I’ve already discussed how food is one of the biggest money pits in your monthly budget. Most people overspend on groceries. How do you plug up those food holes in your monthly spending?
Let’s start with what is ‘normal’. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests Americans spend roughly between $150-$300/person/month on food in 2014 ($300 is considered a “liberal cost” food plan). For a family of four, you should be spending roughly $600 – $1,200 on groceries per month for everyone. If you live on a coast and in a city, you may be at the higher end of that range. I recommend my clients stay at $1,000 or less per month for a family of four.
How do you know what you spend on groceries? That’s easy, take your credit card or debit card statement for last month (last month’s statement for whatever payment methods you use for groceries) and a pen. Circle each entry for a grocery store (e.g. Safeway, Giant, even Target if you buy your groceries there). Add up all the circled amounts. That’s how much you spent on groceries. I know some purchases are things like Windex and garbage bags, don’t worry about those, just add up the total. Make sure to include specialty stores like coops and farmer’s markets.
What’s the total? Is it more than about $250/person for that month? I bet it is. I would say at least 90% of my clients (including my family) come to me spending more than they should on groceries each month.
Why does it happen? Two reasons: 1) lack of planning; and 2) wasting food. A new study tells us that Americans waste about 25% of their groceries, either by thinking it’s past its expiration date or because it actually spoils. That could mean you could be saving a couple hundred dollars by wasting less food.
How do you waste less? Here are my 5 ways to waste less food:
- Know what “sell by,” “use by” and “best by” mean. They refer to an item’s peak of taste, not when it could make you sick. Sell by dates are not regulated. Great site to check safety dates here.
- Check servings on recipes! Cook enough for the size of your family (more if you eat leftovers).
- Take inventory before you go to the store. You won’t buy more tortilla wraps if you know you have them and they are still good.
- Plan ahead. Making a special recipe, company coming, out a few nights this week for work?
- Eat leftovers or upcycle them! – Use main dish pasta as a side dish another night by adding a few vegetables.