My employers have used a per diem system for reimbursement for meals for travel. I decided to use that system at home.
I started with a system of $8 per day, when we had two teenage daughters at home. That would be above the low and below the moderate USDA food plan. We allotted $1 for breakfast, $2 for lunch, and $5 for dinner. When people traveled or were out with friends, they would get the per diem, and make up the difference out of their personal money. When we went out to eat as a family, we would use our per diem food budget and take the difference out of entertainment. We also used it when we went on vacation, and made up the difference out of entertainment or vacation money.
We raised our per diem budget to $10 a day, which is above the moderate and below the liberal USDA food plan. We made it $2 for breakfast, $3 for lunch, and $5 for dinner. We found that a bit easier to live with for eating at home.
My wife and I currently use a per diem budget of $2 for breakfast, $2 for lunch, $3 for dinner, and $2 for alcohol. This below the moderate, but above the low USDA food plan.
Advantages of a Per Diem Food Budget
- It makes you aware of how much more it costs to eat out than eating at home.
- If you normally pay for eating out with your own money, it can be used to reduce your part of the costs.
- It prepares you for kids being home for summer or college vacations. We are currently saving for food for our daughter being home next summer.
- It can be used to supplement your kids income if they have a job that pays for their food. We gave our daughter her per diem food costs to save for college while she was working at a summer camp that provided her meals.
- It helps to know how much to decrease your food budget as kids go off to college or become independent.
- It can be used to supplement money for vacations with money you would have spent anyway on food.
- It makes your food budget match the length of the month, freeing up money in the budget for other things in shorter months.
- It can be used to know what to charge your boomerang children for living at home. Your additional housing cost is low, but your additional food cost is easy to calculate.
- It makes it easy to create a weekly, versus a monthly food budget. Weekly food budgets get much more control over your food spending.