I recently read a news article about the rising cost of food. The price increase you might already be seeing in the grocery store is due to rising commodity prices especially on items like corn, coffee, sugar and grain. It is interesting to see how so many things can affect the family budget, but since groceries are a necessity and one of the easier expenses to reduce, I wonder how the rising cost of food will affect families?
According to the USDA, a family of four who is thrifty will spend $587 a month on food (including snacks). This does not include toiletries, diapers, cleaning products, etc. The “liberal” plan family of four spends $1163 a month on food! That is a lot of money. I think people can spend significantly less and still eat healthy meals without spending hours in the kitchen.
I have noticed a few things go up in price over the past few weeks, especially butter and dairy, but I haven’t seen a huge jump in our grocery budget over the past few months.
There are a many things you can do to trim the grocery budget and still eat healthy meals. Cheap doesn’t have to mean unhealthy or processed.
1. Use Coupons
I have heard the argument that you can’t get “real” food coupons. I don’t believe it. I have used coupons for fresh fruit, milk, healthy snacks, whole grain crackers and more. It might take a bit more work like visiting the manufacturer’s website or emailing the company but these coupons do exist.
Using coupons to save on items like toiletries and paper products gives you more money to spend on produce.
2. Make More Meals from Scratch
You either have more time or more money. If you have more time than money start making more meals from scratch. Most of the time it is cheaper to make healthy homemade bread than buy healthy bread from the store. It is cheaper and healthier to make your own pizza, than to get delivery.
3. Shop Loss Leaders
Most grocery stores run great sales on various items each week. These sales are usually published in weekly flyers which can be viewed online. If you have time and live close to several grocery stores you’ll have significant savings just buying the lost leaders. This technique takes self discipline because it is tempting to run into the store to buy a 10 pound bag of potatoes for $2 and come out with 2 gallons of ice cream too.
4. Shop Alone
I realize that not everyone has the luxury of shopping alone, but I feel it is worth it to pay a babysitter so you can shop by yourself. When you are alone you can focus on coupons, sales, and finding unadvertised specials throughout the store. Save the trips with your kids when you don’t need to focus all your efforts on saving money.
5. Make a List and a Plan
I have never met anyone who has a reasonable grocery budget and shops without a list or a plan. You need a list to help you remember what to buy, what is on sale, and what has a coupon. You can make your own list or download a free one. You also need a plan. Many people plan their menu based on store sales or clearance items. This can really save you money if you have a plan for all that discounted food. Discounted food that rots in the fridge does not save you money!
Are you struggling with your grocery budget? When we got serious about getting out of debt the grocery budget was the first thing I started slashing. While we ate a lot of beans and rice in the beginning eventually I figured out how to make delicious healthy meals that didn’t cost my family a fortune.
It’s just the two of us and we spend over $200 a month on organic locally grown produce (with a “free” delivery to our door) Then we spend about $200 on stuff like papertowels, soap, laundry detergent, water, meat (every now and then), snack bars, and toiletries. Surely adds up!!
We are a family of 3(7 year old daughter).
I am trying to incorporate more organic things into our diets(meat, eggs, dairy forsure and some veggies). I will never go completely organic unless it becomes cheaper than conventionally grown food. This has made my grocery bill go up a little.
We spend about $450-500 a month. It all adds up quickly.
Shannon Walker says
We are a physically active family – cycling, jogging, swimming, weight training, etc. It’s a lifestyle choice, not a fad. Also, several members have special dietary needs – asthma, hypoglycemia, post-gall bladder disease dietary restrictions, etc… I’ve had to become pro-active, further educating myself, taking cooking classes, and partaking in a lot of research. I cook from scratch as much as possible, but I could improve on that. My best item – a fantastic 10-20 minute tomato-based sauce recipe that can be used for everything. The beauty of this recipe is that I can adjust it according to what I have in my pantry, and I can make it as complicated or as simple as I have time for. We are very blessed financially, and so I don’t pay as much attention as I should to how much we spend each month on groceries and toiletries, but I was a single parent for a long time so I still shop smart out of habit. Several years ago, I monitored our grocery budget and we were spending about 500.00 just on food items. I did an overhaul then and have been tweeking ever since. (Our largest expense is fresh produce.) One thing I don’t do is clip coupons; I used to be a dedicated coupon clipper. In recent years, I’ve found that it’s now a waste of time as there are never coupons for items we need or use, the coupon expires before I actually need the item, or the store brand is usually cheaper. I refuse to purchase an item we don’t need or use just because I have a “good” coupon. I buy some items in bulk, but generally shop for a two-week period. That way, I don’t tie too much money up into items gathering dust on a shelf, and this practice allows me to make adjustments to our budget or dietary needs immediately.
I enjoy your posts very much.
Our budget is $400 a month for a family of four. I usually end up spending more than that, though! It’s hard when you are trying to buy organic and then when you forget to use something and it goes bad- ugh! We really end up wasting a lot of money! I’m excited to see how you help people! I’d sign up myself, but I’m sure we don’t spend more than $600 a month for our family! At least, I don’t think we do…hehehe!
Oh wait! INCLUDING the money we spend on eating out!?! Wow- yeah, we spend a TON of money eating out! Maybe I will sign up!
I *fully* believe that we are going to see enormous jumps in food prices throughout 2011. Commodities are going through the roof at a swift pace. Our grocery bills will increase since the manufacturer’s can only absorb the price increase for so long.
Since the birth of my first child, I’ve maintained a well-stocked pantry through shopping coupons and sales and cooking from scratch. But this known increase in prices makes me even more diligent! I want to buy groceries at today’s prices, rather than tomorrow’s inflated prices.
And I totally agree on shopping alone! 😉 I don’t get to do it often, but it makes a world of difference!
We spend $400-$500 on grocery’s a month for 2 adults, toddler and baby including toiletries, we cloth diaper and breastfeed. We also have family over to eat at least 2 times a month, so then i am cooking for about 8. I would like it to be $300, however between my sons allergy to dairy, egg and peanut and me being on dairy, soy, egg, peanut, wheat free diet there is high cost alternative foods in there that add up. I think it could be $300 if i used more coupons and didnt have all the allergy’s to consider. Compared to the $1,000 number you gave though my family is cheap though haha
Another ideas – use your leftovers! Don’t let them languish in the fridge to be thrown out! Have leftovers for lunch, or even for supper the next night. Maybe serve your leftover stroganoff with rice instead of noodles, or serve a different veggie with it. I have gotten pretty good at using our leftovers by including them in our meal plan, and it helps not to have to cook every night!
I also do not use coupons. I’ve gotten out of the habit since we lived overseas, and now I find very little to use coupons for. I do check the store fliers, though, and try to base meals and shopping from the sales.
Are you in the habit of buying out of season fresh produce? That will increase your grocery bill! I realize we live in FL and that changes things, but there are most likely grapefruit, oranges and strawberries at your store up north in February!
Thank you for your informative site. I may have missed info on them elsewhere on here, but could you tell me your source for coupons for truly healthy foods (non-packaged)? I can find one occasionally but not often. Every now and then I see a ‘cents off on salad mix when you buy a salad dressing’ or something like that. Also, every now and then there might be a coupon for fresh meat when you buy Hamburger Helper or some other packaged dinner. TIA!
I buy in bulk, coupon, shop loss leaders, clip coupons, and when we are in large town try to stop at places such as Kroger and Walgreens to get items even cheaper. I would estimate that we spend $200-$250 a month on groceries for a family of 4 (with a 3 and 5 year old). We could basically totally from scratch. My husband would say that there is NOTHING quick in the house. Occassionally maybe I buy lunchmeat and of course there is jelly and peanut butter but everything else is made from scratch.
Lisa Stice says
When I see the USDA’s budgets for food I have to marvel at the amount of real food and organic food I could buy for that. I don’t think we could eat that much. Our family of 5 eats meat that I buy locally from a nearby rancher, eggs from other small farmers, and produce in season from local farms or farmers markets. I buy organic produce when available, yet we don’t manage to spend the amount a thrifty family spends. It makes me think – “what are they spending their money on ?”
I had a friend just share with me how much she receives for food stamps for her family, which is the same size as mine. It was 50% more than what I currently spend on groceries! And I feel my budget which includes diapers, cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc. is on the high side.
We are a family of 3 (son is 1 1/2). Right now, I have a $50 budget for our food. We only have one store that’s close to us, so my “secret” is to shop the ads. I plan meals around the food that is on sale, and stock up on items when I can. I also make all that I can at home- breads, yogurt, even butter when the cream is on sale. Sure, we don’t have steak very often, and we eat a couple meatless meals a week, but we certainly aren’t wanting for much.
We are a family of 3 (2 adults and a 3 year old) and I try to keep our food budget to about $40 a week. I generally shop at Aldi for our weekly needs and stock up during super double and triple coupons. When there are good sales I go ahead and stock up on meat and staples like rice and yogurt. I also try to only buy meat when it is on sale and cook a lot of snacks/desserts and meals from scratch.
One thing I noticed when evaluationg out food budget is that wasted food=wasted money. I starting buying smaller quantities of fruits and trying new ways to store fresh fruits and veggies to make it last longer. I also took a good look at the amount of meat I was cooking at each meal. Now whenever we buy roasts i cut it in half and make two smaller roasts because that ends up being just enough for the 3 of us at dinner with a little leftover which means all fo the food gets eaten and a week later I’m not tossing out meat and veggies. I’ve also started cutting back on the amount of meat we serve at meals and have increased the veggie content of our meals. I came to realize that we were eating much larger portions than necessary and more than what was healthy. We still don’t eat the healthiest we could but we are gradually improving.
I’m a singleton who is struggling to get my food budget under control. Too much eating out! I used to cook from scratch a lot, but for various reasons I got out of the habit a couple of years ago and it’s been challenging to get back to it. I buy food for the week, then end up grabbing take out instead because I’m tired or lazy or in a hurry. All things I’m working on.
I did have a question pertaining to your photo at the top of the post: how do you keep your apple slices fresh? I know lemon juice is supposed to do it, but whenever I try that I end up with really tart apples. Yuck. What’s your secret?
Those are some great tips. We spend about $300 a month on groceries for a family of 4 and I clean with rags and vinegar so we don’t spend much on the other household items. I’m changing our diet to lower carb and with that will probably end up paying more to get as much hormone free meat and dairy as we can afford.
Sprite will keep them fresh too, but you have to deal with the sugar.
We are a family of 8. Dad, Mom, 5 boys ages 10-3 and a little princess age 1. I cook alot more from scratch now than I ever have. I get to shop 80% at Aldi which is a blessing. There are some foods I just don’t buy there. I have a budget of $175 a week allowed to me but do my best to keep in about $125. I use alot of coupons when I have the right ones. I am learning the art of stockpilling which has helpped out alot this year. I was under budget $80 last month. Yeah!
I love the “use your leftovers”! We have recently decided to be “gazelle intense” and I have found that eating up a meal until it is really, truly GONE makes a huge difference in the grocery budget! I did get some pretty big sighs and groans when I announced that we were eating up the leftovers before I made more food but no one died of hunger 🙂
For leftovers that freeze well I put them in single serve containers and freeze for my husbands lunches. The hospital cafeteria is 7-10$ per meal and I can make a HEALTHY lunch using leftovers for MUCH less!
I agree with all of these, especially #4! I’ve had my husband shop with me lately and he always throws in something not on the list. haha
Lisa Stice says
Lisanne, I too clean with rags, and vinegar and I also changed my family over to whole grains. I have found that whole grain foods may cost more up front but not so in the long run. You find you will need less of the whole grain pastas, and brown rice to feel full, and because of this you will in the long run spend less.
I have used pineapple juice successfully 🙂
Christy @ Raising Knights says
I do all of the things you suggest also. We are a family of seven and our monthly grocery/household expenses are about $600+. We eat out more than we should though, so that is more money spent. We have five boys, tot to teen, and I cook real food from scratch. I buy some organic things regularly and others as we can afford them. Although organic costs more, I have found that when we gave up other less healthy things, like processed food & snacks, it helped to offset the cost. Not to mention, our family is healthier, so we have less money going to doctor copays. I search for coupons online and join newsletters for natural products we buy. Then there is the local food co-op and farmers’ market in season. I’d like to organize a road trip to the nearest Whole Foods (2.5 hrs away) with our local natural moms group.
We are a family of 10. In the past I have not had to worry too much for going over budget on groceries. However my husband has taken a 20% cut in pay and he spent most of 2009 unemployed. We cashed out our retirement fund to survive on and now even that cusion has dwindled.
I have not been much of a cupon shopper in the past. I did not feel we needed to eat all the processed foods. I did a few things that seemed to help like use meat sparingly. Use it as a conidement intstead of a main course. ( EX. I always add beans to my taco meat and sometimes use spanish rice as a taco filler) Because I cut our meat consumption I could afford more healthy fruits and vegetables. My goal is always to serve some raw fruit or veggie at every meal. oh and we cut our dairy consumption way down too. So we could do the fruits and veggies and whole grains and nuts.
Now with reality sinking in and A stepson of mine on a mission for our church I have about 500. at most until June when child support is stopped. Now I am very open to any ideas to keep feeding my family healthy foods and stay within budget. This also inculdes my diapers, household cleaners, and personal care items.
We plan to plant a garden and I can not wait until summer and the Farmers Markets come back. You bet I will be freezing, canning and dehydrating.
Lisa Gell says
Budget????? I have heard of those…humph. I should really start doing this. I am a homeschooling mother of 6, but only 4 still live at home. I do use coupons and cook from scratch 99% of the time. I really could use your gudance in this area.
We are a family of two right now, but had our son living with us for awhile. We spend about 400 a month. I shop Aldi’s and Price Rite, and some things at Walmart and BJ’s. I have been trying to use coupons recently.
We have our own chickens so we have eggs all the time, and also sell the excess. We have a huge garden to I can and freeze all of our vegies, and I think we are expanding the garden again this year. I will be getting a new batch of chicks this spring also, since our hens are about done laying. We just need more land so we can raise more animals for the freezer, etc.
I am always open to any way I can save more money. I also make my own laundry soap. Any help would be great in cutting our grocery bill.
Gina S. says
My best friend receives food stamps also. She is married and has a 4 year old son. They get 3x the amount of money that I spend on my family of 5 adults (I care for my parents and my grandmother). I was shocked when she told me. Somehow she spends all her money WEEKS before she gets more. I was bragging about my free $6 bacon the other day that I got at Vons with coupons, and she said she just bought $11 bacon and gave it to the dog. I wanted to slap her. lol.
Love this thread. Food inflation is a real issue here in the UK.
We try to cook from scratch. We have a garden and notice that our food bills are lower in the summer. We have just planted more currants and berries and hope to grow our usual tomatoes and veg. We love pesto and growing our own basil is easy and a good saver.
More vegetarian meals and bulking meat out with pulses and plenty of vegetable helps.
Coupons tend not to be particularly useful here but the cheaper supermarkets are often substantially more economical.
How do you use the Sprite? It doesn’t look like you have any in the bag with the apples, so what do you do?
I always thought I was a frugal food consumer until I moved to northern BC. We take our food for granted in southern Canada. There are many foods I can’t even get here let alone afford! No more organic for us and we no longer can afford to eat out. That’s fine the restaurants are terrible here anyway! When the road is clear I drive two hours each way to grocery shop in a town with a whole sale store. We spend $1300 a month if I shop in my city and about $800 if I can go to the next Town. Unbelievable!
I created a free calculator that will calculate your monthly spend based on the USDA averages (without requiring the PDF lookups and complicated adjustments based on how many family members). It’s accurate and up to date with the most recent annual average posted (currently 2011).
It’s at http://sohelpmetodd.com/blog/food-costs/ if you want to check it out.