Eat in, Save Dough: How to Create a Food Budget

In my opinion, one of the greatest advantages of cooking at home is its cost effectiveness. Trade in your Chipotle runs, pizza deliveries, and Saturday night steaks at Texas Roadhouse (although I must say their bread is to die for) for home-cooked meals, and you’ll have saved yourself some pretty pennies. Money. In. The. Bank.

Now that’s what I (and every other college kid) am talking about.

I mean who doesn’t like a few extra dollars saved away for tuition rent bills a rainy day!?

But walking into a grocery store, and trying to decide what to buy while sticking to your budget, can be overwhelming.

Countless times I’ve found myself standing in the grocery store, trying to remember what I have back at home in the pantry or fridge, and what I need to buy now. Or it has been dinner time, and I am at home, staring into my full fridge, asking myself what I was thinking at the store yesterday because there is absolutely nothing in there that I want to eat tonight. Oh, and then there are always those times I go to the store staaaarving and end up walking out with a bunch of impulse buys in my cart just because everything looked so darn good.

cake gum

This somehow ended up in my basket while standing in line at Walgreens the other day…I guess it’s better than a cake itself

It didn’t take me long to figure out that all of these instances were wasting me money. Whether I was spending too much buying things I didn’t need or want, or throwing out the spinach and tomatoes I had bought because I forgot about them in the fridge, or having to toss the chicken cutlets because I didn’t have time to cook them that week and didn’t realize I should have thrown them into the freezer until it was too late. Bum-mer.

Yeah…about that money in the bank… well, mine was going straight down the drain.

That was until I got smart and decided to put in a little more effort and thought into my grocery shopping. Over the years I have discovered a few tips and tricks that have helped me to set and stick to my food budget, to reduce the amount of food I waste, and to save myself time and energy when it comes to shopping.

Since this is quite a bit of information to cover in one post, I’ve decide to split it into a series of three posts. The rest of this post will cover food budgeting, but be on the lookout for posts #2 and #3, regarding meal planning and shopping smart, coming soon!

How to Create a Food Budget

Step 1:

The first step to creating a food budget for you or your family is to set a weekly spending limit. (I like to grocery shop weekly, as this prevents foods from spoiling and new store sales usually come out each week, but more on that in posts #2 and #3.) Stop and think about how much of your total budget you are willing and able to spend on food each week. According to the USDA, most people spend around 10% of their disposable income on food purchases, so that’s a good place to start. Or alternatively think about how much you or your family consumes in a typical week. If you have the time, you might find it helpful to track your meals throughout the week to determine your usual weekly food expenses.

Step 2:

Next, keep in mind that this weekly spending limit encompasses all food purchases including groceries purchased at the store, snacks bought at the gas station for a road trip, dinner dates out, pizzas ordered in, even Girl Scout Cookies – tis the season! It is important to remember this as the little random, unplanned buys can really add up – especially if you aren’t aware of them.

Step 3:

The third step to creating a food budget is to set spending categories within your general food budget. Planning out your meals will help you to identify how much money you can spend on eating out, meeting friends for fro-yo, etc. I like to sit down, look at my schedule, and think about when I will be home for meals, when I will have time to cook, and when I will be eating out and about. This allows for me to break up my food budget into two categories: grocery store budget and eating out budget.

Grocery Store Budget: This is the amount you should plan to spend at the grocery store each week. Keep this number in mind when you are planning out your meals, creating your shopping list, and looking for sales. Always aim to leave the checkout a few dollars under your budget.

Eating Out Budget: As much as I love and prefer to cook at home, sometimes life gets too busy or I just need a night away from the kitchen. Knowing how much I have budgeted for the week to spend on eating out helps me to stay on track. This is an area where many people fall off the wagon in regards to their food budget, but having a plan will help you stay accountable.

Monitoring & Evaluation: How did you do?

Perhaps one of the most important parts of food budgeting is monitoring your spending. Save the receipts from your grocery store trips and meals out. Add up your expenses as the week progresses to find out how you’re doing.

If at the end of the week you’ve still got pennies in your pocket, treat yourself to a favorite, but rather pricey food – why do shrimp have to be so dang expensive?! Or better yet, put them in your savings account! If at the end of the week you’ve gone overboard, look at your receipts and identify areas where you can save next time – whether it be better planning or looking for coupons, all of which I will get into in the next two posts in my Eat In, Save Dough series!

Leave me a comment!

Do you have a weekly food budget?

Yes! Since I am an RA and have a dining hall food card as part of my compensation I actually have three categories in my budget: grocery store budget, dining hall budget, and eating out budget.

Have any favorite foods that are simply out of your budget?

I loooove grapes and wish summer would be here already because I simply cannot afford to buy them at $3.99/lb – that’s like over a $10 bag of grapes – so I am not-so patiently waiting for them to be in season again! Also, fresh seafood is a favorite, but can you say kaaaa-ching!


5 thoughts on “Eat in, Save Dough: How to Create a Food Budget

  1. Kat Cameron says:

    Ack! My downfall! Having my own blog means I sometimes make food just to put on my blog, and then I end up sharing it. It’s like giving money away in the form of delicious food. I need a separate budget just for recipes for my food blog!


    • Jenni says:

      I feel you Kat! #foodbloggerprobs.I try to freeze some of the recipes I am testing for later so I don’t feel like I have to eat muffins (or whatever I am working on) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or have to end up tossing anything out.


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