I hear people bemoaning the darn grocery budget all the time! It’s so hard to know how much groceries “should” be costing. In fact, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “how much do you spend on groceries?” or “What should your grocery bill be?”
In the last couple years that we’ve been paying off our student loan debt with a vengeance, I have had a few different systems for keeping the grocery budget low. Everything from
price matching at Walmart
Basically, I’ve spent the last couple years trying to come up with the perfect grocery budgeting system and strategy and it dawned on me recently…
There is no one-size-fits-all-perfect grocery budget.
You have to do what works for your family in your current season. And that is what I’m going to help you figure out.
It’s silly to try to figure out some magic grocery budget number because there is no trick or magic grocery budget number that everyone should strive for. Instead, you need to figure out what YOUR family’s grocery budget should be.
Listen. You can not fail at this. (Well, unless you are buying groceries on a credit card you can’t afford to pay off. In that case, cut up the card and head over to my survival budgeting guide.)
Otherwise, there is so much freedom in your grocery budget!
Take that in. Sigh a deep breath of relief & let yourself off the hook!
Just because there’s a blog post about someone’s $20 organic grocery budget, it doesn’t mean that has to be your budget too. There’s no grocery budget competition.
Any amount you choose that you can afford and that takes care of your family’s needs is the right amount. And it might change over time. That’s okay too.
SO, WHAT SHOULD YOUR GROCERY BILL BE?
Remember, there’s no right answer to this! But I want to help you figure out a good amount for your unique situation. At the end, I will also share summaries of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Recommendations (as of Aug. 2019) for:
- monthly food budget for 1
- family of 3 grocery budget
- average grocery bill for family of 5
Those averages are not SUPER helpful though, which is why I provide the following 5 questions that are the BIGGEST factors in calculating what your grocery bill should be each month.
To figure out your ideal monthly grocery budget, ask yourself the following questions. (It might help to write down your answers.)
1. What can you afford?
The most basic rule of personal finance is don’t spend money you don’t have. Food + Shelter should be first in your budgeting priorities.
But, think about what grocery bill you can afford as it relates to your other financial priorities too. A good rule of thumb is not exceeding 10-15% of your take-home pay on food.
When we were paying off student debt, we were quite frugal in some grocery choices. (i.e. pancakes for dinner once a week, and always eating leftovers!)
But, we also choose to snack on fruits and vegetables (instead of cheaper junk food), eat meat at most dinners, and invite people over for meals a couple times a month.
Our grocery budget reflects the combination of income, financial priorities, and lifestyle priorities.
ACTION ITEM: Jot down your family’s take-home pay, financial goals, and lifestyle priorities that affect how much you spend. Don’t overthink this, just write down what comes to mind.
2. What items are in your grocery budget?
Do you include household items and pet products or are those separate categories? I’ve done this differently over the years.
Currently I have a food budget separate from eating out and household product budgets. I separate out diapers, household products, and eating out because easier for my brain to categorize that way. Plus, we use YNAB to track our spending so it’s easy to track lots of categories.
There have been times where anything that can be purchased at a Walmart was counted in my “grocery budget” – diapers, toilet paper, shampoo, snacks, pantry items, and medicine. If that’s how you categorize the grocery bill, then you may need to add some more money to your grocery budget.
Remember, there’s no wrong way to do this. But what’s included in your grocery budget should determine your overall number.
ACTION ITEM: Pull out your last few grocery store receipts. (Best would be to do 1 month’s worth.) Add them up and see what you spent. Look over the items on the receipts – do you have a lot of things that aren’t actually food items? Do you want to continue to count those types of things in your grocery budget or not?
3. Dietary Needs?
If your husband goes on a diet that requires you to buy twice the amount of meat you usually buy and $50 worth of protein shake powder and specialty protein bars, then your grocery budget should increase. Hypothetically speaking. (JK – that is our real life. haha.)
4. How much food do your people eat?
When I had 3 kids under 4, lived next to Aldi, and fed the baby formula, our monthly grocery budget was $600. Now that we have 4 kids ages 1-6, and we feed a lot of extra people each week, our monthly grocery budget is $900.
Annnd, my grocery budget will likely be less than someone who has a few teenagers at home.
If you’re calculating a grocery budget for 2, you will spend less than a family of 8. Scroll down for the USDA averages!
I think a good starting point is $150 per month per person in your family. Give or take.
5. How much time do you want to spend on grocery shopping and meal planning?
If you want to coupon, spend time meal planning around the ads, price match or go to a few stores for great deals, then you will be able to save more money. But those processes cost you in time. Decide what makes sense for you in your current season.
I used to meal plan around the ads and price match at Walmart, but our Walmart stopped price matching, and I kept having babies. Haha 🙂
Plus, I started working from home, and homeschooling. With my sanity on the fritz, I set out to quit errands and stores altogether, and attempt to do as much online as possible to save time, money, and sanity.
We currently use Walmart Pickup for weekly groceries (around $100-$120 per week) and make a 1-2 Costco trips costing about $300/ month.
DO SOME BASIC MATH
When we started going over our budgeted grocery amount a few months in a row, I re-evaluated our grocery budget with a pen and paper and some basic math.
I realized that with a baby on formula, and my husband eating healthy snack bars and drinking protein powder, the same grocery budget as we previously had just wasn’t realistic.
When I first wrote this post, $600/month was realistic, including formula, entertaining, etc… Could we spend less? Probably. Could we spend more? For sure. Sometimes, I do.
A couple years (and a couple more kids) later, we spend $900-1000/ month on food. That amount reflects the number of people in our family, the amount we entertain, and the type of food we like to eat.
DON’T PLAN YOUR GROCERY BUDGET OFF MY GROCERY BUDGET. Write out your answers to the above questions. Figure out what type of food you buy, how much food costs at your stores, and how much food your people eat.
NOW, KEEP YOUR NUMBER IN MIND AT THE STORE
If I go to the store for a week’s worth of food, I aim to spend under $200. (Because $200 per week x 4 weeks in a month = $800. My overall budget is $900, so that leaves a little wiggle room for the extra store trips or eating out.)
If I’m shopping for 2 weeks at a time, I give myself $300 (ish) knowing I’ll probably need to pick up a few fresh produce items by day 10.
Trial and Error
This process will take some trial and error, but if you start paying close attention, you can figure it out! So, what should your grocery budget be? I would love to hear how you used this process to help you! If you’re comfortable you can even share the number you came up with and how it’s working for you!
Once you calculate what your grocery budget should be, your next steps are to figure out how to cut your grocery bill down to that amount AND learn how to track your grocery spending. I have posts on each of those topics, linked below, as well as a Free 5 day meal planning challenge. (Sign up with the button below.)
This post is part 1 of a 3-post series to help you simplify & get control of your grocery budget once and for all!
Post #2: How to Cut Your Grocery Bill