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.