If your family is anything like mine, food is one of the biggest line items in the monthly budget — and that doesn’t include things like takeout or restaurant outings for a bit of quick respite from the daily grind of meal prep.
Day in, day out, we end up buying (and eating) a lot of food. According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian household spends just over $500 a month at the grocery store – depending on which city or region you live in, however, that number could be a lot higher. One question I get asked a lot is: How much is too much to spend on groceries every month — and is there a guideline to help build a realistic budget?
The Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit debt counselling service in Vancouver, has a guideline: They suggest people budget 10% to 20% of gross income at the grocery store. So, if you’re bringing home $70,000 a year, your bill should top out between $583 and $1166 a month. (Note: that figure doesn’t include eating out.)
Depending on how big your family is, it could be challenging to stretch that budget. But there are ways to bring down your grocery bill. All you need is a bit of extra time, a calculator and a few good recipes to pull it all together.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Make a list — and stick to it
Research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that shopping without a list can increase your grocery bill by 23% due to unplanned purchases. If you stick with your list, you’ll stay focused and buy only the things you need.
Add generic brands to your cart
When it comes to your favourite foods, buying generic may not always make the grade. But for some items — medications, garbage bags, cleaning products and spices — going generic is a no-brainer. And while the price difference between the brand-name item and the generic might not seem like that much, the savings really add up. By their calculation, bloggers Three Thrifty Guys saved 25% in one shop just by buying generic over brand name.
Plan your meals
Canadians throw out a stunning amount of food every year – $31 billion every year or 4.5 kg a week for the average family depending on which study you read. To put a price on that, the food waste adds up to about 20% of the average Canadian grocery bill. The key to reducing food waste is not to buy too much – and that’s where meal planning comes in. If you know what you’re going to eat through the week, you can shop accordingly so that food doesn’t sit in the fridge uneaten. Tote your leftovers for lunch and pick recipes with ingredients that can also be used for other meals.
According to Statistics Canada, the average household spends $1,194 a year on meat like chicken and beef. Cutting out meat can shave a significant portion off your monthly food bill.
This post is part of Spend It Better, a collaboration between Chatelaine and MoneySense about how to get the most for your money. You can find out more right here.
Watch: WTF! How can I start saving money?