My Favorite Way to Stay on Budget

I’ve been to the grocery store (or a place where I buy things I consider groceries) four times in the last 10 days.

I spent an average of $106 each time.



It doesn’t seem to matter whether my list is long or short, whether I’m picking up four things or forty. Walk into a grocery store and spend a lot of money.

Once upon a time, I went to the store officially once a week, armed with my carefully-considered list based on what I was going to make for dinner each night. Once upon a time, I “wagged” my budget, saying that I spent about $800 a month because I was spending right around $200 each time I hit the store.

Then I started tracking my spending. I use YNAB (even though it is not a free tool) for a number of reasons, not the least of which is I can see what my actual average is over time in each category.

I was spending close to $1500 a month on food. Granted, this includes things like toothpaste and laundry detergent and wine and beer, but I was absolutely shocked to see that I was so far off in my estimate.

What was the culprit?


It wasn’t necessarily the kinds of stuff I was buying, but that I was, actually, hitting the grocery store 2-3 times a week, spending that $100 each and every time. I didn’t have a list with me on those “unofficial” trips for the most part. No list, no foul, right?


My MO these days is to save up my groceries for one trip, once every ten days to two weeks. I’m astounded at how long we can keep fresh vegetables and fruits (they definitely last between trips). I work pretty hard to consider where I am buying my supplies, as some stuff is ideally sourced from one store instead of the other - and if I am only hitting one store on that bi-weekly trip, I need to make sure I don’t drastically need something that only comes from the other store. This doesn’t always work out.

Which brings me back to this past ten days. One of those trips was to my coffee shop (#indulgence) for the fresh-roasted beans I grind at home every morning. A six week supply counts as a grocery purchase in my mind. One trip was to get (literally) the two items we needed for a semi-splurge dinner of rotisserie chicken on our way back after a boat weekend. One trip was my bi-weekly stock up. And one was the “top off” of special ingredients for a last-minute celebration dinner after one child heard about an acceptance from a tough-to-get-into school that’s at the top of their list.

Stock up!

Stock up!

Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing insane.

Except for what I spent.

I’ve got $405 left in my grocery budget this month.

The best way to make sure I stick to it?

Don’t go to the store.

(Why is this cruising prep? Because of a few things. It’s being mindful of money. It’s seeing how long you can go between grocery stores. It’s being aware of what you are running out of and planning accordingly. There probably are other reasons but those are the ones I can think of at the moment.)

*link to YNAB is an affiliate link. I earn a small commission (and you get a discount!) if you sign up through this link.