Benefits of Chopping the Food Budget

In preparation for the big job transition, we decided to trim our budget from some of the "luxuries" that we had become accustomed to over the years with a steady paycheck. It's amazing how "must-haves" in the budget can melt away when faced with a new goal and new circumstances.

Let me begin with telling you that our food budget is almost sacred territory. It's fluctuated over the years, but it's the first category to get an increase when we've gotten raises or cut back in other areas.

There are a few reasons for this...

  1. We are trying to eat healthier, which usually means a bigger grocery bill. (Organic fruits and veggies can be nearly twice the price of regular)
  2. We added a toddler to our dinner table and when the expense for formula went away, that money was moved to the food category.
  3. We like to eat, and we like to eat out when we can.

How Our Food Budget Works

Before I tell you about our food budget, let's talk about the rest of our budget. I'm not going to get into all the numbers, but just know that before the month starts we set our budget based on our monthly bills, non-monthly bills, and savings categories. These fluctuate a little bit from month to month based on what we have going on in the month ahead, but stay fairly consistent.

If you want to start your own budget, pick up a copy of my free budget spreadsheet.

Our food budget

  • We withdraw cash from the bank on the first of the month and the 15th. We keep our food budget in $20 increments so it's easy to pull it out from the ATM. (Our bank is right on the way to Kelsey's work, so she does this most of the time, and then Rooney likes to say... "bye bye bank!")
  • The cash is then split into two envelopes. Half for the first eight days, and half for the second seven days which covers us for the first half of the month. (We split the money into weeks so that we can better keep track of how we are doing throughout the week. When the money is getting low, we eat leftovers and scrounge around the house for things to eat to make the cash last until the next week.)
  • Groceries and eating out is all kept in the same pile of cash. This works for us, because we have overcome impulse spending at the grocery store (for the most part), and keep track of what we need, know how much it is going to cost, and then eat out if there is money left over. (Bottom line, we make the cash we have work. There have been several months that we have run out of cash. We don't go hungry, and have survived every single time)

I should also say that we do have a separate category for organic grass fed beef that we order from a farm. We love Wallace Farms and fund a separate category for buying ground beef, burgers, steaks, and Nick-sticks throughout the year. We order/pay online and pick up at a church near our house.

Chopping the Food Budget

After being set in our ways with the same $600 food budget for the past year or so, Kelsey and I were both concerned with how we would handle cutting back on our food budget.

In September we cut our budget back from $600 to $500. A 17% cut... and I'm happy to report that we had just enough money in the food envelope to order Applebee's curbside to go on the last day of the month, which also happens to be Kelsey's birthday. Whew!

I honestly thought we would be panicking the last few weeks of the month, but again, because we separate our money out on a weekly basis, it's easier to stay disciplined with our food budget throughout the month. Of course that lesson was learned after blowing through all our cash a few times and really having to scrimp for food in the cupboards a few times.

Sometimes we solidify numbers in our head and convince ourselves that there is no way we could ever live on less, spend less, or save more. It's been a long time since we've had to squeeze our budget like the last few months, and it makes me wonder what more we could have done over the years if we hadn't been so comfortable...

When was the last time you tried to trim something from your budget? Was it harder or easier than expected?