How my $40 weekly grocery budget "works"

Lately I’ve had lots of questions about my $40 weekly grocery budget, and it’s been awhile since I started it, so I thought I would clear up a few things and answer some of the questions that I’ve received.  On January 1, 2009, I decided to challenge myself to a $40 weekly grocery budget.  Since I started using coupons consistently, I have really been able to cut my budget, but I had no idea if it would work.  Seventeen months later, we’re still living off of the same budget, although I will admit that lately it has been a bit of a challenge for me because the grocery deals lately do not seem to be as good as they have been in the past and so our stockpile has been dwindling.

We have a family of four:  my husband, myself, a six year old daughter, and a three year old son.  We have no allergies or dietary restrictions.  We live in a low to moderate cost of living area and we have a number of grocery stores in close proximity and we also have Super Target and Super Walmart.  We also have several grocery stores that double and triple coupons.  (I throw all of this out there for comparison purposes so that people can understand our situation and why a $40 weekly grocery budget may or may not work for them.)

When I started this “challenge” I had a fairly extensive “stockpile” to work with.  If you’re wondering what I stockpile, I pretty much stockpile everything that we use on a regular basis.  To get some ideas about the things that I stockpile, you can check out my “What’s in my pantry?” post.  I also made a commitment to start menu planning regularly and I can assure you that has made a HUGE difference because we are actually using the things that I buy and it helps with rotating the stockpile, too!  If you’re new to menu planning, you may wan to check out my “menu planning tips” and my “Menu Planning Monday” posts for some ideas.

What does your $40 weekly grocery budget include?

I know that “grocery budget” means a lot of things to different people.  My grocery budget includes only food items.  Since I learned how CVS and Walgreens work, I don’t really spend much on health and beauty or household items anymore (we budget a total of $20/month for that).  “Eating out” is also in a separate category (since I started meal planning regularly, we have been able to cut that category down to $50/month).  We also have one dog and her dog food and treats also are in a separate category.

What about fruits, vegetables, and meat?

One of the most common questions I get is if our budget and meal plan includes fruit, vegetables, and meat.  My kids love fruit (helping them to love vegetables is still a work in progress) and I believe in the “five a day” philosophy, so our budget definitely includes fruits, vegetables, and meat.

For fruits and vegetables, we eat what’s in season.  I scan the ads each week to figure out what’s on sale that week and that’s what we get.  I don’t like to spend more than $.99/lb for most fruits and vegetables (asparagus, berries, and melons are my “exceptions” because it’s pretty hard to find them at those prices although it does happen every now and then).  I also stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables when I can find deals on them (I can usually get them for free or close to free using coupons) so that we have things to “carry” us if it’s a tight grocery week or if there aren’t really any good sales.  We also have canned fruits and vegetables in the stockpile.

With meat, I also stock up when it’s on sale.  You can find out what I consider my “stock up” prices in my “What I’m willing to pay for things” post (keep in mind that cost of living may be different in your area so different pricing might apply).  I plan our weekly menus around what’s on sale and what I have on hand in my freezer.  If there aren’t any great sales that week (and lately good sales on meat have been hard to come by), I also check out the “Manager’s Special” section of my grocery stores where they mark down the meats and incorporate what I find there into our weekly meal plan.  Over time, I have figured out when my grocery stores tend to do these mark downs so I can check it out while the selection is still good.

Do you spend exactly $40 each week?  Do you ever go under or over?

We took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class in March 2009 and made a decision to switch to “cash only” for most things including groceries.  So, when I fund our grocery envelope for the month, it is based on exactly $40 per week.  For the most part, when I’m making my grocery list, I try to plan so that I am right around the $40 mark.  Sometimes I go under and if I do go under, I keep that extra money in our “grocery” envelope to have on hand if a great sale comes along so I have extra money to stock up.  So, if I have extra money from previous weeks and there is a great sale, sometimes I do go over the $40 mark, but I still stay within a $40/week average for the month.

If you keep your grocery money separate from your other money, how does that work when you go to check-out at the grocery store?

For the most part, since I get most of our health and beauty and household items at CVS or Walgreens, this isn’t an issue because I am typically only buying grocery items at the grocery store.  But, every now and then, especially if I am at Target or Walmart, I will have other items and I usually will separate out those items using a divider and pay for them from separate envelopes.  Since I use so many coupons anyway, I usually try to shop at “off” times when the store is not very crowded and if there are other people in line with only a few items, I will usually let them go before me to be courteous.

How do I know what a reasonable weekly budget is for my family?

Our weekly budget is a work in progress based on what “works” for us.  In creating my blog and sharing my posts, I never meant to imply that this would work for everyone as there are a number of factors that will affect your budget including cost of living in your area, family size and circumstances (I am certain when my son becomes a teenager, we will be making significant adjustments and if you have allergies or special dietary needs or eat organic foods, you can expect to be paying more).  When creating a weekly budget for your family, you have to consider your circumstances and what “works” for you.

I would recommend tracking your grocery expenses, week by week, for a month or so to get a “feel” for what your average weekly grocery expenses are.  Focus on menu planning and planning your grocery list around your menu plan so that your shopping is “purposeful.”  Once you get a feel for your average weekly grocery expenses, set a goal to “cut” your average weekly expenses (perhaps $5 per week at first).  If you are not starting out with a stockpile, you should also know that you will probably be spending more in the beginning, but you should be able to cut your expenses considerably once you have an established stockpile and a menu planning system in place!  As your family size or circumstances change (you may have a new baby, a child may leave for college, or the cost of living may increase), you can adjust your budget accordingly.

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  1. Melissa says:

    Thanks for all the great tips!! I love your new blog look! This is the first time I've seen it. I've been MIA for awhile. It is much more eye catchy.
    Would you consider changing your comment section to a pop up? It is hard to leave a comment and then go back to your web site to read more. Just an idea:)

  2. OK – I changed it so you don't have to do word verification anymore and it has the "pop up" – let me know if that works better 🙂 Glad you're "back"