Why We Doubled Our Grocery Budget … And Why I’m Totally Okay With It

Why we doubled our grocery budgetConfession time: I don’t remember that last time I used a coupon at the grocery store.

Eight years ago, when Frankie and I were deep in the process of building up our emergency fund and doing our best to eek a few extra dollars out of every paycheck, our food and personal care budget was $500 a month. And I was a stickler about coming in at or under that number.

We met this target by my being a religious CVS shopper and borderline-extreme couponer. I had a basement storage room filled with free shampoo and toothpaste and uber-cheap cereal.

free cereal stockpile

Back in 2009, I was a part-time freelance writer and just starting this blog. Frankly, my monthly earnings were quite low and I was able to contribute more to our family’s bottom line by saving money at the grocery store than by writing another freelance article.

But life isn’t static. And how we budget our time (and our money!) isn’t static either.

Today I run a full-time blog and am constantly developing projects on the side. Those five hours I was spending on coupon-saving trips to the grocery store felt onerous — especially since I could earn twice as much in an hour of writing on this blog as I could save by couponing.

Sure, I could still get cereal for $.50 a box (or less) if I waited for the sale and made a special trip to the store. But I can also just buy it for $1.50 at Aldi, any week I want, and not have to make a special trip.

My husband has also taken over responsibility for much of the grocery shopping for our family. And while he isn’t opposed to using a couple of coupons at checkout, stacking and rebates and rolling ECBs is not the kind of thing that he’s going to spend hours on figuring out.

Finally, instead of feeding two adults, two little kids, and one nursing infant — like I was in 2009, today I’m feeding two adults, one teenager, one pre-teen (both of whom eat more than either of the two adults!) and one very discerning 8 year-old.

Doubled Grocery Budget - Spending More on Fresh Produce

Plus, as many of you know, we eat a very different diet than we did back in our high-couponing days. Today, we eat a ton of fresh vegetables and fruit and a good amount of lean protein (chicken, turkey, eggs, some dairy, and a bit of red meat) with every meal — and a whole lot less pasta, bread and cereal.

All of this is to say that our grocery and personal care budget has inched up (and up!) over the years.

Whereas before, through tight menu planning and fastidious couponing, I could spend just $500 a month, today I am budgeting $1000 per month to cover all of our food, household and personal care items.

And in April and September (yomim tovim!), I budget an extra $100 or $200.

Adding an extra $500 a month to your budget is no small thing. So, how did I justify this increase?

First, we make more money in 2017 than we did in 2009, back when our budget was $500. So we have more flexibility in allocating those funds. A big part of that increase in income came from directing more time and energy toward building up our business, which earns far more in the same hour than we can save through “extreme couponing”.

The time-money balance is always a challenge. I often find myself asking: Can we make more in an hour than we can save? And — the second part of that question: Can we make more in an hour than we can pay someone else to do the same task? Think: Cleaning help, yard help and other home maintenance tasks.

(Stay tuned, by the way, as I have some thoughts on the cost-benefit of hiring household help.We recently decided to eliminate our bimonthly cleaning lady and now do it all on our own. I’ll share more with you on FB Live in an upcoming Your Money Monday!)

Equally as important to the income-side of the equation is the fact that on the expenditure-side, we are no longer pouring every single spare dollar into our Emergency Fund. We hit our goal a while ago, and were able to cap contributions to that savings account.

By finishing our Emergency Fund, we freed up several hundred dollars a month (sometimes as much as $1000 a month) to direct toward other priorities. And a big one of those was increasing our grocery budget.

Budgeting, as I often say, is as much about balance as it is about math. If we spend more on X, we have to spend less on Y — or make more money! Sometimes the choices are easier; sometimes they are more painful.

But ultimately, we have to make the math work by balancing all these demands on our money — and our time.  

Which is why I’m okay with spending twice as much on groceries today as we did 7 years ago.

How about you? How has your grocery spending changed over the years?

If you, too, have seen big increases over the years, how have you made that work for your family? 

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Comments

  1. With three boys in Israel for school, our grocery bill has dropped substantially, but our airline fares are much higher.

  2. Looking fwd to hearing about why tou stopped cleaning help.

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