How Much Should I Budget For Food?

Last Updated by Neiko Johnson on 
August 14, 2021
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How much should I budget for food?

A question an increasing number of people are asking themselves, as the cost of living continues to rise due to inflation. First, let’s get something straight.

This isn’t going to be a blog about how much you should be spending on food. That is something you will have to decide. And that is because every city and situation is different.

But hey, why wing it? At least have a baseline number in your head when you start. We have spent hours figuring out how to budget for food that you don't have to.

How Much Are You Currently Spending On Food?

The average American spends 9.5% of their disposable income on food, with 4.9% being spent at the grocery store and 4.6% going to restaurants.

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture's most recent report, most Americans spend an average of 10% on food.

The USDA publishes a food budget each month that offers an estimate for monthly and weekly spending. 

It splits up the estimates into four different categories namely; thrifty plan ($132/month), low-cost plan ($182/month), moderate cost (250$), and liberal spenders.

And here are some of the factors that determine which category you fall into;

  • Family size and composition
  • Current food prices
  • Likes and dislikes of family members
  • Disposable income
  • The lifestyle of the family members
  • Occupation of the family members
  • Social-economic status.
  • Intercity differences
  • Family goals

How much of my budget should be allocated for food

One of the most important aspects of maintaining a healthy budget is being able to anticipate your expenses.

Unfortunately, some 'recurring' monthly expenditures are hard to estimate than others - for example, food.

While food is a necessity in our lives, many have been spending way too much on this category lately. Especially since the pandemic began.

Find the right percentage for food in your overall budget

Finding the right percentage for food in your overall budget is a balance. On one hand, you want to have enough for what you need but not so much that your budget is wasted.

On the other hand, you don't want to be stingy with your spending (because it will lead to health problems).

What percentage of your income goes to food after taxes and fixed expenses?

If it is around 10%, then you are about average.

However, if not or more than that, take a closer look at what's going wrong in your life. To fine-tune your spending plan do the following:

Compare your food spending plan to others.

Use the USDA estimates as they are considered as the cost of a nutritious diet for a household.

Track your spending and update your budget

If you have a problem getting the right number for your food budget consider starting afresh.

Monthly Spending Recommendations For Food

The spending recommendations for food will help you figure out how much to spend each month on food while ensuring you eat a balanced diet. Your food budget will depend on factors such as:

  • What you buy
  • How many people you are feeding
  • Whether you shop online or in-person at an actual store

The monthly spending recommendations are not designed to be an exhaustive list, but rather just cover the basics so you can get started with planning meals. And to help you start with your food budgeting here are our recommended guidelines:

1.     Follow USDA food plans

USDA creates monthly food plans, which are a good starting point. The plans estimate the cost of a nutritious meal prepared at home by gender and age. Here is a sample estimate for a male and female:

Thrifty plan: $400.00 per month

Low-cost plan: $522 per month

Moderate cost plan: $630 per month

Liberal plan: $800 per month

Such estimates will help you create a monthly food budget that suits your family but you need to note that they are not tailored for you.

2.     Use the 50/30/20 Rule to budget for food

The 50/30/20 budget is designed to help you work out how much to spend on groceries based on your specific income and expenses.

Based on the framework you should spend 50% of your after-tax salary on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings and repaying debts.

Most groceries are necessities, but not every item at the grocery will fall under this category.

For example, purchasing expensive meat such as filet mignon for a special dinner would be considered a want, not a need.

For instance, if you take home after tax is $4,000 per month here is how you should divide it;

$2,000 for basic needs such as food, housing, and transportation

$1,200 for wants such as meals out, entertainment, and travel

$800 for saving and paying debts

From the $2,000 for basic needs you to determine how much goes into buying food. To begin, list all your expenses. That includes groceries that you will need for the month.

You can do your budgeting the old-fashioned way of writing everything down or use applications such as Microsoft excel. Expenses such as rent, mortgage remain constant but the food is a variable expense. And here is how to come up with the food number.

Create a shopping list

One of the best ways to come up with an accurate number that you need for groceries is by making a shopping list. The key here is to make sure you include all necessary ingredients.

For example, when making the list check what you have in the refrigerator and the pantry. It’s advisable to add any item that is two-thirds out to your shopping list. For instance, if you have one can of corn left at the end of the month, add that to the shopping list.

Create a meal plan

Planning your meals will help you watch your budget. For instance, make every Monday a chicken night. Every Sunday a spaghetti night etc.

A meal plan will give you an idea of how much you need to spend every month. Also, it gives you a chance to review whether each meal is well balanced.

How Do I Decrease My Food Budget

You might be wondering how grocery shopping can make a difference on your budget when most bills seem like they don’t budge an inch. Here are steps that will drastically help you reduce your food budget:

Make a shopping list and follow it religiously

Never walk into a store without a shopping list. You will end picking one or two items that you don't need.

The list will make your shopping experience more effective and help you stay on track with cost-saving measures.

Also, a list will help you track your food expenses. For example, by analyzing the list you may find out what you are spending too much on and scale back.

In addition, you can compare the prices of products on different days of the month. That way you know the best days to shop.

Meal Plan

A meal plan is a list of meals you intend to have over the next week. It's the easiest way to ensure that your grocery list is manageable and within your budget.

It also guarantees that your family eats well throughout the week.  And luckily there are menu-planning services that take care of all the work for you.

Minimize grocery store visits

Most people will buy something they didn’t plan to when visiting the grocery store. We all know it's full of temptation. The less you visit the stores the better for your pocket.

A simple trick to avoid going to the store often is buying underpinned products that can ripen at home. That will save you money as under-ripe products are normally cheaper.

Use the store coupons and loyalty cards

You can save money by using coupons. Find the best deals in your newspaper or online, then cut up those offers so they're always on hand whenever you make a trip to the grocery store.

Also, look out for free reward cards that entitle you to store discounts and rebates just for signing up. The more you shop at the same grocery store, the more money goes back into your pocket!

Look for deals on seasonal products such as vegetables.

You can also use cashback apps like Ibotta when you grocery shop. You simply add the specific offer you want to redeem to your account and redeem real cash as soon as your order is confirmed.

Purchase Items in bulk

Why not get the most for your money with a friend? Join forces at bulk stores to purchase more items at a discounted price.  It also takes away the temptation of over-spending or running out at inopportune times.

Avoid wasting food

Adopt a zero-waste kitchen by ensuring you use what you buy. Also, you need to make sure that you store your food properly to avoid going off before their time.

For instance, you can squeeze fruits to make juice instead of throwing them away. Store vegetables and herbs with their stalks in water to prolong their life.

Prepare your version of processed foods

You want to save time and money, but you don't know how? A simple recipe will do the trick. Try making your version of certain pantry staples like spaghetti sauce, hummus, vegetable broth, or granola.

You will cut down on preservatives that may be unhealthy for you as well as saving cash without compromising quality.

Pre cook food for a few days

Put in the work on your days off to ensure healthy, home-cooked meals throughout the week. Do this by planning and prepping simple recipes that will be ready for a quick pick up during hectic weekday mornings.

Planning your meals will help you avoid the risk of eating out unplanned and sticking to a budget.

You can also check out the $5 Meal Plan. They email you delicious, easy-to-follow meals. You can take advantage of the risk-free 14-day trial and if you don't like it you can cancel without any penalty.

 Cooking at home vs eating out

You don't have to be a personal finance nerd to know that preparing your meals at home is cheaper than eating out. And it costs five times as much to have a restaurant meal delivered to your house as it does to cook the food yourself from scratch.

Sometimes more!

Besides saving money when you cook at home, you also know every ingredient in your food. Also, you can use healthier ingredients in your meals.

And that means you don't have to worry about allergies or unsafe food handling.

We are however not against dining out. Look out for promotions and coupons in hotels. Eating at home saves you time and money, so make it a priority to cook for yourself.

Are You Spending Too Much On Food?

We all need to spend money on food, but how do you know if you are spending too much? Here is how to know if you are spending too much on food:

You spend more than the average on food

Every month USDA publishes a food estimate report which shows the typical cost for various households.

For instance, if your household is made of two adults and you spend $800 on food per month, then you are overspending on food.

Food is among the largest expense

The cost of housing combined with transportation costs is typically the largest expense for most households. If you eat out a lot you will be surprised at how high your overall bill will be.

You throw out a lot of food

If you throw away food often it could be a sign you are overstocking and overspending on food. Food wasting is a serious issue in the US, average household tossing away $640 million worth of food every year.

Consistently spending more on food than planned

Understandably, sometimes you may overshoot your budget or go through periods of “splurge and save." But for a financial plan to be stable, it must balance the ebbs and flows by meeting in the happy middle.

If you are consistently spending too much then it might be a sign that you overspending on food.

Your pantry is full of foods you don’t use

If you are noticing that your pantry is full of things that never get used, take time before buying more. Take some time and challenge yourself not to buy something from the store unless you’ve already tried what you have.

You will be surprised at how much money can save by doing this exercise.

You don’t create a shopping list

The store aisles are filled with joy and temptation. You end buying incredible products that you don't need. Shopping without a list is a recipe for overspending on food and high chances are you will overspend.

The Best Way To Save Money On Food

With the rising cost of living, you must find smart ways to save money. In this section, we outline the best ways to save on food.

Plan ahead

First and foremost, take inventory of what you have on hand so that you don't overbuy. Create a detailed shopping list based on your needs and a weekly menu plan with consideration for how leftovers will be used.

Stick to your shopping list to avoid impulse buying. Before you plan your menu lookout for products on sale and take advantage.

Stick to healthy choices

Eating healthier food will save you money. Buying with low-calorie will cost less than foods with high calories. For instance, sodas and flavored drinks can be replaced with less expensive water with a splash of healthy juice.

Buy produce in season

Check for best buys on fresh produce that are in season. When produce is in season, it’s priced to sell. For instance, when corn is in the season it can cost as low as 10 cents an ear while other times it may cost 10 times more.

Use sales & coupons

Plan your meals around what is on sale to reduce your bills. Make that they are items that would buy even when there are no coupons. If you find a buy one get one offer at a reasonable price stock up.

Brown bag it

Making food at home and carrying it to school is an excellent way to save money and use leftovers. In addition, you get to eat healthy meals at all times.

Make use of dried, canned, or frozen ingredients

Next time you're stocking up for a recipe, try using frozen, canned, or dried foods. They may be cheaper than fresh produce and equally nutritious.

With all these options on offer, it's easy to find a way that suits your budget without losing out on flavor or nutrition.

Reduce meat consumption

The majority of Americans have no idea that meat may be the most expensive part of their diet.

When possible, substitute inexpensive vegetarian sources such as beans, eggs, tofu, and legumes for expensive meat.

You can make healthier, more sustainable choices by eating vegetarian once a week or more. This will increase your consumption of all-natural plant foods and help you save money on food costs.

Reduce food wastage

Save money and buy healthier food by planning how you intend to use it. Make a list so that what goes in is more likely to come out of the fridge. Cooking with leftovers is a fantastic way to save money and show off your culinary skills.

Opt for store brands

Nowadays, store-brand products are meeting the same standards as their big-name counterparts while maintaining a low price.  Make sure you read the ingredient list on the label to ensure you're getting the most for your money.

Join a bulk shopping club

Joining a bulk shopping club can help you save money in the long run by helping to purchase large quantities of items that will last for months. Buy non-perishable food items in bulk to save money.

In addition, prepare food in bulk to save both time and money.

Plant a garden

You can save a ton by growing your produce. But make sure you know which products to grow and which is cheaper to buy from the grocery store. Start small by planting herbs and vegetables in your garden this season. Freeze or cane your harvest, and summer's bounty might last all year long.

Food budget for single people

Single people may be wondering how much they should spend on food. While everyone’s situation is different, it’s a good idea to have some context on the budget for food.

Below is the recommended food budget for a single person by USDA:


That means the budget for a single person ranges from $185 to $365. Weekly that translates to $40-$90 for food.

It’s important to note that the above does not include eat-outs.

When making a budget for your single person, assess what you need. Decide how many days per week cooking is right for you and build from there. When you cook make large portions. That way you will have leftovers for lunch.

Food budget for college students

College students are probably some of the worst people to ask about their food spending habits. They might not know how much they spend on food each month.

And there's a good chance that most don't have an idea what kind of budget they should be operating within this area either. So, if you are reading this post you've made great progress.

If you're a college student on the go, it can be difficult to find time for meal planning and cooking. Plus your study times might take place in coffee shops which means more money spent there too.

But, luckily everything else is low-cost so there is no harm in having high food budget.

Food budget for married couples

Setting a food budget as a couple is exciting because you don't have to take all of the responsibility yourself. You can split meal preparation and cooking duties 50/50.

You and your partner can save money by sitting down once a week to plan out all of your meals for the upcoming week.

This way, you'll know exactly what ingredients are needed when going on grocery runs throughout the month. If done right, this will result in significant cost savings and reduce the number of times you eat at restaurants.

However, dates are important and you may need to add a little extra cash to cater for that weekly dinner date. So, as a couple, you will need to budget for groceries and for dining out.

Food budget for families

The more mouths you need to feed, the higher your grocery bills and larger food budgets become. Planning meals in advance will help avoid monotony on a diet plan.

The chart below shows the average food budget for raising a family:

How much should I budget for food

For instance, based on the above chart a family of four, two adults, and two kids should budget for $827 per month for food when on a low monthly plan.

Is Meal Planning a Good Idea?

Meal planning is a chore to add to an already long to-do list. That said, the hours that you spend planning your grocery list for the week are one of the most profitable time investments in your life.

And yes, meal planning is a good idea. Here's why:

  • Save your money and time
  • You get to eat more healthy meals
  • Reduced food waste
  • Reduces decision fatigue
  • Enjoy more food variety
  • Helps you to plan ahead

Final Thoughts: How Much Should I Spend For Food?

When it comes to food budgeting, it’s different for everyone. Understanding the set averages will give you a good starting point when making your food budget. Incorporate our tips and ideas into your food budgeting process, and you recoup significant savings.

Do you have a food budget? We would like to hear how much money is in that jar on top of the fridge!

Article written by Neiko Johnson
Neiko is a personal finance expert and Co-founder of Secret to Finance. Along with his wife Alexis, they learned how to get out of debt and paid off $400,000 in 4 years.

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