Budget Living: Adjusting Your Food Budget Goals

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As moms, we wear a lot of different hats. It’s not enough to feed, clothe, and love on our children, but we also need to “stay in the black” and teach fiscal responsibility to our children. Let neither us nor our children be the ones who need to be “bailed out.”

Yet, budgeting is not as easy as some people say. For years we struggled with the percentages that a popular financial group recommended. Their ratios just didn’t fit our lifestyle or small business ownership. It wasn’t until I heard Dave Ramsey say you needed to create a new budget every month that budgeting actually became a thing to be grasped.

Now, every month FishPapa and I sit down together with the bills and the bank statements and, as Dave says, “give every dollar a name.” After rents, mortgages and utilities are paid, we figure out what other expenses will arise during the coming month. We write those down and commit to not spending the money on anything else. We’re not always perfect at predicting this but the more we do it, the better we get.

Some expenses are non-negotiable. Car insurance costs what it costs. However, the food allowance is one that I can “monkey with,” thanks to weekly sales and creative cooking.

Last week, a reader asked,

I only want to spend 62.50 per week on groceries but today was 112.09. I feel bad, like I failed but I bought doubles and triples of things on sale (sausage, cran.sauce, brown sugar, vanilla etc. and ingredients to take to 2 homes this holiday. Still I feel bad. Maybe I should change my goal to under 80 or something what do you think?

How many times have I had buyer’s remorse after overspending even though they were good deals! And why?

Because I exceeded my budget.

Here are some things to think about when making a food budget.

1. What is realistic? This is going to vary from family to family based on tastes, dietary needs, regional availability and how much time you have to coupon or shop sales. So, be realistic. For our family we used to spend $800/month shopping mostly at SuperWalmart and over the last year we’ve whittled it down to get close to $400, shopping heavily with coupons, CVS and sales. Some months we make it. Some months we don’t. Since we rarely eat out, I consider this pretty good. For an idea of what it should cost to feed your family, based on ages of family members, check out this chart from the USDA. Savvy shoppers should be able to beat the “thrifty plan.” But, again, figure out what is a comfortable guideline for your family. You’re not feeding my family.

2. Once you have a realistic plan, find the best way to measure it. My husband is paid once a month, so for me, it’s easiest to think of my food budget in monthly terms. I allow myself $400 for the month, breaking it down to $100 a week to spend. If I go over because I really did stock up on some great deals, then I spend less in the coming weeks to offset the excess. Since I’m stockpiling, I shouldn’t need to buy those things in the near future anyway. If I spend less than the week’s allowance, I carry that over.

3. Be willing to suck it up if you go over. If you go over or you hit your limit before the time frame has elapsed, well, just deal with it. Chances are you won’t starve. You may have to get really creative in the kitchen until your next pay period rolls around. It is usually a good experience for me when that happens. A tough love kind of thing that teaches me self-discipline. It helps me clear out the pantry and look for ways to use things up.

4. Reassess often. If you really don’t have anything left in the cupboards, then you do need to reassess your budget and your spending habits.

For more ideas on frugal living, visit Crystal’s blog every Friday.

Do you have words of wisdom for this reader’s question? Another related question? Just want to say hi? See ya in the comments section!

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  1. You’re right. You really have to look at you family situation, and work from there. How much do you have available first of all, how much time do you have to work on sales and coupons, and I love the “suck it up and move on” thing. I went over on my budget for 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, but just a little and I got a TON of ingredients. So I sucked it up, and knew that the money was not being wasted. It was an investment in meals for months!

    Thanks for being a great inspiration! I love how you can feed 4 boys (and 2 precious girls) on about $100. a week, in California! I have 4 boys (no precious girls) that I feed in Indiana for about $80. per week, but I allow myself to go up to $100 if I have to. With Diapers and baby food, it’s a tough budget to stick to sometimes!

    Thanks again!

  2. Another key point Dave makes is that it takes a good few months (I think he says it least 3 months of budgeting) to figure out what is really likely to work for you. When I jumped on the bandwagon to stick to a low food budget (thanks to crystals encouragement) I would feel so bad when I could not acheive it.

    After a few months of realizing it was an unrealistic budget I increased it and increased it again. Now I am at an amount that is very comfortable. I have no problem sticking with it. We have enough food to satisfy my boys in the house.

    The key is to find what is comfortable and sticking with it. Sure you can still challenge yourself. I do this when something comes up that I did not budget for or desire to have.

    On tuesday’s we go to a homeschool coop. I love to have enough in my food envelope to get that special Latte I love! Now I simply don’t feel guilty about it. If the money is not there–oh well, no latte! But the next week when I am at a store I will decide–do I want the bag of chips or my latte?

    I have learned that it takes tweaking to budget, but when it’s done and it feels doable it is the best feeling—to be the one in control.

  3. Great advice! I have been listening to Dave Ramsey on CDs lately while doing my dishes. It has been great to challenge us in our thinking and we are needing it in these tough times.

    P.S. where did Marilyn go?

  4. I don’t have anything to add to that great advice! 🙂

    I just wanted to say “hi” and let you know that agreed with what you said. 🙂

    Enjoy your weekend!

  5. Sarah, I’ll be sharing more about how CA really isn’t that much more expensive than other places and how God enabled us to move back.

    Donna, great point about taking a few months to work out the bugs. I love your latte illustration. It’s good motivation to exercise self-control, isn’t it?

    Shari, so glad that Dave is helping you! (I didn’t like how BIG Marilyn was, kinda dominated my whole blog. I didn’t have time to rewrite the code to resize, so I booted her.)

    Hi to you, too, Sonshine! Thanks!

  6. Thanks for the reminder…

    Lately, I have been thinking about our food budget. And how last month we went way over what I wanted to spend. But I also started to realize that my kids’ appetites have increased too. I hadn’t accounted for that in my budget goals.

    Back to the drawing board.

    Oh and thank you for that Dave Ramsey reminder about doing a new budget every month. Whoops! We need to start that up again:)

  7. There is little my husband loves more than the meals I create out of nothing. I am blessed with his faith and sense of adventure! I can’t ever remember a time we felt deprived even when we were eating off the dregs in our home…

    This is all great advice. Sometimes we just need to keep tweaking until we find what works… for that month, that week, or that season of life.

  8. I just had to drop a line and say that we, too, have been following Dave Ramsey. We started about two years ago, and our lives have truly changed for the better! It is amazing how much our financial situation changed for the better once we started “spending our money on paper first.” It is also amazing how creative you can be when trying to find ways to save money.

    By the way, the grocery part is always the hardest for us to stay on track with!


  9. Hi there from over the pond I am really enjoying your site and common sense translates even if the costs are different I am trying to make my pound go further just like you are with your dollar thank you for help I am determined to get some order in my families life you’re a big help