One question I see time and again is “How much should I spend on groceries for my family of four?” — or three, five, etc.
To be honest, figuring out how much you should budget for groceries varies for every family. There isn’t a set amount you should use. But, it is important that your monthly food budget is accurate.
It is easy to know how much you need to include for utilities, loans, and even fuel. But, when it comes to spending money on food, what is the right amount?
As much as I wish this were a simple answer, there is a lot that you have to consider when determining your grocery budget. The following can be used as a guide when figuring out how much you should spend on food each month.
WHY YOU NEED A GROCERY BUDGET
It may sound like it should go without saying, but you need to create a grocery budget because it saves you money. Your income is one amount and that means you only have a certain amount of money you can spend on food for your family.
However, the other reason you want to have a frugal grocery budget is that it ensures you don’t pay too much for the food your family needs. You become smarter about what you buy and think twice before adding those extra items to your shopping cart.
HOW MUCH TO BUDGET FOR FOOD
It can be tough to figure out how much you really should budget for f00d vs. what you may currently be spending. There is not a right or a wrong number, but you must find the right amount so that you don’t overspend.
Fortunately, there are some different tricks you can try to help you figure out exactly how much to spend on food per month.
BASED ON NATIONAL AVERAGES
According to the US Department of Agriculture, that average cost of groceries per month is around 6% of most budgets. However, the study also shows that Americans also spend 5% of their disposable income on dining out. That makes your food budget 11% of your overall income!
If you use this method, budget 6% for groceries each month and 5% for dining out.
Here is an example: If your take-home income is $3,000 a month, you will budget around $180 for groceries and $150 for dining out. Of course, if $180 won’t cover your needs, then you need to scale back on dining out and use any additional money towards your grocery needs.
A more efficient, and realistic, way to figure out how much to budget for groceries is to look at your current grocery spending. The way to do this is by completing a spending form.
Review all your spending purchases over several pay periods. You should include food spending, fuel, dining out, entertainment — everything. The result will show you an average you are spending on groceries every single week.
If you feel that is too much, you can try to reduce your spending, keeping in mind that you and your family will also have to adjust the way you eat.
GROCERY BUDGET CALCULATOR
Sometimes, you want to get specific help when figuring out how much to budget for food. There is a simple to use, online grocery calculator; you can use for free.
Fill out the information for all of your family members, then hit calculate. It will return an average you should plan on budgeting for your family.
I ran this report for my family, and the result said that we should spend $219.35 per week on food for our family of five. That is more than we spend. On average, I spend around $125 – $150 per week on everything our family needs.
While using an online calculator can be helpful, it may produce the same results and show an amount that is either higher than what you know you spend or what you can afford. Use this calculator as a guide, but not the only factor when determining your grocery budget.
U.S. AVERAGE PLAN
Another way to reach a grocery budget amount is to look at the plans created by the USDA. The most recent plans are on their website. They provide the weekly cost for a thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal plan on a weekly and monthly basis. The amounts are broken down by gender and age. You will need to total the numbers listed for the people in your family.
For example, the average grocery budget for a family of four (4) is around $871, per this report. The amounts will be lower, of course for a family of three or higher if you need to budget for a family of five.
Once again, these numbers should be a guide. Once you start grocery shopping for your family, you may find that you spend much less – or even more – than what the average family spends on groceries.
SPECIAL DIETARY NEEDS
If you have a family member who cannot eat gluten, or who has other dietary restrictions, these can affect your budget. Make sure you keep these specialty foods in mind when developing your budget as they can cost much more than average foods.
TRICKS TO MAKING A MONTHLY FOOD BUDGET
There is no magic formula or grocery budget app that will pull the numbers together for you. The key is to make sure that you put forth the effort in the right manner to make it work for you.
1. Consider your current spending
Before you can make any changes, you have to know where you are starting. That way, you can see what you currently spend on your groceries so you can start cutting back.
You can use the Spending Worksheet and go back to find your spending on food over the past8 weeks. Look at every transaction in your bank statement and total it. Then, divide that amount by two. You know have an average your family spends on food every month.
The next step is going to be finding a way to not only spend that amount going forward but try to find ways to spend even less if you can.
2. Put it in writing
The next things you need to when creating your budget for food is to put it in writing. Once written down, you are more willing to commit to the process. Make sure your spouse or partner is also on board so you can work together to ensure you don’t overspend.
3. Start using cash
If you really want to stick to a tight budget you need to use cash. Each payday, get cash from your bank for the amount you need for groceries. That is all you have to spend until the next payday. No cheating! That means you can’t whip out your debit card if you run out of money.
You’ll quickly learn better ways to be smart and strategic when figuring your budget and sticking to it. (Read more about how to start using a cash envelope budget).
4. Commit to using your budget
You can have the greatest intent to use a budget, but if you aren’t ready to do so, it will never work. It is just like dieting. You may know you want to shed pounds, but if you are not willing to put in the effort, the weight will never come off.
Once you know the amount you have to spend at the grocery store, you need to stick to it (this is another reason to use cash). You have to make the conscious decision that you want to budget and then do all you can to make it work.
If you happen to be in a relationship, your spouse or partner needs to be on board too. It will never work if one of you is committed to making your grocery budget work and the other is not. Have a long heart to heart talk and make sure you are on the same page.
Read more: How to talk to your spouse about money
GROCERY SHOPPING ON A BUDGET
If, after you’ve looked at these ideas, but still feel you need to lower your grocery budget further, here are some simple ideas you can try.
Reduce your dining out budget
Eat at home more often and stop meals out. That is a simple way to find money to add to your budget.
While they are not for everyone, coupons are the simplest way to save money on the items you need. Even if the coupons aren’t available for the foods you need to eat, you can find them for household products you use, thereby reducing your spending and increasing the money you can spend on the foods you want.
Stick to your list
Never shop without a list and only purchase the items on your list. Put in writing or use a grocery list app and don’t be tempted to add extra items to the cart.
Figure out your meals every single week – before you shop. That way, you have a plan for the week not only to know what you will eat, but the ingredients will be on hand when it is time to cook (reducing those frequent drive-thru meals).
Use a price book
Start watching the sales cycles at your store and you’ll learn when it is time to stock up on your pantry staples, so you always pay the lowest price. Keep track of the prices in a price book for every item your family needs.
Add meatless meals
One item that can quickly increase your spending is meat. Consider adding a few meatless meals every week and you’ll find that you spend less.
Use Grocery Budget Apps
There are many grocery savings apps you can use to help you find the best deals, coupons and other ways to save on your food. What is great about an app is that you always have it with you on your phone, so no worry that you left a coupon at home or in your car.
Avoid grocery store mistakes
When you visit the grocery store, there are temptations at every corner. There are sales on the end caps, fancy signs and different tricks stores use to make you spend more money. Learn about the ways grocery stores get you to spend more money so you can avoid them.
Don’t make grocery spending mistakes
One of the biggest ways people waste money when it comes to food is through waste. People buy food that goes bad before they ever have a chance to eat it. You might also waste money buying convenience foods. These are two ways you are killing your grocery budget. Study your habits and find ways to make changes so you aren’t spending (or wasting) money on food.
Take the time to create your grocery budget that is feasible. Don’t try to make it so low that it is unrealistic, or it will fail month after month.