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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Yes, You Need a Budget

“A budget??”

I can hear the groans right now. You were all pumped about these great new money-saving ideas you were going to learn and implement from this series; the last thing you wanted to hear about was a boring topic like budgets.

Remember how you promised me yesterday that you were going to stop making excuses and commit to change? Well, setting up a budget is your first opportunity!

Why You Need a Budget

Without a budget in place, all the money you save is pretty superficial. I’d go so far as to say that without a budget in place, bargain-shopping, coupon-clipping and deal-hunting are likely not going to save you any money. In fact, you might be spending more money in an effort to save money–which totally negates the savings, right?

A budget gives you the ability to track your spending and saving–and hopefully to see an increase in savings and a decrease in spending. Without a budget in place, your money will just be running through your fingers with no set objectives. A budget gives you parameters and purpose, it gives you boundaries and it gives you freedom to live creatively within those boundaries.

How to Set Up a Workable Grocery Budget

1) Average Your Grocery Spending From the Last 4-8 Weeks

How much have you spent at the grocery store over the last 4-8 weeks? Average that amount out and use it as a basis for your initial grocery budget. Ultimately, you’re likely going to want to whittle it down quite a bit–since saving money is one of the big purposes of having a grocery budget!–but now is not the time to worry about that. It’s a huge step just to start with a concrete budget in place.

2) Be Realistic

Don’t put undo pressure on yourself to come up with some crazily-low and impossible-to-stick-with figure for your grocery budget. This is not a contest or a competition and if you want to persevere and see long-lasting benefits, you’ll want to give yourself some breathing room.

3) Challenge Yourself to Slowly Lower Your Budget

Over time and with practice, you’ll likely be able to reduce your original grocery budget figure fairly significantly. But just remember: it takes time. You’re not going to cut your grocery bill in half this month. However, if you slowly shave off 5% here and 5% there, within 6-10 months, it’s very possible you can have it lowered by 30-50% or even more.

Always give yourself grace, though. If you’re ever feeling frustrated or stressed about it, step back and remind yourself that it’s just a grocery budget. The world’s not going to come to an end if it’s $5 or $10–or even $30 or $50!–more than you’d like it to be.

What benefits have you found from sticking with a grocery budget? What advice would you have for someone who is brand-new to the idea of budgeting? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Excellent article. Thank you for helping people to start thinking about their food budgets. One of the biggest drains on our finances is our food budget. We are spoiled because we can go into the grocery store and get just about everything we want. Unfortunately that doesn’t always translate well when we get home. Because we didn’t have a plan all the good little extra things that landing in our cart ended up pushed to the back of the pantry or eventually tossed into the trash due to expiration date. Having a budget forces you to plan your menus and plan your life. Better menu planning helps you avoid those moments when you just go through the drive thru instead of dreaming up a meal or eating that extra cookie just because they are there. Grocery budgets are good for financial fitness and for your physical fitness as well.

  • Holly says:

    I have been doing this for almost 10 years now (yikes…that makes me sound a lot older than 29). I couldn’t agree with you more! I know how much we will have for our monthly groceries and then I work within that budget with a menu, coupons and current sales to make it work. It’s a lot easier on us than most people think and we aren’t eating the same meals all the time either. It’s a wonderful way to get started saving money. Thanks for your information.

  • Pat LeMaster says:

    I hate to tell you this, but I have never had a budget. I am such a penny pincher that I haven’t needed a budget all these years. I am 65 years old, and exercise great restraint on purchases that I don’t really need. I do most of my cooking at home and have recently started mostly scratch cooking since my husband’s mild heart attack in January–no cans or boxes of processed food anymore. I have much more time to do couponing now and get many items almost free. My grocery bill is exceedingly low even with the fresh foods on it now. I match coupons with store sales, and that has worked for me all these years. I don’t think in my case a budget would have helped.

    • Crystal says:

      @Pat LeMaster, You might be surprised! We’ve found that even on the smallest of incomes, a budget helped us to stretch our pennies farther than we thought possible because it gave us momentum and purpose for why we were saving.

      You should try it for 3-6 months and just see if it makes any difference. I think the biggest thing of all is that it will encourage you to see how great you’re doing on a limited income! 🙂

      • sherry says:

        @Crystal, I agree. I was always a penny pincher…looking for the best deal. Then about 5 yrs ago, we actually sat down and worked out a budget. I was surprised, first, to find out where all the money was actually going but second, to realize we weren’t actually saving up to our potential. Since then, our family has been on a budget with savings included and it is truly amazing how much we’ve accomplished. Another good thing about a budget, IMO, is it really teaches you what you can do WITHOUT.

      • Pat LeMaster says:

        @Crystal, Because I have been a penny pincher most of my married life, I am not on a limited budget now. But I continue to pinch pennies. It is like a hobby and a game that I really enjoy. I am an avid couponer.

      • Misty says:

        @Crystal, I totally agree with you as well Crystal. I’ve been “couponing” for years now and while I tracked our spending, I didn’t really have a set budget. We were spending around $60-$80 a week on groceries depending on how many good sales there were. While this was far less than the $150 we used to spend, it wasn’t until we implemented a budget that we were able to bring it down even further. We set a limit of $50 a week, and since doing that 5 mo ago, we have been able to accomplish that! In fact, most weeks are closer to $40-$45! Thanks for the great tip!

        • Abbie says:

          @Misty, Pat, we always have been very careful with our money. In fact, when about 5-6 months ago we decided to really stick to a budget, we couldn’t figure how we could lower our cost of living any more. Well, we did! How or where, I don’t think I could even tell you! It just works! Now we have our money going in the right spots at the right time and we are debt free because of it. It does work! 🙂

  • Funny, I just blogged about budgets, too! I think it is important to go through and examine every line item in ones budget. After housing, and utilities, food is the most important. And as moms, it is often the one we have the most influence on.

  • You know how you have some months where the super good prices just keep on comin’? I think that’s when a budget says, “OK, you’re done now.” And that’s a good thing, because in reality, those super good prices are mostly cyclical, and will come around again. I think a budget keeps even the best bargain hunter in check. 🙂

    • Crystal says:

      @Laura at TenThingsFarm, I agree! I can’t go overboard when I know that I won’t have money to buy milk and veggies if I stock up on too many bottles of shampoo–no matter how good of a deal!

      • MaryEllen says:

        I agree too! However, I do think that if the incredible deal is on something you will use then it’s okay to go over budget for the month to stock up. (As long as you have the money to do so. Never spend money you don’t have, no matter how good a deal.) For example I got ground beef for $.99 lb. last year (1/2 price of what I normally consider a good sale)! I forget how many pounds I bought, but it was enough to last me almost a year. You just have to keep the budget in mind and make sure to balance it back out the next month. By the way, I love the little reply thing on the comments!

    • Pat LeMaster says:

      @Laura at TenThingsFarm, You hit the nail on the head here with me. My freezers are so full because of excellent deals (almost free food) that I have had to stop buying, because as you said, the deals will come around again.

  • Reesa says:

    Suggestion 1 – keep coming back to this site because Crystal will inspire and educate you.

    Suggestion 2 – add in some sort of mad money/entertainment money/date-night money. This does not have to be a huge amount of money. You can rent a move (Blockbuster Express/Red Box with a code may be free) and treat yourselves to a fun snack. Go out for coffee. Take your entire family to a dollar movie at the theater after lunch or dinner so you don’t need the snacks. If you are smart about this, you can make $10 go a long way. Plan ahead and look for deals, free events, coupons, and make saving money a fun experience.

    • Angela says:

      Thank you, I’ve been wondering how to get this started… or actually where to start. I love your blog & all the help/tips/& savings you’ve given me & my friends, I share via Facebook… the gals are benefitting too!

    • Crystal Freeland says:

      @Reesa, You all are so right! I have been getting things free or nearly free for years and have decided that when I am budgeting, I am not only buying for now, but for later…as in, stocking up my pantry, with coupon-and-sale bought items! My secret is that I take a portion of money from my tax refund every year and use it as a fund for stocking up on super-cheap items. I have resources for bulk foods at rock-bottom prices, and will not hesitate to buy what I will use for 6mos-1yr. We have a large family, and also have found that buying/investing in an electric pressure cooker (or a regular one, esp if your children aren’t small) is a great idea. You can bake a whole chicken in the time it takes your kids to watch Spongebob. It’s quicker, cheaper and better than delivery pizza and worth the money you’ll spend for it. You won’t feel pushed into take-out or delivery if you can fix dinner so quickly!

    • LeaDawn says:

      Reesa, I totally agree! Somewhere in our strict, money saving budgets we have to add a little room for us. Saving money should be an adventure for the whole family. Once a budget becomes something fun it is much easier to stick with it!

  • karen says:

    I recently started having a budget for food and it is working well for us. It keeps us focused on the goal. Even though you may be couponing and not splurging, you would probably be surprised once you saw the numbers. This way I can see what we are spending and catch any “money pits” for the next month. Plus I like crunching the numbers:)

  • I would encourage people to consider their circumstances and their goals in setting a budget. The number is a very personal number when it comes to groceries. Clipping coupons is important and can net you more food, but if you’re not going to eat it you have to consider what impact that ‘donation’ has on your overall financial health.

    Giving is important, but not when it comes at your or your family’s expense. It’s one thing to get something because it’s free or offers you the opportunity to help out a neighbor or friend. But don’t buy stuff just because it’s on sale and you have a coupon.

    I think having a budget is a significant step if you’re trying to change your eating habits, especially. If you want to move to organic or more whole foods, you have to know what you buy and how the change will impact your bottom line.

    First and foremost though, you have to want to do this. Nothing that Crystal says on her site will make you set a budget. If you want to know where your money goes, great. If you don’t care, then don’t stress over it.

  • You are wise for your age……more young mothers should take heed!

  • Melody says:

    I have been couponing for a few years now and just started tracking my spending through Excel starting at the beginning of the year. I had a monthly budget last year, but put a lot of money out in rebate programs and mail-in rebates, so I had a hard time tracking how much I was actually spending each month. Depending on when the rebate money came back in would dictate how much cash I had available for the month.

    These two months I have been tracking have made a world of difference! I’m able to track what I spend out of pocket including rebates. Even if I have cash in our grocery fund, if the spreadsheet says no, I don’t spend. It has totally kept me accountable and I can truthfully say that we are under a certain amount for the month.

    Even serious budgeters and couponers can learn something! 🙂

    On a totally unrelated note, my husband and I just got back from our celebration dinner for paying off our VERY LAST BILL! We made a final payment of $6600 towards his student loan! Thanks for all the inspiration Crystal, what an amazing feeling!

  • Angela says:

    Oopsie, meant to comment here. Well anyways you got it!
    Thanks again Money Saving Mom!
    Angela, just another Mommy trying to get it all under control, save my family money in this financial crisis & come out on top!

  • Natalie says:

    I got serious about budgeting late last year. Mostly, it was because we always asked: “Where does our money go?” And, we never had a good enough answer. Then, among other wasteful things we did, we realized how much food goes to waste or unused in our house: we have a full pantry, a packed fridge with food that would go bad before we got it, a freezer jammed with mystery meats and random tidbits. It was just wrong.

    Inspired by Crystal and other amazing bloggers, I set a strict budget for our household and went cash-only for groceries. Immediately, I felt more in control of our situation and got a better understanding of where every dollar goes.

    And, now, more than ever, those dollars are especially important to our family. Two weeks ago, I was laid off from my fulltime job. Half of our income is gone. Luckily, I was able to land a contract job that makes up for some of that money but we’re still making less and who knows what will happen once this job ends. I’m glad I got a better grip on budgeting and saving in the months before this happened. I only wish I had done it earlier.

  • joyce says:

    Your site continues to motivate me! I am an empty nester and no longer felt the need to have a food budget. But in reviewing my grocery receipts, I can see there is lots of room for improvement, and without a goal for the savings I was not motivated at all “I work hard and deserve this”. My son is living in London and I am going to work hard to cut the groceries and toiletries so I can go for a visit! Your wisdom crosses over to all ages and life stages!

  • Nan15 says:

    I have been couponing for about a year now and I do see a small change in the budget. I am still trying to get better at it by doing the match-ups. I started my budget of March with 112 bucks a week for my family of 4, most of that budget goes to fresh fruits, veggies and deli meat. So, I am trying to keep the rest of it for cleaners, toiletries and other misc items. My goal is to keep my OOP low so that I can stick to my budget. My question, is it better to take out the cash or still use my debit card to help me stick to my budget? Is my goal realistic? I havent shopped any sales this week yet, and I need to go to target today to get my bulbs and Oreos 🙂 Any help you can give would be great. Thanks!

    • Bethany says:

      @Nan15, I prefer to use cash. If I have to hand over actual dollars that seems to keep me more in check. A debit card or even a check just doesn’t have the impact that actual money has.

      • Crystal Freeland says:

        @Bethany, Yes, Nan, and also, if you know in your mind that you can go over the set budget because you have your card or checkbook, you will. If you only have so much cash with you, you will COUNT those items and tally the bill before you go to the checkout so you don’t get embarrassed and have to put stuff back because you went over the budget. It definitely makes you more accountable.

    • LeaDawn says:

      @Nan15, There are only 2 in my family, but we have been able to save a ton on personal care products by playing the drug store game. Register Rewards deals paired with coupons has allowed me to pay pennies on the dollar to stock up on personal care products & medicine. This has left a lot more wiggle room in our budget for foods.

  • Carrie says:

    First of all ~I want to say thank you. I know this has become your little business but you have much wisdom for such a young woman. What a blessing you are to many. I have highlighted your blog and your post on my blog this morning!
    I have stuck to a budget all my life and have done well but you~ my friend~ have encouraged me to not only save money but to “make money by saving it!” I have posted today all the ways in which I am sticking to the budget on my blog~
    You are an inspiration to us all!
    May God put a special blessing on your household~

  • I started budgeting when my husband lost his job 2 1/2 years ago (I was still working). I’d always used coupons and shopped carefully, but I really ramped it up. During his 6 month job search, we didn’t have to touch the credit card or beg/borrow/steal to meet our needs, and it was a relief. I also started CVS/Walgreens at that time.

    Over the past two years, I’ve been able to shrink our budget steadily. Last year, we averaged $39 per week. I grow a small garden (we live in the city) and we get some venison from my father who is a deer hunter. Otherwise, I stock up when items are at their rock bottom price and I make a monthly meal plan based on what I have.

    So far this year, our weekly groceries are averaging $30. Not bad for a strapping DH who works out regularly, a pregnant mama (me!) and our 3yo, plus our two cats.

    I’m trying to squeeze my pennies to save for the labor & delivery fees in a few months, and we have a goal to have our house paid off by the time my maternity leave ends so that I can feel more comfortable quitting my job to stay home with the kids if God agrees that is the right thing for me to do. It’s a tough choice I’m leaving in God’s hands, because I have more job security and a higher salary than my DH does. But he has faith and so do I, and we’re pretty sure of what God wants us to do!

    Anyway, having a budget really does allow a family to prioritize other areas of life. And even on that tight budget, I have been able to provide many boxes of foods for my parents and others who are unemployed right now.

    Oh, and we don’t eat just free after coupons junk food! Yesterday we had broccoli pasta alfredo with “crab” meat. Monday we had bratwurst and baked beans. Sunday we had homemade pizza with mushrooms and pepperoni. Saturday we had popcorn shrimp, green beans and potatoes au gratin, and I baked banana bread and zucchini bread. Lunches for work are leftovers, and breakfasts are bagels with cream cheese, or homemade granola, or fruit and toast. We’re all healthy and have happy tummies!

  • celia says:

    We love our budget. And we have had a series of financial catastrophes lately. But because of our budgeting and Dave Ramsey- we have been able to handle it. My husband was just saying how great it is that even with the Great Roof Catastrophe of 2010 we are totally fine with our regular bills.

    We spend 120 a week on groceries. I have health problems and so we try to eat as clean a diet as possible. No processed food and as much organic as we can.

    It has been really wonderful to see how our budget works for us. We never argue about money. And when things get tight( like now-sigh) we just tweak. So our entertainment budget is gone.

  • Bekki says:

    When my husband’s job changed their pay scale to only one paycheck on the 26th day of every month, we had to seriously rethink all of our spending. When they cut his salary at the same time as our daughter was born, we had to rethink again. My advice is the same as what Crystal said, set your own goals and don’t be unrealistic. Our family is not nearly as good as Crystal’s, but we’re making slow and steady progress. We have gone from $425/month (whew!) on food alone, not including toiletries, cleaning supplies, diapers, etc. down to $325/month for ALL groceries. We have found that for us, with our particular situation, we work better with a monthly budget rather than weekly. Do whatever works best for your family, and remember to be patient 🙂

    Oh, and never underestimate the power of prayer! God wants to be a part of everything in your life, even your couponing adventures.

  • The best way to stick to a grocery budget? Use CASH!!! When it runs out you are done! Obviously you need to make sure you were realistic or you’ll never have enough money to truly cover a month of groceries! (I usually take out the money every two weeks with our paychecks) I just did a great series on budgeting, jump over to check it out!

  • charity says:

    Great article. I’m really struggling for more structure in my life especially in the area of finances.

  • Carol D. says:

    We moved to the envelope system of cash for groceries after taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Then I searched out money-saving websites and found your blog. It’s been such a blessing. The money we’ve saved, slowly but surely, has many times filled in budget shortfalls when my husband did a career switch and our income dropped drastically. And you’re right, Crystal, it can be done in any situation. We have a family of 7, with 3 teenage boys, so that could have been my excuse. But God changed my mindset, and I’ve seen Him work in so many of the details. It’s amazing how having a grocery budget can be such a faith-builder! 🙂

  • Linda says:

    I’m glad you posted about this as this is one of my biggest goals right now! We have a budget, but we’re not sticking to it. I need to go “gazelle instense” on the budget. I also need to get a price book together so I can ensure I’m getting the best deals. I am also trying to bake more foods from scratch.

    One question…..when the prices go rock bottom, how do you know how much to buy? I always seem to go over my budget because I’m trying to buy ahead to get the best prices.

    On a side note, my daughter is now potty trained during the day, so that helps my budget – not having to buy large quantities of pull ups each month!! Yippeee!!! 🙂

    Thanks for all your great advice!

    • Marlene says:


      No matter what, even if it’s a good deal, if I go over my budget, it’s NOT a good deal. Cooking from scratch is really fun and saves tons of money . . . I do 90% of my cooking from scratch and can’t imagine it any other way.

      If there aren’t many good sales one week, I try to save as much as I can out of my food budget to simply roll over to the next week, because there’s always the chance that the sales will be better the next week. That way, I’m able to buy more when the opportunity arises. 🙂

      • Crystal says:

        @Marlene, I agree. That’s how I view it. If buying this “great deal” will mean I can’t buy necessities, than it’s not a great deal for me. A budget keeps my spending in check and gives me accountability so I don’t overspend–even on what might seem like a really great deal.

  • Annie says:

    A grocery budget is actually what turned our financial situation around. About a year ago, I determined to only spend the amount set aside for groceries. It was a lot of work at first, but I quickly realized how wasteful I’d been. Doing this has helped my non-number-loving husband to see the purpose in a budget, and has given him (and me) hope that it’s possible to live on what ever income God has given us. Since then, we’ve moved to an entirely cash envelope system (thanks to Crystal’s encouragement), which has helped us to develop a great deal of discipline to live on a meager income. We’ve both been amazed at how much more money we have than we’ve realized. God has really blessed us. On that same meager income, we’re now supporting a single mom from church who’s moved in with us, have mad money (we were so stressed before a budget because we never had anything to spend on ourselves), and are seeing the fruitfulness of managing God’s money well. It’s taken a year, and it’s been hard to make some changes, but we’ve never felt more free. We are now in a position that my husband my get a significantly better job in a few months, and we look forward to paying off our debt and giving everything away, since we’ve lived to learn on a little bit of money. And it all started with a grocery budget. :o)

  • Ellen says:

    Very good. I used to think of a budget as sort of like applying shackles round my ankles & wrists. What? You mean I can’t buy this and buy it now? Things have changed. Now, I find it very freeing to have a budget & keep it going. I wish that we had implemented some sort of budget when we were first married; instead we tried to imitate another friend’s budget. It was too complicated for us & we both found it wasn’t working. But instead of getting back on that bicycle, we sort of wandered off the path… Anyway, we’ve benefitted much from Crown Financial Bible Study. I would recommend it to anyone & everyone. I think the most difficult thing (after setting up a REALISTIC budget) is to keep it going. Little by little just like those beginning steps that your toddler took, it does improve. I’m encouraged just by seeing results & good fruit.

  • Heather says:

    Having a budget takes away the guilt, if you’re prone to that. For example, pre-budget: in the store buying a splurge, feeling a little guilty, then feeling “yikes” at the register.
    But on a budget you decide AHEAD of time what is fine for your family to spend. So then if you decide to spend on a “splurge item” that’s okay, because it fits in your budget, and you can feel good about not overspending.
    I’m not explaining it well, but I bet others feel the same way, too.

    • Crystal says:

      @Heather, Yes! That is totally true!

      • Crystal Freeland says:

        @Crystal, The only thing I would interject is that if you are setting up a grocery budget for the first time, consider realistically what you actually live like…if you eat out a lot because you are always being a chauffeur for your kids’ sports, then loading up on flour and raw materials for cooking is not going to work. Figure out what sort of lifestyle works for your family. If you ARE the mom would drives thru for dinner because you feel you have no time, buy a nice crockpot and go online for recipes. Buy a pressure cooker, esp the new electric ones. Don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting to have the same financial results as your neighbor, who is a stay-at-home mom and has more time at home to cook from scratch. Do the “semi-homemade” idea. Then you can prep veggies when you get home from the store on Sunday (or whenever you shop), cook your meats in the crockpot/pressure cooker for the WEEK so they are quick to assemble and actually save money while eating better. But don’t put undue pressure on yourself to whittle that budget down to a particular amount. You really CAN’T eat out 5 nights a week cheaply, esp not as cheaply as just cooking good food quickly. You’ll eat better and have less stress. Your food in a crockpot can cook while you are out. Hope that is not too confusing!!

  • Becky in KY says:

    Use cash. The first month I began seriously to use coupons and shop the drugstores, I used a debit card for everything but did not really keep up with the totals. Bad decision. I went way over budget stocking up on personal care and pantry items (it was a good month for the cheap & free-after-RRs-or-ECBs-or-rebates). Now I use cash, and the problem is solved.

    I’ve just begun working on lowering what was a $280/month food/”WalMart” budget (I know, I know, it’s pretty crazy high), but my current plan is to withdraw $200 at the beginning of hubby’s pay period and then see how far I can stretch that without making drastic food changes that would drive my hubby nuts. When that’s gone, I can withdraw a little more if I need to, but my goal is to not need that second withdrawal within a couple months. This pay period is going well thus far, and it’s largely due to all the great stuff I’ve been reading on this blog.

    I’m a SAHM but have only been so for a few months, and cutting our income in half has been challenging, but honestly the toughest part has been cutting way (way, way) back on our giving. Hubby said we can use at least part of whatever I can trim from the grocery/drugstore budget to increase our giving. That’s a big incentive to pinch the pennies!

    Thank you, Crystal, for all your help!!

  • Susan J says:

    We’ve been tightening up our budget over the past few months, and I love it! This way I’m keeping track not just what I spend at the grocery store, but at Trader Joe’s and Costco too. Overall, using a budget and the envelope system, we are really cutting down our spending. (Coupons don’t hurt either, of course!)

    Your point about 5% here and 5% there reminds me of the term my mom and others taught in their “Home Management Class” – they call it “five percent course correction”. If you are sailing and get off course by just a percent or two, it’s a big deal after you travel some distance. To get back on course, if you just correct five percent at a time, eventually you’ll get back on course. Just like you were saying. =) Another saying they have in that class which reminds me of you – “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without”.

    Thanks for your blog, Crystal! I realize it makes money for you, and I don’t mind that a bit…I consider it my (and others’) way of “paying” you for all you do that is such a help and blessing to us! =) Thank you!

  • Sherri says:

    Great thoughts! Figuring out what you are currently spending is the best way to begin. If you know where you started from, then you’ll be able to see the progress you’ve made!

    A budget isn’t a chain around your neck, it’s just a plan for how you spend your money. The easiest way to start making a budget is just to write down what you are spending now. This works for any category of spending- groceries, entertainment, etc. Once you have this starting point, then you can decide if the amount needs trimming and by how much. Then you challenge yourself to meet the new goal.

  • Robin says:

    Thanks so much for this encouraging post!!! I have been follow your blog for about 1 1/2 years and have lowered my grocery bills greatly but the last few months haven’t styed on track like I need to so THANKS for the boost to get back on track and I’m going to try and menu plan an follow through with it. It sure does look like it coulld save even more money and then after doing that for a month and trying to clean out my freezer and pantry I’ll try some freezer cooking. I’ve never done just one day of that but different slots throughout the month!! Thanks again for being upfront sometimes it’s hard to forget that you are human too and not just a supermom!! I’m a SAHM with a 2 1/2 y ear old boy and 4 month old girl so I can relate to those crazy days!!

  • Tara says:

    Thanks for this series! We’re trying to get back to our budget this year and every bit of encouragement helps. Thanks for adding the part about giving yourself grace. I always find that no matter how hard I try there always seems to be a week when you run out of a lot of stuff. There are some things that I just forget to check how much we have and then I have to buy it all at once, or I think we have more meat in the freezer than we do. Allowing a treat now and then helps. When I started couponing I had to make a game out of it. Now it’s a challenge to see what I can do with our money each month.

    • Crystal Freeland says:

      @Tara, You guys are going to hate seeing me on here, I have commented so much! Here it is: I cook a 6qt crockpot full of chicken one day, and one of hamburger the next (or I will use two crockpots) and when it’s done, I bag the meats up into serving sizes in freezer bags and freeze. I write the date and the contents on the bags. This cuts WAY down on prep time when I am rushing. I also wash my produce and chop/grate while I am watching tv. Again, I store the veg in the fridge. Depending upon my menu ideas for the week, I will cook up a big pot of rice and/or pasta and store in fridge. When I am looking for something quick to make for dinner, I defrost that pkg of shredded chicken and set out sour cream, cheese, drained bought-on-sale tomato dices, lettuce and a jar of salsa…then I heat up the chicken in a pan with some fajita seasoning bought in bulk, and heat tortillas or open a bag of store-brand tortilla chips. You can even add a few cans of corn in a dish and microwave. I mean, it’s easy to make a quick meal this way. I bought a book on mega-cooking…way too much cash outlay and way too complicated for me…and… It doesn’t take much time to throw raw meat in a slow cooker or scoop it out into freezer bags…I noticed that many times I had resorted to tv dinners/frozen lasagne or even takeout, it was because I had no meat thawed and it was just too complicated. We eat so much better now!

  • Cathi says:

    Last month I set a grocery budget of $200 per month for our household of three. I didnt do too bad considering I had company for almost 2 weeks. (My parents bought groceries while they were here too.) But already I went to the grocery store and blew almost our whole monthly budget by ‘stocking up’. I know Im probably the only one, but I hate to let a good coupon expire! So here I sit, with 3 bottles of Tide and only $40 left for the whole month of March…..HELP!

    • Crystal Freeland says:

      @Cathi, What helped me to start stockpiling was to take a small amount of money and put it away, every week. You won’t miss it. Then, when you see Tide on sale, with a coupon, you can stock up–but it depends upon how good a deal you got…I bought All detergent, big liquid bottles, with $2 coupons and only paid $.97 each for them. I bought 20 for that price, (there are many sources for free or cheap coupons, including the product’s page on the web) and so we won’t need detergent for close to a year. Now, having said that, I also got coupons for Finish dishwasher compound and paid only $1 per box, which washes about 30-40 loads. Again, stocked up for a year. You keep adding to that fund, and rolling the money over. The money you won’t spend on All or Finish for that year can pay for stocking up on something else. You also can’t be too brand loyal and really save the maximum. You must be flexible. So if that Tide had $1 off but you could get All for half the price of Tide without a coupon, try the All. You may be surprised at how little you have to spend to achieve the same results.

  • Melissa says:

    I had to learn the hard way about not having a grocery budget. If I found something on sale I felt like I had to buy at least four of the item, whether we needed it or not. I finally put a budget into place a few weeks ago. I’m spending about $40 a week less than previously, and we have been perfectly fine! We even have a good stock pile of things still. The budget really helped balance me out in buying too much of the sale items, which in return has helped us save money. Now I know that a budget is a must.

  • Liz says:

    I put aside $30 a month for household items. (including diapers!) and before I found your website I was probably spending 4 times that!
    I put $30 in an envelope and it actually GROWS with ECBs and RRs! I keep all of my reciepts to see how much I would have spent without coupons and rewards. It was nice buying a huge pack of diapers and a couple other things and still have $28 left out of $30. (of course some of that must be spent at CVS and Walgreens but they have everything, so it works out great) I’m very thanful that I found your website!

  • Jaclyn says:

    I really agree with you. I started couponing a year ago and I really went overboard. I was trying to “save” so much that I didn’t save and I ended up with a cluttered home. I had been reading your blog and it really inspired me to try a budget (it took 8 months). About 4 months ago my husband and I sat down to start a budget and we couldn’t be happier. We now put 60% of our income directly to savings. This has taken time. Because of your blog we decided to sell our condo and rent to lower expenses. We paid off my husbands car loan. We paid off our timeshare. When I needed a new car we paid cash for a used car instead of financing a new car. Now we are saving up to pay cash for our home. We are 40% there! I have to confess that when I started to read your blog I thought “I could never do that!”. After thinking about it more I was inspired to a least try and I am so glad I did.
    Thanks Crystal!

  • This article is so true! When I first started couponing I was actually spending more! We started budgeting for the first time in our lives shortly after I started couponing and have been AMAZED by the difference in our lives. We quickly paid off our debts and started saving because we suddenly had money to save.

    Having a grocery budget has actually caused us to buy healthier foods and to cook more from scratch. That was something that surprised me.

  • Cassie says:

    Why do people groan when they hear the BUDGET word? It doesn’t make sense to me. Budgets aren’t made to make people feel like they can’t spend their money, they are made to make sure you don’t spend ALL of it.

    Great post, Crystal!

  • It is amazing how much you can spend on food if you don’t have a budget. When my husband was a bachelor, he saved his receipts, but never really aimed for a certain amount because he was single and had enough “wiggle room.” I looked at his receipts once and tallied up one month, and discovered that he was spending $100/month on Odwalla juices alone! When we got married, we continued on with this attitude, especially now that we had two incomes to work with. But then I started to read this website and made a goal to pay off his student loans ($18,000) in one year. We looked at what we were spending on food, and realized that just for the two of us, we were spending $350-$375 a month (and this was after I had persuaded him to kick his Odwalla habit).

    Fast forward to a few years later, and we now have a hungry little two year old boy and a soon-to-be-starting-solids 6 month old son. But our food budget, even with formula, is lowered to $275 a month. This isn’t as low as most frugal bloggers out there, but for us, it’s proven to be the amount that helps us to rein in our costs without feeling too deprived.

  • Shelley says:

    I agree that a budget is the best way to go. Our family has a monthly budget for everything. However coupon clipping and looking for deals are a huge part of our money saving. We only shop by what’s on sale and what we have a coupon for. Without thi splan of attack we would not be able to stick to our budget. We have a family of 5 and one child with very limited food choices due to ffod allergies, but we do great. So yes to your readers, budget, budget, budget………..and clip those coupons because they do add up!

    • Crystal Freeland says:

      @Shelley, I agree with you, Shelley! We average about 75-80% savings with sales and coupons. It’s only that amount because we also buy produce, meat and milk that don’t have coupons…otherwise, if we only tallied the sale-with-coupon items, we’d probably be 90% or greater in savings. I get a whole lot free or almost free. I can always find a place to store the food…even under the bed is fine for canned pineapple or tuna! I set a budget, of course…and then I get what I will need for that week/month and whatever is left over is used for stocking up. If I trimmed the amount to only cover what we need to eat and survive that week/month, I will find myself paying more on food because I won’t be buying up at rock-bottom prices. I find that sale items generally do a 3-month rotation. If you only buy what you absolutely need, you won’t have anything to fall back on, either, if you should lose a job or something happen to impede your grocery shopping. In our house, we have stocked up so well and so cheaply that if we did lose a job, we’d be able to eat from the freezers and pantry for months, until DH could find a job. In this economy, you almost have to, to have some peace of mind.

  • georgia says:

    hello to all the money saving mom’s – i totally believe in budgeting for groceries. a LONG TIME AGO, a grocery budget was the only way my husband and i could afford groceries and sundry items (toiletries, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc) for our family of five. somehow, we managed on 35.00 a week. people were astounded that that’s how much we spent. in order to do that, i had to use a menu and plan groceries from the menu so that i knew every day what i was going to cook. most things were cooked from scratch. i bought in bulk when possible, portioned it out and froze it until i needed it. if something was on sale, i bought extra if i could afford it – including milk (take a little off the top before freezing). and i only used cash in the store. a check or atm card meant i could go over budget if i succumbed to temptation and threw a couple extra things in the cart. i monitored prices at local stores so i knew ahead of time what each item was going to cost before i even walked in the door. and i never took the kids shopping with me (unless i ABSOLUTELY HAD TOO!). i added up what i had spent before i got to the checkout and if i was over budget, i took out items until i had my 35.00 worth. coupons were essential to saving money. so, i just want to encourage every mom out there – it takes more time to do it but a grocery budget will definitely save you money.

  • Patti says:

    Highlights of using a budget for 32 years of marriage:
    1. The first month we were married we went overboard buying stuff for our new home… what a shock to find out we didn’t have the money!!! Enter the budget, also known as writing everything down to see where it goes. We immediately began to control our money, not having our money control us.
    2. We paid off all our school loans immediately and were later able to have luxuries because we did not wait until we had a house payment, 2 car payments, and 3 kids (like our friends who waited 10 years to start).
    3. Because of our budgeting we have had to forgo some “really good deals” but have never had to suffer because of too much debt.
    4. When I quit my job to stay home with my son, we were able to cut our budget to match our income with very little stress. I just ramped up my penny pinching thanks to The Tightwad Gazette. This is when I learned to use a price book and discovered diapers were cheaper at our high end grocery store! I also learned that I had problems with impulse buying whenever I went to a Big Box store so now I avoid them like the plague.
    5. Every year we have adjusted our budget to fit our needs and lifestyle. Because we have money in it for clothes, makeup, books, eating out, etc. these items are not impulse items nor do they make us feel guilty.
    6. We are currently challenged by the high cost of college… we have faithfully saved for this but our savings have taken a hit and college costs have risen by more than we expected. However, we know we can “make do” for four years of extreme penny pinching so we (and our child) will not suffer from catastrophic loans.
    Budgeting is not a dirty word at our home… it is a gift that enables us to do what we want.
    Thank you, Crystal, for your blog… I learn new ideas every day!!

    • brookeb says:

      @Patti, Just a quick reminder — I don’t know if you already have a college in mind, but don’t overlook private colleges. If grades are good enough, you can often find scholarships that cover enough of the tuition to make it far cheaper than the state colleges — a secret that I wish I had known back in college.

  • Stephanie says:

    A budget is all about accountability – to yourself and your family. You can easily deceive yourself into thinking that you are doing okay, but if you are not looking at every dollar (or penny) spent, then you really do not know how you are doing or where your money is going. When I started seriously couponing, I did not save money. Then I put a budget into place (I keep my budget in Excel). It was really eye opening. I have been able to cut my food budget by almost 60% over the course of a year, and we have been able to put that money towards specific purchases and savings. As you said, it went down little by little, not overnight, and without a plan, the savings just evaporate. For those who are skeptical, I am married, with 2 little kids, and we are paying cash for my husband’s graduate school. On a side note, I put the same concept into place for my food intake, and I have lost 24 pounds (so far). All about accountability!

  • Susan says:

    I SOOOO needed to read the part and the comments about not sacrificing the budget and skipping necessities for getting a good deal. I was really struggling with that. Thank you.

  • katie says:

    I just want to say how much I have enjoyed your personal posts over the last couple of weeks. I love your blog and you are doing a great job!

  • Kara says:

    I was just talking about this last night with some of the ladies I volunteer with!! I told them that I was challeneging myself to not go grocery shopping until the 15ht of the month. Many of the ladies looked at me with a weird, because they go every week to every two weeks.
    What I have learned from following this blog as well as many others is what works for someone else may not work for you. YOU decide what works best for you family and your budget.
    My pantry and freezer are not overflowing or even full. But I am able to create meals with items I have on hand. I guess I’m doing a smaller version on the Eat From the Pantry Challenege back in January. It is interesting.

  • Shaylin says:

    I love these tips. In December we started back on a budget and while I love couponing and getting a good deal, I have no idea what I had been spending. And at first I was really frustrated because I couldn’t seem to stay within our grocery budget. We planned for $300 a month for a family of 4 (2 adults, 1 toddler, and 1 baby). The problem was that this includes formula @ $15 a week for the baby and she is also doing baby food. I have made some of my own but she is kind of picky about it. This really threw me off and we actually had to up our budget for now to $375. We even have diapers in a separate category. I have decided not to beat myself up over it but am going to work to slowly lower it.

  • Michelle says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am new to couponing and am one of those still running out to get the latest “great” deal. At least I was yesterday. Today, I am going to follow your advice and draft a budget and stick to it. Your site and advice is really life changing. (Is life changing one work or two?) I now think about what we need versus what we want before making purchases. We are fortunate to have never had credit card debt, but the other stuff (car and student loans) needs to go! Even though I know it will take years, I am so excited about the idea of reducing our payments in order to gain more freedom. Thank you again!!!

  • Betsy Durand says:

    Thank you, Crystal, again for a balanced and inspiring article. I especially appreciate the “freedom” you express in a family setting their own budget. I have had to be realistic with this over the last year, wanting our buget to be under $75 a week and realizing that this just is too low for a family of five, with two in diapers. However, I have been encouraged by your wonderful tips and helpful advice to (1) lower our budget to a realistic but more simplistic goal and (2) to break the habit of making multiple trips to the grocery store (in addition to my weekly shopping) for those few “necessary” items. We are learning to make do with what we have on hand and that is a wonderful lesson. Looking forward to reading more on this series……..would love to hear your answer to someone’s question posted here about not wanting coupons to expire and, therefore, using them sometimes at the expense of going over your budget.

  • Charity says:

    Thank you so much for posting about this. My husband lost his job and was without work for a little over 18 months(with no unemployment check). During that time of unemploymet (I am a keeper of our home and mommy to our three little blessings) we learned just how little we could really make it on. It makes the BIGGEST difference to write down/put a name to each dollar of the paycheck. We use Dave Ramesey’s suggested ‘envelope system’ and I work hard to have money left in my envelopes so when it comes time to refill them I can fold that money back and save it. We already have a “low” grocery budgeted amount, but I try to have money left in that spot to save toward a “treat” (ie zoo trip, family portrait etc). It may just be $12 one week but that adds up so quickly. It is exciting! Again thank you for this post. I love your site!

  • Amy says:

    Hi! I am part of a grocery challenge that others may be interested in! It is The 200 Challenge. It is all about spending less on groceries in 2010! You can check out the challenge on my blog!

  • Lea Stormhammer says:

    You’re right Crystal!

    We spent so much of the first 7 years of our marriage spending our money without a budget. We both worked, didn’t have kids yet, and were able to meet our needs and bless others without watching our pennies. We weren’t saving, but that was fine with us at the time. We didn’t have debt.

    7 years later, our twins arrived and I was downsized and went back to school. Enter a budget for the first time. I didn’t get serious about it until I found your site 2 years ago. I started to get into Dave Ramsey and Your Money or Your Life. Hubby read Your Money or Your Life adn it changed his perspective on everything – and we’re finally on the same page with this budget thing! Yahoo!

    As far as groceries – I’ve slashed the budget from about $250/wk (for 2 adults and two pre-schoolers) to about $75/wk when both were in diapers. Now we do between $25 and $40 depending on the time of year and what we have going on. I never thought it was possible or necessary. But it is an we can do it!

    Thanks for your site Crystal, it’s been a bit help!

  • Jen D says:

    I read one of the books on your list for 2010 – “America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money” after I saw it on your list (didn’t buy it – checked it out from the library). While I didn’t feel it was the best use of my time (most of the tips were pretty obvious and stuff I’m already doing), the one thing I did take away was how they do their budget. I had talked with DH about creating and really sticking to a budget a while ago, but he wasn’t too interested and I didn’t push it. Now, his income has been cut 10%, we’ve had to put a new engine AND transmission in his truck, a part in the furnace died, the dog had to go to the vet unexpectedly, etc; we’ve agreed to sit down TONIGHT to put together a rough draft of a budget. It’s going to be tougher than he thinks (and probably me too) but we need to do it. We make good money (even with the 10% pay cut), but we still seem to be just getting by. I want to pay down our mortgage and we just can’t seem to get the funds to add to the payments monthly. So…long winded way of saying “thank you”. I would never had read that book without seeing it on your list. Just got the Tightwad Gazette (also on your list) from the library this week. 🙂

  • Barb says:

    okay, I’m ashamed to say after 20 years of marriage my husband and I have finally sat down to discuss our budget. We’re in debt, bringing that down, but (long story short) never discussed what we spent and the debt lingered while the tension mounted. Doing taxes this year put me over the edge (I’m the check-writer) and after a heated discussion we set down without the emotion to earnestly work toward wisdom and frugality. I NEED THIS! Thank you and a question: I have read many folks say their monthly budget is around $200. I just calculated mine to be just over $800!!! Actually that’s not a budget – that’s how much we spend. But I also read most have young families with 1-2 maybe 3 kids. I have 4 teenage/young adult persons, beside my husband and me. What is a realistic grocery budget? Does this only include food? What about household/toiletries/animals? Thank you again. You have saved me over and over.

    • Andrea says:

      @Barb, We have 8 people in our family (2 adults, 2 teens, 2 pre-teens and 2 younger kids) and if things are really tight, I can get by on $80 a week (only because I stockpile at rock-bottom prices). I used to spend much more. (This does not include cat food or rabbit food for our pets. I buy that at Walmart, which is by far the cheapest place I have found for pet food.) If you build a stockpile of things you often use (ex. shampoo, cereal, meat/chicken) when they are at the very lowest sale price, I would bet you can cut your grocery spending by quite a bit. I used to spend about $200 a week. (My struggle is to not go overboard with the stockpiling. I don’t even buy shampoo anymore unless I can get it absolutely free—as in nothing OOP—because we have so much!)

      • Crystal Freeland says:

        @Andrea, Andrea, I feel you on the shampoo! I bought a ton of it last year for maybe 10 cents a bottle, and am stocked up. It doesn’t go bad, but like you, I won’t go get more unless it’s completely free. We have a budget of $100 per week for a family of 5. This doesn’t include tp or diapers, etc. Just food. But in actuality, we only need about $75 a week to provide us with our needs, so that extra $25 a week goes toward buying up bulk food and spices/teas. If you put away just $25 a week, you have $1300 extra a year to buy up canned chili when on sale, or bulk-purchased potato flakes (I just paid only $40 for a 40 lb bag, will last a year.) It’s tempting to pocket that $25 a week for something else, like a vacation, and I guess you could do that. For us, it makes more sense to treat the household like a business. You roll over the funds into future investments to save money.

    • Andrea says:

      @Barb, Oh, and I forgot to mention…for things like toilet paper I can never seem to find a really good deal. So I go to a store like GFS and get it there cheap. It’s a restaurant supply store open to the public. You may have something similar. I like it because you can get big quantities of things like TP and pasta really cheap, and there are no membership fees.

      • Crystal Freeland says:

        @Andrea, Barb, I bought an Entertainment book and found GFS coupons in there!! I decided the book MORE than paid for itself with just a couple of coupons used, and also have been buying White Cloud tp (4 dbl rolls) at Walmart for $2 a pkg. I combine that with $1 off coupons, and get the equivalent of 8 rolls for $1, plus about 10 cents per coupon. So I will spend $22.00 for 20 packs of tp (8 roll equiv. in each) and the cost of coupons. That’s 160 rolls’ worth for $22. Better than GFS.

  • I could really use help in this department. I’m really looking forward to following along, with this series. Thank you, for sharing!

  • Andrea Schrock says:

    Crystal, When considering a grocery budget should I include the cost of diapers (and wipes) in that budget? I have two children (1 yr old and 2 yr old) in diapers currently thankfully they are in the same size so I only buy size diapers.
    I love your site, it has encouraged me and has helped me save so much on items we use everyday!!!

    Thank you,

    • Jenn says:

      @Andrea Schrock, I found it easiest to only count what we could put in our mouths in the grocery budget. The math and receipt tracking is much easier. Especially if you shop at a Target or Walmart for toiletries and other stuff. Subtracting out the other stuff is a pain. So the other part of that rule is to only buy groceries at the grocery store. Again, easy math. And you’ll get better selection and prices buying toiletries elsewhere.

  • I’m amazed at how little we now spend on groceries and personal care items. Our weekly budget is $50 for both. For a family of four. We started cloth diapering before our financial crunch and I’m so glad that we did. It saves us so much money with one in diapers full-time and one part-time.

    A couple years ago we knew that our budget needed to be that, but I laughed because I thought there was no possible way. It is! Part of my accountability is posting my budget on my blog each week. Now we have even more incentive, because we’re on the road to adopting from South Africa.

  • Jennifer says:

    I used to be so overwhelmed with finances; we both graduated with our Bachelor’s degrees (debt free!), had a baby a month later, and moved across the country 2 months later, and I just couldn’t handle it. I had tried a budget before, but somehow we had just always scraped by with God’s grace. Now that I stay at home with our amazing little boy, I’ve taken the time to sit down, categorize our spending, and go over it with my husband twice a month. Finances were the biggest problem in our marriage; we tried not to fight or use angry words, but there was certainly tension any time the “budget” word was used. Now that we can discuss it calmly and brainstorm ways for improvement, we’re both so relieved and the tension is gone! Plus, we get to celebrate together when we do well, and we get to pray together when we need help. It has become a huge source of strength in our marriage to use a budget.

  • Marjorie says:

    I definitely groaned. Quite loudly I might add! But I think this article is right on target and exactly what I need to do. I never keep track of how much money we spend on groceries. I’m sure this will be a wakeup call but more importantly, a good starting point to getting my budget under control. Thanks for the great article!

  • Sara says:

    Our budget has lifted a weight off my shoulders that I didn’t even know as there before! This month we made out our first detailed budget (after five years of marriage and one kid, it was long overdue!). There is so much freedom in knowing how much I can spend on groceries, clothing, restaurants, and entertainment. I no longer have to worry if a purchase will keep us from not making a bill payment or putting a sufficient amount into our savings. And the funny thing is, we have more than I thought! It’s almost as if we’re making more money just by having a budget! A budget helps me make wiser purchases and weigh the cost of making that purchase.

  • Danielle says:

    I enjoy reading your blog so much. Thanks so much for all of the help you provide to people. I do have a question. We are a family of five. Two girls and one boy. Ages 4, 6, & 8. What do you think is a realistic amount to set for a grocery budget? In other words what do you think my goal should be to get my budget down to. I would say I spend around $150 every two weeks. I would greatly appreciate your input.

  • Stephanie Sample says:

    Thanks for this great information. I’ve created a rough draft budget and plan to create my envelopes for using cash for day to day living. Can you give me suggestions on how you set up your budget? Does anyone have a simple form they use?


  • amy says:

    I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a budget either. I over buy because it is a great sale or even free. But I too have alot of waste. I am going to set a budget right now and TRY to stick to it. I usually spend $200-$250 a month on groceries(getting $400-450 worth of groceries) but not needing all that. It is only my daughter and I. So from right now on I am budgeting $40 a week for groceries and my goal of having it to $30 a week within 6 months. Thank you for all your great posts. You inspire me to be a better person allaround. Thanks 🙂 Amy

  • AnnJo says:

    This post and its comments came just at the right time for me. Over the past year, I’ve started keeping a price book and couponing, which has dramatically lowered the cost-per-item on our grocery and supply list, but I also made a commitment about thre months ago to build up our pantry to give us at least six months’ worth of our basic meal building blocks (pasta, rice, beans, tuna, canned tomatoes and veggies, oils, soups, spaghetti sauce, bath tissue, cleaning supplies, condiments, etc.).

    The result was a pretty big leap in our grocery/supplies spending. I now realize I should have budgeted for this “stocking up” program and allowed for it to proceed more gradually. Part of the goal is to not have to be like the middle-class looters we are seeing in the aftermath of the Chile earthquake in the event of a local emergency, but that goal was adequately met when we reached the one-month reserve. The other part of the goal – long-term savings – shouldn’t come at the cost of totally blowing our current spending.

    Time to sit down with the calculator!

  • Jenn says:

    I’d recommend to get started setting your monthly budget right at what you’re currently spending, if you can. Because then it’s an easy win when you spend less. Once you get better at some of the strategies you can go lower for the budget but I’m all about easy success for the tough things.

    And keep in mind that there are 4.3 weeks in a month. If you divide your monthly budget by 4 you’ll end up short-changing some weeks or mysteriously going over.

  • elizabeth says:

    I think the idea of a grocery budget is a great idea; however, I think food should be a significant part of your total spending. In this country we spend about 10 cents of every dollar on food and 20 cents of every dollar on health care. A lot of that spending on health care is because we eat such junky food. Spending as little as you can on food tends to lead to spending more on health care later down the road– to to mention a lot of sickness and disablilty. My grandmother would call that “penny wise, pound foolish.”

  • julie says:


    Thanks so much for this post and the month-long topic. You do a great job challenging and encouraging people! I’m so thankful for the way God has used you and the blog to help teach me over this past year.

    I started couponing w/ sales last January in an effort to cut our grocery bill. I saw results right away but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve seen the drastic results I’ve been working towards. Before Jan. 2009 our family (of five) grocery budget was over 500/month. For the first 5 months of last year I averaged $460/month. I was saving but not saving enough. I started making everything from scratch and then meal planning as well. The combination of those 3 disciplines (couponing w/sales, scratch cooking and meal planning) has yielded so much fruit for our family! For the last 3 months our food budget has not exceeded $250!!! (That’s with me making 3 meals/day 7 days/week for the whole family.) And you should see my freezer!! It’s FULL! We are eating whole foods, with the exception of a couple of boxes of whole grain cereal, and have lots of variety in our menus. I am thrilled and so very thankful to see how God has blessed my efforts and has given us grace. It is possible that our family may go through a period of unemployment in the near future, but we are not afraid!! We know that God is sovereign and he will provide. He has provided already thanks to a pumped-up emergency fund and the knowledge of how to provide for a growing family on significantly less! Thanks for all you do, you’ve been a blessing to our family!!

  • Emily says:

    My husband and I have tracked our spending for most of our marriage, but only truly started budgeting about 2 years ago when he started vet school. We are pretty frugal people and typically have to be encouraged by the other to spend money even if it’s something we need. With that said, I really like having a budget because there are times when I want to buy something special and I used to feel really guilty about it, but now I don’t because I know when we can afford it and then it’s okay to buy it. I track sales really well and am trying to use more coupons, but I have found that having a meal plan has helped me the most. When I go to the store I know exactly what I need to get and we have plenty of food to eat and eat a variety of meals. I have a 15 month old and when he started eating solids I was really upset about our food budget, but have come to understand that it needed to go up to account for him, but with meal planning it has only gone up a touch.
    I do have a couple of questions. One, I know that where you live influences grocery prices, but is there some general idea of what people should be spending based on family size? Two, why do so many people include non-food items in their grocery budget? I feel like our food budget is reasonable, but not when compared to others who are including these non-food items.
    I’m all for lowering our budget to help us through school so thanks for your tips!

  • Kimberly says:

    I recently taught a class at church at lowering your grocery budget. I think having a realistic goal is essential. You can’t meat a goal you haven’t set. That little bit you save each month really can add up!

  • Kim says:

    We’ve been on a set budget for years now. I plan my meals each week, take cash only and use a calculator. I also figure in sales tax so that I know just how much I’m able to spend. When our grocery money is gone, its gone. It has worked amazingly well for us and now the thought of shopping without a calculator seems crazy! ha I found one at the $1 store that hangs on my neck…its fabulous!

  • We’re friends with a couple who have had some serious financial difficulties the past few years. The wife wants to budget, but the husband refuses because it might limit his fun. I’ve told him that budgets are actually very freeing; you know how much you have to spend, so you plan more carefully, whether it’s entertainment, eating out, buying groceries, etc. My husband and I learned that budgets make us more appreciative of the things we choose to spend money on. Funny how it works.

    I’ll never truly understand why budgets are so frightening to people.

  • Nikki says:

    Recently I’ve been more diligent about sticking to our grocery budget. I’ve been using coupons for years but I was still going over our budget each month. I reconciled with myself that it was OK because it was a $.50 here or $.75 there. I told myself that a little over each month wouldn’t matter because I had found a great deal. Then in December I started reading moneysavingmom where I was introduced to Dave Ramsey. I had never heard of him, and like many people, my husband and I thought we were super frugal. After reading Dave’s books and following Crystal’s financial goals series, our family is 100% committed to staying on a budget. The biggest help as far as our grocery budget is concerned has been paying for everything in cash. I am happy to say that in February our budget was under by $15. We are not starving or going without wonderful produce or wholesome food. The real difference is that I am more committed to finding the best deals for my family.

  • Carmen says:

    I would say find recipes that don’t have expensive ingredients. If you’re on a budget you can’t eat filet mignon or lobster every night. Find some recipes that are inexpensive and easy. (You have a lot of great recipes, Crystal!! I have some good ones on my blog…we have 7 kiddos…we have to eat inexpensively!) We spend around $150 a week on our grocery budget and that includes diapers, health and beauty and cleaning.

  • Barbara says:

    I have not read all the comments and am a day behind. However, I suggest setting an annual budget, or at most, a monthly one. I’ll also suggest that if you are just starting “pantry principle shopping” that you may also need to set some extra money aside the first couple weeks. Those of us who shop coupons combined with loss leader sales have weeks when we find alot of things and weeks when all we buy is milk and produce. If you are starting out now, Easter will probably have a lot of sales to take advantage of.

  • Of all the areas to budget, groceries have continually been the hardest area to stick within our budget amount. My wife just attending a …well, I’m not sure what to call it, it was basically a get together with her friends and she learned how to save big using coupons. She ordered 5 subscriptions to the Sunday paper. Here’s hoping this new strategy really helps 🙂

  • Jennifer says:

    Wow, lots of comments about budgets. (Back when I was a CPA, discussing budgets wasn’t nearly this popular!)

    What works better for us is not to have a weekly budget, but rather monthly or every 3-4 months. We live in a rural area and I although we make it to the store weekly for the basics (milk, produce), we do the bulk of our shopping once a month. There’s also certain things I buy only at SAMS, but we’re only there every 3 months or so. I keep track of how far under budget I’ve been in previous weeks to know how much I can spend on the bigger trips.

    I’m also inclined to stock up now on a good sale rather than wait for it to come around again. Since I’m doing most of my shopping only once a month and I only have 2 stores to choose from, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll miss the next time a particular item is on sale.

    Question: Do you keep your grocery & household items (shampoo, toilet paper, etc) as seperate budget categories? My last trip into town, I bought a variety of things (present for son’s b-day, shoes for hubby, groceries, etc) all at one stop. I took a few minutes to break out the present and shoes when putting them in Quicken, but it seems it would be too time consuming to break out household items from groceries (and figure the tax for each) each time I shop.

  • Ashley says:

    We have been living on a budget for the last few months and my grocery bill either busts my budget or I feel stressed a lot of the time because I know we’re almost out of money in that area. I buy almost no processed foods and I’m wondering if that is why my monthly groceries are so high. We’re a family of 6 (the youngest on formula and 2 babies in diapers – cha ching!) and I’ve got a $600 a month budget for this area. The normal coupons that circulate don’t help me very often…do you have any suggestions for staying with our healthy eating and cooking while still saving money? Thanks a ton!

  • Margaret says:

    Great post – thanks.
    I started couponing last June and I’ve already seen some huge savings. I am tracking my monthly expenses.
    We were spending WAY more than the tiny budget mentioned by some of you super savers – but I’m working on it.

    I love the idea of challenging yourself to a lower budget. I think this is my next step in lowering my budget!! Some small incemental changes over the next 6 to 12 months will really make a difference, I’m sure!

  • Suzie says:

    Thanks for the motivation! I have 5 children.. and our grocery budget is OUT OF CONTROL. I will be coming back for more!


  • Joanna says:

    I have a question about your budget (and I hope this isn’t redundant from an earlier post, etc) – does your grocery budget include only food, or household items as well? I feel like I spend so much each time I go to the grocery store but I’m realizing I don’t actually spend that much on food – a lot of what I consider grocery spending is actually on household items. Anyway, I’m following the series and hoping it will help, but was curious about that. Thanks!

  • sara says:

    I have a $50 a week grocery budget for my family of five-this also includes toiletries/HBA and household goods like paper products and cleaning supplies. I also bring in cash at the store-our checkbook and debit cards are locked in our safe 🙂 We now eat much healthier than when I had a bigger budget-I’ve really cut back on the junk food and processed meals. Great series!

  • Here’s a nifty way to figure out a reasonable grocery budget.

    Go to the USDA’s Cost of Food site:

    Then use the charts to look up the demographics of your family. You want your food groceries to be at or near “thrifty” range.

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