How to Plan a Grocery Budget

Heading to the grocery checkout counter shouldn’t be a frustrating or nerve-racking experience, though both feelings are quite common. The average cost of groceries per month for one person can come as a shock. Grocery shopping is quite a large—and incredibly important—part of our overall spending, and impossible to avoid altogether.

Taking the time to plan a grocery budget can make shopping trips easier and help to avoid financial stress due to lack of planning. The more detailed your plan is, the more likely it is you’ll get the most for your money when shopping on a budget.

Grocery budgeting doesn’t need to be complicated. Use the tips and tricks below to help make a well-planned grocery budget and ultimately lower your average cost of groceries per month.

1. Track Your Current Grocery Spending

As with all change, it helps to start where you are. Track how much you currently spend on groceries and how many times a week you typically grocery shop. After a few weeks of tracking, determine your average cost of groceries per month, note your priciest items and what stores tend to cost you the most. By figuring out where you’re starting from, you can then can figure out what changes you need to make moving forward.

For an easy way to track your grocery spending, try the Fetch app. All you have to do is scan your grocery receipts into the app, and the hassle of budget tracking is taken care of for you. The app will organize your grocery receipts by date, provide a breakdown of your monthly spending, and show you how much you spent at each store.

2. Determine How Much You Can Spend

Do you already have a budget for the rest of your monthly expenses? If not, now is a good time to build a basic budget to determine the amount of money you have to spend on groceries after paying for other necessities. Groceries are just as necessary as some of your other expenses, but grocery expenditures may be more flexible.

Determine how much you would ideally like to spend on food within your larger budget. If you free up some space by lowering your grocery budget, where else could the money go? All of these specifics help you see why lowering your average cost of food per month is so important in the long run.

3. Include Your Household

It goes without saying that the number of people in your household is the largest factor in the size of your grocery budget. The USDA studies what the average family spends on groceries each month, ranging from cheaper grocery lists to more liberal trips to the store.

Moderate plans assume anywhere from $33-56 a week per child and around $60 per week per adult. Couples and families of four are measured differently to take things like meal sharing into account. Though everyone is different, knowing the average US cost of food per month can help you realize if there are ways to trim your grocery budget down to a more manageable number.

4. Commit to Your Budget

Creating a plan is one thing, but how do you stick with your grocery budget in the long run? Once you see what is possible with a more structured food budget, create reminders for yourself and your family throughout the month. Place your target total at the top of your grocery list as a reminder when you go to the store. If you feel pulled in by new items, find a cheaper replacement at the moment or see if you can put it off until next week when you can work it into your budget.

Chat with your family about how much your new budget will help out other areas of your life. Perhaps you’ll have more wiggle room for a special dinner at the end of the month after everything you’ve trimmed from your grocery list. Ask for creative input on how to cut down on the average cost of food per month for each person. This makes it a team challenge instead of a sole responsibility.

5. See What You Can Reasonably Cut Out

As you review your receipts each week, which items do you consider splurges? Instead of cutting them all out, allow one each week as a special treat to balance out the rest of your budget grocery list. Make a note next to any impulse buys that didn’t originally make it on your grocery list. Did these end up being worth the cost? If so, add them to your weekly rotation, but generally, avoid last-minute buys to avoid throwing off your budget.

Also, consider what can be purchased at other stores. If you’re only buying expensive paper products and dry goods at your grocery store out of convenience, see how much money you can save by stopping by a discount shop on your way home.

6. Plan Out Your Meals

Writing up a weekly meal plan is one of the best ways to lower your average cost of food per month. At the start of each week, sit down and determine the meals for your upcoming shopping trip. Find dependable recipes that make enough for the whole family with some leftovers for lunches the following days.

Designate a place in your home to keep a running list of items as the week goes on. When you write the final meal plan for the week, remember to include your grocery budget amount at the top of the page as a reminder.

After you have all your essentials listed, finish your budget meal planning by checking what’s leftover in your fridge. If an expiration date is on the horizon, use these items in your meal plan first—especially meats, expensive sauces, or fresh herbs and veggies.

7. Make Sure You’re Getting the Best Price On Your Necessity Items

Even on a frugal grocery list, there are always some pricey items that you just can’t go without. Make a point to become familiar with the average price of these items. It may be helpful to check out different grocery stores, both online and in store, to see if they carry your favorite items at lower prices.

Check out what items are on sale in stores, and alter your meal plan to incorporate these sale items in lieu of more expensive products. This makes you a more creative chef while helping you stick to your food budget.

Wholesale and discount stores are excellent for long-term meal planning on a budget. Stock up on dry goods and basics without immediate expiration dates. Buying items like coffee beans, paper goods, and condiments are excellent in bulk, as you know you’ll use them in the future. Discount stores are also great for simple pantry items like flour and sugar—these single-ingredient buys are similar no matter where you buy them, and choosing a discount store can help eliminate unnecessary cost.

8. Cut Down on Dining Out

When you build a thorough meal plan on a budget, there’s no need to head out for an expensive dinner at a restaurant or take-out spot. When you do head out to restaurants—for special occasions or on weekends—it will be all the more exciting. Plan these trips in your budget as you figure out your grocery plan at the beginning of the month.

In the long run, cooking at home means you’re more likely to eat healthy meals. Cooking your own food allows you to control what goes into your meals, and can help you avoid sodium, fat, and sugar you don’t need.

Bottom Line

No matter the size of your family, creating a grocery budget can ensure you’re saving money on groceries and significantly cut down on your average cost per month. This tactic frees up space in the rest of your budget and simplifies your weekly shopping ritual. By compiling all your favorite shopping spots, taking advantage of discounts, and getting creative with meal planning, planning grocery budgets will become your new specialty in no time.