How To Calculate Your Food Budget (And Save On Groceries)

Figuring out how much you should spend on groceries can be a real pain. In many cases, the amount can differ on every trip to the store. One week you might have a bunch of specialty ingredients on your list, the next, you might have to restock household essentials; and another, you might buy a bunch of snacks because you mistakenly went grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

Of course, this might not be an issue for those who live on a fixed income or eat the same food each week. But for others, budgeting for groceries can be a headache. So if you want to learn how to avoid spending more than you should at the supermarket, these tips from US News My Money might help. 

How Much Should You Budget For Groceries?

Data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that in 2018, 9.7% of Americans’ disposable income went to food (5% at the store and 4.7% at restaurants). These figures probably changed during the pandemic, but regardless, if 10% of your budget goes to food, you’re probably fine.

The USDA provides an estimate for monthly and weekly expenses, dividing it into four categories: a “thrifty plan,” a “low-cost plan,” a “moderate-cost plan” and a “liberal plan.” This could also help your budgeting efforts.

How To Stop Overspending On Groceries

The problem isn’t finding a figure to spend on groceries. It’s sticking to a budget that’s hard. But Eileen Roth, author and Arizona-based organizing expert, offered a few ideas.

Make A List

You might already do this, but Roth recommends several ideas to improve your grocery list. For example, if you check out your fridge and pantry before shopping, write down items once you’re two-thirds of the way through them, or “when there is only one can left – for example, one last can of corn or chicken noodle soup,” Roth told US News My Money. 

Develop A Routine

“Another way to watch your budget is to plan your meals,” Roth explained. “Every Wednesday is spaghetti night. Every Friday is fish night. Every Sunday is chicken. Every Monday is steak night, etc.”

When you have a routine, you also “have a fairly good idea what you need to buy weekly,” she noted. And that makes it easier to track your grocery budget.

Make A Grocery Shopping Routine

 “If you shop on the same day each week, at the same grocery store, you will know what they carry and where it is – saving you time as well as money,” Roth said.

How To Spend Less On Groceries

Here are a few ways to spend less on groceries:

Order Online

According to Jessica Randhawa, the owner, recipe creator, and head chef of cooking website The Forked Spoon, recommends ordering your groceries online instead of going to the store. Not only is it more convenient, but it’s also safer during the pandemic.

“Instead of managing a grocery list, I can simply add items to my cart when planning recipes, or simply add items to my cart if I notice I am about to run out of an ingredient,” she explained. “The reduction in time spent driving, waiting (in line) and wandering isles, coupled with the lack of impulse buying, has been a huge saver of my time and money.”

Plus, when you shop online, you don’t feel rushed, and you can double-check that you have everything you need.

Cut Coupons

“I know I sound old saying that, but it’s true. Coupons can really help,” California fitness instructor and health and wellness coach Audrey Del Prete told US News My Money. She recommends searching your mail and the internet for coupons.

“If you use the store’s app, it can save you a decent amount of money as long as you use them for things you are already buying. Don’t buy something you don’t really need just because you have a coupon for it. That will end up costing you more money in the end,” she added.

Have A List

“Whether you use paper and pen or make a list on your phone, the No. 1 thing you can do prior to grocery shopping is to make a list with only your immediate needs and stick to it,” Del Prete continued. “Don’t buy anything not on the list because you don’t need it. I use the app for all of my lists.”

Take Advantage Of Loyalty Programs

This is a tried-and-true tactic to save on groceries. “If you shop at a major retailer, the store most likely has a customer rewards program that gives you automatic discounts on most items. Definitely sign up for it,” Del Prete suggested. “You will save a lot each time you shop.”

If you follow these tips, will you finally know how much you should budget for groceries? It’s a possibility. However, your primary goal shouldn’t be figuring out the exact dollar. Instead, focus on trimming your usual supermarket spending.


  • Williams, Geoff. “How Much Should I Spend on Groceries?” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 1 June 2020,
Ian Schindler