Ever since I graduated from college, I've been more aware of my spending than ever. Maybe it’s because I’m really just relying on myself for all of my expenses (except for my phone bill — thanks, mom and dad), or maybe it’s just a newfound sense of responsibility. Whatever it is, I have been reassessing all areas of my budget. As someone who doesn’t really spend too much money on clothes or bars (I thank my home-body self for that), my biggest expense each month outside of rent and utilities is usually food. My food budget is also the most visible to me — after all I have to eat every day. 

Now that I live across the street from a grocery store, the temptation to constantly buy more food is that much easier to give in to. It’s really taken me a sit-down session with myself regarding how much money I’m willing to spend each week on food to curb my spending and keep myself in check. Here are some tips on determining and sticking to a grocery budget for you:

Track your spending

The best thing I ever did for myself was track every single bit of spending I did on food for two weeks in a row. I kept every receipt for every single meal I ate out, every coffee I grabbed in the middle of a slump, every impulse bag of gummies I bought before a movie. At the end of the two weeks, I tallied everything and put everything into categories. There were the “essentials,” like basic grocery items just to keep me full and healthy. There was the “eating out” (food with friends) and there was the “frivolous spending” (artisan cheese that I only had two bites of before forgetting about and having to throw away weeks later). It gave me a good base to work from. There are also guides like the USDA’s Food Plans, which give you an idea of how much on average it should cost to eat a nutritious diet for individuals and families at all income levels.

Be realistic

Knowing yourself can be the most helpful tool in creating any kind of budget. Feeding yourself isn’t just about making sure you are full, but also that you are getting enough nutrients and keeping yourself healthy. Part of health is your happiness. If you know you’ll get bored or restless after eating at home three days in a row, make sure to account for that. If you never eat breakfast, don’t buy a ton of toast and eggs for breakfast sandwiches. If you know your sweet tooth will sometimes get the best of you, don’t sweat it next time you grab that scoop of ice cream. Leave some room for fun and enjoyment. After all, we all deserve to treat ourselves every once in a while. 

Have a plan

This is probably the most basic advice out there, but having some guidelines going into each week. You don’t even have to think about groceries or food on a weekly basis — you can schedule bi-weekly or even monthly depending on your schedule and needs. What’s important is that you have an idea of how often you’re planning on eating at home, what kind of food you want to make that week, and who you’ll be cooking for. Just knowing those things going into the week can help you next time you’re at the grocery store or eating out with a friend.

Change your mindset

Don’t think about buying groceries on a budget as a restriction on your life. Instead, think about it in a different light. Think about what you can do with the money that you’re saving now, such as save for your next vacation, a special date night with your bae, or that piece of jewelry you’ve been eyeing for weeks. Think about all the food you’re also saving by having a better plan and trying to conserve resources. You’re thinking green in terms of both money and the environment!

Make it fun

One of the biggest developments in my personal life this year has been trying to stick to my grocery budget. I thankfully also have a boyfriend who is similarly financially conscious, so we’ve turned it into something fun and exciting for both of us. One of the biggest changes is that we’ve begun to meal prep together on Sundays or Mondays. We’ve turned meal prepping into an extended date night — we’ll throw on whatever show we’re binging on the TV or turn on a podcast and spend a couple hours together preparing for the week. It’s not only fun to create something alongside a loved one, but it’s cheaper to buy in bulk! You can also do this with your roommates and friends.