How to never go over your food budget again….ever (+Darren’s Office Plan)


I’ve been having trouble focusing on work the last few days, because I’ve been dreaming about our basement.  It’s supposed to be Darren’s office, but right now it looks like this:


Yes I’m embarrassed, and yes this will eventually circle back around to the food budget.  He can’t work down here because it’s too cold (there’s a crack in the exterior door) and it’s an organizational disaster….so he’s in my office.  I don’t mind sharing my office with him (you believe me, right?), but I want him to have his own space that has organizational systems that work for him.

I love how photoshop, even poorly done, can create visions from daydreams.


I did a craigslist search for the office items that were sure to blow our budget and I found a business closing auction a few cities over.   I bid on the essentials and have been sitting at my computer hitting refresh ever since.  Right now a brown version of the above desk has my name on it for 5 cents and is begging me to paint and glaze him a pretty blue.  The auction is over in 9 hours and 12 minutes…..excuse me while I hit refresh.

The other side of the room currently looks like this:


But would prefer to look like this:


Except that Darren thought the space needed a TV….so I made a tiny tweak….

Then I got lost on pinterest searching for tutorials on sewing Moroccan poufs after I saw the prices of ready made ones.  Who knew this was the perfect use for my stacks of worn out towels? Of course I had to research the best value on navy velvet (ooh, maybe my Mom has some in her stash!) and find free building plans for bookcases and buffets…..and refresh.


Budgeting is like making these concept pictures in photoshop.  It’s dreaming and planning without ever touching a paint brush or saw.  Eventually that plan needs to come to life, and it doesn’t always turn out like the picture said it would.  I can’t tell you how many money fights Darren and I have had when we were using credit cards for all our expenses.  We figured we would pay them off at the end of the month and earn the 1% back.  When we compared our credit card bill to our budget we were over EVERY TIME.  We could barely pay it off and made no traction towards our financial goals.  He would ask, “What did you BUY?”  (insert accusing voice inflections here.) I’d swear it was all necessities: food, clothing, toilet paper…..

Then we switched to cash.  I put my food money for the month in an envelope and when it was gone we had to eat what was already in the house.   I made decisions differently when I could see clearly the plan and the goal (the cash that’s left.)   That first cash envelope happened 11 years ago and the system is still the best one for us.  Here are my tips from years of experience:

  1.  Only budget for people FOOD in your grocery budget.  Have a separate category for pets, cleaning supplies, paper products etc.
  2. Take 1/4th of the budget and save it in a separate envelope for the last week of the month.  If you don’t, you’ll learn to be VERY creative with your cooking that last week.
  3. If you shop at stores for food where you also might buy items from other budget categories (such as clothing or cleaning supplies) be sure to get enough small bills when you pick up your cash so you can make change for yourself between the categories.
  4. If you are scared of carrying cash (because you know every criminal in town will pick up the scent and try to rob you) try just using cash for food.  If it works out you can add other categories later.
  5. If you hate it, you can always go back to your old method :).

Do you currently use cash? What are your tips for making it work?

This is Day 3 of our Series: Shrink Your Food Budget

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16 thoughts on “How to never go over your food budget again….ever (+Darren’s Office Plan)

  1. Dahabu says:

    I began using the cash system for groceries a few years ago, and I am so glad I did. The biggest benefit for me has been having more CONTROL of that area of spending. Plus it usually turns into a game of strategy each month. We are 4 people, including 2 teens (who seem to be eating us out of the house!). I spend $400 cash each month on food. But this does not include my monthly visit to the butcher shop for grass fed, no hormone, etc. MEATS. I use my credit card for that monthly purchase but keep it around $100. So a total of $500 for 4 people each month. I primarily shop at Aldi Foods (love that store!) and/or Kroger or Publix. I have no membership to Costco, Sam’s or BJ’s. In addition, within a given month we usually set aside 2 weekend nights to host friends for dinner. Our most recent “hospitality” evening included a family of 6. All this to say, controlled spending on groceries CAN happen! I have appreciated this blog for years. Thank you!

  2. Renee says:

    I’ve tried the envelope way, but I do better using my CC. I can look online and see exactly where my money went. I recently started using Walmarts savings catcher ap to get lower prices too.

    I would love to know how the pouf comes out. I would love to make one.

  3. MaryP says:

    I tried the cash envelope system but it was too much hassle for me – not having right change when splitting transactions at the grocery store, having to go inside to pay for gas, etc. My son introduced me to an online program called “YNAB” that uses the same principle (virtual envelopes) that are easily accessible on your phone at the point of purchase. I use my debit or credit card for the purchases, and this makes it very easy to reconcile the transactions and catch any that I may have missed. It is a subscription based program that is very affordable at $5 or less a month.

  4. Aubrey says:

    We switched to cash for groceries (and several other retail categories) in October, and it’s made such a huge difference. I find that with a good list and some prep time with the sales flyer, I’m easily able to stay under budget and still have plenty of good food in the house.

  5. Ann says:

    Hi Angela,
    I will have to look into the apps you mention. The envelope system wasn’t realistic for us. We do a lot of our household purchasing online, not at a ‘brick and mortar’ store. Also, paying utilities and rent with cash would be extremely inconvenient as opposed to writing a check or paying online. I actually tried a system like your sister’s once (it was on a whim and just an idea I had) but it got to complicated and tedious to stick with and became so it wasn’t worth it to me. Would you share your thoughts on online and utility transactions with the envelope system? Thanks!

  6. Robin says:

    I’ve tried a more “elementary” approach that helps me, but it’s still a work in progress. I carry the “cash” but it isn’t real. I use the fake money from my children’s toy shelf of days gone by. (They’re older now and gave it up long ago.) I fill the envelopes, swap from envelope to envelope, and return the “cash” to the cash register when it has been spent. This creates a visual for me. I use the CC for the transactions, but the “cash” leaves the envelope at the same time. Looks like cash, but it’s value is only in the mindset of a visual display for me. The problem I have to admit is that some months I get busy and neglect to restock the envelopes as I should. My routine is lacking, so I need to make that a personal goal.

    • Angela says:

      Robin, this is genius. If you ever got robbed the criminal would have quite a surprise, lol. The nice thing about real cash is I HAVE to restock the envelopes or I can’t buy anything.

  7. Audrey says:

    Great idea if only I could convince my husband. He is a wild man at the grocery store, ha ha! Thanks for sharing on the #HomeMattersParty . I hope you will join us again next week.

    • Angela says:

      Audrey, lol! My husband likes to get a little crazy at the grocery store too. It works out better for our wallets and his waistline if he stays away from there. So many pizza rolls so little time :).

  8. Heather in Michigan says:

    I love the idea of using cash, but we have a credit card which earns us money and I like to put everything I can on there for extra Christmas presents for the kids. The idea is completely sound, though. You pay a lot more attention to the budget when it’s limited!

    • Angela says:

      Yes, we had the same philosophy before we switched to cash. I’ve always had a frugal mindset so didn’t think it would make a difference when I switched to cash. I was shocked when we crunched the numbers and saw that I spend 40-60% less with cash. The rewards were a joke when I compared the difference.

  9. Ruthie says:

    I began using cash a couple of months back when I thought Aldi didn’t accept our c.c. It became a game for me to keep myself within the amount I had withdrawn. I found that in our area, meats and cheeses were the most costly. I also learned that it’s only beneficial to buy a certain kind of chicken if everyone’s willing to eat it! LOL My mindset also had to change from bulk purchases on really good deals to smaller amts. Even though the unit price on the smaller pkg was more expensive,I had to have enough money to purchase everything I needed on my grocery list and pay the other weekly bills. Basically, I was training myself to stick to a budget, trying to do meal planning in my own small way and adjusting to my husband’s paycheck coming weekly vs. bi-weekly.
    I also realized (duh!) that I could also organize my bill paying each month. Most of our bills came due at the same time each month, so week one’s check went to the same group of bills, week 2, etc. That has helped me to pay on time.
    I’ve also gotten rid of having the bills automatically deducted from our account. That just didn’t work for us. We were paying out tons on overdraft fees when I forgot to have enough to cover. So, it’s a work in progress, and what works this month might not 6 months down the line. 🙂

  10. Tammie says:

    I used to use cash, but we had so many purse snatchings in our town, that I quit carrying any cash at all. Makes it a problem when I want to shop at Aldi. But, I have my budget set….$50 a week… It’s just my husband and I and we eat a whole foods plant based diet. Not buying meat saves a ton of money! I do my weekly list, check prices with the local grocery store app…(we’re in Texas, and only have HEB, Walmart, and a really small Aldi.) As I pick things up, I add them up on my phone calculator. I leave the fresh produce section for last, and that way if I’m short on money, I can sub items that are on sale, or if I have a little extra I can splurge on berries or other things that may be more expensive. We also have an organic farm near by, so when I have extra in my budget, I go out there and pick up some items. I still use my credit card to pay so I get the cash back, but I stick to my budget, or it comes out of the next weeks groceries. It works for me.

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