How to Make a Food Budget

By: Tricia Mathis, Extension Educator

September 9, 2020
food budget

If you are new to budgeting it can be difficult to figure out how much to plan on spending on food. Unlike other items in our budget, the grocery budget can fluctuate greatly from month to month. It is easy to over spend the budget in one shopping trip. Budgeting for food, both at the grocery store and eating out takes careful planning, but it can be done. A general rule of thumb is: $75-100 monthly per person starting at $300. So a couple would spend $300 (not $200) per month. A family of 6 would spend $700 per month. This can be adjusted according to where you live and income level.

There are many tips for saving money at the grocery store, but the most important tip is to take some time to do some careful planning before that trip to the grocery store.

  1. Plan a menu for the week: Planning is key to making a food budget work. Not only does this help with knowing what to purchase once you are at the grocery store, but it is a great daily time saver, because you are never wondering what you are going to have for dinner. The plan has been made and the ingredients are ready to go. When planning a menu for the week, look at your schedule. Plan easy meals for busy nights and then you will be less likely to go out to eat or get take out. Plan healthy balanced meals.
  2. Look at local grocery store weekly ads: While menu planning, take a look at the weekly ads from the local grocery stores. This will help in planning the menu. It is more cost effective to cook items that are on sale that week, rather than randomly choosing a menu items that are more expensive. Stock up on sale items that you use often and can have on hand. Freeze meat when it goes on sale and use it later.
  3. Make a grocery list: Know exactly what you need for your weekly menu. Check your pantry and refrigerator for items that you already have on hand.
  4. Don’t over buy on perishable items:  Buy what you will reasonably use, even if it is on sale.  Don’t buy in bulk if you cannot use it before the expiration date.
  5. Preserve and store food correctly:  Put things in the refrigerator or freezer and plan to use leftover ingredients in another meal. 
  6. Plan for left overs:  Many times it is just as easy to make more of a meal to use later (in a day or two) or freeze for a later date.  Especially if some of the ingredients may go to waste if not all of it is being used for the dish.  Leftovers are great for lunch as well.
  7. Make from scratch as often as possible: Avoid convenience and processed foods.  Stick to the perimeter of the store.
  8. Buy generic instead of name brands:  Most generic brands are of similar quality to that of name brands, but can cost 20-25% less.
  9. Look at cost per ounce:  Do not assume that the bigger package is always less expensive. Most grocery stores have a cost per ounce on their price label.  Comparing brands and package sizes will help you make the best decision.
  10. Shop in season: This is especially true for produce.  Produce generally costs less and tastes better when it is bought during its growing season.  Plan your meals around in-season produce.

Lastly, plan for the expense of eating out as part of your monthly food budget. Eating out is more expensive than eating at home. If you are spending too much of your grocery budget by eating out, then try reducing the times per week that you eat out. Follow the tips about planning meals.

Save money eating out by going out for lunch instead of dinner. Many restaurants have a lunch menu that is less expensive than the dinner menu. Many restaurants have promotional offers. Join their mailing list or download their app. Instead of leaving leftover food at the restaurant, Take them home and eat them for a meal the next day. Save eating out for special occasions. Lastly, go online and look over the restaurant menu before you go, so you are not surprised by the cost.

Again, take time to make a weekly meal plan, it will save you money on your monthly food budget.