Increase Your Budget Accuracy by Breaking Down The Definition of Groceries

budgeting tips, grocery tips, food budget

How much do you spend on groceries each week?

If you ten different people that question, they’ll most likely all spit back a number fairly quickly, but what each person defines as “groceries” may be entirely different.

My family budgets $125 per week for groceries, but my definition of groceries is not just food. It includes the items needed for the meals planned, snacks, and drinks. It also includes any household items we need such as toilet paper, dishwasher detergent, laundry supplies, cat food, and personal hygiene products.

My wife and I have been taking a more strict approach to budgeting and tracking our spending. It’s not necessarily an attempt to spend less, although if we can identify things we could cut back on we certainly would. It’s more of an effort to make our budget more realistic.


Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While we budget $125 per week for what we generically call groceries, we find ourselves occasionally going over. Sometimes it’s a conscious overage because we decide to make a special meal. However most times I believe it’s because we have several household items that require replacing at once.

If we need laundry detergent, toilet paper, cat food and garbage bags all in the same week, that can eat up a significant amount of our grocery budget.

The source of our budgeting challenge is that as we fine tune the upcoming week’s budget we always allocate a flat $125 for groceries. On weeks when we go over, we have to reactively adjust and decrease the next week’s overall budget to stay on course for the month. It would be much better to know ahead of time when our grocery budget needs to be higher.

We believe we can do just that by breaking down our unified grocery spending into more detailed categories, and keeping a log of when specific items were purchased. Here’s how we’re breaking down our grocery spending:

  • Food : anything that goes in our faces
  • Kitchen : paper towels, paper plates, dishwashing detergent
  • Bathroom : shampoo, soap, toilet paper, shaving cream, feminine hygiene
  • Laundry : laundry detergent, dryer sheets, bleach
  • Pets: cat food, litter

I’ll also keep track of when each item is purchased. It will take some time to gather the information, but eventually we should be able to predict when we’ll need each item.  We’ll know, for example, that maybe we buy toilet paper every third week, or cat litter every month, or paper towels every three weeks.  We can then proactively and accurately increase our grocery budget on weeks when we project certain household items need to be purchased.

The goal here is to be more accurate with our grocery budget ahead of time in order to not have to react to overspending at the grocery store. Plus, I think it will just be interesting to see how much of our budget we actually spend on food, and how much we spend on other household items.

What does the term “groceries” mean to you? How detailed is your budget with respect to food and different types of household items?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • I lump all of our grocery spending into the grocery category whether it’s actual food or laundry detergent, toilet paper, etc. As long as we don’t go over our $500 per month budget, I suppose it doesn’t matter too much to me.

  • I do the same. Our budget started out at $80/wk, but since I’ve never come in under that, I need to re-evaluate it. I think Holly’s $500/month may be a better way for me to go, especially since I utilize Amazon’s subscribe and save for a lot of things. This month’s S&S shipment was $150, so that throws a huge wrench in my “weekly” scheme. But I still feel good about eating the way we do on whatever it is we actually spend, and I try to get the best price on those inedible “groceries.”

  • I lump everything together in the general Grocery category. Frequently, stores like Target, Walmart etc. have pretty good sales on detergent and toilet paper. Target often gives out $5 gift cards if you buy a stated amount. Combine the sale with a coupon and maybe even the gift card from a prior sale, you can get a pretty good deal. Since we have a basement we always stock up when that advantage presents itself.

  • The grocery budget definitely has some flexibility. Trips to the grocery store are a no-brainer, but going to Target usualy comes out of the general fund. Costco trips have their own fund, but if we go over, sometimes the grocery fund gets tapped 🙂

  • @Holly – My problem is, while we do have a monthly budget for groceries – which we then break down into a weekly budget, is that we don’t know when a week’s bill will be higher due to needing more household items. I’d hate to get to the last week of the month and find that I’ve got like $10 left in my grocery budget. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts!

  • @Cathie – I think even if you have a monthly amount for groceries, you’d still have to break it down somewhat by week, wouldn’t you? That’s what we do…..$500 a month / 4 trips to the grocery store = $125 a week.

  • @Kathy – Hmmm, you bring to light an interesting point…while I may track the different buckets of spending, they will likely be purchased on a single receipt. I’ll have to go through and separate the items to determine how much we’re spending on each category.

  • @moneybeagle – we usually end up tapping our entertainment fund if we go over on our grocery budget….we renewed our Costco membership as well – but everything we buy there will be broken into the same categories listed. Thanks for sharing!

  • For me, groceries mean food, and I call the other stuff ‘toiletries and household stuff’. I usually stick to my budget for the groceries, but I let the other stuff’ budget to be a bit loose, because like you said, you sometimes don’t know when to buy what. I’m trying to track down my purchases but I often forget, so I choose to have a loose budget for it, but not so much.

  • @poorstudent – I can identify the want to have a “loose” budget for household items….but does it ever cause you issues when you go significantly over budget? Sometimes it does for us, because then it has to come out of the next week’s entertainment budget – which we may need if there is a pre-planned event going on.

  • We buy our pet food from a pet store, so that gets it’s own budget line. Household items that I buy from the grocery store get rolled into our grocery budget. It’s not something we are very concerned with, since we really don’t buy that many household things (usually our cleaning products are natural that we made with lemon, vinegar, water, etc), so it’s just toilet paper usually.

  • @Marie – I always have my list with me as well, what I’m trying to do here is break it down even further into separate categories. Hopefully it can give me more insight into how I spend my money – thanks for stopping by!

  • @Daisy – Ahh, that’s what I thought too until I really started looking at what was in my grocery cart. Maybe I’ll do a future post that lists how much I spend in each category each week/month – I think that’d be interesting!

  • I find it better to be more discrete in categorizing our transactions. It is easy to sum up a group of categories, but it is very difficult to interrogate expenditures that are lumped together.

    Personally, I consider Groceries to be any consumable food item that isn’t purchased at a restaurant (Restaurant expenditures are broken down by Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snack).

    All of the other products you mention (Toilet Paper, Shampoo, etc.) are consumable goods that can’t be eaten. I call that category “Supplies”. For those items, I buy in bulk 3 times a year for 95% of the what we use as a family.

  • @Mark – Wow, only 3 times a year? Although thinking about it, that does seem easily achievable once you know how much of each thing (toilet paper, shampoo, etc) you use…I would bet that after gathering some info about how frequent (and the size) we purchase an item, I could walk into Costco a few times a year and do the same thing. Thanks for reading!

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