How much should you spend on groceries? There are few ways to figure out the best food budget for your family, and I’m going to walk you through them using my free Grocery Budget Worksheet.
There are a few questions I see over and over again from my readers or facebook group members (LINK) and one of them is “how much should I spend on groceries?”. Unfortunately, this does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. But I’m going to walk you through how to figure out the best budget for YOU and your family.
[box] This is part of the Meal Planning on a Budget series. You can find the rest of the posts here, as they’re published: Cut your Expenses with a Grocery Budget Worksheet How I Eat Organic on a Food-stamp budget (+ my kids) Should you be shopping at Thrive Market in 2019? Save Money with Home Canning for Beginners (it’s easier than you think!) What is Backwards Meal Planning?[/box]
How to calculate your grocery budget on the Grocery Budget Worksheet
First, download your Grocery Budget Worksheet free printable here:
Current Food Budget Spending
Before you can figure out how and where to save money, you need to know what you’re currently spending on food. Take a look at your last 3 months of statements and total it all up! Groceries, take-out, dining out, snacks at the gas station or vending machine – all of it!
What’s that number? Enter it on the Food Budget Worksheet.
Grocery Budget Calculator
There are three resources I use when coaching someone on how to calculate their food budget: a percentage of your income, the USDA grocery budget figures, and the SNAP (food stamp) allowance.
Percentage of your income
USDA Food and Nutrition Service says you should spend 30% of your household income on food, but anywhere from 15%-30% is ideal. Any less than that, and I personally think you’re trying to cut an area that shouldn’t be sacrificed (more on that later).
Enter that on the Food Budget Worksheet.
USDA Grocery Budget 2018
This is a large chart based on the ages of everyone in your family, and what kind of food plan you will choose. There’s thrifty, low-cost, moderate, and liberal plans. You decide which plan you want to look at (I recommend the two middle ones), and add up each person in your family to get a total weekly or monthly budget amount.
For example, the Low-cost plan for a family of 4 (two adults and 2 young kids) is $718.80 per month.
Go figure out what the USDA says your food should cost you. I ignore the Thrifty plan, because it’s even below the SNAP benefit allowance and I strongly suggest not going below that number (see more below!).
Enter the Low Cost and Moderate plan amounts on your Food Budget Worksheet.
SNAP Benefit Allowance (formerly the Food Stamp program)
This is the second number I use when trying to get a baseline for a food budget. I firmly believe your grocery budget should never be below this figure.
This is a simple number – it’s the maximum you could get in SNAP benefits for your family size. Go see what that would be.
Nothing gets my goat more when I see people trying to feed their family of 4 for $200/mo. I get that your food budget is probably your second highest expense right below your housing. And I get that it’s not a number that you “owe” someone so you think you can control it.
But to lower it to ridiculous levels to save money?
nopety, nope, nope.
You deserve healthy, fresh food. Your family deserves healthy, fresh food. Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now.
Enter the maximum SNAP benefit amount for your family size on your Food Budget Worksheet.
Now, you should have a few numbers. Add up your income portion, and the two USDA plan amounts, and divide by 3 to get that average. If it’s higher than the SNAP benefit amount, use that. If the SNAP benefit is higher, use that as your grocery budget.
Sticking to Your Grocery Store Budget
Now that you have what your grocery budget should be, let’s figure out how to keep it separate from everything else. I’m a huge fan of Dave Ramsey’s cash envelopes but there are other ways like buying a reloadable gift card (like a Visa or Mastercard one), store gift card if you only shop at one store, or keeping a separate bank account just for groceries.
Decide which you’re going to use:
- Cash envelope
- Reloadable gift card
- Store gift card
- Separate bank account
- Other idea?
Check off that box on your Grocery Budget Worksheet.
My Top 10 Coupon System
So you know I don’t believe in extreme couponing, right? I really hate it, actually. I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work for me.
There is a simple system that does work for me though. Coupons are great, as long as you’re being intentional about using them only on what you currently buy and not the other way around.
First, I make a list of my foundational items – items I buy on a regular basis – and see if I can easily find coupons for them. I also include expensive items here, again – ones that I can easily find coupons for. Then I narrow it down to my Top 10 to start. Once you’ve got a good handle on the top 10, you can add more but just don’t let it get out of control.
My Top 10 might look like this:
- Almond milk
- Organic yogurt
- Organic cheese
- Chicken sausages (any brand)
- Bacon (any brand)
- Gluten-free pasta
- Rice and Quinoa
- Dairy-free ice cream
- Gluten-free bread
- Canned tomatoes (any brand)
Write down your Top 10 Coupons on the Food Budget Worksheet.
Then I “go shopping” for coupons at my favorite coupon clipping services. And I keep them in a simple fabric coupon organizer I bought on Etsy.
Tips for grocery shopping on a tight budget
Meal planning in general will save you money on groceries. Meal planning was my life saver when we were getting food stamps (LINK) and feeding my family on a tight budget.
What are you spending money on that could easily be made at home? Processed food ALWAYS costs more. It’s a huge myth that processed food is cheaper – it’s not! Some of the things I make at home in big batches – bread, chicken broth, spaghetti sauce, chicken nuggets, fish sticks.
Using a grocery price list is a good way to make sure you’re getting good deals on your regular groceries. You basically keep a record of prices at the stores you shop at so you know where to buy what. This can be as simple (a small notebook in your purse) to a spreadsheet.
But you know my motto – keep it simple. A notebook is just fine!
Congratulations! You’ve got a grocery budget, a way to keep track of that budget, a short list of coupons, and are meal planning and watching your food costs.
Weekly Grocery List and Meal Planner & other Free Printables
If you need a free printable meal planner with grocery list, there are lots of them in the Freebie Library!