Learn to control your average cost of groceries per month. Stop overspending on food by learning how to budget for groceries. Understand how much should you spend on food a month:
- Start by learning to track and track and control the average amount spent on food per month. I will show you how to build the average grocery bill that is right for you and your family.
- Now that you have an average monthly food budget, let´s trim it to what you really need. I will show you how to budget for groceries that positively impact your body and the health of your family.
- Budgeting for groceries should be focused on saving some money while keeping healthy. Learn to adapt a typical grocery budget on a budget grocery list for healthy meals.
The average cost of groceries per month can have a huge impact on your personal finances. In fact, food is the second-largest household expense, behind mortgage or rent. Needless to say, control your average food cost per month and you be closer to achieving your financial goals.
Anyone that has ever tried budgeting groceries has found how easy is to get lost on local, organic, and artisan goods. Not mentioning trendy restaurants and happy hours with friends.
Don’t desperate, I will show you how to do your grocery budget while still keeping a healthy balance between product quality, eating out, and eating healthy.
Some people like to budget food using a grocery budget calculator. Although this is surely a valid option, I prefer to start with a more personalized approach.
Deciding your average spend on food per month is a personal choice. And a big one! No app can do that for you. First and foremost you need to set your priorities and get organized. It might sound like a big deal, but it´s not hard, I will show you how.
What should be included in my monthly food cost
Before we decided how much to spend on groceries let´s place some ground rules.
The main question you should be asking here is “how much should I spend on food a month?”. We are talking about food costs that go on the food row of your monthly budget.
We are not talking about foods you buy for social occasions or supplements you take because your doctor explicitly told you to do so.
Our objective here is to focus on the food that you need to get your body moving. We are not talking about entertainment or medicine. Let´s get some examples:
- Breakfast: This is a basic food cost, like it or not, you need to eat something for breakfast to keep a healthy and balanced life. Eat at home and in most cases, it will be cheaper and healthier. Eat out and it will be convenient.
- Donuts box that you take to the office: Nothing wrong on building good relations with your coworkers, but this is not a food cost. Name it entertainment or political investment, but get it out of your monthly grocery budget.
- Dinner out Dining out can fall on your food budget, or on your entertainment costs. The important thing here is not the price but why you are having a dinner out. Is this an ordinary dinner or you have friends joining you? Maybe you are celebrating a special occasion with your spouse? Only consider dining out and takeaways in your food budget if they represent a normal meal.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend on average, 11% of their take-home income on food. Approximately 6% is spent on groceries, while 5% is spent on dining out—including dates, lunches with coworkers, and Sunday brunch. With this framework in mind, you can calculate your total food budget based on your take-home income.
I recommend splitting food and entertainment budgets to make your strategy more actionable and easy to prioritize.
Tracking your average cost for food per month
Before you figure out what you should be spending on food, it’s important to figure out what you are spending on food per month.
We want to track the average cost of food per month. This means tracking your average groceries cost per month plus all the day to day food you have delivered or that you normally eat out.
Keep your average monthly bills to get a realistic picture of your current spending habits. To give some granularity, split them into categories that make sense to you. In my case, I have my monthly food budget split in:
- grocery costs per month: basically supermarket bills
- monthly costs of eating out and takeaways: mostly dinner when we don´t feel like cooking
Deciding how much to spend on food per month
How much to spend on food a month will vary based on your income level, on your family size, and on the cost of living per state.
You use a food budget calculator but it is so simple to calculate it by hand that I find it easier to just do it manually. By doing it by hand I also pay more attention to it, which brings more insights on where I am spending my money.
If you already have your grocery bill average you can already calculate your current groceries budget as a percentage of your net salary:
Grocery budget % = (grocery bill per month) / (net income) * 100
By adding the costs of takeaways and eating out to the cost of groceries per month you will have your actual food cost per month:
Food budget % = (food bill per month) / (net income) * 100
Generally speaking, 10% of your net income is a good baseline for your average monthly food cost. If you are over this threshold, don’t desperate, I will show you in a bit how to bring your costs down.
It is important to keep in mind that your cost of food per month will vary a bit during the year. This is normal. You must pay attention to these fluctuations and act accordingly to keep them under control.
I will show you in a bit some real values of how much people spend on groceries. Comparing how much you are spending with the food expenses per month recommended by USDA is a great way to measure how well you have your costs under control.
If you overspend on a month, make it up for it in the following months. If you have been under budget for a couple of months, make sure to take note of it and be proud of your achievement – a fancy dinner with someone you care should be a good way to celebrate it.
How much should I be spending on food?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes an average grocery cost per month that is a great baseline you can use to gauge how to budget groceries.
Ultimately, how much each household spends on food varies based on income level and how many people need to be fed. Below you can see some baseline groceries cost per month.
USDA grocery budget
Keep in mind this data is an average grocery bill, actual prices will vary depending on your location and which stores are available to you.
- Average grocery bill for single person: $280
- Average grocery bill for family of 2: $613
- Average grocery bill for family of 3: $885
- Average grocery bill for family of 4: $1063
- Average grocery bill for family of 5: $1314
- average grocery bill for family of 6: $1475
While people spent about 30 percent of their income on food in 1950, this percentage has dropped to about 10% in current days
The food plans only include the cost of food at home. They do not include the cost of non-food items even though you may buy at the grocery store like pet food, toilet paper, and paper towels.
Additionally, this list includes only food at home, so restaurant spending is not included. As I’m sure you know, eating out is many times more expensive than eating at home.
Allocate a Percentage of Your Income
As a starting point, you can allocate 10 percent of your income to groceries per month and increase from there if necessary.
Track your average spending per month
If you want to get to the next level, create a spreadsheet to break down your groceries spending by category, including beverages, vegetables, snacks, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can get an idea of where to trim down how much you are spending on food.
Plan your meals and avoid eating out to keep your groceries on a budget
It’s much easier to stick to a food budget when you have a plan. Additionally, having a purpose for each grocery item you buy will ensure nothing goes to waste.
You may be surprised to find out that most nutrient-dense foods are often the most budget-friendly. It’s not only possible but fun and easy to eat nourishing, delicious food while still sticking to your budget.
Not every meal has to be a gourmet, grandiose experience. At the end of the day, your focus is to have an optimized budget grocery list that can keep you healthy and well.
Eating out is a quick and easy way to ruin your food budget. Be sure to factor restaurants into your food budget — and strictly adhere to your limit.
By deciding on meals ahead of time, you can determine the food items and quantities you need. Before heading to the grocery store, your list will be specific. You can buy the items you need. Try recipes that use some of the same ingredients so there’s less to purchase. You can also make larger meals so you have leftovers—which limits the number of meals and ingredients to buy.
Keep a Fridge Grocery List
Keep a magnetized grocery list on your fridge so that you can replace items as needed. I have personally named my the Cheap healthy grocery list to remind me that it is not enough to be cheap, it needs to be healthy as well.
You will not learn how to budget groceries efficiently if it is not part of your day today. Having your shopping list easily visible ensures you’re buying food you know you’ll eat because you’re already used to buying it.
Furthermore, sticking to a list in the grocery store is an effective way to keep yourself accountable and not spend money on pricey items.
Simple ways to lower your average monthly grocery bill
Budgeting, meal planning, and being organized to keep track of your spending will help you save money on groceries.
Eat Before You Go to the Store
According to a survey, shoppers spend an average of 64 percent more when hungry. Sticking to a budget is all about eliminating temptations, so plan to eat beforehand to eliminate tantalizing foods that will cause you to go over-budget.
Be Careful with Coupons
There is a reason stores offer you coupons – believe it or not, this reason is not to make you save money.
50 percent off ketchup is a great deal — unless you don’t need ketchup. Beware of coupons that claim you’ll “save” money. If the item isn’t on your list, you’re not saving at all, but rather spending on something you don’t truly need. This discretion is key to saving money at the grocery store.
Embrace the Bulk Section
Not only is the bulk section of your grocery store great for cheap, filling staples, but it’s also the perfect way to discover new foods and bring variety into your diet. Take the time to compare the price of buying pre-packaged goods versus bulk — it’s almost always cheaper to buy in bulk, plus eliminating unnecessary packaging is good for the planet.
Bonus: a diet rich in unprocessed, whole plant foods provides virtually every nutrient, ensuring optimal health and keeping you from spending an excess amount on healthcare costs.
Bring Lunch to Work
All the meal planning and smart shopping in the world won’t solve your personal finances if you keep having lunch out every day. Pack your lunch box and a couple of snacks to keep your finances and body healthy.
Love Your Leftovers
The average American wastes $640 every year on wasted food. With millions of undernourished people around the globe, throwing away food not only hurts our budget but is a waste of the world’s resources. Tossing food is no joke. Eat your leftovers.
To avoid wasting food, freeze things that look like they’re about to go bad. Fruit that’s past its prime can be frozen and used in smoothies. Make double batches of soups, sauces, and baked goods so you’ll always have an alternative to ordering takeout when you don’t feel like cooking.
Remember, sticking to a food budget takes planning and discipline. While it may not seem fun at first, you’ll likely find that you enjoy cooking and trying a variety of new foods you wouldn’t have thought to use before.
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About the author:
Hi, I am Leblon Blue. Mid-thirties senior manager on a large corporation. Happily married for seven years and waiting for my first kid. I have dedicated my past 15 years to build an engineering background and a stable career. After working in Europe, Scandinavia, and Latina America, I am now based in the Persian Gulf, where I manage the performance of a large corporation that operates in the region.