold cereal to be a double-whammy to the budget because, not only is the cereal itself rather expensive, but they pour half a gallon of milk over it!  Now they eat oatmeal, yogurt with fruit and homemade granola (which doubles as a great snack, by the way), eggs and/or toast.  Occasionally, I will have the motivation to make a batch of muffins, but that is another special treat.  Sometimes on the weekends, my husband will get the griddle going and make pancakes or waffles, but during the week we mostly stick to a rather basic breakfast.  Making these changes to our diet has reduced our food budget by about $30 per month.

Speaking of yogurt, I had been in the habit of buying the small cups of yogurt when I found them on a good sale, but I also got away from doing that.  In my analysis, I found that I was spending an inordinate amount of money on yogurt.  In order to rein this in, I started buying the larger containers of yogurt and dividing them up myself.  Even that seemed rather costly as we worked to reduce our spending, so eventually I went to making the yogurt myself.  Granted, to get started I had to buy a small container of yogurt, but I can make so much with that small cup of starter and just two cups of milk!  I have gone from spending close to $40 per month on yogurt to spending practically nothing.

These are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling in the area of bringing down the grocery budget.  I’ll be happy to share the spreadsheet I use to analyze my grocery spending, please use the “contact us” form on the Compass website to request it. If you are familiar with the Navigating Your Finances God’s Way Bible Study, my grocery tracker is similar to the 30-Day Tracking tool in order to have a better understanding of how you use your grocery money.  When I first started tracking our spending, writing down how much I spent on groceries wasn’t specific enough for me because it didn’t tell me what I bought (other than “groceries.”)  I needed to break down my grocery spending by categories before I understood what reasonable changes could be made.  

By defining my specific spending, I was able to see that I really could reduce our grocery budget; I just needed to stop buying infinite amounts of granola bars, cheesy fish crackers, fruit snacks, and cereal.  When I stopped to think about what that looked like, I got creative and made up the difference myself by preparing these things at home or gradually weaning us off of them entirely.

Just like managing your money, managing your grocery spending takes some discipline and practice, but it is doable.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? ~ Matthew 6:25


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