After a full month of spending only $ 100 / week or less on food for my family, the challenge was a personal success. I was able to stay within the budget and still eat good food. I did learn a few things along the way.
Work with cash going down
I started every week with $ 100 in cash. I had a wallet just for that, so when I walked into the store I only took the grocery money with me, no debit card, no extra cash. Going down from one hundred versus going up to one hundred was a huge difference. I could actually see how much money I had left and often items were put back on the shelf.
Portion sizes are smaller than you think
There were many times when I had a lot of leftover food. I would buy a whole bunch of broccoli thinking that we will eat it for dinner only to be left with half of it at the end of the meal. A lot of things go further that I expected them to go and by the end of the day, while it seemed that I was buying very little, we actually had plenty.
Go shopping alone
I took my daughter with me shopping once and it made the entire trip twice as long and more difficult. While I hope your family supports your food budget, it was a lot more difficult to make budget conscious decisions when someone tagged along and I found myself easily influenced into buying something that otherwise I would not.
Try not to eat out
We rarely eat out during the month, but when we did, we spent at least $20 and that put a huge dent into the budget. It was hard to justify spending that much on a single meal when we could prepare the same thing at home for a fraction of the cost.
While we were very good at not eating out, it was a lot harder to plan for our dinners. Both my kids participate in a lot of extra curriculum activities and it seemed that every afternoon or evening we had either practice or a game. When the game starts at 7pm and you have to be at the field by 6:15pm, eating dinner by 5:30pm was a must. Any later and they would be running around with a full stomach and eating at 9pm it’s not something we do. Therefore, planning the days’ meals was a big thing. The few times we did go out to dinner, was either because we were starving right after a game or because friends were going and we wanted to go along.
Sundries add up
I was not sure if I should include laundry detergent and paper towels into my food budget. I would recommend having a separate allowance for those items because they do add up. Every week it seemed that I needed something.
Don’t get a cart
Shop with a hand basket or your own grocery bag. Getting a big cart will only make it easier to get a lot more than you need. I have a wicker basket and it’s perfect for my trips. If I have no more space to put things in it, I bought too much which means it will cost me a lot of money. There are some stores where they make it very difficult for you to do that and only have big carts available. Grab a box if you’re at Costco.
Guests are challenging
Especially unexpected ones. When you plan for just the right amount of food for dinner, even an extra person makes it difficult to have enough food. I always had something extra that I could add to the meal, being an extra side dish, a salad or something similar.
Be a guest
It definitely helps to go somewhere else for dinner. We never turn down free food.
Ditch the list
While you would think that having a list will keep you on track, I find the opposite to be true. It is a lot easier to stay on budget when you shop the sales, versus buying specific things regardless of the price. Keeping with my European upbringing, I shop for food often and cook fresh food. I grew up without frozen food and I still don’t really freeze meals. I will freeze extra uncooked meat but I have a hard time with a lot of other things. I will go to the store without a real plan of what to cook for dinner. While there, I almost always go to the meat department first and look for what is fresh and on sale. Deciding on the meat is the first step in building the dinner menu.
Decide on the right amount
I think that if you choose an amount that is too small and you always go over, it makes it difficult to stay positive. If your budget is too big, you will probably spend it! Find the right amount for your family and with a little practice, you would be able to stay on track and have a better idea of how much you spend on food every month.
My mom used to always tell me that controlling what you eat is the best way to save money because nobody can tell if you are cutting corners! Nobody can tell if you just eat a steak costing $ 20 or a bowl of bean soup that cost you $ 1.50. I enjoyed this personal challenge and I will continue sticking to my $100 / week food budget. However, that all goes out the window while we are on vacation so please don’t bring it up this summer!