Updated: Aug 6
Food Budget out of control
How many times have you left your house to go food shopping for the week or month, with a list in your head and found yourself walking out of the supermarket with tons of bags containing food items you did not plan on buying. Let's not stop there, what about the time when the cashier told you the total cost and knowing that you've gone above your budget, you resolved to hold up the queue trying to move money from one account to another because you felt beyond embarrassed to put items back.
Many households struggle to stick to their food budget, including myself. Every 3-5 months, I find myself slipping up, and my food budget gets out of control. As an avid budgeter, I have established some habits to help me stay consistent and stick to my food budget.
During my Budgeting Masterclasses, a frequent question I am asked is, 'how much should my food budget be?' I wish there was a straight answer, but there isn't. The truth is, your food budget all depends on your diet, health choices, how many mouths you are feeding and how much you earn. But if you like numbers, then 15% of your household income is a good range. But there is more to setting a percentage of your income as your food budget.
Here are 30 tips on how to save money on food shopping and live on a budget of £50 a week.
1. Take stock
Check your fridge, freezer and cupboards. Take stock and make meals with the ingredients you already have. By doing this, you will only need to buy items you really need.
2. Have a shopping list
Never leave the house without a list or trying to store up the list in your head as you can easily forget somethings and go above your budget. Using your phone notepad is great to save your list. I have forgotten my paper list at home many times.
3. Calculate costs before you get to the counter
While in the shop, since the list is on your phone, use your phone calculator, to sum up, the prices before you get to the counter. If you don't have a calculator, round up the value so you will end up paying less when you get to the counter.
4. Beware of "on-sale"
Avoid buying things "on-sale" unless it's on your list of things to buy that week. Remember, sales prices go up and down. If you study your supermarket store well, you will have a rough idea when that sale will do a full cycle. If you bought something during the flash sale for £10 and saved £5, you didn't save £5 you just spent £10 you didn't intend to spend!
5. Separate food from other expenses
Keep household items such as cleaning and skincare products off your food shopping list. Ideally, you should have a separate budget for cleaning products, skincare, air fresheners, and candles as these are not food items.
6. Buy seasonal products
Shop seasonal products as they are often much cheaper and affordable than foods out of season. This is because foods produced in the current season are higher in demand and all things being equal, the higher the demand, the lower the price.
7. Keep food budget in a separate bank account
Have your food budget in a separate bank account to your bills, savings and fun pot money. This will help you only to see what you can spend on just food alone.
8. Make it a family affair
Agree as a household what you will eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. It's important that you get every household member to have a say in what they eat for that week, this will avoid anyone saying they don't want to eat specific meals, as they agreed to it already.
9. Shop around different food stores
Different shops have different offers. Shop around to see where items are cheaper and of good quality. I know it can be a bit of running around, but if you plan it into your week, you can get bits and pieces on your way from work to save money.
10. Avoid shopping hungry
If you do, you will shop based on your hunger and not your shopping list. Have a meal before you go shopping and always take a bottle of water with you. Dehydration can present itself as hunger sometimes.
11. Try to shop alone
Shopping with your kids and loved ones can significantly add to your total bill, and supermarkets know this. That's why all kids-oriented food items are mostly in their stores. Also shopping with your partner can add to your food items bill if your partner tends to purchase other things that are not on your food items list.
12. Shop online
If you absolutely have no self-control in the supermarket or prefer a bit of convenience, and don't mind having substituted items now and then, you can shop online and have your food shopping delivered to your home.
13. Use supermarket rewards programs
If your credit card spending habits are stable and you pay off your card in full every month, you might want to consider using a credit card with a loyalty program in your store. This helps you receive further incentives from your food items shopping – and those points can be exchanged for a gift card to buy additional food items stores, for supermarket check-out discounts.
14. Familiarise yourself with food prices
Write down the daily prices of things you sometimes buy — not just items like milk, bread, meat, vegetables, but stuff like your favourite shampoo, cat food, or crackers. This will help you determine which stores have the best prices and whether you're getting a good deal on sales items.
15. Buy whole grains in bulk
Whole grains are a staple of many balanced diets like the rice, wheat, barley and oats. They are easy to find and also cheap, but processed grains like quinoa and farro tend to be somewhat more expensive.
16. Buy non-branded products
Branded products can be a little more expensive. But depending on what you like, non-branded products can taste just as good or even better than branded products.
17. Stock up frozen vegetables
In winter, when fresh produce isn't at its peak, we turn to frozen. Frozen vegetables are nutritious (and tasty). And most do not contain sodium like canned vegetables. Plus, they're relatively cheap, especially compared to their "fresh" off-season counterparts.
18. Look out for discontinued products
Supermarkets have sections, tables or labels showing products that are being cleared out, so be sure to look for them. Many of these items are still fine, and it's just there is a change in the label or a sale on the box might be nearly finished, or it may be near expiry date.
19. Buy next day's food cheap just before the stores close
Did you know that a few hours before stores close, they will drop prices on meat, vegetables and other perishable food items? This is your opportunity to buy the foods you will eat for the next day. Store in a fridge or freezer to keep it fresh.
20. Buy fresh organic products
Organic products are cheaper than processed foods. This is because organic products are produced using cheap natural farm inputs and are sent raw to food stores. For example, you can buy fresh raw tomatoes instead of buying the processed one with cans and packaging. Aside from the fact that processed foods are more expensive, they are often not healthy to consume. Buy organic products and save your wallet!
21. Home gardening: Grow your own food
Having a small garden in the backyard of your home is a great way to save your food budget, especially on green veggies with a short maturity period. Till a part of the soil and sprinkle the seeds of some vegetables your family loves to eat. If you can grow your tomatoes, peppers, and spinach in your garden, you will surely save money at the food store. You will always have some vegetables to harvest every week, especially during the spring.
22. Cut down on luxuries
If your previous shopping has always been filled with lots of snacks, crisps, cakes, chocolates and junks, try to reduce these non-essential items. Many of these have a high content of sugar and fat, and you don't need too much for your well-being. Consider buying cheaper and healthier substitutes such as fruit juices and pure yoghurt.
23. Reduce your eating out
Going out to eat isn't cheap, and it is not needed all the time if you have planned your food for the week. Eating out in restaurants should not become a daily habit as you will end up spending way over your food budget.
24. Make Meals From Scratch
Making your meals from scratch is a significant way you can save money. The less ready-made food you buy, the less it costs. The beautiful thing is that home-made food is generally better for you too. Making your meals will save your wallet and well-being.
25. Cook in bulk for an easy life
Cook a big pot of meal for a few days and freeze food to save on money and time during the week. A lot of the time, people are too tired to cook even if they have the ingredients because they are too tied. Overcome this by having your favourite meals cooked and in the freezer.
26. Cut expenses on meat
Meat is an excellent source of protein, and it is appealing to the eye as well. But some veggies supply protein the same way as meat does and they are relatively cheaper. Some examples of veggies you can use as a substitute for meat include spinach, cabbage, mustard greens, collard greens, broccoli, etc. You can give eggs to your kids too.
27. Use up what you have
Get in the habit of using up what you purchased the previous week. Remember the "use before you buy rule." It will save you unnecessary trips to the supermarket which would have cost you some extra money.
28. Keep food waste to a minimum
Cooked foods go bad over time and are thrown away; don't let that happen. One way to avoid throwing away food is to plan meals before you buy, so as to use up any fresh produce or meat you are buying. Another way is to plan for quick use of leftovers. If you can't use leftovers for a day or two, put them in the freezer and you can microwave it on another day probably when you are too busy to cook.
29. Proper food storage
Buying food items store isn't a difficult thing to do. In getting the best use of your pennies, you must know how to store foodstuffs after purchase. If you love fruits and veggies, you should know that certain fruits (e.g., apples) contain ethylene that can ripen fruits very quickly while still in the basket. Knowing how quick your fruit ripens and transferring it to the fridge will help minimize food waste.
30. Reward yourself for sticking to your budget
If you happen to have money left over that week from your food shopping, reward yourself with a takeaway meal. It will also motivate you to keep consistent for the coming week.
To Finish Off
The way only you can get a grip on your food budget is by planing, being creative and strict about meals and maintaining discipline every week. If you do slip up, don't continue in your bad habits, assess where you slipped up, review your financial goals and remind yourself of what you are trying to achieve by sticking to your food budget, be it to have more control of your money, save, pay off debts and invest for your future.