Food budgeting

RIght now I have one food category, but I have trouble getting the money to last. 

Have anyone tried to make four categories, one for each week to make it easier to keep the weekly food budget? 

 

I wonder if it will help? I feel it would be easier to keep track of how much money I have to spend . 

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  • I have seen it suggested before. Seems like a good solution, since it's easier to conceptualize a week's vs. a month's spending. 

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  • assuming you are budgeting the entire food expense for the month up front.

    Make a category "Food for the Month".

    Make another category "Food for the Week".

    Budget the entire food spending for the month in the Food for the Month category.  Once a week, move  1 week worth of budget to the "Food for the Week" category. 

    Use "Food for the Week" as your spending barometer for the week.

    Reply Like 10
      • Tropico
      • tropico
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      mhornak That is actually a great idea! Save me for four different categories for food! :D

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  • Hi, Tropico .

    I've tried a few different things to stay on budget with groceries:

    I've budeted for the month, but pulled out the weekly allotment in cash, and when I went grocery shopping I would take only that cash and a list, but make sure to leave all other methods of payment at home. You want to believe I made sure to stick to my list on those trips. No magazines. No scented candles.

    I've also purchased grocery store gift cards that I divvied up by week. This is pretty much the same as the cash alternative, but carrying less cash, and it also committed those funds to groceries.  Ahem... I was not a very disciplined spender in the beginning.

    When I was suddenly unemployed, I separated  out  non-food to its own category rationalizing that since money was tight, I could delay purchasing aluminum foil or light bulbs to another week, and add water to my laundry detergent jug, but I needed some essential food. That was a major turning point in my budget.  I hadn't realized just how much of the dramatic ups and downs of my grocery store spending was non-food.  To this day I still maintain that separate non-food consumables category (Household Sundries) and I categorize all purchases to it that are for items that keep me, my clothes, and my home clean and functioning.

    Then I noticed how much I spent in those months where I ran out of every spice and condiment. Why do they all run out at the same time!? I started siphoning off 10% of my grocery spend for irregular food spending to just build for those times that I needed to replenish expensive pantry items, so it would not catch me unawares. I would let that category build up untouched  until I needed it. Then I noticed a really good sale on a food or ingredient I knew I would use. Being able to buy an entire case of canned food at 50% off, or a 20-lb bag of rice at 50% off ensured my grocery spending came in even lower.  I could also buy those larger packages of meat and freeze it in smaller portions, and eventually I was able to order it in bulk direct from a farmer.

    Over time, having a pantry and freezer full of items purchased at significantly lower prices positively affected how much I needed to spend on regular grocery purchases. There was even money left over at the end of each month.  I would then move the funds I hadn't spent on groceries to the pantry/freezer category at the end of each month. I currently budget about 2/3 of my food money to grocery (fresh food) and 1/3 to pantry/freezer. I still keep all non-food in its separate category.

    Reply Like 4
    • Ben
    • Toolkit for YNAB Designer & Developer
    • furiousfalcon
    • 1 yr ago
    • Reported - view

    YNAB has a "Saving Money on Groceries" class that might be helpful? https://www.youneedabudget.com/classes/

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      • HappyDance
      • YNABing consistently since 2014
      • HappyDance
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      Ben 

      Have you taken that class?  Any tips to share, or do we all have to sign up? 🙂

      Reply Like 1
  • I used to carry around my phone's calculator and I would add things up as I went.  It worked wonders.  

    Reply Like 1
  • Hi Tropico!  I'm not going to comment on how to handle this in YNAB, since you've gotten some good answers.  But I do know an awful lot about food budgeting, and am happy to share some tips.  

    * HappyDance is right - don't go shopping without a list.  Plan out a few meals, or a full week, write down what's needed, and don't get anything else.

    *even before that, your meal planning should start with A) what's left in your fridge and pantry and B) what's on sale that week at the store.  Check both of those first (most stores weekly circulars are online) and that's the backbone of your meal plan.    You'll also come up with some terrific dishes when you do a google search for, say, "buttermilk and cilantro", when that's all you have left.  You will amaze yourself and all around you!

    *Buy enough of what's on sale to last until the next time that item goes on sale, usually 4-6 weeks.  Don't buy anything on sale you wouldn't normally buy. For items that won't last, like milk, find out which store has the best price and buy there.  When steak is on sale, that's what you're having one night that week and get an extra to throw in the freezer.Your goal is to purchase every grocery item when it is at its lowest price.  It takes time to learn prices, but it's a process that will serve you well over the long run.

    * learn to cook, or invest time in improving your skills.  You will save a literal fortune.  My favorite resource is The Joy of Cooking.  Excellent instruction, and everything you could possibly want to make is there.  It doesn't have to be complicated at all - just pick a dish or two you like, find a recipe from a reputable source (Joy of Cooking, NYTimes, Ina Garten,  etc.,) and go from there. 

    *  learn the basic techniques for making omelettes, quiches, fried rice,  pasta, and pizza (I do buy premade dough at Trader Joe's for $1.19 - a whole cheese pie for our family of 3 costs about $3.15.)  These are basic and flexible dishes that you can add a few leftovers to to make a whole new dish.  Have a nub of cheese and two stalks of broccoli?  You've got a hearty broccoli cheese omelette.   A couple ounces of leftover pork tenderloin, some frozen peas, and a bag of carrots?  Pork fried rice.  You get the idea.  These dishes cost pennies. 

    * some may not agree, but I personally believe it's important to eat 3 meals a day.  When you cook at home and from scratch, it's a bit more effort that opening a package or going to a restaurant.  Don't skip meals and let yourself get so hungry that you can't give yourself 20 minutes to put something together.  Even if you eat some prepared foods, it's still much better for your budget than eating out. Now that is a BUDGET KILLER.

    Hope some of this is useful to you.  Good luck, and good eating!

    Reply Like 4
  •  I enjoy the easy-to-prepare, delicious, and frugal recipes featured on this website:  BudgetBytes and the site is a pleasure to navigate because it isn't all advertising and pop-ups, so refreshing!  She has an app, and you can subscribe to her e-mail recipes.

    Get the free pdf recipe book download of Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown in English or Spanish.

    Reply Like 5
      • budgetlover
      • Real Estate Broker
      • Forest_Green_Keyboard.1
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      HappyDance  these are great resources I had never heard of.  I'm enjoying poking around them both.  Thank you!

      Reply Like 1
    • HappyDance  Budget Bytes chicken shawarma recipe is phenominal!

      Reply Like 1
      • HappyDance
      • YNABing consistently since 2014
      • HappyDance
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Silver Robot 

      Amazing recipes, right? Easy to prepare. Delicious. Frugal.  I love that Budget Bytes website.

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      • GBR
      • GBR
      • 1 yr ago
      • 1
      • Reported - view

      HappyDance  I love budgetbytes, too!

      Reply Like 1
      • Khaki Storm
      • YNAB book topics online: https://support.youneedabudget.com/r/q5w48j
      • Khaki_Storm.1
      • 8 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      HappyDance Thank you! Free book and meals under $4! 

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  • I've also seen separate categories for bulk buying (like costco trips), CSAs/Farmers Market, and holiday food. We have a separate category for Passover because we spend so much extra that month, and I've thought about making a category for the farmer's market or veggies to force myself to eat more fresh, local deliciousness.

    In general, we have a list of basics that we always keep in stock and then we rotate fruits and veggies, and maybe a special ingredient or two for new recipes. It helps that I can shop for the basics once or twice a month and make sure we're stocked, and then I just have to add weekly produce.

    Reply Like 2
  • http://www.geniuskitchen.com/ is a site I find a lot of recipes I can make (I am NOT a good cook. . . but getting better)

    I have learned to avoid the Food Network website. . . too many special ingredients.

    http://www.supercook.com/#/recipes is a site that lets you put the ingredients you have on hand, and shows you things you can make with them

    Meal planning and eating at home is new for us.  I work shift work and hubby will only grill or heat up dinners for himself so it's a challenge.  I have a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and scrambled eggs and toast for dinner at work.  But we have had some excellent homemade meals I never would have attempted before.  I strongly recommend a meat thermometer if you're like me and not the best cook.  Meat is expensive so the thermometer keeps me from killing it.

    I love all the suggestions for cutting the food budget.  

    Reply Like 3
    • Silver Robot OMG, I know this is an old thread, but so happy I came across your post. I love this Supercook site!!! 👩‍🍳

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  • I too was amazed at just how much of my 'grocery' bill was not actually going on food. I've broken mine down into food, cleaning, bathroom - other superstore items already had categories for things like clothing, furnishings (scented candles). My eating out and takeaway food is also separate as is special occasions, these are budgeted differently to just 'going out' because we cannot be bothered to cook.

    Budgeting experience, from spreadsheets in the 80's, to Microsoft Money in the 90s and now YNAB has encouraged me to break larger pots down into smaller pots to gain control.

    Bulk buying (Costco) works and can be budgeted for but only if you do not bulk eat!!

    As has already been said the best way to control the grocery bill has to be to plan the meals so you only buy what you will eat and minimise waste.

    Reply Like 1
  • I have one category and can mentally do the math to see where I am, assuming 25% every week is a reasonable target.
    But when you look at the category also look in the pantry.  If you have $500 and an empty pantry you are definitely not over budgeting any more than $50 and an overflowing pantry is under budgeting.
    Which also means, when you get near month end you might have to make the conscious effort to go pantry-diving more than you normally would to get to the end of the month.

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  • That's a good idea. We have categories for Groceries, Dining Out, and Lunch During The Week. We have an idea of how much we want to spend on Groceries each week, and just add money to that one category. But making a category for each week is a pretty good idea.

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    • Cornflower Blue Cornet Similarly I have three: Groceries, Restaurants with friends and Restaurants by myself.
      However you want to divide this up to gain insight into where your money is going and to confirm that's where you want it to go.
      If you are simply overspending on Groceries every month, that's not so much a budget issue as an opportunity to see if you can do Groceries better.  I say this in the same way I would say going over budget on gasoline isn't a budgeting problem so much as a use problem.  You know the drill - jack rabbit starts, combine trips, walk/bike where practical, and so on to improve your use of gasoline.

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  • I split my food budget into weeks.  This was suggested in a YNAB workshop when I asked about using up the food budget too early. 

    It took a bit of getting used to, but now I really like it and can't imagine budgeting for a whole month's food in one go.

    When I was starting out with YNAB I kept overspending on food.  I could see that I'd spent, say, over 75% of the budget when I was barely halfway through the month.  That made me try to spend almost nothing on food for the rest of the month - which was unrealistic so I'd fail, and then I'd feel demotivated and keep overspending.

    With the weekly food budget, if I mess up one week I have to fix it of course but then I can start with a clean slate the very next week .  It also lets me achieve small wins (under spending) which I can add to a future food week or move to another category altogether .  This is very motivating, even if it's just a small amount, so I like trying to beat the food budget each week.

    Of course, the number of days in a month varies.  I have the following five categories and budget less in Week 5.

    Week 1 (1st - 7th)

    Week 2 (8th - 14th)

    Week 3 (15th - 21st)

    Week 4 (22nd - 28th)

    Week 5 (29th - 31st)

    Reply Like 1
      • HappyDance
      • YNABing consistently since 2014
      • HappyDance
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      Pikayo 

      I wouldn't budget less in week 5 unless you plan on making two trips to the store that week, one in week 5 of this month, and then again the next day in week 1 of the next month. Presumably you don't eat any differently when the month changes over in the middle of the week than you do when it changes over on a weekend.  I would just assign grocery funds by the shopping day.  For example: A month with 5 Saturdays (the day I shop), $250.  A month with 4 Saturdays, $200.

      Although, as I write this, it occurs to me that you might have a more eclectic food shopping schedule.  I have a sister who does one massive shopping trip once a month and dashes in for a few fresh items on her way through her busy schedule for the rest of the month, so she makes sure to reserve a portion of her grocery funds for the drive-by shopping but spends probably 75% of it in one trip at the beginning of the month.

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      • Pikayo
      • Pikayo
      • 1 yr ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      HappyDance  Yes , eclectic!  I don't have a car so I have to carry whatever I buy.  Also the type of milk I get won't keep for seven days  in my fridge (I've tried this and it doesn't work).   Plus, the two supermarkets that are close have great end of day bargains (like 2p for a cucumber or 4p for a pack of 3 peppers) but they need to be eaten quite quickly.  So I tend to shop twice a week.

      Reply Like 2
      • HappyDance
      • YNABing consistently since 2014
      • HappyDance
      • 1 yr ago
      • 2
      • Reported - view

      Pikayo 

      Got it. 🙂  I did the multi-stop per week shopping for a few years when I was without car (sold it to save money when unemployed) and walking up three flights of stairs to my apartment. I found it far more efficient and less physically taxing to break up my food spending. I would shop by food type to accommodate the fact that I had to walk it home, and I wore a sturdy backpack.  That's also when I got into the habit of not buying household items when food shopping. I would do a separate trip (very infrequently) to top up my supplies of non-food stuff. I still do a separate shopping trip for non-food.

      Reply Like 2
  • I have this problem too and what I am doing is 1) Do a recurring transaction for how much i want to spend per big shopping trip. I do a full restock 2x a month. 2) do a recurring transaction for weekly top up trips. This is most because my family would do good at the 2 big trips and then overspend during the weekly trips. We buy drinking water every Saturday (this is $5 per 5-Gallon and we normally do 1-2 of those per week), we also have to buy fruits and milk weekly because they don't last longer than that. And IF I plan to get meat for burgers we do that on the day we will use it (I only cook "dinner" on weekends. during the week we have shakes for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. for lunch, my mother-in-law cooks for us at her house where we go daily to see our baby who she babysits). What is does is it helps me to see how much i have the category underfunded especially if I have "extra" trips during the week. BUT. I love mhornak suggestion of doing 2 categories so you kind hide that extra money from yourself. So I am gonna combine this into my budget too.

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  • I don't do this in my budget but I use a Monzo card and utilize the 'pots' system for this. I split my monthly budget for certain things into weekly and know exactly what I have for that week. It's probably really excessive but I really am horrible with money and I need that discipline.

    I think my biggest success in food budgeting was doing online delivery and accepting that it may be slightly more expensive at the time but save me money in the long run as I didn't pick up convenience items on my walk home from work.

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