Struggling To Get Control of Your Food Budget? A Strategy That Can Help

How to discover what’s really inflating your grocery budget and bills so you know where to focus your cost-cutting efforts

by Andrea Norris-McKnight

Struggling To Get Food Costs Under Control photo

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I want to make a grocery budget but am unsure what to include. Do you include household items such as light bulbs and laundry supplies and regular household needs such as bath tissue and paper towels?

My husband and I would like to reduce our grocery bill, but as it stands, everything for the house comes from our grocery budget.

Your grocery budget is an essential money management tool. But tracking and trimming it can be challenging if, like many people’s budgets, it includes much more than just food expenses.

It may seem like most of your household expenses are wrapped up in your grocery budget. Perhaps it includes paper, cleaning, pet and other household goods because you buy these items during your weekly grocery trips. Is food really the reason your grocery budget is so high?

This quick guide can help you separate your food budget from the rest of your household budget, making it easier to find areas for savings in both.

Separating Food and Household Expenses

The first step to gaining control over your grocery budget is to separate food costs from other household expenses. This will allow you to see how much you spend on food versus non-food items.

Unless you have saved grocery store receipts that you can use to create a grocery budget, you’ll need to keep your receipts for the next month to get a clear picture of how much you’re spending on food vs. non-food items.

After each shopping trip, add up your food items. An easy way to do this is to highlight the food items on your receipt after each shopping trip and then use your phone’s calculator app to add them up. Or use this tip from a Dollar Stretcher reader. It can make the job even easier:

“Since I’m the one who unloads the shopping basket and puts items on the conveyor belt, I just put all the food items on first, place a “stop” bar at the end of the groceries, and then unload the non-food items. When the cashier gets close to the end of the groceries, I ask her to subtotal when she gets to the bar. They are always glad to do so. Then, I just have them go on and add the rest of the items onto the ticket. Depending on where you shop, you might be able to see the total on a register display without having to involve the cashier.

This way, I have a quick total of my food items. With a little subtraction, I also get my non-food total. When I get home, I don’t have to spend time checking off the food items separately and adding them up one by one to figure out how much I spent on the two budget categories.”

If you start tracking your non-food spending as you track your food expenditures, you will have the data to tackle your non-food household budget categories next if you choose.

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Determining Your Monthly Food Budget

Once you’ve separated food costs from other household expenses, the next step is to analyze your food spending.

Let’s assume you don’t have a line item in your monthly budget strictly for food and that up until now, that “Grocery” budget category also included various non-food items. It’s time to break up that category into “Food” and “Non-Food.” Once you have one month’s worth of data on your food expenditures, use that number as the amount you will budget for food next month.

For example, suppose you spend $850 to feed your family of four in June. You will budget $850 for July and then see how much you can reduce that amount. Maybe you spend $810 in July. You will budget $810 for food in August. Continue this until you can’t cut that monthly budgeted amount any further, and then use that number for your monthly budget until you have a need to adjust it.

Finding Ways To Cut Food Costs

You can find hundreds of ways to reduce your grocery budget here on The Dollar Stretcher. Consider subscribing to The Dollar Stretcher and Dollar Stretcher Tips newsletters to get money-saving articles and tips delivered to your inbox that can help you get all areas of your budget under control.

Here are a few places to start looking for food savings:

  • Compare Prices: Take some time to compare prices at different stores. You might find that certain items are significantly cheaper at one store compared to another.
  • Buy in Bulk: For non-perishable items you use regularly, buying in bulk, especially when items are on sale, can save you a considerable amount of money. Just make sure the bulk items are genuinely cheaper per unit than the smaller packages. (See Foods Worth Buying in Bulk To Save Money + Storage Tips.)
  • Plan Your Meals: Meal planning can help you avoid impulse purchases and reduce food waste. Create a weekly meal plan and buy only the ingredients you need for those meals. (See Mastering Meal Planning: Time and Money-Savings Tips for Beginners.)
  • Avoid Brand Loyalty: Often, generic or store-brand products are just as good as name-brand ones but cost significantly less. Don’t be afraid to try different brands to see where you can save. (See Saving With Generic Store Brands.)
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Managing Your Food Budget

Every time you shop, track your spending and compare it to your food budget. If you are having trouble sticking to your budget, you might need to look at how much you spend on specific food categories, such as meat, produce, snacks, etc. It’s possible one or two categories are throwing your entire food budget out of whack and you’ll know where to focus your money-saving efforts.

Finding Savings on Non-Food Items

Perhaps you’ll find that household expenditures rather than food costs are the problem with your budget. Use the steps described in the previous section to get your non-food budget costs under control. Start with these tips:

  • Use Coupons and Rebates: Look for coupons and rebates for household products. Many stores offer digital coupons you can load onto your loyalty card, and apps like Ibotta offer cash back on purchases.
  • Stock Up During Sales: Look for sales on items you use regularly. Stocking up during sales can significantly reduce your costs over time.
  • DIY: You may be able to make some household items cheaper than buying them. Here are four types of products to DIY for savings.

The Key to Getting Control of Your Grocery Budget

By breaking out your food budget from your overall household budget, you can gain a clearer picture of your spending and identify areas where you can save. Start making these changes today and watch your grocery budget shrink while still meeting all your household needs. Then, apply the same tactics to lower other areas of your budget.

Reviewed June 2024

About the Author

Andrea Norris-McKnight took over as the editor of The Dollar Stretcher and After 50 Finances after working under the site founder and previous editor for almost 15 years. She has also written for,, and The Sacramento Bee.

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