How to calculate how much you should spend on food



Earlier this week I talked all about how we create our family grocery budget. It seems like a process at first (and it is!) but once you get the hang of it- it’s smooth sailing (promise).


In case you want a quick recap, here’s how I do it: 1. Determine our monthly budget (we’re going to talk about that, today)

2. Subtract any bulk shopping trips or monthly autoships (for us, that’s Thrive Market for pantry staples and Butcherbox for meat)

3. Divide this by four weeks- that’s your weekly total.


If you want to go EVEN further, price out your weekly staples so you have an idea of your baseline, what you need each week- and if it lines up with your budget, and what you have left beyond your staples (this helps to calm down any extra buying that might push you over your budget).


But the big question remains-- how do you know what your budget should be?!

There’s a couple ways to determine this. I talked a little bit about this in this post, but essentially, you want to create a budget with your income minus all of your fixed expenses (mortage/rent, utilities, insurance, etc) and categorize the rest- including food.


It’s up to you how much you want to spend on food per month, but the recommendation given by Dave Ramsey (I confirmed this with Paige Schmidt, a Dave Ramsey Certified Financial Coach) is around 10-15% of your income.

This is very individualized, however- she pointed out, as it’s just income based and doesn’t take into consideration how many mouths you have to feed. For instance, if you only made, say, $2000 a month and you’re a family of four, that’s only $200 a month (which is typically not enough for most families of four). So work within your budget and your family situation- if you have to cut back in other areas (you don’t NEED cable, you do NEED to eat), that might be necessary.



The USDA has laid out guidelines for an average family’s food budget at different income levels: The first number is for a family of four with two adults and two children 2-5 years, the second is for a family of four with two adults and two children 6-11 years (numbers as of February 2020).


Thrifty: $569.60 - $653.80

Low-Cost: $727.60 - $857.60

Moderate-Cost: $897.40 - $1071.40

Liberal Plan: $1108.20 - $1297.60


(source:https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/media/file/CostofFoodFeb2020.pdf)

Of course, this all depends on where you live, availability of food, what your values are in terms of types of food (organic, local, etc)- but this is based on the average family, representing what the USDA calls: “...a nutritious diet at four different cost levels. The nutritional bases of the Food Plans are the 1997-2005 Dietary Reference Intakes, 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and 2005 MyPyramid food intake recommendations.”

They also assume all meals are eaten at home, so they’re not taking into consideration dining out/takeout (so if you do, you might add that onto your grocery budget for a more accurate estimate to how your budget lines up with the USDA guidelines. I know for myself this was SO revealing- I was trying, for a time, to strive for a number that was SO much lower than what our family cost should be by their guidelines- and we don’t follow the food pyramid recommendations to a tee by any means- we simply eat the foods that feel best for our family (lots of veggies, high quality meats/fish, high quality fats, some grains, beans and dairy to round it out). Once I came to terms with what a budget was that was reasonable for our family both food-wise and finance-wise, it became much easier to stick to it.


If you don’t yet have a budget- here’s where I tell you the hard thing (but necessary thing): I want you to save your receipts.


For AT LEAST two weeks, ideally 1-2 months. Add it up. Figure out how much you’re spending NOW and if that lines up with:

  • How much you want to be spending

  • The way you would like to eat to feel good


Your turn: so how do you decide how much YOU should spend on groceries per month?


Well that’s up to you! I encourage you to consider:

  1. How much are you spending now? Is this a good baseline- do you want to shift it down (or up to add in some things that might be lacking- how can you cut back in other areas to allow for this)?

  2. Consider your income and what 10-15% looks like, and how it stacks up to the USDA guidelines. There is no set number- it just has to feel right for your family.

  3. Decide whether or not you’ll add in dining out/takeout to this. Again, 100% up to you. We keep our date night/family dinner fund separate, and take this into consideration while budgeting for the rest of the month.

  4. If you’re just starting out and you’ve never budgeted and never tracked (or don’t want to), start saving your receipts now for next month’s budget challenge!



That’s right-- I’m hosting a free, 30-day Healthy Mama on a Budget Challenge, starting June 1. We will be:

  • Creating a monthly + weekly budget

  • Planning our meals accordingly

  • Tracking our weekly spending

  • Avoiding unnecessary extras

  • Getting back on track with our grocery budget before the start of summer

Are you in? It’s 100% free- click the photo below or sign up here.








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Headshots Marie Guagliardo Photography & Sarah Zollo Portraits