How much of your budget should you spend on groceries?
Are groceries eating up too much of your monthly budget?
Canadians spend an average of around $200 a month per person on food bought in stores, according to Global News’ analysis of Statistics Canada data. Of course, that number varies across the country. Albertans, for example, spend an average of nearly $240 per person for one month worth of food. Shoppers in Nova Scotia spend the least, at about $186.
Costs tend to go up in big cities — Torontonians need to budget at least $254 per person for food — and depending on household size: Families can buy in bulk, and being single is usually more expensive.
And then, of course, there’s the simple fact that everyone’s gotta eat: Lower income households inevitably spend a larger share of their earnings on food.
Still, a rough rule of thumb is that groceries should take up about 10 to 15 per cent of your gross income, said Scott Hannah, president and CEO of the Credit Counselling Society, a Vancouver-based non-profit group that helps families sort out their debt. If you make $40,000 a year, you should be spending between $4,000 and $6,000 on groceries, including food as well as the kind of toiletries and drugstore items that most people pick up at the supermarket, he said.
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If you’re actual spend is well above that, there are three easy ways to cut back, said Hannah:
Rejig your grocery list
Spending less on groceries doesn’t mean giving up on healthy food choices. In fact, squeezing your food bill could help you shed a few pounds, too.
Ditch prepared meals
“One of the biggest things is swapping out processed food,” said Hannah. A whopping 23 per cent of Canadians’ food expenses goes to something StatsCan calls “non-alcoholic beverages and other food products.” That’s a lot of money for things like pop, candy bars and TV dinners.
Cutting back on prepared meals means spending more time cooking your own food, noted Hannah, but the effort can be well worth it for both your wallet and your waistline.
Cut down on the meat intake
The other mammoth line item on the average Canadian grocery bill is meat. We spend nearly 20 per cent of our food budget on things like red meat and chicken (and only 3.5 per cent on fish and seafood), according to StasCan.
“North Americans as a whole consume way too much meat,” said Hannah. And really, “you don’t need 12 ounces of steak.”
Instead, cut that steak in two. Buy a roast and feed the family for several days, or invest in a slow cooker that can tenderize cheaper cuts of meat, suggested Hannah.
Purchasing more legumes and grains is another way to get protein in your diet and slash your bill.
When shopping for fresh produce, go for what’s in season
Fruit and vegetables take up almost 24 per cent of the average Canadian’s grocery list. Now, no one recommends cutting down on that, but produce can take a big bite out of your food budget. And factors like bad weather can also make prices for things like cauliflower and lettuce swing wildly.
The secret is to buy more of the fruits and vegetables that are in season, said Hannah. Costs go down when the strawberries in your cart come from a nearby field rather than a greenhouse or from across the border. So load up on those local berries and freeze some for the future, Hannah added.
During the winter months, when there’s precious little fresh produce that’s in season in Canada, you can load up on frozen fruit and vegetables, which are remarkably like the fresh stuff in terms of nutritional value.
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Make a meal plan and stick to it
Another biggie when budgeting for groceries is having a plan, said Hannah.
Roaming aimlessly through the supermarket aisles tends to result in a lot of food that will end up rotting in your fridge and impulse buys are bad for your pocketbook and midriff.
Instead, sit and write down what the family is going to eat through the week, then come up with a grocery list and don’t deviate from the master plan.
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Be aware of prices
Where you shop matters, too, said Hannah, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get all your groceries at discount stores.
Stocking up on toilet paper at Costco can save you big bucks, but what grocery story is right for you depends more on the makeup of your grocery list.
Identify the staples that always end up in your cart and locate the store that offers the best deals on the largest share of your typical shopping basket, said Hannah.
In the long run, that can result in considerable savings.
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