How to budget groceries: 28 easy tips

A parent and child check the prices on fruit juice at the grocery storeImage: A parent and child check the prices on fruit juice at the grocery store
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Have you ever gone over your budget only to find you’ve overspent on food? With food being the third-highest household expense behind housing and transportation, our food choices have a huge impact on our budget.

Learning how to budget groceries can help you save more to put toward your financial goals. Here are 28 ways to help you learn how to budget groceries.

1. Track current spending

Before you figure out what you should be spending on food, it’s important to figure out what you are spending on food. Keep grocery store receipts to get a realistic picture of your current spending habits. It might help to break down spending by category (via a spreadsheet or on paper), including beverages, produce, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can get an idea of where you need to trim down your grocery bill.

2. Allocate a percentage of your income

How much each household spends on food varies based on income and how many people need to be fed. Consider using our budget calculator if you’re not sure where to start. Try allocating 10% of your income to food as a starting point and then you can increase from there.

3. Avoid eating out

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 13% increase in food spending in the U.S. — a jump driven by rising purchases on dining out. Avoiding eating out where possible can help reduce your overall food spending. If you’re actively dating or enjoy restaurants with friends, be sure to factor eating away from home into your food budget — and stick to your limit.

4. Plan your meals

It’s much easier to stick to a budget when you have a plan. Plus, having a purpose for each grocery item you buy may help ensure nothing goes to waste or just sits in your pantry unused. Don’t be afraid of simple salads or meatless Mondays — not every meal has to be a gourmet experience.

5. Keep a fridge grocery list

Keep a magnetized grocery list on your fridge so that you can replace items as needed. This can help you buy food you know you’ll eat. Sticking to a list in the grocery store may help you stay accountable and not spend money on processed or pricey items.

6. Eat before you go to the store

If your mother gave you this advice growing up, she was onto something: according to studies, shoppers spend more when hungry. Eating before going to the grocery store may help you avoid tantalizing foods that can cause you to go overbudget.

7. Be careful with coupons

Getting 50% off ketchup is a great deal — unless you don’t need ketchup. Beware of coupons for items you don’t need. If the item isn’t on your list, you’re not saving at all, but rather spending on something you don’t truly need.

8. Embrace the bulk section

The bulk section of your grocery store may help you find inexpensive staples, discover new foods and bring variety into your diet. Take the time to compare the price of prepackaged goods versus bulk — bulk is likely cheaper.

9. Bring lunch to work

Picture this: you’re trying to stick to a food budget, and one day at work you realize it’s lunchtime but you forgot to pack a lunch. All the meal planning and smart shopping in the world won’t help if you don’t have food when you need it.

10. Love your leftovers

Instead of throwing your leftovers away, try to eat them to avoid wasting money. To keep things interesting, look for ways to repurpose foods — yesterday’s leftover taco meat can become today’s shepherd’s pie.

11. Keep an inventory

Keeping a list on your fridge of what you have on hand can help you avoid food waste and get creative when meal planning. And it’s a great way to get the most use out of grocery items that are sold larger quantities than you need for a single recipe. Not sure what to do with that giant bunch of celery or box of spinach you have left over from another recipe? Try out some online recipe blogs or sites that offer recipe ideas based off a few ingredients you input.

12. Freeze foods that are going bad

Another way to avoid wasting food is to freeze things that look like they’re about to go bad. Fruit that’s past its prime can be frozen and used in smoothies. Make double batches of soups, sauces and baked goods so you’ll have an alternative to ordering takeout when you don’t feel like cooking.

13. Use curbside pickup

About 29% of shoppers admitted that seeing an item that looked too good to pass up led to impulse purchases. Using curbside pickup can help prevent you from purchasing unplanned items.

14. Check the top and bottom shelves

Wise grocery stores know that eye level is where the most sales happen. In fact, consumers select about 80% more products at eye level than at the bottom shelf. So next time you’re out shopping, take a quick look up and down — you may find a better deal hidden out of sight.

Additional grocery saving tips

Need more ideas on how to save on your food bill? Here are some additional tips that can help.

  • Choose generic — One survey found that 50% of people said opting for generic products over name brand helped them save on groceries.
  • Drink more water — Recent data found that 17% of consumers cut back on purchasing beverages at the store due to rising inflation. Drinking more water may help you save what you would’ve otherwise spent on beverages.  
  • Pay with cash — Try going to the grocery store with cash — and only what you’ve budgeted for. Leave your credit or debit card at home. After all, you can’t spend what you can’t pay for.
  • Buy what’s in season — Food prices can vary depending on whether they are in season or not. When foods are out of season, they may be scarce — and therefore more expensive. Try to stick to buying foods that are in season.
  • Grow your own herbs — Herbs at your local grocery store might sometimes be expensive. Growing your own is one way to cut back on your grocery bill. 
  • Plan a meatless meal — Beef prices increased for three years straight from 2020 to 2022, and the USDA predicts other meat categories will rise in price in 2023. By planning a meatless meal every so often, you may be able to save some money on your grocery bill.
  • Buy cheaper cuts of meat — Not all cuts of meat cost the same. You may be able to save money by choosing chicken thighs over chicken breasts, ground chuck over sirloin and pork loin over pork chops.
  • Ask for a discount — This won’t always work, but if you notice your food is close to expiring, ask the cashier for a discount. You may be able to save yourself a few dollars. 
  • Learn how to preserve food — If you have some fruit that’s going bad in your home, you may be able to preserve it by making and canning jam. Hopefully the more food you can save in your home, the less you’ll need to buy at the store.
  • Keep a running tally while you shop — Jotting down the prices of items you put in your cart or quickly crunching the numbers in your phone’s calculator can help you stay more aware of how much you’re spending.
  • Buy canned food — Canned food is often less expensive than fresh foods, so buying canned could stretch your food budget.
  • Shop sales — If you notice a food you often eat goes on sale, stock up if you have room in your budget. While you may spend more than you normally would up front, you’ll save yourself from having to purchase the item at full price in the future.  
  • Use rebate apps — Some apps provide cash back on certain purchases. Check to see if the items you need to buy at your next shopping trip may qualify.
  • Sign up for your store’s loyalty program — Some grocery stores have points or loyalty programs that can provide you with extra discounts when you shop.

Bottom line

Sticking to a food budget can take planning and discipline. However, learning how to budget groceries by being resourceful and cooking healthily is a skill that can benefit you for years to come.

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