As I was planning the monthly grocery budget for this year, I was looking at the last few years and although our grocery habits haven’t changed all that much, how we budget our groceries has. Yes, we now have two more little mouths to feed, but our grocery budget has now grown to include other items that it didn’t before.
Don’t judge a budget by its category
Some people spend $300, $400, $800 a month on groceries. Is that a lot? Is that a little? For anyone looking solely at a number, it’s not easy to say. When my wife and I first started a grocery budget for our household, our grocery budget was much smaller — yes, again, our little family has grown, but it was also based solely on food. We’d come home with a long grocery receipt and then we’d have to split it up into separate categories: toiletries, personal hygiene, food, etc. It became cumbersome and at times the budget got ignored for a little while. Our attempt to become detail-oriented was getting in our way. I mean, who wants to enter in every single receipt as a split receipt? So we were suffering from category fatigue (it’s a real term, I promise).
So, I looked at what we were spending in total on food, what we spent on household products (i.e. household cleaners, paper products, etc.) and began lumping them both together. And since the majority of our non-food, day-to-day items, were all spent at the grocery store as well, we added those in too. Suddenly our grocery receipts were no longer these tedious animals that occupied our time and our wallet. It was one simple receipt we had to enter in our PearBudget app. And unexpectedly, I think because it was all put into one group, we actually managed to shrink our spending a bit.
Our grocery budget now stands at $800 a month. Now, I know what you’re thinking, that may seem like a lot, but that includes food, household cleaners and paper products, personal care and hygiene products, baby formula, diapers, etc. It includes all the basic everyday items we, as a family of four, use and buy at the grocery store. And by grouping all these everyday items together, it’s eliminated much of our category fatigue, and recording our spending isn’t much of a chore anymore.
A budget that works for you
When your budget is too complicated, it’s hard to stay motivated and on track. But you’re more likely to stick with it when it’s something you can understand. If you’re having to think ‘what category does this fall under?’, your budget is already too complicated. It needs to be simple, and make sense to you. And at the end of the day, as long as you’re spending less than you make and setting aside money for your goals, you’re moving in the right direction. Every family has different lifestyles. Some spend more on food, some choose to spend more on other things in their life. And even your own budgets will change with any new life events. Budgets are always evolving and should be flexible.
It’s also important to be mindful of why you’re doing it in the first place. When we first started budgeting for baby #1, after seeing some parenting blogs out there listing their annual spending on their first child, line item by line item, I wondered if we should do the same. Some of that baby stuff can get quite expensive. But ultimately, we decided against it, because when you track any category in a budget, what’s the first thing you think of doing? You try and look for ways to cut on items in that category. We can always cut on non-essentials, but aside from the books/toys, and clothing, which we’ve broken into their own separate categories, most of the baby stuff we buy, we consider essentials and I don’t think they’re something I should be tracking. I’m sure the last thing my wife wants to hear is that we’re spending too much on diapers. And if our grocery budget is getting close to our monthly budget spend, then we’re obviously going to look for ways to compromise on our stuff first.
I’m not saying our method is the best one. In fact, there are some disadvantages to doing it this way. But it’s one that works for us and overall it’s allowed us to stay on track with our budget. You have to find something that works for you and your budget. As I mentioned in my post Overcoming your financial obstacles, I think it’s important to find out what’s holding you back from carrying on with your budget. Sometimes it can be the smallest of things. For me, having to enter in one receipt as one, vs. 10, made a world of difference.
Stop worrying about other people’s budgets and focus on your own. I think the most important thing, is that you are keeping track of your spending and your budget stays consistent. People have very different income levels, people spend money on very different things and have very different priorities, so what they do and do not include in a grocery budget, for example, is entirely up to them. And it’s entirely up to you.