February Grocery Budget

I like to think that Eric and I are pretty good with money for our age. We JUST acquired our first large amount of debt in the form of a mortgage + car payments within the last month. We have no credit card debt and no student loan debt (which I’m incredibly thankful for – I know everyone doesn’t have that luxury!)

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But we aren’t super anal about money. We don’t have a “budget” per say and we don’t track all the money we make/spend.

One area where neither of us (read: me) are very good is grocery shopping. I’ve wrote about this particular spending problem before – it’s not pretty (think upwards of $800 in one month on groceries!)

Since about August we’ve been sticking to a “strict” $400/month grocery budget. In the past I’ve tried writing down the grocery bill in my planner every time we went but we almost always went over budget. Last month I tried something from the show Till Debt Do Us Part that I’ve talked about before on the blog and put $400 cash into an envelope.

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That’s it. That’s all. If the envelope ran out of cash well I guess we were going to be eating out of our cupboards/freezer for awhile.

And you know what? It worked! Maybe it was because February was a short month, or maybe it was the fact that I was spending with cash so was a bit more frugal but we stayed within our $400 budget. In fact, we were $50 under!

Every time we bought groceries (about ever 1 – 1.5 weeks) I would pay for it with money from the envelope and put the receipt and change back in the envelope.

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When I realized Sunday night that we were $50 + change under for the month we did what any responsible 20-somethings would do….

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….We ordered Chinese Food + sushi!

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What?! We deserved a reward! 😀

And I’ve already got March’s cash in the envelope. Can we do 2 for 2, even though March is three days longer than February…I guess we’ll find out!

Once we’ve got the grocery budgeting down to a science maybe we’ll start budgeting elsewhere like gas, or eating out. Maybe…

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Looking for other ways to budget? Check out this budgeting software through Quicken. It has lots of pretty charts and bar graphs that will help you stay on track as well!

Do you have a grocery budget? Are you good at sticking to it?

52 Responses

  1. I just set up an identical goal. For the month of March I am aiming to spend only $400 on groceries. I didn’t take the cash out and use the envelope method, although now that I think of it, looks like a pretty good idea.

    Also, just to see where all our money is going, I’m tracking every non-fixed expense in a spreadsheet. Gonna be interesting to see the results.

  2. Kelly says:

    Oh man, we stink at grocery shopping too. I’m sure we spend close to what you were spending but I purposely don’t figure it out because it bothers me too much. I’m really impressed that you cut yours in half that quick!!! Maybe I need to try the cash envelope. Other than the fact that I kind of hate cash haha. I will say I use Mint.com and I gave myself a grocery budget of $150 a month (Eric pays half the time out of his account- if not more than half). CLEARLY that is unrealistic and I constantly get emails saying “you went over your grocery budget.” I haven’t got an e-mail about anything else going over, just groceries- time to change that budget obviously. Do you ever buy things like laundry detergent etc at the grocery store? That puts us back too but the nearest Target is not that close so it’s sometimes hard to plan ahead to get there when things are on sale.

    Anyway, looking forward to seeing you do it again in March!

    PS. I can’t believe I just skipped letters in the ABCs. That makes no sense because I cut and paste yours and you clearly didn’t. BOY I was out of it last night!

    • MissAmber says:

      Is it bad that we’ve been using the same GIANT tub of laundry detergent for almost an entire year!? Ha! We would usually buy stuff like that at Walmart but if we’re at the grocery store anyways we’ll pick some up – we usually get toilet paper, paper towel and cat litter/cat food at the grocery store (and within our grocery budget) though!

    • Kelly, this is where couponing helps! 😉 Stock up on the detergent when it is on sale/you have a coupon then you don’t have to worry about ‘running out’ or ruining your budget! I always get our cleaning stuff at the grocery store. And I wish i could freaking read your blog it still wont let me open either of your sites! Maybe I will borrow Anthony’s computer to try to read it again.

      • Kelly says:

        Can’t believe you still can’t get on my blog- very annoying. I wonder what it could be!

        I think this is my problem- where do you get coupons for laundry detergent and all that… I never find them online and I don’t get the Sunday paper (though maybe I should) haha.

        ps. Amber- how did you make it last a year?! Eric and I must do too much laundry- we need a new one every month or two!

        • Kelly, I do get the Sunday paper and there is usually at least one kind of laundry detergent in each set of ads. Like once every few months P&G has a special ad section where they do a TON of ads for their products that you can send up saving a lot of money. This week (depending on your store) I think Walgreens also has a coupon that their Arm and Hammer detergent is on sale for 2.99 each and i have another coupon for a dollar off of arm and hammer from a previous ad. Not bad at all!

  3. I actually don’t have a strict budget. But general rules- rarely do I spend more than $20-30 on a grocery trip out (for just me). Since I really like being a “deal hunter”, I don’t really think what I end up spending per month is that much of an issue… if I had to estimate, maybe $110- 125?

  4. I don’t have a grocery budget but as a single person, it’s not a big expense. I think if I was feeding a guy, then it would be more of a concern. I am going to estimate that I spend about $200/month on groceries. The cash in the envelope is a great approach, though! Very smart! In the past, I have thought about doing somethign similar for day to day spending! Using cash really does seem to change your behavior!

  5. Megan says:

    I just read about the envelope system for my psychology of personal adjustment class. I definitely suggest getting the Financial Peace Planner by Dave Ramsey. It has some useful tools that I plan on putting into practice soon.

    Husband and I spend TOO MUCH on groceries. (We probably spend about $200 bi-weekly, plus we go out to eat a lot!) I’m thinking about using the envelope system with groceries + going out to eat. 🙂

  6. Nicole says:

    I like this idea! 🙂 super cool!

  7. J says:

    Such a great idea – I feel like I may have to do that after I get married because I know Brian is a big spender on groceries and just throws anything in the cart so I will have to try to keep him on a budget!

  8. That’s a really good idea! I wish I had thought of that when my roommate and I were living on our own, it probably would have cut back on the junk we bought and maybe even inspired us to cook more often.

    I do kind of budget my money. Each month I deposit my checks into my bank account and take $100 out, which is my “play” money for that month. If I want to get something to eat, or buy a book or cd, etc. then it comes out of that money. I only use my debit for necessity things such as bills, gas, etc. and I’m usually really good at sticking with it. I’m even considering buying gift cards for Amazon to use if I want to buy a new book for my Kindle, or buy some new music. They sell them at the store I work at so it makes sense to do this.

  9. I’ve heard of that budgeting strategy and am really impressed it worked for you this past month. We spend a lot on groceries and I’m not sure I’m willing to set a stringent budget there. First reason is we hardly eat out at all anymore – we’re cooking almost every meal, save a few each month (whereas before, we ate out at least once a week, if not 2-3 times). And secondly, when we set a strict budget on food, we wind up cutting out things like fresh (and sometimes organic) produce and meats … and replace it with things like boxed and pre-packaged goods. Not sure that’s good for our health. I’d be interested in hearing how you were able to halve your budget without hurting your health. =)

  10. We have a grocery budget of $150 per week (which is ridiculous for 2 people if you ask me!). We’re pretty good at sticking to it and usually come in about 10 or 15 bucks under budget! Where we really foul up is with our “dining out” budget – we tend to go over that a lot.

  11. Emily says:

    I love the envelope idea! I try and limit myself to 50/week (for just me) but I’m not always good about it. My eating/drinking out spending is out of control, that’s what I really need to reign in.

  12. I try to keep spending to $75 a week on groceries but I am a super bargain shopper and that’s mostly just for me. I usually come in under that, but love the idea of a cash only policy. And hey – if you had $400 set aside for food and had some leftover – you deserved take out!

  13. Leigh says:

    We don’t have a grocery budget, but I have been keeping all of our receipts to see how much we have been spending. I haven’t totalled February up yet, but I am sure it’s not pretty. I wish there were more coupons available like in the States!

  14. Nora says:

    That’s awesome! when I lived alone I did have a grocery budget of about $150 a month (only one person, it’s pretty easy to do!) and I nailed it most months. I also allowed myself about $100 a month to go out to eat with friends (about once a week) and sometimes I didn’t use it all which was awesome. I’ll definitely be budgeting again in the near future… 🙂

    Can’t wait to see how march turns out for you and by the way, I’m now craving Chinese food!

  15. Jen says:

    This is a great idea, but I’d be afraid of starving! LOL

    I do have a budget, and I try to stick to $300/month on grocery AND household-type expenses (like cleaning products, candles, etc.). February (the shortest month) threw me WAY over. 🙁

    Good luck with your budgeting. I think it makes me less anxious about money, even though I don’t have any more of it coming in.

  16. Heather C says:

    This is SO smart!! It always feels different when we use cash to pay for things. I’ve lived on a budget before (in Grad School – totally necessary!) and did really well sticking to it. I haven’t done so in about two years now, though, and would love to get back in the practice of being careful what we spend on groceries. I used to get by only spending ~$200-250 per month, and now that seems low! $400 is a great number to stick to for two people, definitely doable. 🙂

  17. Holly says:

    We used to be SO good at staying under budget with groceries but since Topher’s eating “real” food – we’re always way over budget. I blame the vegetables …

  18. steph anne says:

    YAY for accomplishing that! Tyler and I have the same problem with groceries. We’d be rich if we didn’t spend so much on food..that’s for sure! We have a really bad habit of eating out because there are a lot of days where we’re not prepared or feel like up for cooking after coming home late from work. I’ve heard of a mom who trimmed her budget down to #250-$300/month for a family of 4. We have some good months where we do good…and other months it’s out of control! I should try to really stick to it this month. 🙂

  19. This is a great idea, Amber! I like that you guys rewarded yourself at the end with the extra $$. 🙂 It could also go into a fund for a trip or something if you had something special already planned. We sort of did this with our california trip and just kept putting money in an envelope to help pay for food, gas and hotel during our trip. It was nice not to go into major debt for the trip because we were planning (a bit) ahead. 😉 The key is, you gotta start somewhere! I would like to get us on a grocery budget.

  20. I need to get more serious about my grocery budget. I just did the math and I spend between $325 and $400 a month. On just me.

    Thats bad.

  21. I think we have budgeted either 300 or 400 a month towards groceries I can’t remember or find our excel sheet. We don’t ever seem to spend too much to the point where it is a problem. I know we also have something budgeted for meals out but I dont remember what it is, but I know we don’t go over it. The thing we have struggled with in the last year was extra saving throughout the months for our saved bills. My differing paychecks made it a little hard to save the amount we try to save for those, but we have enough savings that it isn’t a big deal, just something we need to work on. I can say that we only go out to dinner like once a week if that. If we eat lunches out we use our ‘fun’ money.

  22. Becky says:

    I love that idea – I’ve heard of it before too but we haven’t put it in the envelope – maybe we should try that. I have been taking cash to the store though because then it’s physically in my hands instead of just swiping my check card – it keeps me more accountable!

  23. Vanessa says:

    The cash envelope is such a great idea! I am terrible for over-spending on food.

  24. Lisa says:

    I love this idea! I want to do it. Emailed to the bf. Budgeting is a must with all the house expenses and bills we have.

  25. sarahdotcom says:

    This is a really, super great idea. I pay attention to my money, but I don’t actually budget at all. Which I should, considering the whole upcoming mortgage thing, haha. The envelope seems so easy and doable. Thanks Ammmmmber 🙂

  26. Ayla says:

    I don’t have to grocery budget yet but starting next month I will have to.. and.. I love the envelope idea! It’s so much easier to spend money when you’re using a card because you can just kind of ignore how much you’re actually spending. I think using cash will help me curb the amount of money I spend and that goes for all aspects of my life, not just the grocery bill.

  27. I have a friend who does that as well; takes money out at the beginning of the month for spending, and that’s it. If she makes it last, she makes it last, if not… well that’s too bad, guess one week of being hungry can’t kill you can it?
    I really should give this a try.

  28. Jess says:

    That’s an awesome idea. I find my grocery spending totally varies from month to month. Some months I spend a ton on groceries, other months, I spend next to nothing. It’s weird and I still have no idea why the randomness.

  29. AlisonM says:

    What a great post! I think the trick with this is that cash actually feels way more real. It’s so easy to put a debit card down and not think about how much you’re spending. But when you’re seeing the cash disappear before your eyes.. Anyway, whatever the reason, I’m glad it worked. And I’m glad you celebrated with the leftover money! 😉

  30. kristen says:

    This is A GREAT IDEA!!!! I don’t think I would be strict enough. We eat out a lot and I am not super organized. However, I bet keeping receipts helps.

  31. Caroline says:

    I’m sure I’ll be looking to these posts in 6 months when I’m living on my own.. until then: I love Canadian money. Coolness!

  32. shoshanah says:

    We don’t have a grocery budget, but if we did I’m not sure I’d be able to stick to it. I am awful at shopping for groceries. Unless I go with a specific list of things to buy I will buy some of the most random things and easily spend over $100 on one trip, without even a whole lot of food. It’s crazy and one of the reason I try to avoid grocery shopping in general.

  33. Woo hoo! Good job! I’d splurge on sushi, too, if it were me!

  34. Stephany says:

    Ugh…our grocery bill is SO out of control. My mom and I go probably 3 times a week and spend twice as much that way. I think the envelope system is a GREAT way to make sure you stay within your budget. Great job in February!

  35. Becks says:

    Nice job!
    We don’t have a “cash envelope” budget, but aim for about $125/wk. It helps a lot to cook at home.

    Do you tend to shop at one store or shop around? Superstore is great, but we have several stores really close together so sometimes depending on the quality/type of item I want I’ll shop around.

    I’ve been fudging a bit on buying organic too because it can add a lot to the price. Sometimes I think organic reads “more expensive” than necessarily “healthier” but some items, like eggs, I find really do make a difference.

    • MissAmber says:

      In the winter we mostly only shop at Superstore. I will occasionally go to Gourmet Greens or Old Town Farm Market if I just need a few veggies/fresh produce but Superstore is definitely the cheapest so I tend to be swayed there, especially since we’re on a budget!

      Honestly, other than eggs we don’t buy organic. In the summer we get ALL our produce at the Farmer’s Market (and budget a little more for it) but in the winter we just get produce from the basic, produce section in Superstore!

  36. Kara says:

    I don’t have a set grocery budget, I just try to spend as little as possible. We spend about 450 dollars a month on the baby’s special formula, so any $$$ we can save is good!

  37. LisaJennea says:

    I erratically budget for food, and the grocery/eating category tends to blur together, depending on what I’ve got going on. I should probably be better at budgeting, but at least I’m somewhat aware, and not completely clueless 🙂

  38. Kyla Roma says:

    I love that you guys are Till Debt geeks too! Congrats on sticking with your budget! 🙂

  39. I don’t have a grocery budget- I really should though!

  40. Page says:

    It may not be the fanciest budget, but I think it’s a REALLY great idea. Congrats on staying under your budget AND for celebrating!! LOVE IT!

  41. I used to keep all my grocery money (and sometimes spending money) in envelopes like that, and I would write on them in just the same way!!!

    I stopped a while ago (and it is a good thing, since our house was broken into), and now just keep the money in my bank.

    We budget for groceries (approx. 600/month).

  42. […] have never actually tried the envelopes filled with cash system. This would probably change my spending quite a bit because I suffer from “but what if it […]

  43. […] a follow-up to Wednesdays post on our new way of budgeting for groceries I thought I’d show you what a typical grocery shopping trip looks like for […]

  44. […] we started instituting our new grocery budget we’ve been much better about not making unnecessary trips to the grocery store. More often […]

  45. I found your blog though: http://www.mikewhite.co.uk/2010/04/01/list-of-pr-student-blogs/ and read this post. It totally struck a cord! I did the exact same thing. One month last summer my bf and I spent about $1000 on groceries alone! Actually it was pretty much our only major cost. We were shocked! We’re not big eaters and we didn’t think we were being frivolous.

    Luckily I love keeping track of finances, so I caught this growing spending habit fairly quickly. We then tried the envelope method, but I don’t like dealing with cash. In the end, I started keep receipts and creating an on-going tab, updating it every few days. It did the trick. It’s so important to remind yourself how quickly daily spending adds up.

  46. […] On another note, while I was cooking breakfast this morning I got to thinking about grocery shopping. Currently we go for a big shop once a month and then a little shop once a week or so. We have a budget and we stick to it. […]