My wife and I facilitate a personal finance course called Financial Peace University from Ramsey Solutions. Seems the hardest part of the class for most is getting their heads around organizing a budget. And, without a solid budget, there is little hope for getting your financial house in order.
We start folks out with a simple “basics” budget to get them acquianted with the idea of managing their money. Never fails, the one budget item that so many struggle with is food. Why is that?
One couple we worked with couldn’t get their monthly food spend below $700! Pretty good right? Sort of, but the family consisted of just two adults and two small children. $175 a week for groceries and the occasional take out order – really?
Sure, you could spend more, but when you’re trying to get a budget working and your looking for ways to get the debt snowball really cranking, you look for things to cut and cut deeply. We look at the food budget. If you think about it, most Americans would do just fine missing a meal or two or cutting out a few “snacks.”
Since this couple asked us to coach them, we had the opportunity to ask why this budget area was such a problem. He’s a pretty big guy and he practically runs all day – delivery driver for UPS – which causes him to burn countless calories throughout the day so he eats non-stop. He showed me the cooler he packs and what he puts in it – I almost fell on the floor.
It was bigger than the cooler I usually take to the beach with my whole family – but then I figured – ok, you load it up with food just in case – right? Nope – he consumes ALL of it EVERY day. And this guy isn’t overweight – not at all – but I did ask if he could go with less – his answer was – sure, but when I don’t keep the calories up, I get light-headed and then I get grumpy and me grumpy is not pretty.” We moved on but not before suggesting they keep a close eye on the brands they buy and that they look for sales or coupons to stock up.
My wife and I use the following three steps to hold to our allocated food budget.
First – Determine what is a comfortable amount for food each month – not everything you’d like to buy yet better then red beans and rice. We’ve found the average family of four – two adults, two grown children – should be able to manage pretty well on less than $600 a month – (our current monthly food budget is $560 – with two teeanage children at home and one is a 6′ 1″ male!)
One thing to note… if you’re trying to get out of debt, then eating “all organic”, “grass fed”, and “free range” can wait.
Second – Before you go shopping, make a menu. Yes, a menu! Create a list of those dishes your family likes and eats on a regular basis – we have about 25 on ours. For example, a favorite in our house is Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and broccolli – a nutritious meal that cost about $10 or so to feed 4 of us with left overs. The menu is nothing more than a written list of the meals you think you’d like to eat for the up coming week.
This helps in a few different ways; first it takes all the guess work out of “what’s for dinner tonight” – in the morning check the menu, select, pull what you need from the freezer and off to work you go. Next the menu gives you a grocery list – the food you need to make the meals on the menu.
Supplement the list to cover breakfast and lunch foods and staples; but work to keep the “extras’ off the list… like the bags of chips, jars of peanuts, candy bars, etc. Oh and you could go without the beer (GASP!) or soda for a time as well. We eat pretty well in our house and manage to buy the occasional twelve pack and often we’re under the $560 mentioned above – contact me if don’t believe it – I’ll personally show you how!
Third – when you go shopping, STICK TO THE LIST! Probably the single hardest thing to do since you’re very likely to come across an “amazing sale.” Let me say it again – STICK TO THE LIST!!
One additional tip that will help you do this – have something to eat before you go shopping – NEVER go shopping when you are hungry.
Is food the hardest part of managing your budget? What are some ways you use to keep your food budget in-check? Thanks for reading!