Now more than ever, you may be looking to get a better handle on your spending. Setting a food budget is a good place to start as it gives you a set amount to work with. This forces you to take a conscious look at the money habits that add up, such as picking up items that aren’t on your list, grabbing takeout a few nights each week, or making impulse purchases. With a plan in place, you can start saving money each month.
Follow these tips to help you start the process, get clear about your spending habits, and stick with your new budget.
Step 1: Ask yourself why you want to create a budget.
Budgeting means you’re setting some boundaries for yourself, which isn’t always easy. However, if you feel emotionally connected to the reason for your budget — if it’s tied to your values or goals, for instance — you’re more likely to stick with it.
Maybe you want to spend more money on groceries and less on takeout so you can be sure you’re eating healthier. Or maybe you want to modify your budget so you can afford something else, such as saving for a home renovation or new appliance. Decide what’s motivating you and write it down.
Step 2: Get honest about how much you’re currently spending on food and beverages each month.
This exercise can be eye-opening — and sometimes painful. Go through your bank statement from the past two months or keep track as you go for the current month. Write down all food, drink, snack, and coffee purchases at places including:
- Grocery stores
- Fast-casual eateries
- Coffee shops
- Gas stations
- Sports games
- Other events
Add up everything you’ve spent in the past month on items from those locations. You may be surprised by the total amount you’ve spent.
Step 3: Decide if you want to reduce the total amount you’re spending or keep your current budget but alter where you’re spending it.
If you choose to reduce your spending, go to step four. If you’re keeping your current budget, skip to step five.
Step 4: Determine a realistic amount you can spend next month.
You can do this on your own or with other members of your household. The most important thing is to set a realistic dollar amount. Consider a stepped approach for reducing your spending by setting a budget for next month that’s $100 less than your current spend, then reduce it by another $100 the next month. For example, if you spent $800 last month, set your budget at $700 next month instead of jumping right to $600.
Once you have decided on an amount, determine how much of it you’ll allocate for groceries versus takeout options. Consider making a list of where the money you’re saving will be spent and set aside a portion for your goal from step one.
Step 5: Examine what you spent and where you spent it, then adjust your budget accordingly.
The goal here is to shift more of that money into the grocery-store category. If you order takeout frequently, it may help to highlight specifically what you’ll buy for groceries instead.
For example, if you’re used to getting coffee every day, cut back to once per week. Move that money to your grocery category and buy a coffee brand you like from the grocery store to make at home. If you’re ordering pizza or takeout three times per week, cut back to two times per week and do a build-your-own pizza night with your family.
Step 6: Know your goals.
To help your money go further, aim to spend 80 percent of your total food budget at the grocery store and 20 percent on food bought outside the home (feel free to adjust these percentages so it feels realistic for your lifestyle). Setting small, achievable goals can take you a long way toward meeting your budget.