Winning the Battle of the Grocery Budget at the Grocery Store

My wife and I have been married for over 30 years.  And despite all her great strengths (which are many by the way) she struggles in the area of staying on budget with our household budget– or so it would seem.  A few years ago, she returned from the grocery store and I could tell as she walked in the house that she was overbudget yet again.  For 20 years we have had the same issue: she buys groceries, she overspends, I get frustrated, she feels bad, I look at that pretty girl who serves our family so faithfully and I overlook the overspending and we move on.  Until that fateful Saturday.

For some reason, I had had enough.  So, in typical Howington fashion, I hurt her feelings and made her cry and I didn’t even feel bad about it.  I brazenly told her, “that’s it, I am going to start buying groceries.”  She was surprised and a little hurt.  “Do you think I am doing a bad job?”  I almost caved but regathered myself, “I don’t know if you are doing a bad job or not.  I just can’t figure out why you can’t figure it out so I need to buy groceries to see if I can help us.” So, for the next month, I did all the menu planning and shopping.

In a previous life, I led a catering company so I was confident that I could get to the bottom of it.  And I did!  In fact, it only took me a couple of weeks to figure out the mystery.  She didn’t have enough money.  She never had enough money.  We were grossly underbudgeting in the area of groceries.  My family of three needs about $650 a month on average to take care of our needs and she had been trying to pull it off with $450.

As budget coaches, we see this all the time.  Families don’t do a great job of getting the right target in our household account (this includes food eaten in the house, toiletries and cleaning supplies).  After meeting with hundreds of families we have seen that families average from $150 to $250 per person per month in this area. So, a family of four would need between $600 to $1,000 in the budget.  The easiest math is to start with $200 per person and then see if you need to move up or down.

“After meeting with hundreds of families we have seen that families average from $150 to $250 per person per month in this area.”

So, back to my wife.  I didn’t tell her for a month and just changed the budget.  Her curiosity was peaked as I kept bringing stuff in the house and was still “on a budget.”  So finally, she said, “how are you doing this?”  And I apologetically told her that we had been underbudgeting this area for years and changed the budget to something that works.  My penance for putting her through the stress over the years was to buy groceries for the next 6 months.  She forgave me and we lived happily ever after.


About The Budget Guys: 
For the last 10 years, The Budget Guys have been helping families and individuals get their financial lives together. Tim has been married to Terri for over 30 years and Chris has been married to Tiffany for over 20. We have both had our share of knock-down-drag-discussion over finances. So, we bring some experience. We would love to sit down with you at your kitchen table (metaphorically speaking, we actually meet in our offices), and lend a fresh set of eyes to your situation. For more info and budget help, check out

One thought on “Winning the Battle of the Grocery Budget at the Grocery Store”

  1. Having a common sense and manageable budget feels much like having good intentions while on a diet but someone keeps asking you would you like more and then they set the desert plater nearly in front if you. Then there is the OMG i am so poor diet and budget they do go hand and hand. So how dose one live breath and eat with an income of $475.00 a month? You just do it… no frills or co pays. Cupons, grow your own, co-op, make your own instead of buying prepared, food banks, food stamps, no eating out and you bring your own when you can get away with it such as the movies if you can factir that in. Busdgeting is a requirement in life but it is not your complete life so it can be made into a learning educational experience that proves to you that you are more efficient, healthy, productive and able to pass alone you tips to help others. Being poor isnt always a sad affair where all you do is think of money. Sometimes you find yourself celebrating the small accomplishments and steps forward and upwards in a fun challenging and educational involved way.
    Thank you for the oportunity to share.

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