Groceries are one budget item that people both rich and poor need to purchase. Groceries are a necessity, but how much you spend on groceries depends on your budget, eating habits, and family size. When we were paying off our debt, groceries were one of the categories we could significantly cut for a short period of time. After our debt was paid off, I raised our budget and it has stayed the same for the past two years.
According to the USDA a family of our size, eating on the thrifty plan, spends about $1000 a month on groceries. Our family grocery budget is around $600 a month. This includes feeding one husband, and kids ages 14, 12, 9, 7, 5, and 3. The grocery budget includes all toiletries, paper products, cleaning products and diapers. We eat out as a family about once a month, and all other meals are prepared at home.
I think there is a tendency to look at what others spend on groceries and then compare yourselves to those families. Every family is different. I know there are some families who eat meat for dinner every night. This family will spend more per month than a family who eats several meatless meals a month. Some families have access to several stores and have more opportunity to coupon match than those who live an hour a way from the nearest store. Families with teens will spend more than families with toddlers.
Most of the $600 goes to actual food items. I use CVS, coupons, and deals to get most of our toiletries for free or next to free. We have cut way back on our paper products, and use cloth napkins and rags more frequently. Cora wears cloth diapers but I have another child in disposable diapers and two in pull-ups at night. I try to use my ECB’s to purchase diapers at a discounted price.
As for meals, you can see my menu every Monday. I shop almost exclusively at the military commissary. It is the closest store to my home and the prices are very low. I also shop at Costco once a month and purchase a few staple items, organic salad mix, shredded cheese and frozen fruit. To help stretch the budget we usually eat one or two meatless meals a week. I try to plan my meals around commissary sales, and I also stockpile when I find a great sale. I make most of our meals from scratch which is healthier and cheaper.
Another great way to save money is to eat your leftovers! Throwing away food that has gone bad, is like throwing money in the garbage. The other night we had some leftover hamburgers, but we didn’t really want to eat any more hamburgers. My husband ended up taking some tortilla chips and topped them with crumbled hamburgers, salsa, and shredded cheese. He heated them in the oven for a few minutes and we had Nachos Supreme for dinner. It was delicious and was made entirely from leftovers.
Menu planning is probably the best way to save money on groceries. Using store sales and coupons I plan my menu each week. I then create my shopping list from my menu plan. When I shop I stick to the list. I don’t make a lot of impulse purchases, and because I shop for an entire week of meals I don’t make many extra trips to the store. I even build a leftover night into my menu plan to help get rid of the extra food and clean out the fridge to prepare for the next shopping trip.
note: Before bed rest and Cora’s birth I was using a 30 Day meal plan. This worked well and once Cora is a bit older I will go back to my 30 Day plan.
Finally, I try to prepare simple, healthy meals for my family. While I love to cook, with several small children my kitchen time is limited. These meals are usually the least expensive, yet family favorites that are requested week after week by my children. The cookbook Cheap. Fast. Good! is a great resource for frugal meals. I have taken many of the recipes in this book and modified them slightly to make them healthier, but still keep the costs low.
Remember it is easy to get caught up in the game of one-upmanship when it comes to grocery spending. Look at your family’s budget and decide what percentage you can spend on food every month. Please do not sacrifice the health of your family for a few dollars. Healthy eating can be inexpensive, if you cook from scratch. Just because you can get things for free or nearly free doesn’t mean that is the best food option for your family.
Below you will find a few of the posts I have written about keeping food costs down.
Jen@Balancing Beauty and Bedlam says
Excellent article, Toni – you have hit on every single possible issue. 🙂
This was a great post. I really appreciate you being so transparent with your budget. Many people guard the details of their budgets while writing about how much they save, this makes it more difficult to learn from them. However, you put it all out there and are a huge inspiration to those of us still working on gleaning information and remolding our budgets. Thanks!
Jaime (from CVS) says
I loved this post Toni! I ABSOLUTELY agree with this statement:
“Just because you can get things for free or nearly free doesn’t mean that is the best food option for your family.”
Yes, I can get free/next-to-free junky cereal, fruit drinks (without actual fruit in them!), cookies, candy and a WHOLE lot of mayonaise and cake frosting…but will I feed any of that to my toddler? No. I learned the hard way that unless I will go straight from the commissary to the library where they have a food donation box, I need to bypass the free food that will not/should not be eaten by any of us. I even sometimes feel guilty about donating food like that, but I suppose some food is better than no food? At least thats what I tell myself.
Very well written! Boy if I followed the USDA thrifty plan, we’d be broke! We are trying to reduce our family of 5 budget from $125 to $100 and this is so timely and encouraging.
Lucy Marie says
Excellent post! My husband and I don’t have any children yet, so our budget is much lower but I am blessed to have come across many older (and much wiser) women through blogging that I have been able to learn all of these things about menu planning, listing making, couponing, sale shopping, etc. now so that I can make wise decisions for my family’s future. Thanks!
I LOVE CLOTH DIAPERS! We saved sooo much money using them, and helped with the environment as well. Our budget that we have been using is 250 for a month. For our family of 4 this is very difficult. I really need to cut out cable 🙁 But I realllllly love discovery channel!! I am addicted to it! I have to find a way to save money since I am unemployed and hubbys job…well just doesn’t cover everything..
$125 per month or per week?
What a great post!
I used to never shop at CVS or any of the local drug stores because they always seemed so expensive. Now I’m in there all the time buying our health and beauty items for almost free or free. I am guilty of feeding my family the free cereal and such (like pop-tarts “smile”).
Do your children ask you for food and drink all. day. long.? My husband keeps telling me that I need to have designated snack times and they are not to ask for food.
Have you ever tried spending $1000 for one month?
I would never be able to manage it.
I guess our “budget” (that is laughable if you know me) is somewhere along the lines of about half that for me and Kevin and our 14 yo, 12 yo, 9 yo and 4 yo, and sometimes our neighbors. And maybe that is stretching it.
Of course we do have a lot of stuff for basically free since we have my mom’s chickens and eggs. Also when we raise a hog, grain is cheaper than people food, and garbage is free, so our meat is way cheaper than other people’s. 😉 lol
I am hoping to have milk for free soon too. It will only be goat milk, but hey, it is a start 🙂 I want a cow someday too!
I know we are not normal though, we are kinda lucky like this.
i try to do menu planning but when it comes time for sports seasons…soccor,basketball for 5 kids all at diferent levels things tend to stray a bit…and then there is the hubby….who is very picky…but if he does not eat it he can make his own….
our budget is probably alittle high…i can not get lower than 200 a week…we have our family of 5 (kids ages 10,11,16) and my brother in law with his twins (14). can not wait untill garden is ready to harvest and 3 move to their own place….then we will be back on track…
When we lived in GTMO I spent around $1000 a month. Milk was almost $6 a gallon, everything was very expensive, plus no CVS! When I drastically cut our budget while living there I could only get it to about $750.
Kathryn Lang says
Great ideas – and remember the crock pot. Cooking it in can be very handy when the schedule is crowded.
Also, I try to double up when I’m cooking ground beef, chicken or other similar items and then I freeze the cooked meat. It makes for quick and easy meals in a pinch (and is usually quicker than going to a fast food restaurant).
Enjoyed this post! We also try to eat healthy yet keep costs down. I love summertime because it’s much easier to find fresh local produce at a good price. I am trying to buy fewer and fewer processed foods and even made my own homemade pizza dough for the first time this week. Since I’m pretty new to working with yeast, I was quite proud of how it turned out 🙂
GREAT post, Toni! I really appreciated this, since groceries are one of the few categories in our budget that is discretionary (most others are fixed). Any way I can save is helpful. Sometimes I think I am overspending but according to the USDA, I am “thrifty.” That is affirming! 🙂
I meant from $125 to $100 per week!
sigh, thanks for not tellin me I have to do it the same as you!!! We budget 700.00 a month for food and those things you need to buy at the commissary. We are overseas so that counts for an increase and also we eat out once a week but it is a part of our budget!!!! Oh yeah we are a family of 5 😉 Also wanted to suggest two books I cook from all the time: Don’t Panic Dinner is in the freezer, love this book!!!!!!!! and What’s for dinner mom by Lori Flem. Lots of ways to make homemade spices and sauces and oodles of recipes made from scratch!!!!!!
We are a family of 6 and average $100-$125 per week. I use a TON of coupons and save a good amount of money but there’s no way I’m going to feed my family for any less. I sometimes wonder how people are spending significantly less without starving themselves?
Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting says
Toni, this makes me feel so much better. I mean, I guess I hadn’t considered you have a ton of stores around you with which to shop from, get coupons, hit sales, etc. WHen you have that capability, you can most certainly keep your costs low. We have a commissary, a Walmart, and a Walgreens. THAT’S IT. We have done all that we can to reduce our grocery bill, but with our family of 8 we can’t go down past $150 at the lowest a week, based on what we buy. We stock up when we can, we’re now using whole chickens in the crockpot crumbled instead of chicken breasts, etc. We eat meatless meals twice if not more a week but otherwise with our limited resources that’s all we can do.
I hadn’t considered you use CVS bucks and such to get things for free, or places like Costco (which we don’t have) to stock up to keep your bill down. I was seriously losing my mind trying to figure out how you do/did it.
Thank you so much for putting my mind at ease. Next duty station I will definitely use these tips and tricks to keep our costs way lower, once we have more stores from which to shop from 🙂
i agree not having store readily around you can be a challenge for alot of us….heck i do not have a commisasry at all…i have price chopper, biglots, kenny drugs….that is it…i did find a commissary about 130 miles away from us and we are thinking of planning a trip to buy meat and non perishables to stock up on…if we did this even every other month i think it would save us alot…plus we can make a day trip out of it…think the beach is right beside it…
I to use coupons and sales and left overs any way i can…lucky i can have a big garden in summer and stock the freezer or can to try to get us thru the winter…i think this helps…once we are down to just the 5 of us(heard in about a month) i can go back to about 100 a week instead of 200…yea!!!!!!
i could ramble on and on…love i found this site to talk with all of you…i also n oticed most of you have blogs of your own how do you start one…think it would be fun…
I *do* live in a lower cost of living area too. I always forget other people may have to buy milk for $6 a gallon!! (WHEW! That is unbelievable, I think I would buy powdered!! :-p)
You mentioned your budget for groceries is $600 a month. How do you find it easiest to divide this up? Do you do $150 a week? Do you stock up at the beginning of the month on certain things like toilet paper and cleaning supplies or do you just buy these when you notice you are about to run out?
I hope I am not being too nosey. I have just noticed my family’s grocery budget is just so out of control and I am looking for ideas (which you have tons…thanks!! : )
I do a weekly shopping and try my best to spend 150 a week…sometimes i go over about 20 or so…i use biglots for alot of my snacks if i do not have coupons for price chopper. I go off of the sale flyer and try to plan coupons according to the flyer. I also plan meals with what is on sale like most everyoen else does…i do try to make alot myself which helps. sometimes i even stretch my food to cover more than one week if possible by creating inventive meals…i dont usually use many recipes I create them myself so we rarely have the same thing twice…wish i would write them down.I feel it is easier to do a weekly budget shopping than try to do a big one…then you can even save at teh end if you can…
What are ECB’s?
I love how you hit on the leftovers issue–I often cook extra for suppers and we eat the leftovers for lunches, then the ‘bits and pieces’ as a big potluck-style supper about once a week. I have so many friends who don’t eat leftovers. I just can’t FATHOM throwing away food! lol All my kids know that it simply isn’t allowed here–we can’t afford to.
I just wanted to tell you that when I read this post earlier and saw that you liked the cookbook “Cheap. Fast. Good!” I immediately clicked on it and bought it. I got it brand new for $5.48 including shipping. It just arrived today!
Chili Pepper says
Hope recommended this post and I finally got a minute to pop over and check it out. I have 7 children and even though I buy in bulk and cook almost all from scratch (bread included) belong to a coop etc…I am still spending so much, about $1600 a month on food, household products, paper goods and clothing, diapers etc… We eat almost completely vegetarian, buy generic when possible, eat only whole foods and organics whenever possible. The cost of groceries has increased so tremendously in the last two years that our expenditure has more than doubled and I find myself borrowing from my husband to make it to the end of the month. We do use our leftovers…but they usually serve as a buffet for lunch one or two days a week.
OMG thank you for this article. I have been often disheartened with my husbands critique of my grocery spending. I love that you mention that meaty diets DO affect the bill. My husband is a gotta-have-meat at every dinner and all weekend meals and when I make veggie meals he often cooks additional meat.