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What to Do When You’re Frustrated With Your Grocery Budget

Are you frustrated with your grocery budget? Read this for encouragement!

{Psst! Want more help with your grocery budget? Sign up to get 10 Easy Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill By $50.}

Grocery Budget Frustration

I recently received this question from a reader:

“I have a family of five. Why oh why can’t I stay on our grocery budget? We budget $750 per month and I see that you do it on $70 per week. I just don’t understand what I’m doing wrong! I’m frustrated down to my toes about this issue. I shop the markdowns, I portion control, I buy bargains — and yet I still go over every single month. I just don’t understand!” -Christy

I get this question pretty often because a lot of people see my $70 grocery budget and get frustrated and feel like they must be doing something wrong.

Here’s what I want to encourage you to do…

1. Stop comparing.

Comparison is the thief of joy. If you spend your life comparing yourself to other people, you’ll always come up short.

You’ll miss out on embracing your life right where you’re at, because you’ll be so busy worrying about what other people are doing.

We all come from different backgrounds. I was raised by parents who were very frugal and modeled excellent money management for me every single day of my life. A lot of people didn’t have that modeled for them growing up, and that makes a big difference!

Don’t beat yourself up over what you’re not doing or what you’re doing wrong. Instead, focus on what you can do! (More on that below.)

Kroger Grocery Shopping Haul

2. Remember your limitations.

We are all different families in different situations!

  • Maybe you went into your adult life knowing nothing about saving money, since it wasn’t modeled for you.
  • Maybe you have food allergies or sensitivities, so you can’t buy just anything and have to be more particular.
  • Maybe you don’t have many store options in your area.
  • Maybe you don’t have an ALDI or Kroger with markdowns.
  • Maybe you have a time limitation because of your work schedule.
  • Maybe you have a house full of teenage boys who are eating you out of house and home.
  • Maybe you have kids in diapers, and that adds to your grocery budget.

My parents modeled great money management for me, our family doesn’t have any food specifications, we have tons of store options in our area (including 3 different Krogers and an ALDI), and I work from home in a job that’s all about saving money. Therefore, I have a lot of advantages when it comes to our grocery budget!

We all have different limitations. It’s important to give yourself grace!

big grocery trip

3. Ask yourself what you can do.

Don’t be a defeatist and just give up, but be a realist about what you can do within your limitations!

Make sure you have a grocery budget — even if it feels way over the top compared to others. Know how much you’re spending.

Challenge yourself to examine the stores in your area and figure out your options. You might have to get a little creative! Maybe you have a small local grocery store, an Asian market, or farmer’s market. Or maybe ordering off Amazon or having a produce box delivered will be your best bet. Perhaps you have a friend who gardens and you can offer your time to help in exchange for some of the produce.

My advice is to try to shave 1-3% off your grocery budget every month. One simple change can shave a little bit off your grocery budget each month. And over time, that will add up to a big grocery budget cut as you increase that each month!

I bet there’s something you can do right now. Get creative, think up ideas, and don’t give up! (Need something to get you started? Check out these 25 ideas to cut your grocery budget and these 18 other ideas submitted by readers.)

4. Celebrate your success.

Focus on what you’re doing right and celebrate that!

Make a little bit of headway each month, and you’ll start recognizing how amazing you’re doing. And I bet you’ll get excited about it instead of discouraged!

Related Posts:

I’d love for you to leave a comment telling us your very best tip for saving money on your groceries!

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22 Comments

  • Heather says:

    One of my suggestions, that falls under the ‘don’t compare’ point, is to realize that not everyone counts budgets the same way either. Our family eats 21 meals at home each week. Everyone is eating all of those, as Daddy works from home most of the year and I pack 100% of his food when he isn’t at home. We have special diet needs and even pack food when we travel. I’ve noticed that other families, including Crystal, don’t include eating out or food when traveling as part of their grocery budgets. Others don’t include the cost of school lunches, etc. As an example, if my family of 5 eats 21 meals a week that is a total of 105 meals we are paying for in our grocery budget. If another family of 5 eats out 2x/week, has 3 kids eating 5 meals a day at school, and Dad eats out with clients 5x/week that means they are serving their family is eating 65 meals out of their grocery budget. That is a significant difference in the amount of food that the family is eating from groceries, but both might be comparing the amount they spent at the grocery store, not the amount they spent to feed their family for the whole week.

    • Kristine says:

      Love this observation about looking at your number of meals. Thank you for pointing it out.

      Even though we know there are differences between families, it’s a good reminder to see.

    • Yes! As I was thinking of this, it struck me how a lot of people don’t include hospitality in their grocery budget, whereas we do. So many weeks (not during the pandemic, but usually!), I’m typically feeding a lot more than just our family in a week! So while I know we could eat on less than $70/week (and we definitely have in leaner seasons — especially in the early years of our marriage back when there’s no way we could afford to even consider having an eating out budget!), I love to be able to open our home up and welcome others in and $70/week gives us the wiggle room to be able to do that! It’s so good to figure out what works best for your family and to do that!

    • Amy says:

      I love they way you put this Heather. I came to comment as well about looking at what is covered in a budget. Crystal calls it her grocery budget where we call it a food budget. We are counting different things!

      My husband is now the primary food preparer and he doesn’t enjoy coming up with meals of groceries procured through bargain shopping. (And he doesn’t like to bargain shop.) Our food budget increased and we have to be ok with it or figure out how to make changes.

      • When Jesse did the cooking for awhile, the same thing happened for us! 🙂

      • Oh and yes, it’s also good to consider whether it’s just a food budget and doesn’t include things like hygiene products, pet products, diapers, etc. Or whether it’s a grocery budget that includes all things you would buy at the grocery store. I always tell people that there’s no set way to do things — figure out what works for you! For some people (like it sounds like your family), they only want to include food in their budget whereas other people (like us) decide it works better to include everything we buy at the grocery store in our budget, not just food.

  • Christie says:

    Great tips-especially the shave 1-3% off a month goal.
    A global pandemic is not the best time to be super stressed about decreasing the food budget. Food shortages, no/few sales, trying to only shop one store or limit shopping trips to avoid being in public. Please don’t beat yourself up about grocery spending going up during this time!!!
    Right now, my freezer stockpile is close to gone. I’ve had to buy meat, which is usually the biggest meal expense, at regular price instead of a stocking up when it’s on sale.

    The 3lb ground beef roll that’s usually $9.99, I wait to stock up until it’s on sale for $6.99, is now $12.99. And that’s IF they have it in stock. We’re in the Midwest and limited to 2-3 meat items per order lately.

    While I have multiple stores available, I try to focus on a weekly Kroger pickup with a monthly trip to aldi or Costco for other necessities.

    I think the three easiest things to do right now is to 1. be sure we eat everything we buy (I’m not so good at that-often throwing away leftovers).
    2. Loosely meal plan to use similar ingredients-if one recipe calls for 1/2 a red pepper and some cilantro, use those ingredients in other meals instead of also buying fresh parsley and a green pepper.
    3. Buy whatever produce is on sale that we eat.. I know we need fruit to snack on. Instead of buying grapes at 2.99/lb, I’ll buy the blueberries that are $.99 a pound. Or asparagus at $1.49 instead of $3.99 Brussels sprouts.

  • Chrissie says:

    I went through a moment of feeling this, until I realized that it is just not my top priority and that is OK. I am happy you feed your family well on that budget. I learn tips and tricks I can use, but it does not make me feel less than. I also do not need to lessen the fact it is amazing you CAN do it to make me feel better. We all have our own strengths to offer. I love to cook and buy ingredients and satisfy all my big kids, husband, and any guests we feed in our house with no stress, and I budget accordingly. We go without in other areas to fund our food habit. We are all doing what is good for our unique family and situations.

  • Archie L Davis Jr says:

    What people need to stop doing is comparing their grocery budgets to others. Also with this Covid 19 prices have went up on groceries and stores have been putting limits on items you can buy. You have to do what is best for your family and be content in what works for you.

  • This is such an inspiring article. It’s true we all have different circumstances and it really helps to have a realistic target.

  • Sheila says:

    Shopping during Covid means all bets are off ! With shortages and rationing we are all just doing the best we can! However, during normal times there are a few things that have helped me.
    1) stock up on items when on sale!
    2) consider buying the store brand ,as often times it is cheaper than the name brand even on sale!
    3) change your diet, we stopped buying sodas, bottled water, premade snack foods and cookies and deli items. This means we drink tea, or water, cut out snacking on junk food and we bake from scratch.
    4) zero food waste is always the goal. We were tossing an amazing amount of food that was spoiling before we got around to using it.
    5) spend a good amount of time on your list based on the store where you shop and the best deals for the week,
    and plan meals around this and don’t deviate from your list!
    6) stretch your meats by making soups and lowering the amount of meat in a recipe from what it calls for.
    7) don’t beat yourself up! Just keep trying!

  • Lisa Rose says:

    I would encourage the poster to meal plan based on what her family likes to eat! I would buy items that were on sale and then try to make my family eat something they didn’t really enjoy. This led to more snacking which obviously increases the budget. Buying what I know my family will eat has led to less food waste and less snacking between meals. Also, when planning snacks try to include foods they like that are high in protein and fiber (like peanut butter and apples). Most of all know that each family is different and what works for one doesn’t always work for another.

  • Janis says:

    The most important rule for me is to buy items only when they are on sale. In my area (Georgia), November food prices are the cheapest. Other holidays are the second cheapest. I bought Campbell’s cream soups for .50 a can, and I bought 17-18. The cheapest price I have seen since Thanksgiving is $1. I try to stock all items that will stay in date, and I shop several times so that I do not deplete the shelves. When the pandemic hit, (my husband and I are seniors, and he has several underlying conditions), I did not shop for 6 weeks. The 5th week, my daughter bought eggs for me. I plan ahead, knowing I will go 0ver budget in November.

    Try grocery pick-up. The past 3 weeks I have been doing either Walmart or Kroger pick-up, and I am spending less than I would if I went into the store. With Walmart, I know exactly how much I am spending, and I can take away non-essential items. Kroger, unfortunately, does not give you sale prices until the items are rung up. Kroger will subtract your paper coupons whereas Walmart will not.

    It takes time to build your stockpile. Don’t expect to lower your budget immediately. I have been trying to teach my sister to shop more frugally–she is about to retire–and she was frustrated in the beginning. She could not handle too many things at once, so we concentrated first on Publix and their BOGO free items.

    • Jordan says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience! It sounds like you have a really great system worked out to get you the best grocery savings! -Jordan, MSM Team

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