For the past 6 months, we’ve been talking about different ways to stretch your food dollar. But I have been remiss at actually sharing any tips about how to set a realistic food budget in the first place. With the New Year right around the corner, many of us are reevaluating our finances and setting goals for 2009. It’s a great time to look at your family’s food budget and determine if you’re on the mark.
The USDA has a handy worksheet available to help you set a food budget that is appropriate for your household. They’ve calculated the average price of food over the past 12 months to arrive at their monthly food cost estimates. Using my household as an example, a two-adult household should plan to spend $447.10 a month on food if they are on the “low-cost plan.” Last year my partner and I spent an average of $400 a month on food, so we’re doing pretty good. If we want to go with the “thrifty plan,” we’ll need to cut our expenses to $352.50. But anything below that would be completely unrealistic (and probably a little unhealthy).
Many articles about stretching your food dollar advocate these four tips:
1. Never grocery shop when you’re hungry – you end up buying more.
2. Scout the weekly food ads to find out which store has the best deals.
3. Pay attention to coupons and see if your grocery store offers double coupon days or will honor competitors’ coupons.
4. Avoid buying products on the end caps, as well as pre-prepared convenience foods. The best deals are going to be found in the produce, meat, and dairy sections. Cooking whole foods isn’t just cheaper – it’s healthier, too.
If you’ve been following the series, you probably know that I’m a big advocate of #4. We’ve already talked about making your own stock and how potatoes can stretch your food dollar. We’ve also shared food storage tips so that your food isn’t ending up in the garbage can before you’ve had a chance to use it. Next week I’ll talk about making your own bread. And in the next few weeks, we’ll also be looking ahead to planting your spring garden to help offset the cost of your family’s produce.
For 2009, I am going to set a goal of spending $350 a month on food to help reduce our household expenses, and then I’m going to put the extra $50 into our savings account. How about you? Are you ready for the challenge?
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