One of the questions we get asked the most when it comes to budgeting is, how much should I budget for food? And to be fully honest, the answer varies on a case-by-case basis. Plus, it’s hard to lay down a blanket statement and expect it to work for every situation. But that’s the problem. Nobody seems to have a straight answer.
So, we did the only thing we knew to do. We set out with our own budget to determine a realistic number that could act as a guideline for people trying to decide on a monthly food budget. And, after a bunch of trial and error we did just that.
So, how much should you budget for food?
When budgeting for food, you should plan to spend a minimum of $250 per adult, and $150 per child each month. For example, a family of four with two children should budget $800 per month. This budget should cover groceries and dining out on occasion.
So, there you have it, an actual guideline for your food budget. But are these numbers right for you? Before you set your food budget in stone, here are a few tips, questions, and considerations you should take into account.
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Food Budget For 1
When you are trying to figure out your food budget for one, you need to think about a few things.
First off, it’s all on you. That means meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking are up to you. And let’s just shoot straight here, it’s a little unrealistic to assume you are going to cook yourself every meal, every week. There are going to be times when you just want a salad, burger, or burrito from your favorite restaurant.
On top of that, one of the worst things you can do if you want to maximize your food budget, is to buy food that goes to waste because you didn’t cook it. It’s much better to spend a couple extra bucks on food at a restaurant, than to basically throw your money in the trash because you let your groceries go bad.
Also, whether you are dining out, or cooking at home, be sure to leave enough for leftovers the next day. Leftovers are one of the easiest ways to maximize any food budget. It’s hard to beat reheated lasagna or cold pizza for lunch. Then again, I’ll eat just about anything left over in the fridge. Just ask my wife!
So, what is a good food budget for 1?
When setting a food budget for one person, you should plan to spend between $300 and $400 per month. This budget assumes you will dine out approximately three times per week, while spending the remainder on groceries to cook and prepare the rest of your meals at home.
Food Budget For College Students
If you were to ask a bunch of college students how much they spend on food each month, I’m willing to bet very few would actually know. And even fewer would probably have a food budget. So, if you are reading this post and you are in college, let me first congratulate you on being way ahead of the budgeting game.
When you are in college, food spending is likely your biggest budget item. And between school, work, and studying, it can be difficult to find time to meal plan and cook every meal. Plus, if you need to go sit at a Starbucks to get some studying done, a few coffees per week is probably in the cards. But, since your other expenses should be relatively low, it is ok to allocate a little extra money toward food each month.
So, what is a good food budget for college students?
If you are a college student, you should plan to spend approximately $400 per month for food. Since college life can be busy, this will allow you enough financial room to dine out, order a few cups of coffee each week, and cook meals for yourself when you have the time.
Food Budget For Couples
Setting a food budget as a couple is the sweet spot, because unlike budgeting for one person, it’s not all on you. There is no reason you should ever have to eat out, because you can split the meal planning and cooking duties 50/50.
We recommend sitting down once a week with your significant other and planning out every meal. This way, you can go on a weekly grocery run and buy every ingredient you need. If you are really diligent, you will spend significantly less than you would have dining out.
That being said, we believe date nights are extremely important. So, if you want to add a little extra money to your food budget to keep the romance alive with a weekly dinner date, go for it!
So, what is a good food budget for couples?
If you are budgeting for food as a couple, you should plan to spend between $500 and $600 per month. With two people involved, cooking at home is a more manageable task. So, the majority of your food budget should go toward groceries. Though, this budget will still allow you to dine out on occasion.
Food Budget For Families
Obviously, the more people you have in your family, the larger your food budget needs to be. And we already gave you a food budget guideline for adults and children in the intro of this article. But if that budget doesn’t feel right to you, here are a couple things to consider.
According to the USDA, the average cost of raising a child from birth to their 18th birthday is $233,610 — and 18% of that amount goes toward food. So, if you break that number out, it ends up at $194.68 per month. But, we think that number is a little high, because many families don’t hold themselves accountable to a budget like you and me.
Also, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average household in America spends around $7,729 on food each year. If you break that out it equals $644 per month. So, if you budget $150 for each child, and $250 for each adult, in a family of four with 2 children, you get an above average budget of $800 per month for food. That is definitely do-able.
What Are Some Ways To Save On Food?
The entire purpose of a budget is to control your spending so that you can save more money. And your food budget is no exception.
Here are a few quick tips to help you reduce your monthly food bill.
If you keep your eye out for coupons, you can save a boat-load of cash. And these days, you don’t even have to clip them out of newspapers. The entire process of couponing is so streamlined, it would be silly not to do it. For example, most grocery stores these days have couponing apps where you can just select the coupons you want to use, and they will automatically apply them when you checkout. There’s no need to fumble through your purse, or carry around a bunch of coupons. Just bring your smartphone.
Meal Plan According To Sales
Instead of just randomly planning a few meals that sound good each week, check your local grocery stores for sales, and shape your meal plan around them. For example, if chicken breasts go on sale at your local grocery store, plan a few meals that incorporate chicken. If apples go on sale, it might be a great week to cook that apple pie you’ve been craving!
Go Grocery Shopping Right After Dinner
One of the best times to go to the grocery store is after dinner. It is significantly less crowded, and your stomach is full. You can quickly accomplish all your shopping, and you won’t be tempted to buy a bunch of crap you don’t need because your stomach is growling. I’m serious, night time grocery shopping is the best.
(P.S. If you are an early riser, grocery shopping at 6 AM works too.)
Should I Start Meal Planning?
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. Yes you should. Meal planning is one of the easiest and best ways to save money each month. Start meal planning right away, and stick to it. You will be amazed how much extra money you will save.
What If I don’t Have Time To Cook?
I realize that there are plenty of people out there that are actually too busy to cook. If you are working 12-hour days, 7 days per week, I can understand how cooking might be pretty low on your priority list. However, if you say you’re too busy to cook, and then tell me that you binged 4 seasons of Game of Thrones in 2 weeks, I’m going to call you a liar.
If you are thorough in your meal planning, and make sure to buy every ingredient you need at the grocery store, cooking does not take that much time. Also, you don’t need to cook extravagant meals every night. I rarely cook a meal that takes me more than 30 minutes, start to finish.
I promise, if you really want to, you can find the time to cook.
When it comes to budgeting for food every situation is different. But whether you are single, married, dating, in college, or supporting a family, the one thing I can say is that having a food budget is extremely important.
So, break out your budget, start couponing, get on a meal plan, and get to work!
What’s your monthly food budget? Let us know in the comments, along with any food spending tips you use to save money each month!
As a graduate student with a stay at home wife and three kids we lived on way less than that.
That’s impressive, Richard! Nice work!