How to: Lower your grocery budget

Are you feeling financially pinched, or you’ve simply realised that you’re spending (and wasting) way too much money on food?

Getting started

Getting started on the new, lower grocery budget is easy – it’s simply a matter of setting a sensible, achievable limit and sticking to it. We stuck to our limit by writing the weekly starting amount on a piece of paper and deducting  every grocery purchase, whether it be money spent at the supermarket, dairy, service station, takeaway shop or school canteen. We even included gifts, stationery and remedies from the pharmacy in our budget.

The aim is to make the budget last for seven days. If the tally hits zero and there are still days left in the week then that’s it – you have to survive on whatever you can find in the pantry or the fridge. It is hard to do at the beginning but, if you stick to it, this process gets easier and easier until it becomes second nature. The great thing is how much money you can suddenly see building up in your savings account.


Of course, like everything, your chances of budgeting success will be much higher with a bit of planning. Ask yourself what you hope to achieve by taking control of the resources you spend on grocery shopping. Some general reasons might include:

  • save money
  • lose weight
  • eat more healthily
  • avoid packaging
  • reduce waste
  • become more environmentally aware
  • reduce your environmental impact.

My initial motivation for slashing our grocery budget was pure financial desperation, but the longer we stuck to the budget the more obvious the other benefits became, and eventually these even outweighed the personal financial gains.  This encouraged us to stick to our budget and even to make further cuts.

If you are a person who feels more confident using lists and timetables, then by all means write a shopping list to stick to and set aside a special time to make your homemade products for the week. You may like to make a poster of your motivation for doing this and stick it up in a prominent place to remind you and everyone else what you are doing and why. Remember, this strict budget is likely to be a big change for you and it is never harder than at the beginning. Do whatever it takes for you to stick to the main goal that is your new low grocery budget.

Where are you and where would you like to be?

It is painful, but important, to check out how much you are currently spending on groceries every week. Most people are aware they spend a lot, but are unsure of the exact amount. Prepare yourself for a shock. Most families have no idea how much hard-earned cash is being frittered away by careless grocery shopping and impulse buying. I have read that New Zealanders as a whole spend over $16 million a day on impulse buying alone. We can’t afford this.

Internet banking is an easy way to monitor your current spending, especially if you use an Eftpos card. Otherwise, a look at your paper bank statements should give you a clear picture of what you and your family are actually spending at the supermarket, dairy, service station and takeaway shop.

Many people would love to be able to save an extra $50 or $100 a week, but struggle to do this. Where is the extra money going to come from? Will you have to get a second job? You may feel you don’t spend enough time with your family as it is.

You will be pleasantly surprised to find the resources to make a regular savings deposit are already in your budget – you only need to divert them from the grocery budget into your own savings account.

I can’t tell you how much you can save. Every family is different – different size, different wants and needs, different resources. It is up to you to decide: where am I now and where would I like to be?

Sell the idea to your family

Every family is different, but one thing is certain: everyone in the family must understand why you are slashing the grocery budget because they are the ones who are going to be affected by it. If only one member of the family is keen to slash the budget and start saving, and the other family members are resistant, then you are going to have a fight on your hands. Family harmony is important, so make sure everyone is on board, or is at least clear about what you are trying to achieve. Setting a family goal with a time frame is helpful. Explain your reasons for the budget to the rest of the family – for example:

‘Mummy and Daddy want to take you all on a family holiday this summer. So we can afford this, we are going to save money by only spending $XXX a week on groceries. This means you might get to eat a carrot instead of a chocolate biscuit as an after-school snack, but we will all get to go camping together in February.’

You will be surprised how most kids will buy in to the idea. Kids are likely to be super-positive about making things, too, instead of buying them. It is usually adults who resist change, not children.

My children Danni and Stevie were 16 and 11 when I slashed our budget to $100 a week. Surprisingly they never missed a beat, although our cupboards were comparatively very bare and they were being asked to clean their teeth and wash their hair with baking soda. Stevie actually confided in me that she used to be embarrassed by how much rubbish I would pile into our supermarket trolley. One of the main grocery cuts was treats for the children, so ice-cream and cakes and biscuits all but disappeared, replaced by cheaper fruit and vegetables and staple ingredients like flour and sugar. Stevie has developed into a budding home cook through necessity, and thinks nothing of whipping up a treat if she wants one – puddings, cakes and her speciality, chocolate brownies. It tastes better homemade, and if your desire for a treat motivates you enough to whip one up yourself, it is so much more satisfying than just unwrapping some packaged convenience food.

It is also a good idea to let friends and family know what you are doing and why. That way they are not disappointed when they’re not invited around for lavish meals (although entertaining is still possible on the budget). You can easily change your invitation to a gourmet meal into a BYO barbecue or potluck dinner, without offending anyone.

Set a goal with a time frame

Adjusting to a severely slashed grocery budget can be difficult at first, but if you have defined a goal it makes the process much easier.

Your goal might be:

  • build up a nest egg in a savings account and enjoy the empowerment and security that comes with it
  • start a term deposit
  • buy a new house or car
  • invest in property or a business
  • get out of the rental trap
  • go to university
  • save for the trip of a lifetime
  • take a friend on a cruise.

Your goal doesn’t have to be boring – it is your money, and what you spend it on is up to you. But you may be surprised to find you already earn the resources to do it, if you simply divert the money from your grocery spend.

QUICK summary

  • Ask yourself: why do I want to slash the grocery budget?
  • Find out how much you currently spend.
  • Set a sensible budget limit.
  • Get your family to buy in, and also tell extended family and friends what you are doing and why.
  • Set a goal with a time frame.
  • Stick to the budget.
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