Having a budget for food spending is an essential part of not overspending. It’s also crucial in getting the most from the money we have. That might seem obvious but there are many many people who think they overspend on food without actually allocating a grocery budget or a spending limit. (Spoiler, that was me!)
But relating a monthly, or weekly budget to each meal can be HARD. How do you know if a meal is on budget? Or when kids say “can we have burgers tonight?” or “I want more cheese than that?” or we see an offer in the shops that looks good… how do we relate all those things to our monthly budget?
At least it was for me. And it it’s ever seemed hard to you too, read on!
This tip is the solution I use all the time to stay on track in the busy moments and on the fly.
SOLUTION: BREAKING DOWN THE BUDGET
I shared this tip on a quick reel HERE but I wanted to break it down in a longer blog because it helps me stay on budget time and time again.
I take our monthly budget (we work by month, some people work by week – either works) and I divide it into a “per meal” cost. There are a few ways you can do this but the goal is to break the monthly number down so you have a per meal budget not just a bigger one. That smaller number can help you make small decisions. Otherwise we’re left spending until the end of the month, and then we find out how we’re doing. And that’s not empowering or helpful.
We’ll talk about how to then work out how much a meal costs further down. It does take work but that work saves money, and it gets easier.
TEMPLATE FOR CALCULATING YOUR GOAL MEAL SPEND
In the section below I walk you through how to calculate your per meal budget step by step. Alternatively if you want to just pop your numbers into a box and see your per meal goal. You can balance it differently for each meal if say, you eat bigger dinners and smaller breakfasts, or for people who eat school lunches. Just click “use template” in the top right corner to create your own calculator.
(note: this template can be used with any currency, it doesn’t change the calculations, the only difference is the symbol that shows up. It can be changed under format > number > custom currency and choose yours.)
HOW TO CALCULATE YOUR MEAL GOAL: SIMPLE OPTION
STEP 1: Take your monthly budget (for a family of our size the average food budget in 2023 is £670)
STEP 2: Divide by 31 to get a per day food spending goal (e.g. that would be £22 here)
STEP 3: Divide by 3 to get a per meal amount. In this example that would be around a £7 spending goal per family meal.
This is a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t account for things like kids eating at school, or expenses that aren’t associated with a meal like cleaning supplies that come out of my grocery budget, but it’s still a really helpful number you can get to quickly. You can then take that number if you have to quickly grab ingredients for one meal or if you want to know if a recipe is in your budget.
HOW TO CALCULATE YOUR MEAL SPEND GOAL: MORE DETAILED OPTION
STEP 1: Take your monthly budget and remove the costs of any non meal items. This will be different for everyone. It might be cleaning supplies that come out of a grocery budget, or snacks that aren’t for meals, or coffee that’s drunk though the day.
STEP 2: You can then divide this per day and meal, by dividing by 31 for a per day amount and then into 3 for a per meal goal. Or, you can weight it differently between meals using the calculator above.
HOW DO WE THEN CALCULATE THE COST OF A MEAL AND INGREDIENTS?
Ok, so you have your goal budget but how the heck do you know how much each meal costs?! I’d love to say there’s a really easy hack, but there isn’t. This does take some time and work. BUT the time spend is the alternative to a monetary spend. Often we can add a bit of time, to save a bit of money and that’s the goal here. As you get to know your ingredients you’ll be able to do this more easily and quickly. And the goal isn’t a perfect calculation but a rough guide to help you know.
I will say it gets easier as you go. To give you hope, now that I’ve been budgeting very strictly for a number of years I can do this for a meal quite quickly as I make it, or on a piece of paper in 5 minutes afterwards.
INGREDIENT COST CALCULATIONS
In essence you’re looking at each item you add to a meal and seeing the cost of that item, and then how much of it you use.
e.g. If your receipts show you that a 1.5kg bag of flour costs £1.80 and you use 500g in a recipe you do:
1.80 x 500 / 1500
[the cost of the item] x [the amount you used / the amount in the container]
In this example I’d add 60p to my meal tally.
You do this for each ingredient and you’ve got the cost of a meal or a dish.
TIPS FOR CALCULATING COSTS:
- Keep a photo of receipts on your phone or in your kitchen, that way if I need to look up an item, I can see how much it cost me for an easy calculation.
- If I’m using a drizzle of oil and a few spices, some butter and some salt in a meal I usually just add one £1 or $1 for all the little things in a family size or bulk batch meal, or exclude that cost of those things if it’s a small dish or something for one person.
- When I’ve calculated something I keep it in a note on my phone. That way I don’t calculate anything twice! I have a note of how much it costs to make a loaf of bread, pizza crust, mac and cheese with one box of pasta etc. Then I can add in any extras and it’s simple.
- Remember the goal isn’t a perfect calculation but an idea that helps you stay on track, and building a skill that helps you over time.
- When it feels like hard work, remember that it’s empowering you to stay on budget and that brings freedom and peace that’s worth some work.
Budgeting is a journey! Try not to get overwhelmed but know that it’s a journey that takes time and you will get the hang of it in time. It’s not easy, it’s not without sacrifice and change and being different. But you’ll get there!
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