WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Thursday Thoughts: What Is A Reasonable Grocery Budget?

Posted January 19, 2012


Have you wondered if your grocery budget is too high? Here are some tips to finding out a reasonable and frugal grocery budget for your family that won't leave you eating ramen noodles at every meal!

So, what is a reasonable grocery budget? Well…..that all depends. There is no “right” amount to spend that applies to every family. There are too many variables that come into play such as the number of people in the family, allergies, type of diet (vegetarian vs. heavy meat eaters), coupon use, geographic location, amount you eat out and shopping options.

Some experts say that as low as $15 per person per week is a realistic frugal budget. Others say more like $20 - $25 per person is reasonable. Again, there are many factors that go into determining a good grocery budget for your family.

U.S Average: The 2012 U.S. Statistical Abstract indicates that in 2009, the average family of 4 spent $5187 per year on food eaten in the home. That’s $99.75/week and $24.94 per person. This number does not include food eaten outside the home. That adds another $3543 to the annual food expenses. If you combine the total food expenses for a family of 4, the number is $8730 per year. That equates to $167.88 per week and $41.97 per person. That’s a big food budget! Keep in mind that the number is the average for the whole country including much more expensive areas like the Northeast.

A survey involving a more frugal group was conducted by The Dollar Stretcher and the results show:

20% of respondents spend $26 - $50 per week for a family of 4
31% of respondents spend $51 - $75 per week for a family of 4
23% of respondents spend $76 - $100 per week for a family of 4

Faye’s Budget: My grocery and drug store budget for 2012 is $70 per week, which includes food, cleaning, paper products and health & beauty. For our family of 4, that’s $17.50 per person per week ($303 per month). Obviously, this is a low number. For most families, the grocery budget does not include the non-food items. I have been couponing for a dozen years now and we have a good (but reasonable) stockpile. For most purchases, I can wait until the deals are excellent and then I stock up a little more. Most of my budget goes into buying fresh produce, meat and dairy each week. The rest of the budget is used on buying the very best buys like 25 cent pasta or 10 cent rice. My girls take their lunch to school most days and I cook at home most nights.

My grocery budget does not include eating out, which falls under the entertainment budget. We usually get take out or eat at a restaurant 2 to 3 times a month. I almost always have a coupon and/or gift card making the meal much less than full price.

Here in the Raleigh area, there are so many shopping options and fabulous deals every week. Most families of 4 should be able to spend much less than the U.S average of $167 per week by using couponing, store promotions and meal planning techniques.

Creating Your Frugal Grocery Budget

Step One
The first place to look when determining how much to budget for groceries is your current grocery expenses. How much are you spending right now to feed your household each week?  In order to find out that number, you will need to track how much you spend on EVERY SINGLE FOOD PURCHASE for at least 2 weeks. Tracking for a full month will give you an even better idea of your spending habits. Include all those trips through the drive-through and any meals eaten at restaurants for a true picture of how much you spend on food each month. Don’t forget vending machine expenses and money you give the kids for school lunches and trips to the mall food court. It will take some time to track these expenses, but well worth the effort if you really want to see where the money is going.

Do your homework on Step One and you are well on your way to saving lots of money on groceries each month.

Step Two
The result of Step One? Some of you will be SHOCKED! All those trips to Starbucks, McD’s and the grocery store deli add up quickly. Until you have an accurate account of how much you spend on food each month, you won’t be able to make the kind of dent in your grocery budget that you want.

Look at your expenses to see where the money is going. Are you spending a lot on fast food, cleaning supplies or lunch at the nearest deli? Is your spouse getting $1 snacks from the vending machine multiple times during the week? You may find some surprises. Look for ways to target those areas where you know you are overspending. Bring lunch and snacks from home, only buy cleaning supplies on sale with coupons or make your own. Examine where the money is going with a fine tooth comb.

Step Three
Slowly lower your grocery budget each month for the next 6 months by incorporating couponing, store promotions/reward programs and meal planning techniques. Work on increasing your stockpile with products you use when they are 75% off or better. Don’t wait until you are out of ketchup to run to the store. Get 2 or 3 when they are 50 cents each (or less) so you never pay full price again!

I’ve read that lowering your budget by 5% each month is a good place to start. The ideal weekly budget for your family should allow you to eat well-balanced, yet frugal meals. The less you eat out, the more you will save. A good rule of thumb is for dinner to cost around $5 to $6 per dinner for a family of 4. Not $5 per person. Here’s an example of a typical breakdown for dinner at my house:

1 pound of protein (chicken, beef, tofu, etc): $2.50
Vegetable: $1 - $1.50
Carb (whole grain pasta, whole grain rice, whole wheat rolls): .50 - $1
Drink (usually milk for kids and water for hubby and I): 50 cents

The meal is under $6 with plenty of food for 4 people. The added bonus is that you will probably eat much healthier meals if you are not being asked “Do you want fries with that?” at every meal!

Like all things worth doing, setting and sticking to a grocery budget involves disciple. Set your goals and stick to them every week. By the end of the six-month period you should have found a comfortable, realistic grocery budget that balances your families’ need to eat well and allows you to be a good steward of your hard earned income.

Feel free to share your grocery budget in the comments section below.


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  • salemreh Jan 28, 2012

    For those of you who are trying to cut their budgets on diapers. well, i am a new mother too and here are my personal tips to cut in diapers they work for me so hopefully they work for you too.
    1. i use clothes when i am at home with my 6 months old baby and it is better for her too so she wont get rashes.
    2. when i am home i do not use baby wipes to clean her up i take her to the sink she loves it and she feels fresh so that way i am saving with wipes too so they go toward diapers i use wipes only when we are out.
    3. finally after many tries i found the cheapest diapers from Sam's club its called Simply Right 228 diapers for $35 in a big yellow box and they are great. and they last me the whole month

  • elliesmom Jan 23, 2012

    I'm with leeandkaren24. We purchase our meat and veggies from the Farmer's Market because we have a family challenge of eating 75% of our food from locally produced, sustainable (and mostly organic) sources. Don't forget about the Farmer's Market--great prices on vegetables and usually much cheaper than high end grocery stores for organics!! We spend $100 a week for three people, a dog and a cat. That does not include eating out or health and beauty.

  • eyeoneastsky Jan 22, 2012

    If you spend $48.35 per person per week isn't that $384 per month? Or there abouts.

  • Savvysaver Jan 20, 2012

    For 2011 my family of 2 - my husband and I - we averaged $193.42 per month on groceries. That's $48.35 per person each week. For 2012 my goal is to drop this # down to $175 per month. Like Faye my averages include groceries, paper products, cleaning products, health & beauty, and trips to pharmacies. For entertainment we averaged $25 per month in 2011 and I'm pleased with that amount. We only eat out when we have a coupon.

  • Oxymoron02 Jan 20, 2012

    My grocery budget, regardless of the who or the how of consumption, has been $2 per person per day for decades (I've been couponing about 18 months now). That includes all toiletries, paper products, diapers, cleaning supplies and pet care. And no, the dog is not a person, he doesn't get his own $2 a day.

    I tell my kids that we may not have what you want, but we always have stuff you like, and there's always something that will do even if it's not what you're craving right now.

    We have 3 teenagers, plus 1 in diapers. Diapers are getting harder and harder to find on the cheap. Much harder and I may have to switch to cloth (I *really* don't want to switch to cloth).

    And *most* of our dining out money comes from the grocery budget. I'll budget for a special occasion, but as the month progresses, and there is more money in the grocery budget than I need to get the shopping done funds are released for take-out or a pizza night.

    I'm a professional. Do not attempt this at home. :P

  • allysongreene84 Jan 20, 2012

    carelesswhisper ~ where are you finding your good diaper deals? I am a first time mommy-to-be and I am trying to stock pile on diapers before the little one gets here! Would love to hear where you are getting good deals!

  • grafted Jan 20, 2012

    Always room for improvement - thanks for the practical advice. Great article!!

  • erika483 Jan 19, 2012

    I spend about $135/week on groceries, toiletries, cleaning, paper products, and diapers (1 kid in diapers and another in pull-ups) for a family of 4. We do only have an eating out budget of $30 a month though, so we really eat almost every meal off that. I can't wait until I'm not spending all my money on diapers and paper towels :)

  • DNCMom Jan 19, 2012

    Faye: Thank you for a great article! I am always impressed at your level of detail and the amount of investigation you do. So many families are going in every direction that they can't stop and make a strategic plan. Your step-by-step instructions are great. P.S.: I've been looking around for the All You Magazine at a good price-THANKS!

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Jan 19, 2012

    Rebecca - I must have been reading your mind! :-)

    Actually, I have had a number of folks in classes ask about grocery budgets recently. It's a popular topic at the beginning of the year as folks evaluate their finances.