When most Americans that are struggling financially are asked to identify the area they struggle with the most as it pertains to budgeting, most will very quickly point towards food spending. This isn’t exactly shocking considering the USDA released a report stating that the average family of 4 in America spends just under $1200 per month on food, while the average rent for that same family is only $992 per month.
If $1200 per month were the true cost to survive in America, there would be no problem with this number, however, Americans also collectively throw away $165 billion worth of food annually.
That’s a lot of waste and it demonstrates that we are not being intentional when it comes to food spending. Here are some very practical ways to get intentional and in control of your monthly food bill.
1. Budget Monthly
If you’re going to stop eating your money, you must begin to operate on a monthly budget. We start by setting short and long-term goals.
Once you’ve established some goals, sit down before each month begins, document your expected income for the next month, and tell every single dollar where to go for the upcoming month with your long-term financial goals in mind. What this does is force you to be intentional about the decisions we make with money every single month versus just tracking your spending like most budgeting apps and spreadsheets do.
The reason we do this is because different things are happening every month. Some months have 5 weeks, and other months have 4. You may be out on vacation for a week, and need to lower the spending category for that month.
Budgets should be forward-looking and designed to propel you towards your goals. Make sure you acknowledge past behavior, but don’t dwell on it.
When talking about the “food” category, we’ve found that the absolute best way to budget is to have two categories: groceries and restaurants. Why? You don’t want to spend too much at restaurants and not be able to buy groceries at the end of the month. It’s completely ok to set aside money for dining out, but you definitely want to be intentional about it.
The restaurant and dining out numbers will vary based upon your income and family size, however, I’ve learned from coaching others that a safe recommendation for food expenses is usually somewhere between 5-10% of your take-home pay.
2. Create a Shopping Routine
The second tip for not eating your money is to commit to a grocery shopping routine. If you don’t structure when (and even where) you plan on doing grocery shopping each week, it gets pretty hard to find time consistently.
Maybe you can relate to having gone out to eat a few days in a row just because you didn’t feel like grocery shopping during the week. I’ve been there, and I can tell you that it is the quickest way to spend money that could be going towards a great vacation or paying off debt.
The consistency of scheduled shopping days also allows you to know just how many days you need to shop for. Our suggestion is to pick a day and a general time to get your shopping done (i.e. Saturday Morning or Sunday Night) and do not schedule anything else during that time unless it’s an emergency.
You have to prioritize your family’s financial health here. Food is such a sneaky budget killer that we don’t want to leave anything to chance.
3. Make A List.
Again, we’re sticking with things that force you to be intentional here. The point of grocery shopping from a list is to get what you need for the week at the grocery store and get out of there without grabbing things that may sound good, but aren’t a need. That is why we recommend never going into a grocery store without a set list.
Your list requires you to set aside a little time to meal plan for the week, however, you should think of those minutes as an investment into your family’s financial future; not a burden. Meal-planning doesn’t have to be a stressful thing, either, as there are several ways to get creative with it. For example, making meal-planning a family event where everyone gets to choose a meal for the upcoming week keeps everyone invested in the process.
For busy professionals, there are also apps like emeals that will provide meal plans for you at a small monthly cost. They even create grocery lists based on the recipes you choose.
Also, part of this step is what we call shopping your pantry. The majority of folks have enough food for several meals already stored in their pantry and/or freezer. Find ways to work those into your meal plan for the upcoming week BEFORE you go to the store. We don’t want to be wasteful, but, rather, good stewards over what God has blessed us with.
4. Get a Food Account
Another solution is to create a food account or carry cash for food.
We recommend heading to a local credit union and opening up a free account specifically for food purchases. Once you set your monthly food budget, get with your HR Dept at work (if you have direct deposit), and request to have a specific amount per paycheck deposited into a separate account.
If for some reason you can’t, you can withdraw a set amount of cash each check specifically as food money. This shouldn’t be a random amount, but, rather, equal to the amount you budgeted for that month. Remember to have 2 completely separate categories (groceries and dining out) to prevent overspending.
Once the money in this account or cash is gone, you’re done spending for the month.
I am well aware of the challenges that come with getting food spending under control. I’ve personally been there.
Just remember, the key is to become and remain intentional. I recommend reviewing your budget at least bi-weekly for the first few months. Also, having an accountability partner that you trust is vital. Don’t wait until the 1st of next month, start today!
I would love to work with you privately on creating a personalized spending plan. You can book a 60-minute session with me here.