How to Go OVER Budget at the Grocery Store

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I spend a lot of money at the grocery store.  That’s because:

  1. We eat nearly all of our meals at home.
  2. My husband always takes his lunch and several snacks to work every day.
  3. My husband likes to eat and eat well.
  4. I feed other people frequently.
  5. My grocery budget includes household items like cleaners, pet food (for one large dog and a cat), diapers for the grandkids, makeup, etc.

I used to do a pretty good job at sticking to my budget but in the past several years, I haven’t tried as hard.  However, I want to do better.

When I went to the grocery store this past week, I made a detailed list complete with price estimates and it added up to $183.  I wanted to spend no more than $200 so that gave me a little leeway if I discovered that I forgot something.  By the way, I don’t add in tax because I estimate high on individual items to cover the tax.

Anyway, when I got to the checkout, my bill was $223.30.  Oops.  I went over my estimate by $40 and over my budget by $23.

grocery receipt

When I got home, I analyzed my grocery list to figure out where I went wrong.  Here’s where I messed up:

1.       My biggest problem resulted from the “leeway” I mentioned earlier.  Leeway seems like a good thing because I always forget an item or two or there’s a great sale.  But if leeway isn’t handled carefully, it can be very bad.  When I think I can add a few things because I have a little room in my budget, unless I carefully keep track, that extra $15 will easily turn into $30.  And when I grocery shopped this week, I added $36 worth of extra stuff.

2.      Not being realistic.  I always buy a 20 ounce coke at the checkout.  It’s my reward for shopping.  It costs about $1.60.  Sometimes I buy a second one to share with other members of my family.  Since I KNOW I’m going to buy one or two, I need to add that to my list.  If I KNOW I’m going to buy something, I need to put it on the list!!!

3.       Underestimating the cost of an item.  Most of the time I’m pretty accurate with my estimates but once in a while I miss the mark.  When that happens, rather than tossing the item in my cart anyway, if I’m really serious about staying on budget, I have to make a decision.  If I add the overpriced item, something else has to go.

My granddaughter loves those packages of breadsticks with dipping cheese.  Normally you can buy a pack of 5 for $1.15 but they were out of them.  I didn’t want to disappoint her again (I didn’t get them last week) so I ended up buying a bigger box and more expensive brand for $5 instead of the $1.25 I budgeted.   I also opted to buy a package of chicken cutlets instead of normal chicken breasts (for a recipe for chicken roll-ups that require thinner pieces of chicken) and it was $5 more than I budgeted.  I should have purchased the normal package of chicken breasts and cut them myself.  I just wasn’t thinking.

4.       Not being careful when I make my list.  When I made my list, I wasn’t as careful as I should have been.  I was in a hurry and threw it together.  As a result, I got to the store and realized there were several items I needed that weren’t on the list.  If I had been more careful in my planning, those items would have been on the list.

5.       Not being committed to staying on budget.  Even though I wanted to stay on budget, I wasn’t truly committed to it.  I went in with the attitude that it wasn’t a big deal if I went a little over.  That attitude DOES NOT WORK – at least not for me.  The only sure way I know to solve my attitude problem is to go to the store next week with the exact amount of cash I want to spend.

Grocery List

After analyzing my spending at the grocery store this week, I know what I need to do when I go shopping next week.  If you have problems staying on budget, what are your problem areas?

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Born in Kentucky, I am a wife and mom to 1 son and 2 daughters . I have an ink pen obsession, as well as a love for all things planner. I have been married for 10 years to my high school crush. I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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10 thoughts on “How to Go OVER Budget at the Grocery Store

  1. Believe it not, I do better with the money side if I don’t use a list. If I use a list — especially if I try to meal plan — I always overspend. With the list, I overspend a little; with a meal plan, I go way over. But I’ve been on furlough (1/5 pay cut until the end of the fiscal year), so I’ve been watching my costs — both not to spend too little and not get enough and not to spend too much. I take an index card in with me and write down the costs of things. If something is $1.79, I round up to $2. I add it up periodically so I know where I’m at. The biggest thing is I count individual fruit and vegetables by day so I don’t buy too much, because then I won’t be able to eat it fast enough before it goes bad. I’m lucky because the store I go to prices the fruit and vegetables by item, rather than by pound so I know the exact cost. I usually have to to go to two stories + farmer’s market. I always watch the prices in the bigger stores. Sometimes they have a bulk price or a sale, and it’s not cheaper.

    The challenge is that I’m single, and most grocery stores are catered to families. Products are sold in huge quantities to save money for the families, but doesn’t do much for me. It irks me to buy a six pack of eggs and spend nearly as much as a 12 pack; yet I will throw out half if I buy the 12 pack because I can’t go through them that fast. Eggs are one of the reason I go to a second store, to get something a little cheaper. I usually ignore most sales because they benefit families, who go through the stuff quickly, and I generally ignore coupons because they are often to get me to buy the more expensive name brand product. Even with the coupon, I may not save money compared to a cheaper alternative!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Linda. I know that menu planning and grocery shopping is definitely more challenging if you’re single. You have some great tips.

  2. We eat a very strict paleo diet with little to no processed food. Way too often, I justify spending extra money spent on fruits and veggies I didn’t have on the list because they are healthy. As a result our grocery budget has gotten out of control and is desperate need of being reigned in. These tips are great. I will definitely be giving them a shot soon.

    1. I agree that it doesn’t seem so bad spending extra on fruits and vegetables. I spent extra on stuff like corn dogs and ice cream. But fruits and vegetables . . . those are good for you! But if you’re trying to stick to a budget, it doesn’t matter what the extras are.

      Good luck reigning in your budget.

  3. Most people know this but I tend to have trouble with only making ONE trip to the store in a week. Last week was bad because I made so many little trips for “just a few things.” I made my big trip already for this week so I feel more on track. Taking a set amount of cash and a calculator really does work best for me. I round everything up to the next highest dollar to allow for tax. My bigger budget problem is my husband who likes to shop in bulk.

    1. I’m pretty good about going to the store only one time in a week but it’s mainly because I just don’t have time to go more than that. I’m lucky to get to go once! I don’t get out much so I have to make a special trip rather than stopping by on my way somewhere. But I definitely spend more money the more times I go shopping.

      I think I’m going to try taking a set amount of cash next week. I don’t see how that won’t work. If you don’t have it, you can’t spend it.

  4. I always go over budget due to extra trips to the store. I have a 2 year old who eats lots of fresh fruit – which means we go to the store more often because I hate it when food goes bad (such a waste!). We actually have a farmers market where (if I got myself organized) I could probably buy all of his fruit for the week for less and if some goes bad, it’s not as big of a waste. We are really keeping track this month so we can do like you did and really analyze where our money is going instead of where we think it is going. Thanks for the tips! Stopped by from SITS.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. That’s awesome that your 2-year-old loves fruit.

      Analyzing the grocery receipt is eye-opening, isn’t it?! I had no idea how much I was spending on certain categories. The numbers don’t lie!

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