While the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides recommended food budgets to guide consumers, what you'll pay for food depends on several factors. Your budget will depend on how much you eat out vs. buying groceries and cooking meals, whether or not you belong to buyer's clubs or grocery store loyalty programs, how well you cook and if you know how to smart-shop.
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Look at Different Budget Numbers
Multiple government agencies provide information on food spending for consumers to help you estimate groceries costs per week for one person. The USDA provides recommended monthly food budgets based on sex and age.
How much should groceries cost per week for one person? There's no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are some reference points. For adult males ages 19 to 50, a thrifty budget is $196.40, a low-cost budget is $255, a moderate plan is $318.60 and a liberal budget is $390.40. For adult females ages 19 to 50, the target budgets are $174.30, $221.50, $270.80 and $346.60. The USDA provides more suggested budgets for children and seniors.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides household food numbers based on "consumer units" or households, estimating their average budget at $4,643 in 2019.
Look for data in your metro area to learn what you might be expected to spend on groceries. Milk, bread, cheese and egg prices vary wildly for people living in remote areas, large cities, small towns and affluent counties. If you're moving to a new area, use an online cost-of-living calculator to compare your new destination to your current city.
Estimates Change Annually
When the economy is down, grocers and restaurants offer loads of discounts and specials. When the economy is red-hot, food prices rise and discounts decrease. During the COVID-19 pandemic, food-processing plant shutdowns, supply chain issues and runs on products caused food prices to soar.
Review your budget every three months to see if prices are trending up or down.
Read More: 5 Ways to Trim Your Budget
What is Smart Shopping?
You don't need to clip lots of coupons, drive from store to store in your town, stockpile a room full of groceries or join multiple buyer's clubs to cut your food spending way down. You can get basically the same food you've been eating for much less by smart shopping, which includes:
- Buying generics instead of brand name foods
- Joining grocery store loyalty programs
- Buying your staples in bulk when they're on sale
- Looking for manager's specials
- Looking for BOGO deals (Buy One, Get One Free)
- Reading weekly grocery store flyers
If you don't mind couponing or joining Sam's Club or Costco, you can save even more.
Read More: How to Estimate a Single Household Budget
How to Budget for Food
The first step in creating a monthly food budget is to find out what you're currently spending. If you've paid for your groceries using credit cards or digital apps, set aside 30 minutes to an hour and add up last year's grocery purchases and divide by 12. Do the same for your dining out or meal deliveries.
After you've reviewed these numbers, look at where you can cut your food costs. For example, if you spend $2 making lunch and bringing it to work once each week instead of spending $12 at a fast-casual restaurant, you'll save $500 per year. That doesn't include the credit card interest you'll save. If you save $20 per week buying generics instead of name brands, you'll save another $1,000 per year.
To learn how to cut your grocery store costs, make a trip to the supermarket and give yourself plenty of time to walk the aisles, looking for bargains, comparing prices, checking out generics and looking for sales, BOGOs and manager's specials.