Saving Money

How Much Should You Spend On Groceries?

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how much should you spend on groceries

Anytime people start building a budget, they have to evaluate how much they are spending on this or that.  The most common question I see around forums and social media is people asking how much should you spend on groceries?

The simple answer is, how much does it take to feed your family?  Every single family is different and almost everyone eats a different diet.  So the better question is “How much food do I need to feed my family?”  You find the answer to that question each day based on what goes into your families mouths verses the trash can.

My husband and I have been sitting down and completing a bi-monthly  budget for about 1 year now.  Before that we did the envelope system for a year. Over time we have realized that we needed to add money to our grocery budget because I wasn’t able to buy groceries for us based on what we were budgeting.  The only way we figured this out was because we were sitting down twice a month and doing a real budget. Based on my experiences and what works for us, I’m here to help you figure how much your family should spend and ways to ultimately spend less.

Step 1- Add up how much money you spent on groceries last month.

Step 2- Think about any and all food you had to throw away due to spoilage.

Step 3- Put the amount that you spent on groceries last month in your grocery budget this month. (Need help with starting a simple budget?  Check out my post Budgeting 101.) Boss Your Money Around Step 4- Pick a day of the week to plan a weekly menu.  I created a free color weekly menu planner that you can print here.  Here is my free printer friendly printable menu planner if you’d like to use it (you can also click on either of pictures below).  You can plan your meals & shopping lists from cook books or even Pinterest!  Consider sitting down with your grocery store weekly add as you seek out recipes for the week.  Then you can plan the recipes around meats and produce that are sale. One is colorful and fun while the other is minimal for ink preservation purposes.

Don’t forget awesome subscription meal planning services like Emeals.  For less than a latte a month Emeals will do all the meal planning for you based on your personal dietary needs.  Then you don’t even think about dinner.

Full Color Printable Weekly Menu PlannerMeal Planning chartStep 5- Add to your list all the items your family eats for breakfast, lunch and snacks.

Step 6- With your list in hand, go through your grocery stores website and see if any of the foods on your list match any coupons you can print or add to your customer value card.  Then head over to a website like coupons.com and look around for any coupons for things already on your list.  PLEASE NOTE I SAID THINGS ALREADY ON YOUR LIST.  Don’t be tempted to add something to your shopping list just because there is a coupon . You’ll end up spending extra money on stuff you don’t really need.

Step 7- Shop this way for one month.  This will be your “test” month.

Step 8- Add up how much you spent on groceries for that “test” month when it is over.

Step 9- Evaluate how much was eaten, how much is left and anything you had to throw away.

Step 10- Consider planning meals for the next week with any un-used, non-perishable ingredients from the month before (sometimes dinner plans change and you end up not using all your planned meal materials).

Step 11- Tweak your budget based on whether you had plenty of money left over, stayed on budget or spent more than you budgeted.

Tweaking Your Budget Based On Results

If you spent more than budgeted to make food happen for your family all month, you need to raise your budget to match that amount.  If you are following a budget where you divide your expected income up over the course of a month on day 1 of budgeting you will need to find the extra money for groceries from somewhere.  Meaning you may need to reduce the amount of money in another category or multiple categories to get your grocery budget up to a comfortable number. (Example: reduce your “allowance” categories, eat out and entertainment category or vacation category.)  Let go of the idea that going over makes you a bad budgeter.  You need room to learn what you need and where you need to make cuts.  It’s a process.

If you spend the same- Look at you! You stayed on budget!  Give yourself a pat on the back and see if you can find creative ways to get what you need and spend even less next month!

If you spent less- If you spent less based on your list making and waste evaluation then you can budget less for the next month for groceries.  Set the amount you spent this month as next months budget and see what happens. If you find it stressful and impossible to keep that amount from month to month and you know you need more, add more money to your grocery budget.

Some people see budgets as walls confining their financial life.  In reality budgets allow you to road map your future.  They are a path toward your life goals.

When you know what you are spending, you simply tweak areas of the budget to make what you need- happen based on your income.  When you give yourself the freedom to add money if you need it and adjust other budget categories to reflect that, it takes some stress off.  It gives you the freedom to supply a true need.

How much should you spend on groceries?  I’m not a financial adviser, I’m just a thrifty little mom passing along what has worked for me.  It may or may not work for you but you will have to decide this based on your own consumption.  Please feel free to share any thoughts or ideas you have on grocery budgets in the comments section below.  If you want more tips on how to lower your grocer bill, check out my post: Tips to Lower Your Grocery Bill. Tips To Lower Your Grocery Bill Week by Week, Month By Month!  Kim Anderson
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23 Comments

  1. I’m sad to hear that you end up throwing spoiled food away. We rarely throw any food out since I make it a point to use up my leftovers first before they go bad. I’ll usually make a soup, nachos or a pizza with left over meat and veggies. If we have left over side dishes they go with the next nights dinner. Once you commit to not wasting any of your food, you end up saving even more money. Every bit of food that ends up in the trash is money slipping through your fingers.

    The biggest thing that helps me save money on groceries is my meal plan and being intentional when I shop. I always have a list and only buy things that are in season or on sale for a really good price. We are spending about half of what we used to on groceries and I haven’t really changed what we eat…just how I shop.

  2. I have always made meal plans for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks since my kids were toddlers. I guess I naturally fell into the routine of never buying more than what my family needed. We rarely have spoilage..when we do, it’s because one kid decided they weren’t eating something on their plate. I have never cooked more than one serving of any food per person and there is never left overs unless it is planned it for the next day’s meal, such as buying a roast for the crockpot, throwing in more than is needed potatoes and veggies, then making a stew for the next day and a pot pie for the day after that. I also bake my own breads, rolls, buns, hoagies, tortillas..etc to save money. For my family of four, we would have an entire months worth of meals bought for 400$ or less. Now I’m having to do this for a family of 7.. I spend 650$ on meals and snacks and deserts for us all.. My brother thinks im starving my kids..he complains I don’t have any food in my pantry. What he fails to grasp is that their is more than enough food items.. You just can’t be lazy and pop ours in a nuke machine..it has to be hand made!

    1. Kat, I love that your comment about being lazy and popping food in the nuke machine. I’m really trying hard to clear out our cabinets of processed foods and going toward a clean eating pattern. I want to make more things from scratch and your story inspires me!

  3. Great article. I love the free printables. I was reading something like, for an average family of 4, it costs $600-$1,2000/month for groceries. The prices sure have gone drastically up lately. It is one area, I keep trying to get down, but not seeing a huge impact.

    1. Yeah, it’s really tough! Groceries is consistently a challenge and being planned out really helps me not over-spend and go back to the store on multiple quests and then impulse buying.

  4. There is a website called lozo.com. what you do is type in your grocert list and will give you coupons for those items if they are available. This especially come in handy if you are a picky eater and prefer certian brands of food items. I love shopping smart I always feel acomplished afterwards. Also if you like fresh herbs I suggest putting some to grow on your windowsill because seeds are a dollar opposed to $3 everytime you go to buy what you want

    1. Devin, that’s a great point about the herbs. Growing them yourself can save you every time you go to the store! Thanks for the helpful tips.

  5. I love that your planner divides the shopping list into categories. That makes things so much more simple once you get to the grocery store. I’m frequently shopping with my preschool-age sons, and not having to spend too much time looking at my shopping list helps me to move through the store more quickly! 🙂

    1. Kate, I totally agree. I have to shop in categories or else it takes me twice as long to shop with my 2 year old. Glad you found it helpful!

  6. Love this, it’s always great to have a game plan! Stopping by from Thrifty Thursday!
    Cathy

  7. Love this article. People are amazed when they find out that I am always on budget at the end of the year for groceries–this is from careful planning and calculating. I know what my family needs and I anticipate changes as my children grow and eat more–hence at start of year, sometimes I know we need to up the amount! I also know that meal planning and making my ingredients do double duty for me are key. It may take a little extra work to stick to a budget/plan a budget but oh my is it beyond worth it! Thanks for breaking this down for us!

    1. Kristen, it is amazing that you are always on budget for groceries. I’ve found that if I don’t just go once a week with a list in hand I will inevitably go over what I budget but when I plan I do just fine. Making ingredients do double duty is such a great point. I prefer to buy bags of frozen chicken so it lasts longer and there are weeks that I just cook the whole batch in a crock pot, shred it and use it all week in every dish I cook from BBQ to tacos. Thanks for sharing your budgeting strategies with us!

  8. Great article! It’s hard to figure out what to spend on food. Our food budget fluctuates a lot due to the availability of fresh produce (we eat primarily locally grown produce, meats, seafood, milk), so we tend to use anything left over from the budget (if we spend less than what we’d budgeted for) to cushion our holiday spending/food budget or set aside for wants that come up. It seems that we always have unexpected company at Christmas time, and need more milk, etc. Or want to DIY something in our home.

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