6 February 2012

Planning the food budget

Yes, this is a bit of a different blog posting to normal, in that it doesn't contain any recipes - not even the sniff of a recipe.

The thing is, that just lately, I have often heard reference being made to folk who find their finances being squeezed to the point of, potentially, having to make the decision between heating their house and putting food on the table.

Now I can’t comment on the squeezing, or the choice between heat and food.  However, I certainly can comment – from experience - on how to manage your family’s food budget, so as to make the most of what you’ve got.

This is really such an incredibly simple concept.  It does, however, demand that you be disciplined about making it work.

The first thing required – and often the worst part of the whole process - is that you sit down and go through your Bank Statements, credit card statements and have a good old wrack of your brains.   What you’re after, is building up two lists – one detailing what you spend, how much, when and the regularity with which you spend it, the other detailing what you earn, when and the regularity with which you earn it.

The object of the exercise is to be able to tell your incomings and outgoings for the month.  If you have quarterly payments – or even less regular payments, then make a separate note of these.

Next, you’re going to need to know whether you’re living within your means – so tot up the two average lists and see whether your incomings will cover your outgoings.  If they don’t, well, you’re going to have to work out where you can make savings – and do so until your outgoings list is covered by the incomings.  I’m afraid I can’t help you with this – as only you will know how important to you each item is.

So, let’s assume that you’ve allowed an amount of (say) £150 per week for the family for food (and don’t forget to factor in those not-so-regular payments into each month).  The next thing to establish is how this is spent.  I used to allow the majority of the amount for my Tuesday shop, with a small amount set aside for a Friday shop.  The Friday shop would consist of mainly fresh vegetables for the weekend, milk, bread and a few things to make the weekend special.

Now, how do you know what to buy when you’re shopping?  Absolutely the only way – if you’ve any hope of staying within budget – is to meal plan.

I would sit down on a Sunday evening and plan out the meals through from Tuesday to Monday – and in fact, I still do.  Doing this eliminates any guesswork plus forgotten items, from your shopping as you can use the meal plan to produce two shopping lists – one for Tuesday and one for Friday.

On your shopping lists, should be everything you are going to need to produce those seven meals plus extras like washing up liquid, washing powder, personal items, pet food and cleaning equipment.  Make sure that the Tuesday list contains everything non-perishable for the week, which makes Friday’s list fit better into the smaller amount.

Once you’ve done this a few times, it becomes easier and you’ll find that just the length of the list will give you a clue as to whether it will fit into the amount of money available.  You’ll also find that there are regular items that appear on every list – broccoli and yoghurt were regulars with us!

Also, don’t immediately discount the own brand products as being of lesser quality.  Yes, they probably are – but they are also perfectly acceptable in lots of cases – and can save you important pennies.  Tinned tomatoes is a perfect example, as with a pinch of sugar and a dash of salt even the most unprepossessing looking tin can produce a great spaghetti Bolognese.

When you’ve got a feel for what you can get for the money, you are then able to take advantage of the good Buy One Get One Free offers.  Don’t be tempted to buy things that you aren’t going to use.  It’s all very well having six bottles of Bitter Lemon in your cupboard – but not if everyone hates the stuff!

Also, take advantage of loyalty cards like the Nectar card.  I accumulate my points and either use them for my son’s birthday – a trip to the cinema, for instance – or save them up for Christmas.  It’s amazing how glad you can get, of a “free” few quid at such an expensive time.

So there you have it – a quick guide to getting hold of your family’s food budget.  I might even take a closer look at what you spend your money on when doing the food shopping, in another blog post, if I get another mad rush of blood to the head.

In fact, this post was inspired by my being contacted by the Sainsbury's Finance Family Blogger Network - see their Money Matters blog here.  Hubby has often said that I should write a book about surviving on next to nothing - and maybe I will, one day.


  1. In addition to the above I can heartily recommend finding a good local butcher and greengrocer. The quality of the produce is almost always better than the supermarket and it's also often cheaper too!

  2. I heartily concur - in fact, that is the kind of thing I was going to talk about in my next "words of wisdom". :)


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