The Single Best Thing You Can Do Right Now to Keep Your Grocery Budget in Check

published Dec 2, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: UpperCut Images/Getty Images

If your grocery bill is consistently higher than your grocery budget, you’ve come to the right place — err, post. Let’s start by saying this: You are not alone. Sticking to a grocery budget is hard. (The holiday prep! The seasonal snacks! Is that seafood over there on sale?). And it’s only become more challenging over the last several months. 

But we come bearing good news, too! There’s a time-tested tool you can use right now to keep your grocery budget in check. Shop only with cash … for a month.

Studies show that we spend more (by up to 100%) with credit cards than we do with cash. We even tested it for ourselves! Kitchn contributor Meghan Splawn tried it as a three-month experiment and ended up sticking with it for much longer. The financial savings, as she explains, were real and just so rewarding.

How to Create an All-Cash Budget for the Month

An all-cash grocery budget is a tried-and-true way to prevent you from shelling out more than you intended. The idea is simple: Set a grocery budget for a certain time period — in this case, a month — and pull out that same amount in cash, so that you physically can’t overspend when you’re at the grocery store. (This works even better if you leave your credit card at home.) 

Many people will also divide their cash into envelopes designated for specific shopping trips — say, one for each week of the month. So if your grocery budget is $400 for the month, you would have four envelopes, each with $100 in cash. When you’re ready to shop, you can take the specific envelope out with you so you’re not walking around with hundreds of dollars in cash all the time. 

Any leftover cash can be added to subsequent weeks, or set aside in a separate “sinking fund” (or bonus envelope) for less-frequent stock-ups at Costco, Sam’s Club, or other specialty stores.

While this is a trickier strategy to apply to online shopping, it is possible with some planning. Take Splawn: During her three-month experiment, she ended up creating a “cash-less” envelope to track her digital grocery spending. The physical envelope acts as a reminder of and reinforcement for your set budget. But if the crutch of your credit card is just too great, try using a prepaid gift (or shop) card with a set limit to start.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

A Few Tips Before You Get Started with Your All-Cash Budget

  • Be strategic with your cart. Designate an area of your cart, like the back right corner, to items you consider non-essentials for the week. Make sure you unload those last when you get to the check-out.
  • Tell cashiers about your set budget. Do this before you start checking out, and ask them to let you know when you’re nearing the total so you can decide what, if any, items you want to put back.

Got a grocery budgeting tip to share? Tell us in the comments below.