Get Real With Your Food Budget

Americans love to eat. Food is a big part of the household budget. But determining a food budget is dependent on how your family consumes food. Some families eat out up to four days a week. The result is food spending habits that can spin out of control quickly.


Food Budget and Take-Home Pay

The 50/30/20 rule means that your take-home pay is divided into three parts:

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  • Necessities 50 percent,​ which include groceries, housing, gas and any other essentials
  • Wants 30 percent​, which include restaurants, take-out food, streaming, movies and any other non-essential expenses
  • Savings 20 percent​, which include savings accounts, retirement, loans, credit cards, etc.


There is an overlap between what is needed for weekly meals and what is wanted. If your family wants to eat out too often, it can inflate your food costs. Eating out is a major part a family's overall food budget. Even with the necessities, going to the grocery store and splurging on steak too often will blow through both your necessity budget and your wants budget.


Consider also​: How to Estimate a Single Household Budget

Americans Eat Out Weekly

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), for every dollar an American spent in 2019, 38.5 cents went toward restaurants and other eating establishments. Although some of these were planned activities from the "wants" list, many visits to fool establishments resulted from poor meal planning.


Meal Planning With a Budget

Whether it's fast food or groceries, food is the third biggest expenditure in an American's budget. And although you can't control food costs, you can manage your food budget with a thought-out meal plan.


The USDA makes recommendations on what a household should spend on real food. They offer food plans based on the age and sex of each member of the household. The USDA provides a chart that breaks the budget down weekly and monthly. It's based on three levels of expenditures so you can find the plan that meets your budget.


The breakdown includes a low-cost plan, moderate-cost plan and liberal plan. For instance, according to the recommendations under the moderate plan, you should budget $76.30 weekly or $330.50 monthly for a 12-year-old male. This it is a great gauge to help prepare a food budget.

Plan Meals Before Shopping

Before heading out on a grocery shopping trip, take inventory of what you have in the pantry and plan meals for the week. Then, make a shopping list based on what you need and stick with it. That is one way to avoid impulse buys. When shopping, try a store brand once in a while instead of always gravitating toward the name brand. You may find a gem that costs half the price, lowering your grocery budget in the process.


When you plan and grocery shop, it helps you avoid eating out so often. This gives you the benefit of choosing healthy foods like fresh produce instead of grabbing that expensive take-out order that may be highly caloric.

Buy Only the Food You Need

Impulse buys can contribute to overspending. One of the main reasons a food bill is so high is overbuying. This leads to food waste. Americans throw away more food than any other country in the world. Be realistic when buying food. If you don't think you or your family will eat it, don't buy it. You'll also be less likely to overbuy if you make a meal plan. This will save a large amount of money.


Consider also​: The Recommended Percentage of Income for Expenses

Shop at Discount Grocers

You don't have to live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to make ends meet. You need to think about your overall food spending habits. Shop at budget friendly stores like Walmart, Aldi and Costco. These stores all have a fine selection and low prices.


Another way to save money on your food bill is to use a cashback app like ibotta. It gives you cash back for purchasing certain products or shopping at specified stores.