Last Updated on 9th January 2021 by Emma
Everyone tells you that you should cut back on your food budget to save money but they don’t answer the most important question: how much should i spend on groceries?
You and I know that your food budget is the most flexible part of your budget.
Many of your bills are pretty fixed, like your mortgage, rent, insurances, so saving money often comes down to the food you eat.
Without some idea of the answer, you don’t know if you are spending way more than you should, or are not far off the recommended averages.
In fact are there any recommendations because that would really help, right?
I feel your pain, it took me the whole of my 20’s to realize my food budget (and other spending habits) were not consistent with my income. I went into debt because I bought the wrong food at the wrong price.
Thankfully I now have a much clearer idea of how much I should spend on groceries and how much I can afford.
I don’t want you to spend a day longer worrying about your grocery bill so I’ve done the research for you so you can work out how much you should budget for food, wherever you live.
Oh, and the answer is, yes there are recommendations for food budgets – read on.
How much do you currently spend on food a month?
When you want to know how much to spend on groceries its usually because money is a problem, or rather spending too much of it is.
You need to know how much you have recently been spending on groceries so you can compare to the figures below.
Go over your credit card bills and bank account statements and total up all the amounts to see how much you spent on groceries last month.
Remember to add in UberEats, the drive thru and popping to the shops mid-week. Your total might surprise you (good or bad, but probably bad if you didn’t already know this figure).
It’s just a starting point, in fact a large spend is the perfect opportunity to save money on your groceries from now on.
Remember all the figures you read about are averages and can’t be applied strictly to you.
How much are you spending eating out?
Eating out is part of your total food budget. Sure you can put it on a separate line on your budget spreadsheet but the more you eat out the less you need to spend on traditional grocery shopping.
Unfortunately eating out costs a lot more than eating in. This is an area where you can save a significant amount of money if you focus on sticking to a weekly food budget that includes eating out less often.
What governments say you should budget for food
In the US you have the USDA providing 4 extremely useful food plans that are updated every month and detail the cost of food for each person based on age and gender. The 4 plans are:
- Thrifty Plan
- Low Cost Plan
- Moderate Plan
- Liberal Plan
You can see all the USDA data here
For all my calculations I have used the Thrifty Plan because I’m all about spending less money, no guessing why, I am a frugal living blogger after all! And I’m here to help you save money so the thrifty plan will help you do this the most.
In the UK, the government does not provide proactive data. Instead it provides information of the average weekly food costs based on surveying people’s actual spending in previous years.
According to ONS the average weekly food budget spending for 1 in 2017/18 was £45.31 per person. This figure is broken down like this:
|Food at home||Eating out|
|69% of budget||31% of budget|
Average food cost per month for 2
Remember your total food cost includes eating out as well as eating at home. The more you spend eating out, the less you have to spend on food cooked at home if you are to stick to your grocery budget.
UK – £392.68 total food budget for 2 people. Broken down as £272.04 for at home eating and £120.64 on eating out.
US – The thrifty plan food budget for the average couple aged 19-50 is $398.70 a month. The USDA figures are based on all meals and snacks being made at home, there is no separate figure for eating out.
The USDA plans have the average food budget for 2 as follows:
|Low cost plan||$511.70|
As a couple if you eat out once a week and spend just $30 each time then the amount you can spend on groceries for all your other meals drops significantly when on the Thrifty Plan as it amounts to 30% of your monthly food budget, the others not so much:
|USDA plan||Budget||Eating out||Remainder|
|Low cost plan||$511.70||$120||$391.70|
single person monthly food budget
How much should a single person spend on groceries? It depends. (You knew I’d say that, right?)
It depends on many factors but the biggest one is whether you eat out on a regular basis or not. Include takeaways in the eating out category.
UK – for a single person, using the latest ONS figures you should be budgeting around £196 for food, including eating out.
US – on the USDA thrifty plan a single person’s grocery spending should be in the region of $170 – $191, depending on age and gender.
If you rarely eat out then under $/£200 for a single person’s groceries each month is an OK amount. But if you eat out once a week you are going to find sticking to this food budget harder.
One meal a week out can easily set you back $15 or more, so $60 a month, leaving you that much less for your weekly food budget.
On top of which single people end up paying a premium for their groceries as many products are packaged for 2 people or a whole family.
How much should i budget for food on my income?
The USDA’s figures show that on average people spend 5% of their income on groceries and another 5% on eat out. So a 50:50 split of the food budget totaling 10% of household income.
If you need to know how much to spend on groceries because you need to cut back then there is your saving right there. Cut out or cut right back on eating out and save that money.
But does this 5% apply across all incomes? Unfortunately not, as you would expect, those in the lowest 20% of incomes spend disproportionately more on food. 15% or more of their disposable income.
According to ONS the UK average household spent 10.6% of their overall budget on food, but the percentage spent on eating out is less. Just 30% of food budgets in the UK is spent on eating out.
This is an average of all households surveyed but the lowest 20% of income households spent 15.2% of their income on the life basics of food, heating and rent/mortgage.
How much should I spend on groceries with an average income?
- In the UK the median (average) disposable income for 2020 was £30,800.
- In the US the real median earnings is men ($57,456) and women ($47,299).
Exchange rate at time of publications was £1 to $1.36 so the UK median income is less than that of our American cousins.
Ignoring the differences in wages across countries, when wanting to work out how much to budget for food each month based on what others do with their money, you can look at the percentages.
What does 10% of your household income look like? For a single person, it might not be great, but for a couple then 10% could be a healthy food budget.
Let’s look at the suggested food budget for average incomes:
|US average income||5% food at home||5% eating out||total food budget|
|UK average income||7% food at home||3% eating out||total food budget|
How much should i spend on groceries with a low income?
Low income families have it much harder than those with higher incomes. Things we take for granted like food and heating your homes take up big chunks of your income leaving much less for other bills.
Using the USDA & ONS figures for low income household spending on food as 15% these are the kind of numbers you should look to spend no more than:
|Monthly income||15% food budget||UK monthly income||15% food budget|
These are not a per person amount, they are a household amount.
Based on 15% of your combined household income which is why they differ from both the USDA recommended amounts and the ONS actual amounts spend on food.
If you are a low income household with just $1500 disposable income (i.e. after taxes) then $225 is what you should try to aim for, regardless of whether you are a couple or have a young child.
With these figures you can see why there is a lot of food poverty in our countries.
Remember, you can save money on your food budget by not eating out or having takeaways. Save these for a special occasion. We rarely eat out, birthdays and our anniversary is probably about it.
The differences in monthly food budgets
Unfortunately you are not in total control of how much you spend on groceries in comparison to others. There are factors that can make your food budget less or more expensive.
Factors such as access to stores, cheaper shops, your location, the climate and area you live in. For example: if you live in the Scottish Isles, you end up paying a premium for everything.
Because the cost of transporting food (and everything else) is much more than the mainland.
Some foods will be dirt cheap in your area because it’s grown locally and there’s a surplus. Whereas if you were buying the same item someplace else, it would be at a premium.
How to stick to your grocery budget
Now you have an idea of what your grocery budget should look like, let’s look at a few tactics to help you stay on budget.
Start by meal planning each week. Work out how many mouths you have to feed at each meal and choose meals based on favorite recipes, time available to cook and what you already have in your cupboards.
Use your food cupboards
When meal planning on a budget, it makes good sense to start by identifying what food you already have in your pantry and freezer and using them as the basis for your upcoming meals.
The food you have stored is money you have already spent so use it. It’s good to keep a small stockpile but it’s also good to use it and rotate the items regularly.
Once you have decided on meals for the week, write out a detailed shopping list of everything you need.
Remember to not buy stuff you already have in the pantry (unless they need replacing) and also add the usual essential non-food items such as toilet paper and batteries.
Create a shopping routine
Shopping at the same store and on the same day and times makes for less organizing and less thinking about it. Less of a chore. If you are an online shopper then create your orders on the same day and time so you have a good routine.
I can get around my local store in 25 minutes flat if I need to, and that was when I was shopping for a family of four. I knew where everything was, didn’t have to traipse the aisles to find any items.
eat at home
A meal out will always cost more than those cooked at home because you need to pay the wages of the chef and the server. Reserving eating out for special occasions will really help you reduce your monthly food budget.
Always know what you’re having for dinner in the morning
This is where meal planning helps as you’ve already decided. However some people meal plan for the week but don’t specify or stick to days. Whatever works best for you.
The key here is to leave the house knowing what you are having for dinner so as you arrive home you are already sub-consciously planning the meal preparation.
Leftovers are free food. Especially if you previously binned them (please don’t!). You could have a family leftovers smorgasbord night, everyone gets a different leftover meal or you can have a buffet of leftovers and everyone digs right in.
If you liked the meal once, you’ll like it again, especially if they are a couple of days apart.
don’t waste food
If you buy it, use it. Please don’t throw it away. I’ve read reports that say we can waste up to 30% of the food we buy. Only spend money on groceries you will actually use.
Shop at cheaper stores
There are plenty of discount stores about nowadays that you can complete your whole food shop in. Aldi and Lidl are my go-to stores and they are usually 20-30% cheaper than the standard UK supermarkets like Sainsburys, Tescos and Asda.
Pack it up
Grabbing a meal or sandwich while at work gets expensive really quickly. Even a daily snack is going to cost you $50 a month.
Pack your lunch and any other food you are likely to eat while away from home. Whether that’s going to work, going shopping or on a day out.
How to save money on your groceries
Tactics to stick to a budget are one thing but often you need help on how to cut down and save money on your groceries.
All groceries are not the same and you can save money in many different ways when you dig into what you buy, how you buy and where you buy it. Here are my top 8 tips.
choose cheaper meals
Frugal meals are a great starting point in saving money. Steak and fries might be your favorite meal but it won’t help you stick to a new food budget.
Meals that make use of cheaper foods and less ingredients are cheaper overall. As are ones that use less meat and more seasonal vegetables. Our favorite cheap meals are tuna pasta bake and chili (lots of beans, less so meat).
Choose cheaper ingredients
Take a cheap meal and make it cheaper. Use cheap foods to pad out the meal. Chili is the perfect example. Many recipes will have it loaded with meat and one tin of beans between 4 or 6 people.
Make that 2 or 3 tins of beans and you need much less meat. Beans are much cheaper than meat.
I make tuna pasta bake for 4 people with 1 can of tuna. I add in other vegetables, usually sweetcorn, which are of course cheaper than tuna.
Premium brands can cost up to 400% more per item than the value and generic brands. When you buy premium brands you are paying for their marketing budget that they use to persuade you their product is better!
Generic brands may taste a little different to their premium cousin but different does not equal bad. Focus on the price difference to help you decide which one is worth buying.
Not just food either, medicines are another area where generic can give you significant savings.
stockpile when prices are low
Many food items go on sale every so often and when they do it makes good money sense to stock up to take advantage of the low price. Get to know how often the sales come around and you can stock up with enough to see you through until the next sale.
buy canned & frozen
Canned and frozen ingredients, especially vegetables can often be cheaper than their fresh counterpart. Veggies are frozen within a couple of hours of being picked so often retain more of their nutrients than those stored in warehouses prior to reaching our stores.
Use coupons wisely
I used to use coupons a lot, but only ever when it saved me real, hard cash.
Most coupons are for branded items that cost more than their generic equivalent. When you use coupons to save money, you need to make sure you are saving real money not just imagined money.
Never mind the saving, is the coupon going to let you buy that item for less than you would have bought it or another? I.e. if your coupon is for $1 off a premium brand costing $3, it’s going to cost you $2. The generic brand is only $1.50.
Using the coupon is going to cost you $.50 more than if you bought the generic item so it’s not saving you money. Unless you intended to buy the premium brand anyway.
Each week stores have items of sale, loss leaders they are called. These products are deeply discounted to entice you in to buy them. When you’re there the stores want you to spend yet more money.
Buy these deals but if the store is not your usual cheap store, don’t finish off your grocery shopping there. Keep your food bill low by shopping smartly.
Multi-buys and BOGOFs (buy one, get one free) are designed to part you from more of your money. They can be a good deal but not always.
- Multi-buys are smaller packets but are more expensive than one large packet
- They’re on premium brands but you are happy to buy the generic equivalent
- You only use a small amount so 2 packets is far, far more than you can use
- It’s not a product you would usually buy
How much will you spend on groceries this month?
The answer to your original question, how much should I spend on groceries? is still, it depends. But now you have a much clear idea of what the average food bill each month should be, whether you’re a couple, single or a large family.
Take some time to work out your food budget, and make plans to get your groceries cheaper than you have previously.
Check out my post with over 70 best ways to save money on groceries for even more tips and inspiration.
If you’re up for a little challenge, join the 7 day grocery budget challenge and see how much you can save.
Come and follow me on Pinterest for more money saving hints and frugal tips!