How to Make a Monthly Food Budget

01 June 2019 by National Bank
monthly food budget

After housing, groceries rank second on our list of expenses. If going to the grocery store is a must, the trip can quickly become stressful, especially once you arrive at the checkout. How can you make a budget to save significantly more? Here are some tips to fill your grocery basket with savings.

Do a once-over around the store!

Have you ever heard of doing a quick walk around the perimeter of the grocery store, without going down the aisles? By doing this, you can usually find most of the products you need while avoiding the temptation of snacks and processed foods, which are often more expensive. Generally, circling the outside of the aisles will also help you eat healthier (fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, milk, cheeses).

Make a grocery list? Sure, but it’s okay to be flexible

It’s true: By making a detailed list of your purchases, you will avoid giving in to some of your impulses once you’re at the grocery store. Even better, it gives you a bit of room to grab sale items. Did you want to get asparagus, but beans are on sale? Put them in your basket. This approach will also help you diversify your meals.

Buy in bulk, but not every item

Buying non-perishable bulk items on sale is often a chance to save big, as long as they are products whose lower prices won’t actually make you spend more. For example, buying trash bags on sale does not change your consumption, but five bags of chips for the price of three? That’s another story... Also, don’t hesitate to freeze some of the bulk food items you buy. Bread, butter, herbs and many other groceries can last awhile once frozen and will defrost quickly when you’re ready to use them.

Get a points card and check online to save

If you tend to shop at the same store, a points card can help you save big, especially if you pay using a credit card that also earns points. Just be sure to pay your credit card balance in full.

Your savings will be significant, especially if you also use coupon apps, cashback and savings flyers. Check out these apps: Zweet, Caddle,, Flipp, Checkout 51 and Reebee. Websites that compare flyers, such as SOSCuisine and, are a great savings tool to consider as well.

Other ways to save on your food budget

  • Try not to throw out food. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Canadians waste around 40% of their food. In other words, that’s like losing $40 for every $100 you spend at the grocery store. Not to mention the environmental impact!
  • Making your own lunch is a great way to save. The proof? If over 20 years (at 48 weeks a year), instead of paying $15 every day at a restaurant or your office’s cafeteria, you spend $7 on a homemade lunch, you can save $8 a day. If, for instance, you have a TFSA with a conservative annual compounded return of 3%, you would save $13,500, net of taxes.
  • Small purchases often made in cash, such as your morning coffee on the way to work, can turn into significant amounts that impact your annual food budget. This amount could easily pay for your dream coffeemaker at home.
  • A monthly monitoring of your food purchases, combined with a sound budget plan and the use of tools such as calculator, can help you quickly identify where you can save.
  • Store-brand products, which have essentially the same quality, taste and quantity as similar popular brand-name items, generally help you save more than 10%.
  • Think like a student: Many students are able to use creative strategies so that they can combine the fun of cooking with limiting their expenses.
  • Go back to basics. Rice, couscous, chickpeas, yuca, tofu, eggs: these foods are the basis of many economical and healthy recipes—just add some unprocessed products for the perfect meal. It’s even better if they’re local and seasonal.

How much do people spend on groceries in Canada?

The Rapport canadien 2018 sur les prix alimentaires à la consommation estimates that, for a couple with two children, $12,000 is dedicated to the food budget, noting a significant increase in spending on eating out and ready-to-eat foods. This sector totals 30% of the food budget, a new record. If this trend continues, by 2035, half of this budget will go to eating out or ready-to-eat foods. This is certainly some food for thought about our habits and consumption strategies.

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