A few months ago, I went grocery shopping in the morning on the first of the month, and I couldn’t believe how crowded it was. After all, it wasn’t a Saturday morning when the usual grocery shopping rush occurs, but a Wednesday morning.
I waited in line to pay for over 20 minutes. When I asked the cashier what was going on, she said that it was the first of the month, so many people’s SNAP benefits had just replenished. These people were stocking up after possibly having had very little to eat at the end of the month when they were out of funds.
This phenomenon is not unusual. Many people who are living on a tight budget (with or without receiving SNAP), after scrimping and doing without for the last 10 to 14 days of the month, are happy to go shopping and stock up. The problem is that this stock up can consume most of their food budget, and the cycle starts all over again.
I mentioned in my last post that my family is experiencing a period of low income and a tight budget. Luckily, I don’t foresee this situation remaining stagnant for years. Within another year or two, my husband will be eligible to apply for a much better job, and as my kids grow up and become more self-sufficient, I should have more time to grow my freelance business.
However, for now, we sometimes run into this feast or famine pattern. In our high cost of living area, we budget $700 a month for groceries for our family of 5. (We have food intolerances including beans, gluten, dairy, and eggs, so we have to eat a special diet.) The last week of the month, we’re eating an odd mix of foods, and we don’t have as many fruits and vegetables as we’d like.
Spend the Same Amount Every Day to Avoid Feast and Famine
I’ve been researching different strategies to help with our grocery budget. One that I found is rather basic–determine how much you can spend per day on groceries. For instance, in February, we can spend $25 a day on groceries ($700 divided by 28 days), while in May, we can only spend $22.58 per day.
If I’ve not been to the grocery store for 6 days, I’ll theoretically have $135.48 to spend on that trip, based on a 31 day month.
Using this pattern, I can avoid the feast or famine food cycle by making sure I have enough grocery money, even at the end of the month.
Drawbacks to Spending the Same Amount Every Day
The biggest drawback I see to spending the same amount every day is that there is not much flexibility to take advantage of sales. For instance, if I normally buy ground turkey for $2.95 a pound, but it’s on sale for $2.45 a pound, I should stock up. Maybe I’d buy 25 pounds at this discounted rate. That right there would cost me $61.25, or almost half of my weekly budget.
However, it would save me $12.50 on ground turkey, and the stock would last us a few months.
While spending the same amount every day helps even out the feast or famine cycle, it may not be the best way to stretch your grocery dollars. Instead, I prefer to buy on sale in bulk so I pay less and get more food, even if it means at the end of the month, each meal with meat has ground turkey in it.
How do you handle your grocery budget? Do you set a fixed amount to spend each week, or do you set a fixed amount for the month so you can take advantage of sales?
Melissa is a writer and virtual assistant. She earned her Master’s from Southern Illinois University, and her Bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan. When she’s not working, you can find her homeschooling her kids, reading a good book, or cooking. She resides in New York, where she loves the natural beauty of the area.
Wendy Tomlinson says
I’ve recently started doing a online shop once a week. I have a weekly budget and I’ve found this to work well for me. I don’t need to buy in bulk (and then end up throwing things away) but I have room in my budget for great offers on items that will last and that I will use. Also if I have money left over (beauty of shopping on line) I have the option of buying some family treats. Buying treats within the budget works really well as this helps me stay focused on what I really need knowing that I can buy the treats if I keep on track with my budget.
Travis @debtchronicles says
This is how we’ve been doing our grocery shopping for the last 4.5 years (tight budget due to paying off debt through a debt relief program). I meal plan, and buy exactly what we need for that week. It keeps the things in the fridge fresh, and it also gives a natural “breaking point” where new snacks and foods are introduced in the house as we mix it up from week to week. So we don’t stock up when things are on big time sale….I say “so what?” Having more usually just means using more. We bought a half a cow once and we thought it would bring our grocery bill down because we wouldn’t have to buy beef each week. It didn’t….but we plunked down hundreds of dollars for the half a cow. As long as you stick to your budget and are feeding the family, I say your system is WORKING!
We’re bad…we buy what we need when we need it and only stock up on sales if we happen upon them when we’re wandering by. There is a lot of room for improvement with our grocery shopping technique…
Marie @ My Personal Finance Journey says
I always went to the grocery once or twice a week. I really had a hard time budgeting when it comes to grocery matters. Usually I do pick up foods that has a promo like buy 5 take 1 or with attached free items.
The Wallet Doctor says
I like the price per day budget, but I agree its important to work with sales. I’ve always wanted to try a hybrid strategy. Like budget so much per day but then subtract $2 or something per day. That extra wiggle space could account for sales.
Marie @ My Personal Finance Journey says
I tried to set a fix amount every week every time I go to the grocery. Sometimes, I exceeded on my limited amount, it’s very hard to stick to that amount.
We go shopping whenever we need it. If I waited until I was out of everything, I would end up buying more than I need. It’s like going shopping when you are hungry.