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Food Spending Recap

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Food spending has always been a bit of a struggle for us. Last month, I really set my mind to tightening up our budget and documenting our weekly spending to help keep me accountable.

Check out previous updates:

Week 1 spending report

Week 2 spending report

Week 3 spending report

I ended up traveling during Week 4 and never finished the month up with a proper Food Spending Report.

As a reminder, I had originally planned to spend $300 for restaurants/eating out and $450 for groceries. But when I started using Every Dollar’s budgeting software, I realized I was still spending too much money on food! I ended up lowering my food budget down to $200 for restaurants/eating out and $350 for groceries.

When I’d last left off (in Week 3), I had $98 left in our grocery budget, but I had no money leftover at all for any restaurants/eating out expenses.

April Spending

In the end, I came SO.SO. close to hitting our goals, but went just a smudge above-budget. Our final food spending for the month of April came to $404 in groceries and $217 in restaurants/eating out. That was $71 above budget (but still well below what has become our average food spending). One caveat is that we also had Dream Dinners in April, which cost another $250 on food. Our total April food spending came to $871. The previous month, our bill had been over $1,000 so this represents progress but it’s still nowhere near where we need to be. I want to get our total food spending down to $700/month (combined restaurants and groceries).

Plan for May

For the month of May, we have no Dream Dinners. I increased our grocery budget to $450 in an effort to subsidize some of the loss of not having Dream Dinners. I increased our restaurant/eating out budget to $250. That’s a total of $700 for the month in food. I know this is still a crazy-high number for many others, but it’s a STRUGGLE for us and leaves us with eating many interesting and not-so-palatable food options just to use up what we’ve got. It’s been tough, but I think it’s good for us. And with this month already over the half-way point, I can say we’re currently on-par with where we need to be.  As the summer begins and I get to spend more time working from home I anticipate a more relaxed and flexible work schedule. Hopefully this will allow me extra time to do my due diligence with meal planning, sales ad shopping, food prep, etc. Wish me luck!

How many people are in your family and what is your current food budget per week (or per month)?

p.s. Incidentally, I found a great article on what proteins you should buy if you’re short on cash. Its over at my friend Angela’s site, groceryshrink.com.


20 Comments

  • Reply Jazz |

    Food is always a struggle. I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that not every dinner has to be a 5-star meal, and it’s helped a lot. Our fridge is pretty empty since it’s the end of the month, so last night’s dinner was grilled cheese and apple with peanut butter (and we’re all adults). I ran out of turkey and cheese, so my specific dinner was 6 chicken nuggets and a half an avocado. I wasn’t super hungry, so that was plenty for me.

    Other easy cheap meals that we do in rotation include spaghetti, pizza bake, stir fry, hot dogs, or make your own subs (we have a steamer attachment to the grill). I’ve only recently started tracking, but DH and I have gotten away with $250/mo for the last few months.

    That number mostly doesn’t include meat which we get through Zaycon Fresh. If you’ve never heard of it and are serious meat eaters, it may help your budget/planning. I just ordered 40 lbs. of chicken breasts at .99/lb. It takes a lot of prep the weekend it arrives, but then our meals are mostly set for 3-4 mos. Their ground beef is even better because it’s the really lean kind (no draining fat!) and already packaged in 1 lb. increments. Super easy.

  • Reply margann34 |

    Good Job Ashley! I think it is a good idea to stay at $700 for a few months. Make that your new normal before you try to cut more. Maybe you can try your own version of dream dinners at home. Search the internet for some easy bulk freezer meal recipes and spent a day or two cooking. Or, just make a double batch of whatever you cook for the week and freeze half. Good luck!

  • Reply Kristin |

    Cutting back by a few hundred dollars is a great start! I’m curious to hear more about how your dining out breaks down. My family of 5 usually spends about 100-125 a month eating out, which is a few fast food lunches/dinners on busy days and maybe actually eating out as a family once. How often do you all eat out and what are the reasons for it? If you can find a way to cut back on this category it could make a big difference! Also, not sure if you’re near a Trader Joes, but their pre-marinated meats and frozen food section are a lifesaver for tasty, quick and cheap meals. During sports seasons these are a lifesaver for us!

  • Reply Heather |

    Food is our biggest struggle. It is so tempting to eat out. Even when I try to plan out the entire week’s worth of meals, some days I just can’t get myself into the kitchen to cook. My family helps out with clean up, but sometimes it’s just too overwhelming. Quick meals don’t help me much, because there are still those darn dishes! But I’m trying to get better and limit eating out to no more than once every two weeks. When we do that, we tend to really look forward to eating out and really enjoy the experience. Also, we try to go to places that don’t have a waiter, therefore requiring no tip. We have a great taco place we love and a BBQ place, both of which are order-at-the-counter. That helps keep the price lower. Also, we always order water to drink. When I do need something quick to throw together at home, Mexican food tends to be the winner. Pretty much anything can be put in a tortilla! Scrambled eggs, leftover beef or chicken. Add some cheese, tomato, avocado, sour cream…..delicious and very easy. We regularly eat bean and cheese soft tacos with homemade guacamole and salsa. But we are from Texas and it’s just normal to us!

  • Reply Sue |

    There are 4 adults in our house and I spend about $300 a month on groceries and household items and then, maybe another $100 every 2 months on meat that I order from Zaycon which lasts us forever. The kids will buy anything “special” they want, but we pretty much all eat on what I buy – we all bring lunches/dinners to work every day. It sound great, but it is MUCH easier for me though now that I am not working full-time to keep our food budget lower. Our food bill was MUCH bigger when the kids were little and both dh & I worked full-time so just keep trying your best, but don’t beat yourself up about it.

  • Reply Drmaddog |

    Hey, well that’s some progress. I second the suggestion to work on the restaurants out. If you are intent on keeping this line item, look at chosing cheaper restaurants. I get the ‘need a break’thing. The last time I carried credit card debt, my ex husband and I would have one date night a week, which was Taco Bell drive through and one rented movie.

    Cheap meals that I go to frequently because I like them are breakfast for dinner, beans/black eye peas and cornbread, and soup and sandwiches. Casserole dishes are also a huge time/money saver. You can add however many veggies you want as sides to these things or mixed in to scrambled eggs. Dessert is fruit, if I even have it.

  • Reply Den |

    Maybe your struggles are related to your process of grocery shopping and eating and not just the food? Do you plan a weekly and monthly menu? Do you shop off that plan? Do you schedule which parent cooks each night?

    I know it’s a basic thing to do, but the planning is more important and saves us hundreds if not thousands a year in grocery shopping. Thanks for the update!

  • Reply Kiki |

    Progress is a good thing, but someone please enlighten me about why people who are deeply in debt eat out in restaurants regularly. I simply DO NOT GET IT! Am I out-of-touch? A dinosaur? Coming from a family of six children, we went out to eat about 2-3 times a year as a family. And both my parents worked full time Ditto with hubby and I and our kids. I still shake my head over this.

    • Reply Laura |

      I don’t get it either. It is almost always cheaper to eat at home, even if you use some convenience foods. For example a rotisserie chicken, bag of microwaveable frozen vegetables and bag of dinner rolls would feed a family of 4 and cost around $10 where I live. Even getting fast food would cost more then that and not really save you any time. It seems like such an obvious thing to cut when you need to cut expenses.

    • Reply Drmaddog |

      I hear you. I was praising behavior that seems to be moving in the right direction. At least it’s something. But $250 a month with the debt they have is just way to much. I’m hoping they continue to make better choices.

      In the instance I described above, my ex and I had about $4500 in credit card debt and I realized we were eating it out 3-4 times a week to the tune of over $400 a month (19 years ago). The once a week drive through Taco Bell and blockbuster movie gave us something to look forward to but cost us less than $10. So it helped. It’s kind of like the weightwatchers I’ve been doing for 5 months (losing over 40 lbs). I eat very cleanly during the week and save my points so I can get a nice, reasonable lunch out on the weekend. It helps to have that treat in front of me so I don’t fall off the wagon.

      • Reply Laura |

        I can understand that. And I do know sometimes eating out is unavoidable, like when you are away from home all day and can’t pack a lunch. But on random days during the week because you just don’t feel like cooking is shooting yourself in the foot. It is good Ashely is moving in the right direction.

  • Reply debtor |

    genuinely curious.

    WHAT are you spending on that has your food at near rent prices in some states. Your kids are so little!
    Like, how often do you eat out? Is this mostly fast food or restaurant dining? It’s just me in my house but if i multiplied by 4 I’d be $400 a month and your kids probably don’t eat at full blown adult level.
    Do you just really like variety in your meals? or are groceries crazy expensive in your area (i forget what state you live in).
    Like really, what is driving this number? Organic meat? or salmon? really really curious.

    • Reply Jessica |

      I have the same questions and curiosity as well. My husband and I spend less than $100/week on groceries and friends of ours have said they spend 4 or 5 times that amount, which I just cant comprehend. Even if we were buying surf and turf, we wouldnt be able to spend close to that amount. Like debtor said, maybe food costs are higher in your area? Are you buying only name brand or organic? No judgement, just pure curiosity

      • Reply Jessica |

        As others have mentioned before, you can eat so cheaply if you just keep it simple. A box of pancake mix will get you so far and you can make a big batch and throw them in the microwave. Grilled cheese and soup, etc.

        • Reply drmaddog |

          Making big batches of pancakes and microwaving later is a great idea. My sister does that for her kids because she didn’t want to spend every morning making them, but they always wanted them. I’ve also seen numerous recipes for individual baked eggs mixed with whatever addins you want, that you cook in a muffin tin. Reportedly they keep well. You can premake breakfast burritos and freeze them for later. And you can get so creative with breakfast for dinner. You could wrap the pancakes around sausage/bacon, have a make-your-own waffle/omelet bar, biscuits and gravy, french toast, oatmeal, buttered toast, breakfast sandwiches/tacos…I mean, who WOULDN’T love breakfast for dinner! (can you tell i’ve been on a diet for 5 months?)

  • Reply Mary |

    Please go read the blog, Six Figures Under. They’re a family of six, debt free, and yet their food budget for last month was $360. $250 a month to eating out seems really high to me for a family trying to pay off debt especially with your husband only working part time and going to school. I would think he could chip in more with cooking responsibilities to offset the whole eating out situation especially since it’s summer time and hopefully on break.

    I know it’s hard to change habits so quickly, but sacrifices have to be made if you really want to get out of debt.

    • Reply Kiki |

      Also take a look at “Ditching Our Debt” blog and on Instagram too. This family of six lives on one income of a little over $60,000 and are paying off a $90,000 law school loan. (Getting close to the halfway mark.) The mom knows how to shop and cook on a budget.

  • Reply Lisa |

    Yay, Ashley! Progress! It feels good to take every step for the better, yes? There is a learning curve to food spending, meal planning, frugality in the kitchen. You’re getting there, and learning from the previous months. Good for you! Others never learn. I found out last week that my boss never saved leftover food, didn’t know it could be frozen, or even repurposed within a few days! She wanted to know exactly how much meat to cook up for a party so there wouldn’t be any waste; when I told her to make more than she thought she would need and freeze leftovers for future family meals, she had absolutely no idea what to do with that. So you are learning, Ashley, what works for you, and taking big, yet comfortable, steps to making frugality happen. Go, Ashley! Go, Ashley!

  • Reply Kate |

    One thing I am finding helpful is keeping premade sauces/ condiments in the house. So chicken and broccoli is suddenly “peanut satay chicken and broccoli” or “barbecue chicken thighs” etc.
    If the girls won’t eat that it’s also really easy to put it on yours and your husband’s food and leave it off of theirs.

  • Reply Lisa |

    So, it’s just $217 for eating out for the month of April — her budget was $300, so 28% UNDER budget!!! (I suspect May report in a week or so will show even less, but that’s just an optimistic guess.) And, she reduced her total food spending, including the DD committment, in April substantially (from over $1,000 previous month, to $871). I say that’s great! Nothing but positive there! Keep up the great work.

So, what do you think ?