Tracking My Family’s Food Expenses

February 28, 2022 | Katy Moscoso

Budget Groceries

Budgeting can be challenging, and it can take time before you find a system that works best for you. My husband handles finances as part of his job so at home I handle most of our day-to-day expenses to give him a break. After some trial and error, I have finally found a system that seems to work for us.

The first step is to have a general idea of how much a family similar to yours should spend each month on food. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has a Grocery Budget Calculator to help you determine what that range might look like for you. Based on this tool, my food budget should be close to $679.26 a month for our family of 3. This tool did not factor in that I am currently expecting our second child later this summer and that my dietary needs have shifted slightly. However, our spending is pretty close to where the calculator says our family should be.

To determine if I was close to the amount calculated by the budget calculator, I kept all my food receipts to see how I was spending. I looked at groceries, convenience store stops, take out and coffee runs. Once I had the receipts in front of me, I could see which areas were costing us the most. The smaller items like takeout and convenience trips seem to add up the quickest in our house. To help me stay on track, I decided we would set a monthly budget for these purchases and keep an envelope with the budgeted amount in cash. Using cash for those items helps us stay on track and we know not to exceed our monthly budget once those envelopes are empty. This method has helped me eliminate a few unnecessary food expenses by purchasing coffee to make at home rather than purchasing it out and packing snacks on days I know I will be traveling as opposed to purchasing from convenience stores.

I know that not everyone can have a specific amount of cash for these types of expenses. Another idea that worked for us in the past was to keep a small piece of paper in our wallets to mark down each time that we made a purchase and the amount. You may be surprised at where your money is going. This can help you narrow in on where you would like to cut back or where you can spend a little bit more.

Additional tips to help save money on food:

– Look at weekly store ads for deals- swap out fruits, vegetables, and even meat options for ones that are on sale.

– Meal plan and stick to your list- straying from my list tends to lead to an overabundance of produce and items that may not keep well before I can use them.

– Pick meals where items can be used in a variety of ways- for example, if peppers are on sale at the store one week, my meal plan would consist of Stuffed Peppers, Vegetable Quesadillas, and the Sausage and Vegetable Skillet to ensure that the produce gets used without going to waste.

What have you found to be helpful when tracking your own food expenses? We’d love to hear what works for you!

Katy Moscoso

Katy Moscoso is a Program Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. As a mom to both a newborn and a preschooler, Katy loves trying new recipes that are quick and versatile. Cooking meals that can provide leftovers to fill her fridge and freezer is a win during this busy season!

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