Getting on a budget can be a tricky process. Sticking to a food budget can be even trickier. We all need to eat, so this is one of the most important budget categories, but also one that is prone to overspending. Getting your food budget under control can revolutionize your finances and jump start paying down debt. But how much should you budget for food?
Food is a tricky budget category. For many families the food budget rivals the mortgage payment. If you have never kept track of how much you spend on food, save your receipts for a month. I promise you will be blown away by how much you spend on food! But since family size, dietary restrictions, and geographic area can so dramatically affect what each family needs to spend, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how much you should be spending.
I am going to break down some guidelines and help you figure out exactly what you should be budgeting for groceries, and how much waste you can cut from that category.
The USDA has basic guidelines of food budgets, broken down by the number and age of family members. They break it down from a thrifty food budget, to a liberal one. You can see the whole chart here. This is a great way to get an idea of a ballpark what you should budget for food depending on your financial situation.
Since I follow Dave Ramsey’s budgeting system, I’m going to use his baby steps as an example. If you don’t have your $1,000 emergency fund in place, I’m sorry my friend, but it’s beans and rice for you. You need to keep your food budget as minimal as possible. If you have passed baby step 3, which means you are debt free with 3-6 months of living expenses in the bank, you have a little more room to throw that artisan cheese in your cart.
In Dani Johnson’s book First Steps To Wealth she recommends budgeting $25 per person per week. That is hardcore! But after reading her book I tried implementing her recommendations, and I was blown away that we really were able to eat pretty well on that budget.
There is always an exception. If you have a family member with special dietary needs, or live in a high cost-of-living area, you’re probably not going to be able to budget $25 per week per person.
How To Cut Your Budget For Food
If the average budgets above gave you a small heart-attack compared to your current budget for food, don’t panic. While food is the easiest category to overspend in, it’s also the easiest to cut back. I have tried a lot of different things to cut my food budget, but the most important is to be disciplined. No matter what course you choose, it isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t stick to it. Resolve that financial security is more important than grabbing a pizza when you worked late, or you train will be realized before you even get started.
The Pantry Challenge
A great way to jump start your new food budget is by participating in a pantry challenge! This just means using all the food your currently have on hand before you go shopping for any more. This is another strategy I read about in First Steps To Wealth. This challenge will force you to get creative, and you may be eating a lot of beans and oatmeal, but imagine the savings of not having to buy groceries for a week, or even a month! I like to stare in my fridge and complain that there is nothing to eat, but if I truly prepared all the food we have on hand we would have enough for at least 2 weeks.
I have been a long-time critic of couponing, but one of my friends recently convinced me to download some coupon apps to my phone. Between Ibotta, Checkout 51, SavingStar and Top Cashback I earned about $10 back in the first week. Not a life-changing amount, but not bad for taking pictures of receipts! Pair these coupon apps with shopping the sale ads and you’ll be surprised at how those savings add up.
We all know meal planning saves money. So why is it so hard to do?
Make sure you are planning quick and easy meals and not all culinary challenges that are going to make you throw in the towel and order a pizza after a long day. My Instant Pot has paid for itself many times over since I am able to make easy, quick meals and stay out of the drive through! These are just a few of the recipes in regular rotation on my Instant Pot menu.
How Much Do I Budget For Food?
Now that you have a little clearer idea of how much you should be budgeting for food, and how you can cut your budget down to size, you are probably all wondering the same thing. How much do I budget for food? My household consists of me, my husband, and my teenage daughter full-time. I budget $400 a month. This includes our eating out budget. When my 8-year-old stepsons are here for holidays and over the summer I bump our budget up to $500-600. We could definitely make due on more like $300 a month, but we are all foodies and this is the area we splurge in a bit.
If you are in the middle of a financial hardship, you need to take a look at your food budget. Now that you know a basic average of what you should be spending, you can start to plan and get your own budget in line. How much do you spend on food a month? I would love to hear your total in the comments.