Monthly food budget

How to manage your monthly food budget

I really noticed a huge increase in my monthly food budget at the start of lockdown. My partner and I were suddenly spending lots of time at home and not only eating in more often, but with more time to cook, we eat better meals. This had an obvious impact on the monthly food budget.

But let’s just put it out there, food prices and the cost of living increase each year by a rate much higher than the official inflation rate. In fact, once you take into account the increases in petrol costs, groceries, rent, electricity, eating out, clothing, etc, it’s no wonder you feel that you have less money. You do!

With that said, here are some thoughts to help you manage your monthly food budget.

How much do you spend on food?

I knew exactly what our monthly grocery spend was, so when it increased, I noticed. As with all things, you can’t track or improve your situation unless you know your starting point. So in terms of your monthly food budget, start off by understanding how much you spend each month on food. This should include monthly groceries, eating out, take-outs and the coffee’s here and there. Add it all up.

If you take a listen to Nicolette Mashile in this interview you’ll hear her mention how people lie to themselves and pretend that their food budget is only x amount. They “forget” about all the eating out and other things.

It’s important to either work out how much you spent last month, or track your expenses for the next few weeks to get to grips with what you spend.

Stick to your monthly food budget

Once you know how much you spend on food each month, you need to decide on a figure for your monthly food budget. This obviously needs to fit within your overall budget, ensuring that you can make it through each month. For more on this, go through the Free Budget Course (of which the video above was Lesson 1).

It’s important though to build the habit of sticking within your food budget. This will make it second nature and easy to deal with any temptations as you’ll know what you can realistically spend.

You may also find that there are some unnecessary expenses that could be cut and perhaps you could look at streamlining your budget to allow you to save a little towards a buffer fund, or emergency fund.

How to budget when food prices go up

So the above two point are all fair and well, but what if you have a food budget, and prices just keep going up? You may have budgeted R2,000 for groceries, but it the cost of food increases by say R100 each month for you. This will be based on particular items you usually buy, brands, and where you shop. But, the reality is that prices seem to keep going up.

Here are 4 tips to help you manage your monthly food budget:

Take advantage of specials

This may seem obvious, but look out for specials. I like to keep a list on my phone of standard grocery items that we often use. These are long-life items that we can stock up on when they’re on special. I often find really good deals on “2 for 1” or monthly specials on expensive items like coffee beans, olive oil, coconut milk, etc. You might not use these things but I’m married to a chef. LOL

Keep a list of brands you like and long-life items that you would usually use, and stock up when they are on a good deal.

Check the prices

Again, the sounds obvious. Did you know though that the bigger pack size is not necessarily the cheaper option? Most stores show a “per unit” price to help you compare the cost of an item per 100g, or per tin, or whatever the unit size it. But you can also work this out yourself.

Stores are also a little sneaky in that they change prices often! Want to try a little exercise? Take 3 items you often buy and track the prices on your phone for 3 or 4 weeks. You’ll see how they fluctuate.

It’s sometimes useful to buy your usual items when they’re at a better price, and skip them when they are not. Or if you’re happy to change the brand, do some comparative shopping.

Cut out luxuries where possible

This is not a nice thing to do, but when you’re on a tight budget, you sometimes just have to. There is obviously only so much that you can cut down and perhaps you feel that you’ve already done this. Take some time though to think about this, most of us have some luxuries and unnecessary items in our baskets.

Negotiate a salary increase

Times are tough for everyone and this may not be too easy. When it comes to personal finances, you can either spend less, or earn more. Once you’ve really cut out on all luxuries and are running on a tight budget, the only option is really to increase your income.

You could try your luck and speak to your manage about this, or perhaps start looking for other opportunities. We’re often quick to talk about saving and cutting down on expenses, but we should not forget this ever more important side; increasing your income!

Financial mistakes to avoid

When things are tough it’s easy to fall into some of these money traps. Take a look at these 3 financial mistakes to avoid.

  • You really should not use your credit card budget facility to purchase food items.
  • Don’t use your overdraft facility for your grocery spending.
  • Try as far as possible to not increase debt when you’re already struggling. That only makes the situation worse! I can attest to this as I have my own debt story.

Golden rule of personal finance

Spend less than you earn!

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