A few weeks ago, I started looking at the USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels. Though I do have a roommate, it’s rare that we eat together and the only thing we really share is coffee, so I’ve been looking at the plan for the single female, 19-50 years. I have to admit, a lot of months, my food budget falls right around the moderate cost plan. I know I can do better than that. That said, I don’t remember the last time that my food budget was under $200 a month. At least, not in a month where I was here the whole time. I think that my December budget was low, but I spent a week at my parents’ house.
Of course, this is a national average, so for some people, these numbers might seem amazingly high or painfully low. Either way, it’s a good benchmark.
I think that next month, I might strive to see just how close I can get to that low-cost plan. I’m not going to cheat and save purchases for the next month. And if I catch a great sale on something I buy regularly, I’m going to stock up like normal. I’m also going to be sure to continue to buy fresh fruits and veggies to keep myself healthy. I think what this is going to require is a lot of added couponing and meal-planning, both things I try to do well and end up failing miserably. I’m good about impulse purchases, but could probably shave $10 off of my monthly expenses by cutting that.
One thing that has helped my food spending is a new feature at my local grocery store. There are little hand scanners that you can pick up at the front of the store. You scan your membership card, and as you walk around the store, you can scan your items and drop them directly into your bag (either plastic/paper you pick up, or if you’re me, your canvas bags). The produce department has even added electronic scales that will print scannable labels, which is helpful when trying to not overspend on produce. Sure, something can cost $2.50 a pound, but I can’t eyeball that. And the giant metal scales don’t really help me a whole lot.
The best part about the scanner is that it totals your purchases as you walk around so you know how much you’re spending. I always tried to tally that in my head, but I would round up or down and end up losing track of things as I walked through the store and tried to figure out which size pasta was the best deal. Plus checkout is a breeze. Just scan your membership card again and all your purchases are transferred into the computer. Scan your coupons, pay, and go!
So for May, the goal is to tighten the grocery budget as much as possible. I’m not sure that I’ll get all the way to the low-cost plan, but it will be a good experiment. Maybe I can figure out a way to cut my grocery budget by $10-$20 every month without sacrificing much at all. Anyone want to join me?
Megan is a 30-something government employee in the Washington, DC area. She got interested in Personal Finance when she got out of college and realized that her paycheck wasn’t going to go as far as she had hoped. Since starting this blog, she has managed to buy a house and make a solid start on her retirement goals, and hopes to help others do the same. Here is her story:
In 2007, I was a gainfully employed 20-something with no debt but not a lot of knowledge about personal finance. It was a co-worker’s comment about Roth IRAs that sent me to the internet, searching for information. It was then that I realized that I really didn’t know a whole lot about personal finance and that my current financial situation was due a lot to inherent frugal tendencies, generous family members, a fear of debt, and good luck. While that was working for me, clearly I needed a better plan.
While I had no debt, I was also pretty much living paycheck to paycheck and not worrying about going over budget (I say this as if I had a real budget) because I had an emergency fund set aside to cover any overages.
Except that’s not what an emergency fund is for.
So I did a lot of research, read a lot of blogs, and decided that I needed a plan. I needed to budget. I needed to know what I was spending my money on. I needed to prepare for the future.
I decided to create a blog not only to make myself accountable to others but also to share the knowledge that I gained along the way. I’ve learned so much from my fellow bloggers, and I hope that my readers can find something useful in what I have to share as well.