If you’re like many moms out there, you might be taking a close look at your regular spending and wondering where you can cut back to save money and reach your family’s financial goals.
While some expenses like your house payment might be fixed, others offer a bit more flexibility. One of those flexible, or variable expenses, is your food budget.
Whether you cook at home most of the time or you get takeout most nights of the week, there are plenty of ways to trim the fat from your budget and cut back on your food costs.
Here are some tips to make the most out of your food and grocery budget.
1. Create a Budget
Do you know how much you spend on food and groceries each month? What percent of your take home income goes to groceries, eating out, and take out? Creating a budget is the first step for you to see exactly how much you have to play with when it comes to things like food and groceries.
Be careful not to compare your own grocery budget to someone else’s, including mine. This is important, because I don’t want you to think that just because my grocery budget is ₱14,000/month that yours should be too. Or when you see a Facebook comment that “this 10-person household feeds their family on ₱10,000/month” or whatever, you think you should be doing that too.
Comparing yourself to how others are doing will only lead to feeling defeated and inadequate. Ignore those comments and focus on your family, your personal finances and your household spending instead. Your goal should always be to do the best that you can do with what you have.
Your food budget will be unique to your family, life situation, dietary needs and where you live — including the stores close to you and the types of food that you like to buy. Every grocery budget is different. Embrace YOURS.
2. Create a Meal Plan
Knowing what you’re going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the week can help you plan your grocery shopping list and can ultimately help you reduce your food-related expenses. As an added benefit, meal planning also eliminates lunch/dinner indecision and can keep you from calling for takeout because you don’t know what to eat.
Here are some tips to help you plan your meals:
- Check your pantry and fridge. Before you start thinking about what you need to make and buy for the coming week, check to see what ingredients you already have on hand. You might have plenty of ingredients or enough to plan a full week’s worth of meals without having to spend much money at the store.
- Make a list of “go-to” meals. Don’t feel as if you have to find and try new recipes each week as part of your meal plan. Focus on making meals your family likes and that are easy to put together on busy days.
- Learn to love your leftovers. You can’t guarantee you’ll have extra after every meal, but you can have whatever is left over from dinner for lunch the next day. When it comes to saving money on food, leftovers can be your best friend. When you’re preparing meals for the week ahead, you can double a recipe and freeze the extra for another meal later in the week. Invest in a good set of glass food storage containers — your food will last longer with better flavor.
- Make a week’s worth of lunches. If you or your family members bring lunches to work, make a full week’s worth of lunches all in one fell swoop or try to prepare your lunch meals the night before. You’ll save time in the long run and will be less likely to rush out and buy lunch because you didn’t have one ready to go.
3. Create a Grocery List
Going shopping with a list keeps you from buying things you don’t need and that are likely to throw your budget off balance. Using a list also makes you less likely to forget an item you need, which means you’re less likely to have to return to the store. The fewer times you have to go to the grocery store, the less temptation there will be to spend.
I personally keep a running list on our fridge and I write down items that we need as soon as or shortly before we run empty. This is a basic tip but it can make all the difference between grocery runs that result in spending sprees or incomplete shopping.
4. Schedule your Trip to the Grocery or Wet Market
If you’ve ever shopped at a grocery store on a weekend afternoon, you know that it can be a challenge. During busy periods, stores are crowded, lines are long, and the entire process takes more time. You might get cranky or tired, which can make you more likely to give in to impulse buys.
In contrast, when you go to a grocery store at night or on a weekday morning, the aisles are practically empty. You have room to find the items you need, and it takes much less time to navigate the store. The entire experience is usually a lot more pleasant, and you spend less time in the store, which can mean you get in and out without going over budget.
Decide which store or market you’re going and if possible, go there on the same day to save time and effort.
In our family, we pick a schedule when I and John are available and we go to Cubao to buy our food and groceries. I buy our groceries at Puregold while John buys our food at Farmer’s Market.
5. Stick to your Budget and Pay with Cash
You need to stick to your budget in order to MEET your budget.
The best way to be sure you’ll end up with a lower grocery bill is to stick to your list and pay with cash. When you go to the grocery or market with cash in hand, you know exactly how much you can spend because once the cash runs out, that’s it!
Giving yourself a cash limit can keep you from going over budget, whereas it may be easier to overspend if you’re swiping a debit or credit card instead.
Don’t bring a lot of cash though. If you made your meal plan and grocery list ahead, you’ll have an idea how much you need. Stick to your list and just bring the exact amount you need or add a small buffer in case the prices of goods have changed. This will help you prioritize your needs over your wants, especially if you’re working with a limited budget.
6. Compare, compare, compare!
When it comes to budgeting, one of the things I do to save money and to make the most out of our food and grocery budget is by comparing the prices of goods in different grocery stores, supermarkets, and wet markets.
Supermarket vs Other Supermarkets
I make a price book with the list of items that we buy, the price, and the stores. It takes a little work to set up, but once you’ve done it, you have prices for all the items you buy at your fingertips. This allows you to plan shopping trips to take advantage of the best deals at each store. You’ll know what to buy where.
Supermarket vs Wet Market
Many people think wet markets are filthy and smelly, but this should not be a concern if you care about eating quality food at reasonable prices.
It is true that some products are cheaper when they are on special offer in supermarkets, but it is a trap. Because supermarkets offer a wide range of products from tissue paper to bananas all under one roof, the discounts on some items can easily fool you into buying many other “expensive” things. In the end, you save very little money, or even pay more.
Chicken is sometimes sold at a price higher than that in the supermarket. So as not to be duped, it is best to establish sukis. Once you find a reliable and honest vendor, and you become their “suki”, you will be able to buy some items at cheaper prices.
At the wet market, you can go from stall to stall to compare prices and quality, and you are sure to get the best deal if you put in the effort.
Small Wet Market vs Bigger Wet Market
While I prefer to buy our food at the wet market, I also make an effort to compare the prices among the wet markets in our area.
I found that the goods sold at the smaller wet markets are much more expensive than those that are sold at the bigger wet markets.
For example, 1 kilo of Bangus is ₱180 at Murphy Market while it’s only ₱150 at Farmer’s Market in Cubao. 1 kilo banana (lakatan) is ₱220 at Project 4 Market while it’s only ₱170 at Farmer’s Market.
You also need to take into consideration your transpo expenses including gas and parking if you bring your car to the market. You might have saved some money from your food expenses, but you actually spent more because of your transpo expenses.
Instead of parking our car at Farmer’s Market with a parking fee of ₱60, what John and I do is we park the car at Puregold since they offer free parking for customers. Then, I buy groceries there while John buys our food at Farmer’s Market which is just a few meters away.
Check out the wet markets in your area and see where you can buy your food supply at a much cheaper price and make the most out of your budget.
7. Grow your own Food
Do you love fresh vegetables? Do you know that even the tiniest of spaces can help support your food budget?
Try growing a kitchen window box with your favorite herbs, planting a small garden in your backyard, or even just trying out a basic outdoor planter or plastic pots with a few eggplants, tomatoes and kangkong.
I haven’t bought eggplants since March 2019, and my husband and I eat pritong talong and tortang talong for breakfast three times a week. Aside from eggplants, we also have ampalaya, kamatis, kalamansi, pechay, alugbati, tanglad, and malunggay in our garden, which we call Maijan Garden. 🙂
Not only does gardening helps us financially, but it also helps save and keep the environment clean. I enjoy doing it with my daughter who also loves gardening and growing plants.
If you want to try growing your own food at home, start with your favorite vegetables or herbs. You can buy the seeds at the grocery or wet market and watch videos on YouTube on how to grow and care for it.
Learning what foods offer the best value for money, meal planning and how to make the most of the supermarket and wet market can all help you save money on food costs.
Once you’ve found a way to get on top of your food spending and budget, you might want to look for other ways to cut costs and save for your financial goals.
Remember that how much you spend on food now is not set in stone forever. You can work really hard to get it as low as possible (especially with meal plans) so you can save for a house or a new car, go on a family vacation, or boost your emergency fund. You might also have to increase it as your family grows or the needs of your family changes.
In any case, the starting point is knowing how much you should spend on food!