If you’re anything like us then the one thing that disrupts every attempt at making a solid, workable budget is your food costs.
It’s easy to budget for fixed monthly debits like a bill or subscription service. Less predictable is the amount that you’ll end up spending on last minute supermarket dashes when you realise that you’re out of milk. It can also be difficult to know whether or not you’ll have the willpower to resist a mid-month takeaway or feel obliged to go for a Friday lunch with your boss.
So, if you’re one of the many would-be savers who simply doesn’t know where to start when it comes to food budgeting, don’t despair. Instead of guessing a number that sounds about right, try following a few simple steps to get your food budget in order.
Step one: track your spending
Don’t try and dive in with an arbitrary spending limit. Unless you have a good understanding of your current spending habits, this is likely to be frustrating and ultimately not very useful. Instead, the first month of your new regime should be set aside for simple tracking.
This means recording everything that you spend on food, including impulse buys and takeaways as well as your regular grocery shop. To do this you can use on the budgeting apps we have listed here.
It’s important to be honest with yourself at this stage, as deliberately ‘forgetting’ the fact that you spent too much on lunch will only hinder future planning. Keeping hold of your receipts or looking back over transactions on a banking app could speed this process up.
Step two: categorise and cut back
Once you have all the data recorded, it’s time to organise it. Understanding the breakdown of your spending will make it much easier to plan for next month – and to decide where you can create savings. Consider what your priorities are: would you sacrifice the convenience of takeaways in order to afford high quality ingredients? If you give yourself some lenience in one area then it will make it easier to cut back in others.
Useful: 12 ways to cut your food costs
Step three: start meal planning
A successful food budget is as much about planning what you’ll eat as it is about planning what you’ll spend.
We recommend a weekly meal plan that features enough variety to stop you from getting bored. It shouldn’t take long to plan seven days’ worth of meals, and list what ingredients you need for each. This should inform your grocery buying and help you avoid impulse purchases.
Step four: be realistic
If your budget keeps failing because you go off track, then consider whether you’re over-committing to frugality. Despite popular belief, the purpose of a budget isn’t to force you to cut back on spending. Instead, it should provide an accurate indication of what you’re likely to spend. This allows you to plan effectively and can give you a clearer understanding of your financial position.
Instead, it should provide an accurate indication of what you’re likely to spend. This allows you to plan effectively and can give you a clearer understanding of your financial position.