You’ll probably be annoyed to hear that I can’t tell you what your budget should be. Frustrating, I know! I wish I could. It would make everything so much easier. But, let’s take a minute and think about all the variables that go into food budgets:
- Total dollars available
- Household size
- Ages of the people in your home
- Food preferences
- Food values
- Dietary needs
- Location and cost of living
- How much time someone has available to save money with food
If we have different family sizes, live in different regions, have different medical needs, or dramatically different schedules, we are going to need different budgets!!!
So, if no one can tell you what your budget should be, how do you determine how much you should spend on food?
To get you in the ballpark, you need to start by looking at three factors:
1. Your financial goals
2. The time, money, and energy you have available to spend on food
3. Your food values
1. What Are Your Financial Goals?
What are you trying to accomplish in your financial life?
Maybe you just started Dave Ramsey and need to get out of debt as fast as possible. Maybe you want to stay home with your new baby and need to slash your budget to be able to afford that. Or, maybe you need to free up an extra $100-200 a month to hit your 15% retirement goals.
Maybe you want to fund a family vacation or a cash Christmas next year.
Maybe you are affected by a job loss or major illness and you’re scraping by and desperate to lower your food bill just to keep a roof over your head.
Knowing your financial goals is a critical step in choosing your food budget. Take a moment, right now, to think about your financial goals – and how lowering your grocery bill could potentially help you hit those goals.
What are your financial goals?
What do you need your food budget to be in order to reach those goals?
2. How Much Time, Money, and Energy Do You Have Available to Spend on Your Food Life?
In my life, the goal *isn’t* to spend as little as I possibly can on food for my family. My goal is to spend as little as I can while also honoring our food values, honoring my time and energy, AND serving my family food that we enjoy.
I found a grocery budget that balances the amount of time, money, and energy that I have available to spend on food right now.
You may currently be in a position where you have more money than time. If this is you, you can raise your grocery bill and buy more convenient options. On the other side, you may be in a position where you have more time than money. If this is you right now, you can lower your bill by investing more time into food prep.
ONLY YOU can determine what is the perfect number to balance those three things for you.
Take a moment right now to honestly evaluate the amount of time, money, and energy you have available to spend on food.
How much time, money, and energy do you have to spend on food right now?
Are you more time-starved or cash-starved?
How do you need to adjust your food budget to accommodate this?
3. Determine Your Food Values
Food values are the things that are most important to you in your food life. For example, I would state my food values this way –
I want my meals to:
- be simple and tasty
- use whole foods
- include lots of fresh produce
- be allergen-free
- cost $1 per person
I use these values to form all my meals.
Each of us comes to the table with different food values. Yours may be dramatically different than mine. For instance, you may only eat certified organic, or local produce, or grass-fed animal products.
We don’t judge food values here. Yours are what they are.
Just know that, whatever they are, your food values will heavily influence your final budget.
Take a moment to jot down your food values.
What is most important to you in your food life?
Think about how those values impact your bottom line.
Time for You to Pick a Number
I am sure you can see now why choosing a food budget is a personal thing – and why I can’t tell you what yours “should” be. There really are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a food budget.
However, there are some industry guidelines you can use to help you determine a starting point for your food budget. There are more available, but here are a few to get you started:
- Here at Dinner for a Dollar – we spend $1 per person per meal and $1 per person per day for snacks – or $4 pp/day. If we were in a difficult financial spot (as we have been in the past), we could spend $3 pp/day. But, for us, that would necessitate more time and energy spent on food than we want to make available right now. So, that makes our range, with our food values $90-120 pp/month.
- Dave Ramsey recommends families spend 10-15% of their take-home pay on food.
- To find the USDA recommendations for your family, look here.
Bottom line – your food budget is personal! It depends heavily on your circumstances.
Take a moment to:
- evaluate your circumstances
- determine your financial goals
- evaluate how much time, money, and energy you have to spend on food
- determine your food values
- look at the recommendations of experts
And then…weigh all that together and pick a number that you can work with. One that meets your needs and the needs of your family.
Not one someone else is saying you “should” use.