What's your advice on setting a food budget?
Start writing down the foods you typically buy and menu plan. Be sure to include regular price plus sale prices for those items. Your menu will be based on when you have sale items as they are cheaper. It takes time but in the long run not only will you help yourself stay organized you will also learn to budget your meals and know when a meal is a good price and not a good price. Each family is different in tastes, size and locality so no one will have the same budget as you. That is something you have to figure out with your financial situation.
My biggest tip for setting a food budget is to meal plan. Meal planning is such a big money saver. Personally, I have all my recipes in binders with a master list of all the recipes in the binders. I try to plan out well-balanced meals, even down to snacks, for the week. I try to shop with coupons and according to weekly sales. Planning ahead saves you from those impulse buys that will always get you in trouble! Once you have a good routine down for meal planning and shopping with your meal plan, then you can figure out a good range that you normally spend on groceries!
I like to work with an 80/20 principle. I think that 80% of the food I bring home should be healthy, whole foods and the other 20% can be treats or slightly more processed foods. This keeps our food and family on track when it comes to eating.
After I decided on the 80/20 principle I divided it out even further. I start with the money that we have budgeted for food. Then I check the ads to see what's on sale. I look for fruits and vegetables that are in season and local as they tend to cost less. I try keep my purchases balanced and ensure we get enough vegetables and protein for the week. Then I plan my meals and make my list and head out shopping. It takes a bit of time to prepare at home but it makes shopping a breeze and having a meal list planned for the week ahead makes it less likely that I'll head off course and buy something we don't really need.
Set a monthly budget, and to stick to it take out CASH for spending. We put cash for Groceries, Entertainment, and Allowances (for the grownups!) in envelopes each week so we know exactly how much we are spending and what we have left. Coming out of two costly divorces taught us that we have to really, really work hard to get back to a place where our family is on solid ground again. Saving, scrimping, budgeting, and working hard to get there, together, as a family!
Since I prefer to feed my family organic food whenever possible, I rely on frozen fruits and vegetables as nutritious staples when fresh isn't in season or is out or our budget. I also make big batches of soups and muffins, using ingredients that are affordably priced, so that we will have some on hand when those fresh strawberries are no longer available or low cost! One last money-saving tip is to grind your own gluten-free oat flour. Gluten free oats are available at many well-stocked stores, and you can turn them into flour by grinding them in small batches in your blender. Freeze whatever flour is left over.
Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup --
Gluten Free Strawberry Chocolate Chunk Mini Muffins --
The biggest thing that helps me stay on track with my food budget is planning out my meals for the week. I inventory my pantry, refrigerator and freezer to see what I can use and then plan meals accordingly. This way I am using what I already have before buying more food. I check grocery sale ads and use great coupon matching services (Southern Savers, Coupon Mom, etc.) to make sure that I am getting the best deals on the items that I need to purchase.
I started doing $50 per week to show that you can eat healthy balanced meals if you had to live on welfare. It was a challenge, but it really is enough. You can check out my blog at http://www.spendwise.org to find meal plans and shopping trips. The most important thing is to stick to what you have decided. I use cash and so I don't go over. You need to be committed. The $50 was for a family of 4 and now down to 3. I would try spending a little less each week until you find a place that you feel is right for you. I would imagine somewhere around 15-25 dollars per person per week.
First and foremost, there is no ONE right food budget for all families, There are different food needs, different tastes, and different food beliefs. Decide what things you value most: nutritious food? Food you can trace easily to it's source? Convenience? Price?
Next, consider buying things in bulk - items that your family uses all the time and that you know you get through. Amazon Subscribe & Save program is a excellent resource, and often sells things for far less than the grocery stores. They also have great warehouse deals, always worth checking out!
One of the biggest things you can do is plan a menu, make a corresponding list of needed ingredients, AND THEN STICK TO THAT LIST IN THE GROCERY STORE! By only buying what you need, you don't spend needless money on impulse purchases.
I agree with the previous bloggers to plan your meals with the weekly ads. The best deals are usually on the front page. Stocking up when items are on sale is a great idea. Write a shopping list, and try not to shop with your children. Remember that eating out is part of your food budget. We only eat out if we have a coupon and always bring leftovers for a meal for the next day. If you don't have any idea of how much you are spending on food, keep track of your receipts and purchases for 2 weeks or even better, a month. If you do this, you will have a more realistic idea of how much you are spending and what your family needs.
I would suggest before planning your meals grab the Sunday Paper! Check the Sunday sale ads. When you find food that is on sale plan your meals for the week around the sales! Check out which coupons are available online and in the previous weeks paper for the SAME items that are on sale!
Stick to your meal plan!
My advice for setting a food budget and sticking to it is to have a plan. Plan out your meals for the week and stick to it when going to the grocery store. Before making my plan for the week I like to look at my grocery store's ad and see what's on sale and plan around that. If there are items we use regularly on sale, I will also stock up a bit. When "stocking up" be sure to check out the expiration dates and make sure you'll be able to use the products before they expire.