11 tips for making a food budget and sticking to itWhen you’re trying to eat well and pay less, it’s important to take every opportunity to cut costs. Some things like the internet and rent tend to be non-negotiable, so cutting down on your weekly food spend is an obvious place to start. Fortunately, creating a food budget is easy! The hardest part is sticking to it, and we’ve got you covered with our tips to make saving money on groceries a little bit simpler.
What is a food budget?Your food budget is what you aim to spend on food groceries every week. It usually includes any items you need to buy regularly, like meat, fruit and vegetables, bread, dairy and eggs. Pantry staples like oil, flour or spices aren’t typically included because they only need to be bought every so often. Of course, a food budget doesn’t have to be weekly. Some people prefer to budget monthly — it’s just a matter of personal preference. Food budgets are important in many households. You’d be surprised how much money wasted on food you don’t really need. Anyone trying to save money can use a food budget to meet their savings goals.
How much should I budget for food?
On average, New Zealand households spend about 16.8% of their weekly expenses on food, according to Stats NZ.
The exact amount changes depending on the number of people in the household. Stats NZ data shows that Kiwi households spend the following amounts on food every week (excluding beverages and restaurant meals):
- One-person household: $66.20
- Two-person household: $137.60
- Three-person household: $182.40
- Four-person household: $208.50
Ultimately, your food budget comes down to a number of factors like:
- How many people you’re feeding
- The age and appetite of the people you’re feeding
- Your income
- Whether you’re happy to opt for cheaper types of food (like frozen meat, canned vegetables etc.)
- How often you cook at home
11 top tips for making a food budget and sticking to it
Here are our tips to help you get started with food budgeting and grocery shopping on a budget.
1. Start by tracking how you shop
You can’t spend less if you don’t know what you’re spending in the first place. Whether you’re doing your weekly shop or just picking something extra up during the week, keep the receipts. Do this for one month.
At the end of the month, sit down with your receipts and look at your spending habits. Ask yourself these questions:
- How often did you buy something you didn’t need?
- How much did you spend throughout the whole month?
- How much did you spend on average each week?
These questions can help you understand how much you spend on groceries now, so you can set a goal and create a realistic food budget.
2. Budget according to your own savings goals
It’s easy enough to say you want to spend as little as possible on food, but that’s not really a realistic or measurable goal.
Instead, think about how much you need to save. For example, maybe you need to save about $50 per month, or per week. That’s a realistic goal, and now that you know how much you’ve spent each week, you can set an actual budget. So, if you spent $200 during the week, you know to budget for $150.
3. Build in flexibility
No matter how dedicated you are to achieving your savings goals, there will be times when you overspend. For this reason, it’s a good idea to build a little ‘fat’ into your budget.
The last thing you want is to start with a super-strict budget, go over 2 weeks in and then give up all together.
Instead, take baby steps. Try knocking $10 or $15 from your weekly food budget. Then, the next week, knock a little more off. Keep going until it starts to feel uncomfortable and then settle into a happy medium.
4. Don’t buy takeaways
When it comes to sticking to a food budget, takeaways are your nemesis. Even the cheapest takeout often ends up amounting to more than you realise.
The best thing to do is to avoid it altogether. If you just can’t resist a takeaway one night a week, allow for this in your budget from the start.
Have you tried making your own takeout at home? Not only is it cheaper, it’s often healthier and delicious. A win-win-win..
Give it a go! Check out our article on homemade takeaways.
5. Plan your meals
Plan out your meals a week in advance. It saves time and reduces stress, and it also makes sticking to a budget much easier.
It’s easy. Set your budget, do your meal plan, and then write your shopping list. Meal planning takes a bit of practice but, once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it. (Tip: keep your shopping list and you can use it over and over.)
6. Buy home brand
“Home brand” products like Pams and Value are often very similar to “name brand” products, if not identical. When you’re on a budget, you shouldn’t pay for branding.
For example, a tin of name-brand whole tomatoes can cost as much as $1.79. Meanwhile, a home-brand tin of the same product costs just $0.75. That many only seem like a little over a dollar’s difference, but this kind of price difference can quickly amount to a lot.
7. Prep your lunches for the work week
We all know, buying takeout is one of the fastest ways to blow your budget, and there’s few times takeout is more tempting than when you’re at work. It may be appealing to pop out of the office for a pie, but you’ll generally eat healthier and save money by bringing your own lunch to work.
Saving on weekday lunches can be as simple as making sure you have a few tins of tuna and some microwave rice at home. Or, you can prep weekday lunch meals in advance at the start of the week.
How to meal prep
Healthy work lunch meals
8. Shop in-season, or go canned or frozen
Kiwis love fresh food, whether it’s meat, seafood, fruit or veggies — and with so many fantastic local products, why wouldn’t we? That said, sometimes it’s not the best option for a tight budget.
It’s important to shop according to sales and seasons. If you’re after a certain ingredient for your meal plan and it’s out of season (and therefore expensive), go for a canned or frozen option instead. It’s just as healthy, but better for saving money.
9. Don’t waste anything
When shopping for food s on a budget, it’s important to waste as little of the food you buy as possible.
There are loads of ways to do this: you can boil the bones and carcass of a roast chicken to make a tasty broth or soup; trim the broccoli stem and cook them with the florets; or simply freeze your leftovers
Reducing food waste not only helps the environment, it makes it easier to save because you really get your money’s worth from every purchase.
10. Eat cheaper proteins
Meat can take up a big chunk of your food budget. Depending on your budget, you may prefer to take up more vegetarian meals, and supplement with meatless proteins like lentils and beans.
You can also save money on meat by buying cheaper cuts and cooking them with your slow cooker. Slow cooking is also a good way to make lots of meals at once and save even more.
Save money on meat
How to buy meat on a budget
Slow cooker recipes and meal planner
11. Take advantage of specials
It might sound obvious, but with a little forward planning, you can save a lot of money by buying items that are on special offer.
If fresh produce is on special, buy it in bulk and freeze it. If canned or dry goods are discounted, then load up the pantry.
Get used to browsing the weekly specials when writing your shopping list and it will soon become second nature.
What can I afford with my budget?
When you’re just getting started with food budgeting, it can be helpful to see what different budgets can get you. So, we’ve created a few example shopping lists to give you an idea of how much you could reasonably spend (and save!).
All prices in our shopping lists are indicative only.
Food budgets & shopping lists for 1 - 4 people
These shopping lists use a budget based on the number of people in a household. They’re a good way to understand what an ‘average’ household’s weekly shopping list may look like.
Food budget and shopping list for one person
Food budget and shopping list for two people
Food budget and shopping list for family of 3
Food budget and shopping list for family of 4
Foods can you buy with your budget
Wondering how much you could get on $50 a week? These shopping lists explore the kinds of meals and groceries you might choose to live off on stricter budgets.
$20 Grocery Budget: Recipe ideas & shopping list
$30 Grocery Budget: Recipe ideas & shopping list
$50 Grocery Budget: Recipe ideas & shopping list
$100 Grocery Budget: Recipe ideas & shopping list
$150 Grocery Budget: Recipe ideas & shopping list
$200 Grocery Budget: Recipe ideas & shopping list
Looking for more inspiration?
See our recipes
See more of our savings ideas
Read our guide to eating healthy on a budget