Budgeting is something that most twenty-somethings think about at some point and a line item that will be on everyone's budget is groceries. Great news. It is possible to stay within a reasonable grocery budget each week without ever purchasing Top Ramen.
There are two very important factors when it comes to staying within a grocery budget, in my opinion. The first is planning your meals ahead of time and being okay with eating repeat meals throughout the week, especially if you are cooking just for yourself. Taking leftovers for lunch or having the same dinner a few times a week can really cut down on costs. I try to make meals in bulk that will last me in a number of ways. The following week, I'll switch it up to prevent myself from getting in a rut.
I usually make overnight oatmeal for breakfast and a hearty salad for lunch, every day of the week. A bag of baby spinach costs me about $3 and lasts all week long. I'll add chickpeas, feta cheese, kalamata olives, chopped peppers and cucumbers. Or to switch things up, I'll add some canned tuna and white beans along with some veggies. It is my goal to never bring a boring salad for lunch!
Dinners usually involve pasta, turkey burgers, homemade pizza or other inexpensive meals that are easy to buy in bulk. The key is to buy ingredients that you will easily be able to get at least two to three meals out of. A box of 4 turkey burgers is about $3, paired with a side salad or a grain and dinner is less than $5!
The second factor is to make a list and stick to it. But keep in mind, just because you make a list it doesn't mean it will be within your desired budget. I always shop at Trader Joe's, so I'm used to how much my weekly staple items will cost me (such as coconut milk or baby spinach). Each time I put something in my basket, I round up what the cost of the item(s) is (If it is $2.79, I call it $3) and mark it on my grocery list. With every item I grab, I add the cost to my running total, which means I do the math while I shop, so the final tally at the register isn't a shock. I always get really excited when I come in just under budget; I consider it a big win for the week!
One bonus piece of advice, which seems rather obvious but worth stating, is that you should never grocery shop while you are hungry. It is much more tempting to make impulse purchases on things like potato chips or that jar of cookies and creme cookie butter (yes this is real and you should really try it...put it on your list) when you are hungry. Purchasing these impulse items which aren't on your shopping list is the quickest way to go over budget.
Keeping a consistent grocery budget will free you up to spend your money on other fun things, such as concerts, movies, museums or anything else that you fancy. I've had a strict weekly grocery budget of $40 (yes, $40) for about 6 weeks and it is amazing the amount of money I am saving by simply planning ahead and sticking to a grocery list. While you might not need to have as strict of a budget as I do (thanks Manhattan!), I encourage you to give these tips a try and let us know how they went!