Making (and keeping to) a regular food budget can produce a lot of great results: balanced finances, self-discipline, and increased creativity in the kitchen as you make ends meet using up what's on hand. But every once in a while you gotta loosen up.
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While I love the perks of keeping a food budget, there are some distinct occasions when I'm okay with letting things slide.
1. During the Holidays
The holiday season is a time when I splurge on baking supplies and feasting ingredients. It's also when certain products are only available for a limited time. So from November through the end of the year, I allow myself to stray from my normal budget.
2. During Pregnancy
During the early months of pregnancy, I was lucky to find foods I enjoyed — and could keep down. Forget about pinching pennies! I quickly came to the realization that it was in the best interests of my health to buy what sounded good to me, regardless of the price.
Likewise, since my energy levels were unpredictable, I would splurge on more convenient food items for the rest of my family. Getting any meal on the table was the priority, which meant the budget fell to the wayside.
3. When We're Sick
While I try to keep certain staples on hand at all times by purchasing them on sale and stocking up, illness can throw us all off. A stomach bug does better with certain comfort foods and those that are easily digested. So, even if we're at the limit of the grocery budget, I make sure to get what we need to treat and recover from sicknesses.
4. During Super-Busy Times
Some months are easy to keep to the straight and narrow: Grocery sales are plentiful, I have the time to shop the sales, special occasions are at a minimum, and we're good with cheap and easy meals.
And then there are the other months.
There are often busy seasons when it's just not feasible to shop the sales, hit three different stores to get the lowest prices, or spend time stretching my dollar as far as it will go. Those seasons call for quick, easy items that are maybe a little above my price point.
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5. When We're Traveling
As I write this, I'm coming home from a trip to the Midwest. I didn't want to spend a fortune on restaurant meals, so I was thankful to find a Trader Joe's nearby where I could stock up on salads and easy snacks. While I may have splurged and gone outside our "grocery budget," I still saved money versus restaurant dining.
Likewise, when we take our kids to England later this spring, we'll bust out of our regular grocery budget if that's what we need to do. We'll still grocery shop, but I'm okay going beyond the norm.
Recovering from a Food Budget Splurge
So, what do I do when I let our food budget slide? Somebody's got to pay for all this stuff, right? When we do diverge from our regular budget, we do a number of things in the weeks or months following to offset the extra spending.
- Borrow from another budget line-item.
- Use up the food you do have in the fridge and pantry.
- Focus on really cheap meals, like beans and rice and other meatless dinners.
When do you let your food budget slide?