How to plan a weekly food budget

Balancing a healthy diet with a weekly budget can be tricky, especially for those for whom money is tight. However, you can turn weekly shopping tasks into stress-free and cost-effective ones using our guide below. 

Photo Credit: Alliance Images/Shutterstock.

Understanding your immediate circumstances 

Before we get to the helpful part, you must first acknowledge your spending habits and the aspects that lay the basis for an effective weekly food budget. Considerations include three steps:

  • Step 1: Scrutinizing: The way to keep track of and understand where your money is going is to take one or two weeks and keep a detailed record of everything you have been spending your money on. Record every penny you’ve spent on both small and big things. It includes the coffee you had today, the groceries you bought, dining out, and anything else. 
  • Step 2: Categorizing: Now that you have an idea of where your money is going, break it down into different categories. These could be groceries, drinks, snacks, household items, or takeout. It can help pinpoint where you may be overspending.
  • Step 3: Analysis: Once you have done the first two steps, at the end of the week or two weeks, it’s time to reflect. Review things and ask yourself if you are spending more on things like takeout or if there are any things you didn’t expect or any surprises.  

Weekly meal planning

Effective budgeting goes hand in hand with planning your weekly meals. It can help direct you to buy only the things you need and avoid any unnecessary spending, as well as reduce any waste. A few steps for doing this include:

  • Step 1: Drafting your weekly menu: First things first, drafting your weekly meal plan starts with writing it down and keeping it where you can see it every day and before you go to the grocery store. Plan for each of the days of the week and the weekend. It could be anything from making a quick meal on your busy days to more extravagant meals for the weekend when you have more time.
  • Step 2: Creating a Menu: The second step is to take this menu plan and create a shopping list of all the ingredients you need. To avoid any surprises or impulse buying, stick to this list. 
  • Step 3: Don’t throw out your leftovers: Cook with smart intentions in mind. Either cook enough to take leftovers for lunch to work the next day or prepare meals that you can use the leftovers to make something else with, such as those suggested on this Food & Wine website. 

Strategies for shopping smart

It may sound obvious, but where and how you shop often makes a big difference to your pocket. Shopping smarter is key here. Consider a few tips on how to be a smarter shopper:

  • Tip 1: Comparing prices: Many shops have weekly sales that you can check out on their flyers, including discounted items; look for these. 
  • Tip 2: Bulk buying: To no surprise, bulk buying is often cheaper than buying individual items. Where appropriate, buying in bulk can help save you a couple of dollars. This could be foods and drinks that you consume every day.
  • Tip 3: Generic vs. name brands: Did you know some generic brands are even better quality than name brands? In many stores, generic brands are much cheaper. There isn’t much difference between the two, as stated in this Dinner Daily article. 

Swapping for budget-friendly foods

If you look properly, you can find budget-friendly food items on store shelves without having to compromise your health or nutritional values. Here are a few of these food groups to consider and avoid, which have health benefits:

  • Food Group 1: Whole foods: These include beans, rice, and legumes, which are great for a healthy diet and are versatile and cost-effective.
  • Food Group 2: Protein alternatives: These include tofu, tempeh, eggs, and protein substitutes for meat.
  • Food Group 3: Processed foods: This is something to stay away from. Both processed and packaged foods aren’t always healthy; even though they may be cheap, they should be consumed with limitations. 

Review and adjust accordingly

Of course, nothing is set in stone, and people’s circumstances can change. Being flexible isn’t a bad thing; however, you should be doing a regular review of your food budget to make sure you stick to it.

  • Step 1: Review: Every week, look back at all your receipts and expenses. Check what worked and what did not work for you. Ask yourself if you’ve been disciplined or not. Check for any unexpected expenditures.
  • Step 2: Adjust: If this strategy doesn’t work for you or your family, try a different approach. Perhaps change your meal plan or purchase more fresh products and less packaged foods.
  • Step 3: Enjoy! Hopefully, all the above tips and advice will help you plan your weekly budget easier. Don’t get too hung up on it; do what works best for you, but always remember to save where you can.