If you look at my blog posts, I try to concentrate on helping families improve their household budgets. One of the expenses reviewed in your budget should be how much you actually spend on food. Quite frankly, almost all individuals that I meet with regarding bankruptcy always underestimates how much they actually spend on food. In my household budget before I started tracking expenses, I guessed that we were spending about $500 on food before our daughter came along. In reality, after tracking our groceries and dining out expenses, we were spending over double that figure. I had no clue! If you took how much my husband and I we were spending on just eating lunch out every day, 5 days per week at an average of $8 per lunch, we were spending $80 per week on lunches alone. That is $4,160 per year. The thought of putting $4,160 of food in our bellies for the year made me sick to my stomach and really made me question every single penny I spent on lunch going forward.
Other Food Expenses
What are the money traps regarding food expenses besides eating lunches out?
- Eating out the majority of your meals. Eating out is much more expensive than eating at home. If you commit to eating out less per month by a certain number of meals, you will start to notice a difference in your bank account.
- Buying in bulk and wasting food. If you are like me, you love a good bargain. BUT, do you know that buying items in bulk may seem like the best deal but sometimes they are not? For me, going to Costco or Sam’s is at least a $250 visit each time I go. Costco has the best produce, but when you have a family of 3, some of the produce is going to waste because it is impossible to eat it all before the expiration date, and then you end up throwing food out. That is throwing money down the trash. I learned this lesson the hard way. Now, I just buy the normal family size at a local grocery store and hardly ever waste produce anymore.
- Taking kids with you to the grocery store. I have a four year old daughter who will out-spend me two-to-one if I take her to the grocery store. With all the chips, cookies and candy on display and placed strategically around the grocery store at her eye level, her mini grocery cart is filled up usually before we have left the produce section. As a Mom on a budget, those mini grocery carts should be outlawed!! Those grocery stores sure know how to market to a 4 year old. I have to say NO at least 1,000 times by the end of the grocery store visit and when the experience is over, I feel like I just survived the apocalypse.
- Not making a list before going to the grocery store or going to the grocery store hungry. It is so important to plan out your meals for the week then make your grocery list from the meals that you plan to make. Also, you never want to go to the grocery store hungry because you will always overbuy because of your hunger.
- Choosing only name brand products. For years, I had a hard time buying non-name brand items because after my parents divorced, I would help my Mom do the shopping with our food stamps and we would always buy the black/white generic packaging of any item where it was available. The generic food was perfectly fine to eat, but buying generic represented and reminded me of a very hard time that my family had to endure just to make ends meet. Now, I could care less what package the food comes in as long as it is edible. Only buying name brand is NOT the way I want to live anymore since I now have a daughter who has needs that are far greater than our house only eating name brand foods. I now just look for the foods that taste the best for the best price.
- Not tracking your food expenses. If you don’t know how much you are spending, you are likely overspending. Once you start tracking your food expenses, you will want to start saving money. Saving money through budgeting can be quite addicting when you are trying to beat the last deal or spend less the next time. It is important to track your food expenses to find ways to save in your future spending.
Do you want to know if you are spending too much on food? If so, the USDA issues a Cost of Food at Home report every month, providing what the cost of food should be for certain age groups by week or month. Using this report, you can easily find whether your household is exceeding those levels. The report offers four levels to select from: thrifty plan, low-cost plan, moderate-cost plan and a liberal plan. After looking at this report, my new goal is finding a way to get my household on the thrifty plan.