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Figuring out a grocery budget that works for you can be challenging, particularly for families with growing kids (and fluctuating appetites).
This is the area of our monthly budget that sees the most adjustments throughout the year. We typically budget $500-$600 a month on groceries depending on the time of year and what’s going on that month. That equates to $125-$150 per week for our family of four. That weekly cost excludes the ½ beef we put in our freezer each year.
Could we live on a smaller grocery budget? Absolutely.
I’m only sharing numbers for context. Let’s be clear, this is not a post about how to feed your family of six on $27 a week. Not even close. I’ll leave that to the super frugal set.
The two things that help us keep our grocery budget in check?
- using cash to pay for groceries
- planning our meals
I’ve shared before about how much it helps me to use cash to manage the grocery budget and that remains the single best tool for me to keep grocery spending in check. Withdraw your grocery money at the beginning of the month. The grocery cash in your wallet lets you know how much you have available to spend and there’s no fussy of tracking your grocery spending on your debit card. Simple, but it works.
Another thing that has helped immensely is meal planning and a single trip to the store each week. The concept of meal planning and once-a-week grocery shopping is not something that comes naturally to me.
Those of you reading this that have meal planning and food prep down to an art form and are wondering why a meal plan has been a revelation for us, you’ll probably want to skip this post. Please know that you are my hero and I want to hear your tips and tricks before you leave. Send me a note. My family will thank you. Unless your note involves green peppers. Then we will all pretend we didn’t see any such note.
We continue to work on cleaning up our eating habits and that has involved being more intentional about planning balanced meals, doing more cooking with less reliance on convenience foods. This is a significant change in thinking for us and continues to be an incremental change.
There are people in this world that derive great pleasure from the cooking. My husband and I aren’t among them. We are fans of eating, though, and have tried lots of approaches to solving the meal dilemma at our house. The littles running around our house like food too and we want them to learn healthy eating habits from us rather than pass on our not-so-great default behaviors.
How does a meal plan help with the grocery budget?
Taking the time to make a plan for the meals you are going to cook for the week really makes a difference for us in terms of mindset and avoiding the dreaded 6:00 “what should we have for dinner” conversation. At the end of a day when everyone is worn out and low on energy is not a fun time to attempt to make a plan, at least not at our house. We keep breakfasts and lunches really simple (and repetitive) so our meal planning focus is primarily dinner.
When you have a meal plan, you also have a specific grocery list that makes shopping easier. Sticking to your list also helps you stick to your budget…as long as you only buy what is on your list. For most of us, that means fewer convenience food items that tend to be more costly and less wandering around the grocery store looking for inspiration.
Having a plan just feels better, particularly knowing that you have all the ingredients needed for the week’s meals. It takes some of the stress out of the hangry hour in the evening. Maybe that hour only exists at our house?
Why limit shopping to once a week?
There are plenty of weeks when I can’t quite pull this off, but the fewer times I’m in the grocery store, the easier it is to avoid impulse purchases, quick fixes and buying more food that we need. Rotisserie chicken and frozen pizza, I’m looking at you. One weekly shopping trip using the list created from our meal plan works the best for us (and our wallet).
A meal planning approach for the domestically-challenged
Meal planning is easy, right? I’ve read all kinds of advice and tried several systems intended to help take the pain out of the process. I understand the concept of meal planning, but the execution of said meal plan is an entirely different animal. Until recently, all of our attempts at following one system or another ended in frustration and failure.
We tried meal planning subscriptions that send you recipes and shopping lists for the week, but those always felt like they were structured for someone else’s week with a multitude of unfamiliar ingredients. We experimented with several (elaborate) methods shared on the web, but they were overwhelming and more work than I was willing to exert over the long-haul. I don’t care at all about having my meal plan in a color-coordinated binder and our pantry is never going to be Pinterest-worthy, but I needed a system to help streamline the process.
All I wanted to do was feed my family reasonably-healthy, hopefully-tasty meals that didn’t bust our budget. And I didn’t want to spend half a day figuring it out each week. I finally found a system that is working well for us. We’ve been using it for a couple months now – really using it – and it is helping to take some of the “chore” out of meal times around here.
We are using a free productivity and organizing app called Trello. I learned of Trello a few months ago but didn’t give it a try until I read Katie’s post over at MomHabits.com, watched her video and saw how easily her approach to meal planning solved one of my biggest pain points in the process: creating the damn grocery list from each of the recipes for the week. Victory!
Go now and watch her video. It’s two minutes and so worth it. It’s free – just sign up for the MomHabits newsletter at the prompt, which is also full of good info.
The meal planning board I use is modeled after Katie’s with a few tweaks. The game changer for me is the ability to copy and paste ingredient lists and recipes into Trello and then very quickly make the weekly shopping list. When shopping or cooking, I can access Trello on my phone or tablet for reference. I like having all the info in one place and this is the first system we’ve used that accomplishes this.
Click here to sign up for Trello (it’s free and useful for lots of things besides meal planning)
Here’s the link if you want my template board for meal planning: download my Trello board
If you are in the trenches as we are, I’m sending you good vibes for grocery budget (and meal planning) mastery. We can do it!
thanks for reading,
P.S. If you are looking for make-ahead meal ideas, check out Amy’s post for inspiration.
The content of strongerwallet.com is provided for general information purposes. Readers should not act upon the content or information without first seeking appropriate professional advice about their specific situation.
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Thanks so much for the link! I love that you shared your actual budget. I must admit that while ours is similar I’ve not been doing the best at sticking to it lately…I’m going to have to study your post to get some inspiration!
You are quite welcome, Amy. Thanks for leaving a note. I always pick up tips and tricks on your site (and think about your post on fast chopping tips every week when I’m prepping and catch myself not creating a flat surface first). Cooking is not my strong suit…
I definitely need to do this. With a family of 7 and 3 of them being teenagers going to the store once a week is gonna be hard. But I think that after reading this post I need to start meal planning. I hear about it a lot, but I’ve never tried it, so I’ll be watching the short video you suggested and use my Trello and see how it works! Thanks for the gentle push I needed to get more budget friendly and organized with my grocery shopping too.
You’ve got this, Angel. If I can learn to meal plan, anyone can. Meal planning really makes a difference in my outlook – particularly upon arrival of the witching hour which is dinner time and everyone is hangry. One thing I have learned in this process is to start by keeping your meal plan simple (include meals your family is already used to having). When I first started meal planning, I got overwhelmed by taking on meal planning and trying a bunch of new recipes every week – which made prep time longer and my frustration level higher. Start with your tried and true and add new twists as you get in the groove. We love Trello especially for updating grocery lists on the fly. My husband and I can both add things throughout the week right when we’re thinking of it and then I can just check everything off as I do the shopping. Let me know how it goes for you.