12/10/13

How Much Should a Family of 5 Spend on Groceries?

A few of you have asked me via e-mail and in person "how much should a family of 4-5 people spend on groceries?"

Well, it depends. There is not a one-size fits all number. Every family has a different income, different tastes, and different standards of variety, health, and convenience.

That being said, I think between $500-$700 is a good starting point. Some of you may think that's ridiculously high, and some of you may think it's low. I find this amount to be challenging, yet large enough that I'm not stressed. If you are in a season where money is really tight, you can certainly make it (and eat well) on the low end of this range. It may take a little more time and effort, but it may be totally worth it to meet other financial obligations and live within your means.

*About $20 per person per week is the number I consistently read about.

I used to try and get our grocery budget super low and I ended up really stressed. I got to a point where it was not a good use of my time and energy......to shop at 4 different stores, cook everything from scratch, coupon, etc. I came to the realization that I could only go so low. We had to eat.

If you don't know where to begin or how much to budget for groceries, save your receipts for a couple of months and average how much you are spending. Give yourself some wiggle room. Budget a little more than you think you'll need. Over time, you can work on ways to reduce your grocery spending.

I find that summer food cost more than winter food. Fresh produce and grilled meats are costlier than the soups and stews I make in winter. We spend more in months with birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. There is not a fixed number that applies to every month. Some months, my freezer is packed and other months we run out of all our staples at the same time. Having a mind set that our grocery budget is fluid and ever changing helps me adjusts with the changes that life brings.

Also, I think it's helpful to clearly define what falls under the umbrella of "grocery budget." I like to keep it clean and spend my grocery cash on just food. My grocery budget does not include diapers, toiletries, cleaners, and other household items. I order most of that stuff from Amazon. And if I have to pick up something like a household cleaner at the grocery store, I'm not afraid to run two transactions so I don't dip into my grocery cash. I go back and forth whether on not to include alcohol as a "grocery."

My biggest tip:

Meal plan. Just do it. Don't over analyze. Even a bad plan is better than no plan.

That saves me more money than anything else I do.

By the way, I don't coupon. I just don't.

A couple of good links on the subject.

How Much Should We Spend on Groceries Each Week
Family Finance: How to Save Money on Groceries

This book, Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy. I have not read it, but I heard the author interviewed and she had some awesome tips on grocery savings.

Thoughts?

13 comments:

  1. Okay, for the past few weeks I've been saving my receipts. I'm starting with a big categories so I don't get overwhelmed. I made myself a budget and it encompasses gas, groceries, gifts, hair cuts etc. Basically, everything that isn't bills and rent. Do you see any danger in that? I did Dave's way that he suggests and I was too overwhelmed with "oh gosh, this detergent is not a grocery item!!!!" I agree with meal plans. It just started happening, and I can not imagine not planning week by week. I can understand how people could be overwhelmed bc i would be overwhelmed trying to plan more than a week's worth of food. So important to not waste and freeze!! Pinterest is the biggest help in terms in my planning.

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    1. We have been following Dave's principles and budget outline for several years now. Our "food" category also includes cleaning products, toiletries, paper products, diapers etc. We just budget that way because I go to Walmart once a month for my "big" shopping trip where I buy the items like this we need. Our haircuts and other random stuff go in our "blow" envelope since each month is different. This category really changes month by month based on utilities, etc. Obviously there is No wrong or right way to do it but this has helped me make the most of my self imposed one Walmart trip a month!!

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    2. Whitney, I don't see a danger as long as it works for you and you are sticking to your budget while covering all your needs in the gifts, gas, haircut category. Just change it up if it does not work.

      I do more what Laura does and put haircuts and gifts in the blow category since those things fluctuate so much from month to month and my gas bill is pretty consistent.

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  2. I haven't kept track of my food costs for a while. Now I'm curious after reading your post.

    I do cut out coupons, but for the majority of the time, it's just for toiletries and the food coupons don't really fit what I was planning to buy anyway.

    I agree with the meal plan. Thinking ahead is the biggest frugal thing I do.

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  3. I say to myself all the time that meal planning saves marriages. :) Not really, but I, too, agree that it's high on my priority list of must-do-this-to-survive. Your grocery budget is very close to mine. Lately, I've adapted a Just Get It Done mindset…and if that means spending 2 extra dollars on pre-cut onions for a soup I'm preparing on a busy day, so be it. :)

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  5. I want to hear more about ordering the stuff you do on Amazon!! Do you save money doing this? Is shipping a lot? Do you keep a "cart" full so you just click once to re order? Tell me more!! :) :)

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    1. Yes, I think I save. Shipping is free with Subscribe and Save. Just wrote a post about it. Hope it helps.

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  6. Yes, I am curious to hear more about your Amazon shopping as well. How do those prices compare to Costco? Your budget is similar to what we spend on groceries. I typically try to plan meals for two weeks at a time. I find the more times I go to the store the more I spend although I usually have to make a small run for a few fresh things every week.

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    1. Some things are cheaper on Amazon. Some are cheaper at Costco. I just do a price check, and do my best.

      I often consider the convenience to be worth the extra cost if an item is a little more on Amazon.

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  7. 14 years ago my husband & I started working Dave Ramsay's and Larry Burkett's paths to financial freedom (aka debt free). Despite a life threatening illness within our family resulting in overwhelming medical bills, we managed to lived 100% debt free, including mortgage, for 13 years until a job transfer forced us to take on another mortgage. Back when we began our debt free journey, both Ramsay & Burkett suggested budgeting 10% - 13% of one's net income for food regardless of family size. Back then we were a family of 7 with 1/2 the income we currently have. It was difficult, but well worth the work. As mentioned above we were able to pay off ALL our debt including our mortgage and medical bills and live 100% debt free for over a decade. We continue to practice a debt free lifestyle and expect to pay our new mortgage off 20 years early. We continue to be frugal with all purchases, including food. 3 of our children have grown up and moved away from home, thus we are now a household of 4 & we currently spend less than 7% of our net income on groceries.

    I hope this information helps and encourages you and your readers when trying to figure out a reasonable grocery budget.

    Blessings,
    Mrs.B

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