Every family needs a grocery budget that fits their income, lifestyle, and dietary needs, but how do you decide what a good grocery budget is for your family, and how do you stick to it, week after week? Learn how to decide what a reasonable grocery budget is for your family and tips for staying under budget, even when feeding a large family.
The family grocery budget wasn’t really a conversation I ever had with my parents growing up. I remember cutting coupons with my mom and her envelope that she brought to the store. I remember treating grocery shopping like a treasure hunt for the items on the coupons. But the actual numbers? Those were never talked about.
Now that I’m a mom, my kids probably think I spend too much time talking about our grocery budget! I want them to understand that the food we costs money and that in order for our overall budget to work and allow me to stay at home with them, we need to pay attention to what we spend as a family on our groceries. I want them to leave our home knowing how to plan meals, make a grocery list, and budget appropriately.
But how do we get to the point of creating not only a meal plan and grocery list, but also a reasonable family grocery budget?
Before we can get into ideas of lowering the grocery budget or making the budget we have work better for us, we need to first look at grocery spending in general for the United States.
How much do families spend on groceries?
According to this 2012 Gallup poll, the average amount spent on groceries per week is $151 – but one in ten people say they spend more than $300. PER WEEK. That is absolutely mind blowing to me. I can’t even fathom spending that much on food. I don’t know where we would put it all let alone eat it before it went bad. I guess that is a big hint into the types of food we buy 😁
How much should a family spend on groceries?
The USDA releases a report every month with food costs along with how much a person should expect on food, including options for thrifty, low-cost, moderate, and liberal budgets. I don’t understand where these officials are shopping but it’s clearly not at Aldi 😉 According to the chart, our family should be spending around $1000 per month to feed our family of seven. Um, no?
There really isn’t a tried and true method because what works for our family, might be impossible for yours. If you need to eat a specific diet, are dealing with allergies or sensitivities, or have teenagers, the numbers can be vastly different. The area you live in can also change how much you spend. I can buy milk up the street at Walmart for over $3 per gallon or I can drive 15 minutes away to a different city, and spend less than $2 per gallon.
What should my grocery budget be?
While experts will try and tell you what you should be spending on your family based on the number of people and recommended dietary needs, I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to give specific numbers for general situations.
One family of 5 might need $400 per month where another could get by with only $250. The key is finding a budget that works for your family.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when determining your own family grocery budget:
- What you are currently spending?
- If you are currently at $700 per month trying to drop down to $400 per month automatically is going to be an epic failure. Go little by little instead of slashing it in half.
- What is currently in stock at your home?
- Do you have a large amount in your pantry or freezer right now? If you have a large stash of food and household goods stocked up then take a break and stop buying more while you use up what you have.
- How much food do you typically eat vs. waste?
- Are you throwing away produce, dairy products, and other items that you buy each week because you forget to use them? Start meal planning so you can only buy what you will actually use up between grocery trips.
- Is the number you are spending reasonable for your overall budget?
- Dave Ramsey recommends spending 10-15% of your income on food, including eating out. That means if you are living on $40,000, you should only be spending $4000 per year on groceries, or a little over $300 per month.
- Is this a hard and fast rule? It doesn’t need to be. But take a look at all your budget categories and make sure you are only spending a reasonable amount compared to your income and other budget needs.
- How many meals are eaten at home vs. away?
- If everyone is not eating at home for every meal, you might not need as much food. However, if they are packing lunches like our kids do for school, or purchasing lunch while at work, you need to factor those items in to your food budget.
We set our grocery budget by giving ourselves $10/person/week and adjusting if needed. When we were a family of five we had a $50/week budget. It was tight sometimes, but it really taught me how to stretch meals and make the most of the ingredients we had. As our third child started eating more solid food and our big boys were wanting extra servings, we bumped the budget to $60 with the stipulation that the extra $10 needed to go strictly towards produce. We didn’t want to be frivolous with the money we had.
With seven people, including five kids ages four to ten ,we started at $70, moved to $80, but eventually jumped to $100. We make sure a set amount is for produce because it’s a go to snack item. There are weeks I try and stay under, but it’s rare for us to go over. But just because this number works for us, doesn’t mean it will for you.
How can I reduce my grocery budget?
If you know your grocery budget is on the high side and want to work on bringing it down, there are lots of ways you can make this happen. I don’t suggest trying everything all at once because you will definitely feel frazzled and burn out quickly. Choose one that will be the easiest to implement in your life and go from there.
- Meal Plan
You’ve probably heard it before but meal planning is a life saver in so many ways. When you know what is for dinner (or breakfast or lunch) you only buy what is needed, you aren’t standing at the fridge wondering what you can pull together in a few minutes, and you can be a good steward of the resources you have.
I’ve got a detailed post here about the benefits of meal planning and this is an excellent resource for meal planning. I’ve started using the recipes and meal plans in it and have enjoyed everything I’ve tried so far.
- Cook from Scratch
If you work this can seem like way more effort than you want to put in, but even making just a few items from scratch can really stretch your budget. There are lots of pantry staples that can be made quickly and stuck in the freezer for later. These cost pennies compared to the canned items at the store. I have several items that I always cook from scratch, but there are a still a few that I skip and buy instead. It’s okay to do both!
- Ditch Individual Snacks
Buying pre-packaged individual snacks might seem like a great idea for school lunches or grab and go treats, but they cost at least double the bulk counterparts! Buy the giant container of Goldfish or pretzels and use snack bags for packing them in lunches. We’ve started popping our own popcorn for snacks with an air popper because it is so cheap and significantly healthier than microwave popcorn.
- Cut Beverages
We only drink water (and coffee and tea). I grew up in a family that went through a gallon of milk in a day or two but in our house, a glass of milk is a treat and usually only happens when I overbuy (rare) or at a restaurant. We get our calcium from yogurt, cheese, and sour cream. Only drinking water means we are hydrating our bodies appropriately and we aren’t spending money on empty calories.
- Watch Sales
Every Sunday and Wednesday I open up the Flipp app and check out the weekly grocery ads. I like using Flipp vs individual store websites or apps because they are all in one spot. I can tap the items to circle the sales I am interested in and come back when I’m ready to make my grocery list.
Bonus tip: Focus on the first page of each grocery ad. These are called “loss leaders” and typically the best of the best deals. They often lose the store money but they get you in the door so you will spend money on other items that make the store money. I have often hit multiple stores just to grab the items on the front page!
- Cut Back on Meat
Meat does not need to be the focus of the meal, despite what has been ingrained in our heads. It’s incredibly rare for our family to have a grilled chicken breast, a pork chop, or other solo meat item. Instead we make meals where the meat is mixed in or a simple addition to the rest of the meal. Try meals like burrito bowls where a pound of ground beef can be stretched because you can serve it along side rice, beans, cheese, and sauteed veggies. Soups and casseroles also offer the ability to use less meat per person.
You could also designate one or two meals per week as “meatless” and find meals that aren’t dependent on meat at all. Potato cheese soup, refried bean enchiladas, and mushroom stroganoff are common meatless meals in our house.
- Eat Leftovers
Ask any of our kids what we have for dinner on Thursday and they know – it’s leftover night! Not only do we all eat leftovers for dinner one night per week, Micah also takes leftovers for lunch each day at work and I typically eat leftovers for at lunch as well. I hate throwing away food so a leftover night helps us use what’s in the fridge before it gets buried on the next shopping day. While some foods aren’t great for leftovers (I’m looking at you, pasta dishes) other foods are even better as leftovers, such as soups and chili that have time to build more flavor.
- Pantry/Freezer Challenge
Take a look at your pantry and freezer – is there food in them? We are such a privileged nation that forgets how easy we really have it. Even in our leanest years most of us have a stock of food on hand that can be pulled together to make something. It might not be the most amazing meal ever, but it’s enough to keep us going.
Go through everything you currently have on hand and make a meal plan based solely on those items. How long can you go before hitting up the store again? If you don’t want to completely obliterate your stash make it a point to plan several meals each week using only ingredients you already have to decrease the amount you are buying at the store.
- Buy Store Brands
There are very few items for which we are brand loyal. For most items we are perfectly content to hop from brand to brand in order to get the best deal. And this definitely includes the store brand! There are even certain groceries that we prefer the store brand item over a name brand version.
Is every store brand item going to be a win for your family? Probably not. But try a few and see. If you could replace half of your groceries and household items with store brand labels you will see a significant drop in your grocery budget! Save the name brands for when a really good sale comes along.
- Split Bulk Purchases with Friends
Back when Zaycon Fresh was still a thing, a friend and I would split a case of 40 pounds of chicken breasts. This allowed our families to get quality meat at a really low price but not blow our entire grocery budget. Sam’s Club and Costco sell quality meat at bulk prices. I know at Sam’s Club you can save even more when you purchase meat “by the case” which is usually 10 packages of meat. It isn’t as cheap as Zaycon was, but now that they are gone we need to find other alternatives!
Typically bulk costs less per ounce and as long as the food or product is going to get used before it goes bad, it should be a good deal for your family. Don’t go purchasing a 50lb bag of potatoes to split if you can barely use 2lbs in a week! Yes, there are ways to use up that much, but even splitting with a friend or two it might be too much for your family.
How do you stick to a grocery budget?
- Make a List
We use Evernote for creating our grocery list because we can share notes between each other and it syncs with multiple devices. I have a notebook in Evernote only for grocery shopping and each note is titled with the date of the shopping trip. I list out what we need at each individual store so we make sure we are getting the right items at the right places.
- Write Prices Beside Items
I can’t simply write “sliced cheese” on my list on Tuesday and expect my mom brain to remember how many packs and how much money I want to spend on cheese on Friday. Instead I’ll write the cost next to the item so I know I have $5 to spend on sliced cheese, no matter how many packages that allows me to get.
This is also really important when it comes to produce because produce sold by weight makes going over a grocery budget incredibly easy. An extra apple or orange and I’m over. If I know I have $8 to spend on apples I can make sure I’m only purchasing that amount.
- Round Up to Next Dollar
If you need to squeeze every single penny out of your grocery budget this tip might not be helpful, but if you are just getting started or need to reign the budget back in I highly recommend this method. I still use it because it doesn’t fail us. If you do need every penny of your budget, skip down to the next item.
When I list prices, I don’t list the exact amount, but instead I round everything UP to the next dollar. Even if a can of olives costs $1.19 I round it to $2. This gives some wiggle room if a price is higher than I expected, or to cover any produce related weight overages. And should something come up where I’ve forgotten to add an item to our list we usually have enough overage to cover it.
- Use Cash
If you don’t have money on you, you can’t spend it. Bring only the cash you have for your grocery budget into the store and that is your limit. You can’t fudge the budget by an extra dollar or two if you physically don’t have an extra dollar or two. This can be super frustrating if you are used to swiping a card and being on your way with that extra item but cash will force you to slow down and make purposeful decisions with your purchases.
- Make It a Game
How much can you save this week? How much under your budget, while still getting enough quality food for your family, can you be? I love comparing our receipts to my rounded total to see where we land. There are weeks when I’ve budgeted right about $95+ and come in under $90. All that roll over can be put towards the following week, the next month, put into savings, or put in a “food splurge” fund for times like birthday parties, holidays, or bulk purchases.
How do you eat healthy on a tight budget?
I’ve got a more comprehensive post on this right here but these are the easiest ways.
- Choose In Season Produce
Skip the berries in the winter and oranges in the summer. The price per pound depending on the season is going to change significantly! My husband adores watermelon and we probably go through 2-3 per week during the summer, but once September hits we are pretty much done buying them until June or when the price comes back down. And out of season produce is never as flavorful as in season. If you really want an out of season item, try the frozen version. We enjoy frozen berries added to yogurt for an easy snack.
- Stick to Basic Produce
While asparagus is delicious and Jazz apples are amazing, they also cost more than other options. Go for basic produce items like carrots, broccoli, bananas, and green peppers. We eat at least a 5lb bag of carrots each week because they are great for crunchy snacks and a much better side dish than fries.
- Cook from scratch
Even if you are making a batch of muffins or sandwich bread, you are still likely going to be paying less than buying them pre-made at the store. When you cook from scratch you control exactly what goes in your food and you can avoid additives and fillers. Learn how to cook dried beans instead of buying cans, make your own pantry staples, and ditch the box mixes.
This will not be our budget forever
We don’t stick to a $100/week grocery budget for our family of seven because we want to show off or act like martyrs. It’s a number that we have found works for us in our current season with our current needs. Will it ever change? Absolutely! We are raising five kids, all who already eat a crazy amount of food. I know that as they hit the teen years I will be working on expanding our grocery budget but also being even more crafty in the kitchen to make sure we are being wise with our funds.
One of the ways I’m staying ahead of the budgeting game is by seeking out the resources and knowledge now, so I’m not scrambling later. I’m reading parenting books on teens even though our oldest is only 10. I’m also on the hunt for books and resources that can help us budget better and that’s why I’m excited about the Master Your Money Super Bundle.
The Master Your Money Super Bundle contains 12 eBooks, 12 eCourses, 11 videos & 9 workbooks/printables worth over $1200. These cover everything from setting up a budget, paying off debt, increasing your income, and planning for retirement. There are even great resources that offer help for grocery budgets! These five items would normally cost $147 but you can get them as part of the bundle, along with all the other resources, for only $37. And I didn’t even include any of the printable budget worksheets that can help get your whole budget, including groceries, figured out!
Once you buy you have six months to download all the products and then they are yours for life! You can come back to them years from now to keep learning and improving your family’s financial health. What a deal! But, this bundle will only be available at this price for a short period of time. Grab yours now before the sale is over.
There are also three bonus items available to everyone that purchases the bundle before the sale ends on 4/1/19.
- FREE 2-month membership to Wallet Win Academy – Worth $54
- FREE 3-month membership to Focuster – Worth $44.97
- FREE 3-month membership to HomeBinder – Worth $8.97
These three bonus items bring the total value of the Master Your Money Super Bundle up to $1319.61 – all yours for just $37. Remember, this sale is over on Monday, April 1st – and that’s not an April Fool’s joke 😉
What’s your best tip for sticking to your grocery budget? What is your biggest struggle for sticking to your grocery budget? Share your answers in the comments below!
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