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The first time I read about a grocery audit was from Jessica at Good, Cheap Eats. It turns out I’d been doing this for years – without an official name! Still, Jessica had great insight and I’ve continued to refine my process over the years.
Every January, I sit down and work on my grocery budget. I look over my budget for the past year and set a new budget for the upcoming year. Some years, things change greatly and other years, not so much. I try to take into factor rising grocery costs, our family eating habits and the changing of couponing as well.
I find the process of auditing my grocery spending incredibly helpful. It doesn’t take long – usually only 30 minutes or so, but no more than an hour. I’ve simplified the process to 6 questions for those of you who are new to a grocery audit.
Here’s how to conduct a grocery audit of your own.
1. Who’s in your family? This is the easiest step and where you need to start. How many people are you feeding and what are their ages? Obviously, a husband will eat more than your 4 year old little girl. If you have teenagers who are going through growth spurts, be aware of that fact as well.
2. What do you typically buy? Do you have any special food requirements or allergies in your family? Do you buy organic or avoid processed foods? Do you shop the sales and plan meals from those? Do you buy frozen meals?
3. What do you want to buy? Is there anything that you’d like to buy more – or less – of? For example, do you want to buy more fresh produce or higher quality meats? This year, I’m working on buying less processed processed foods and more vegetables.
4. How much do you currently spend? Do you know how much you actually spend on groceries? If not, save your grocery receipts for the month and see how they total up. Grocery shopping is one of the areas that I track the most closely so I’ll share my totals and audit below.
5. How much would you like to spend? Of course, we’d all love to spend less than $100 on groceries and apply the extra money to our other saving goals. Still, that’s not realistic for most of us and we do all have to eat! This can be the hardest area to determine. I recommend starting with your current budget and adjusting it $5 or $10 a week. Maybe that is an increase, due to your family’s eating habits. If you want to lower your budget, still work on gradual changes so you don’t feel overwhelmed!
6. What can you do to lower your spending? Regardless of where your budget is, I believe we all can find areas to save. Can you buy less processed snacks or only buy breakfast cereal that’s on sale? What can you make from scratch to save money? Can you switch stores to find one with better prices? Could you shop less frequently to avoid the temptation of overspending?
Here’s my grocery audit for 2015.
1. Who’s in your family? I currently cook for my husband, myself (pregnant through March) and an almost 2 year old boy with a good appetite. I’ll be nursing through most of the upcoming year and we will have another baby in diapers.
2. What do you typically buy? We’re not perfect and I do buy processed foods but we typically eat pretty healthy. I do shop the sales and cook from scratch quite a bit. Dairy (milk and cheese) are regular purchases as are fresh fruits. We eat meat at most evening meals so I try to stock my freezer when meat is on sale.
3. What do you want to buy? I want to buy less processed foods and eat healthier. For us, that means more meats and vegetables, as my husband is eating a South Beach style of meals right now.
4. How much do you currently spend? In 2015, I know exactly how much we spent on groceries. I’ve documented most of it on the blog in pictures. Over the course of the year, I spent $2470.38 during the year on groceries, toiletries, diapers and household cleaning supplies. This averages out to $205.87 a month. My budget was $200 a month. I stayed under budget 6 months of the year and went over budget the other 6 months. That tells me it is time to adjust our budget again.
According to the USDA food chart, my family (on the thrifty plan) should be spending $458.40 a month on groceries. I still think that’s high. Although, not as high as the liberal plan which says we should be spending $899.10 on groceries each month! Really? Yikes! I encourage you to take a look at the USDA chart and see where your family falls. It’s really interesting to view.
5. How much would you like to spend? Knowing that our family is changing this year, and that I have a growing little boy who enjoys eating, I’m going to raise our budget from $200 to $240 a month for 2016. Since I also include cleaning supplies, toiletries, paper products and diapers in this amount, that gives me more wiggle room as well.
Yes, I realize this is a low number but I also know that I have been couponing and shopping the deals for years to make this work. We are a one-income family so I want to be responsible and stretch our grocery budget as far as we can! Plus, I have a stockpile that helps me to feed our family healthy meals. Besides, I don’t like to shop for clothes so grocery shopping is my form of retail therapy. I love seeing what deals I can find and how much money I can save!
6. What can you do to lower your spending? Even though I’m going to raise our grocery budget, I can still lower spending by doing several things.
I will continue to bake our bread. I’m excited to share that I didn’t buy a single loaf of bread in 2015! Okay, I did buy a couple packages of hot dog and hamburger buns as well as clearanced pita bread, but I did make all our sandwich bread. Yay! Homemade bread really is easy, cheap and so delicious. Here’s the recipe I use for our homemade bread. I’m going to continue making our own yogurt, too, since it’s so easy to do so in the slow cooker. I estimate that these two substitutions (conservatively) save our family between $50 and $100 a year.
I need to watch for lowest price sales on meat and stock our freezer when I see those.
Since I lump all these things together, I will continue watching for sales on toiletries, paper products and diapers, to stretch my food budget further.
I am going to be intentional about using different coupon apps to earn money back on grocery purchases. Any money I do earn, I will put back into our grocery budget for more flexibility with our spending.
I need to shop our pantry to use what we already have and do a big freezer cooking session (before the baby comes). I know we have lots of miscellaneous grocery deals that have cluttered up my teeny kitchen pantry so I need to sort through them and use them up before buying anything new.
Now that I’ve shared my grocery audit, it’s your turn to give it a try! I’d love to hear what your grocery budget is for the upcoming year. If you want to see how I do with this budget, I’ll be sharing my shopping trips in pictures several times a month on Fridays. You can subscribe to my weekly newsletter here so you don’t miss a post.
Finally, please remember that my budget will probably not work for you, nor will yours work for me. We all have to set a budget that works for our family size and location and eating habits and adjust from there!
To you have any additional tips for creating a grocery budget that works?