What’s Appropriate to Spend on Groceries for Your Family?

by Gina Blitstein · 7 comments

Through the years, I’ve done a lot of grocery shopping. One good thing that’s come out of all that shopping is experience — experience to know what and how much to buy, what constitutes good prices and how much it actually costs to keep my household running.

Recently, a friend remarked that she couldn’t believe how big a bite  groceries take out of their budget. While it’s true that indeed, they’re most likely your second or third largest monthly expense, when you really examine what you get with your grocery dollars, it may not seem like such an untoward expense.

Maybe you are spending too much. Maybe, however, you’re not spending enough… I’d like to share the benefit of my experience and encourage you to reexamine your grocery budget to decide how much is an appropriate grocery budget for your particular circumstances.

Figuring out what grocery budget is appropriate for your household

Use this simple formula: Take the amount you spend on groceries now in a typical month. Divide it by the number of mouths to feed in your household. Now divide that number by the number of days you eat at home in a typical month.

Break down your grocery budget on a per-person, per day basis:

$1000 monthly grocery budget divided by a 4-person household = $250 each person
Take that $250 and divide it by the number of days that apply:
$250 divided by 30 days = $8.33 each person per day
$250 divided by 24 days = $10.42 each person per day
for example.

When you look at those daily totals, it makes the $1000 monthly budget seem small. After all, when you eat lunch at a restaurant, it’s easy to spend that $8.33 or $10.42 for just one meal.

This information is useful in getting an idea of what it actually costs to keep your household in the food it needs. Planning your meals and shopping accordingly on a regular, consistent basis is the key to getting a feel for what and how much to buy. After a while, you’ll learn whether you need to spend more or can scale back. Consider these things when determining if you’re buying appropriately for your family:

  • What types of food does your family like to eat at home?
  • Are there different stores where you can purchase these foods cheaper?
  • Are you willing to shop according to sales or use coupons to stretch your grocery dollars?
  • How much does your family eat?
  • Do you often run out of groceries and need to run out for some of this and some of that?

It does your budget no favors when you have to run out to the grocery store get something for dinner because you didn’t buy enough groceries in the first place. The fact is, every time you set foot in a grocery store, you inevitably buy more than the eggs you walked in for so keep extra trips to a minimum. I’ve found that a couple big shopping excursions during a month is usually sufficient to stock us up. Even more deleterious to your budget is opting to dine out when there’s nothing to eat at home. That leads to an even greater expense.

It’s about being realistic about your grocery buying. Remember to look at your grocery budget on a daily or per-person basis when the total seems overwhelming. Although there no hard and fast rules to determine how much is ‘appropriate’ for your family, these tips will help you keep it all in perspective. Sometimes budgeting more actually ends up costing less in the long run.

How do you determine your grocery budget?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Anise August 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Wow, $1000 a month for 4 people, I hope no one spends that much on groceries! I live in middle Georgia, and spend an average of $160-$180 a month for groceries (food, don’t count other items bought at grocery store). We eat fresh fruits, salads and veggies, along with frozen and canned veggies, and I cook instead of buying pre-maded. Our Kroger is great about marking down bruised produce and old bakery items. We take leftovers to work.
My biggest tip in saving food money is to use ALL your leftovers, try hard not to throw food away. Make soup, casseroles, and freeze what you can’t use quickly.

Anise August 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Oh, to add to the above post, I forgot to say there are 3 adults in my family.

Rudy August 30, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Anise – if you can get away with only spending $160 a month to feed 3 adults, I would not want to come to your house for dinner, as I imagine there would not be much food, and the food would be very bland.

Lee August 31, 2011 at 8:52 am

Rudy, your name is quite apt because you are very rude. You should know what happens when you assume something.

BETH September 1, 2011 at 11:18 am

Actually, I think Rudy was shocked as I am and would like to know how Anise does it! That’s amazing.

Bill September 20, 2011 at 9:57 am

Anise mentions an important point that was completely left out of the original article. How much of your “grocercy bill” is non-food items? Paper products, cleaning supplies, pet food and many other items end up on the same receipt, but are not part of your “grocery bill”. Dividing the TOTAL bill by the appropriate number of days and then comparing that to the cost of eating out is bogus – unless you buy diapers and cough medicine at the restaurant!!

Ryan July 3, 2012 at 6:50 am

We have four kids, ages 2-9, and my wife is able to keep it to about $450 per month. I don’t know many people who can do that. Determining the grocery budget is all part of our annual budget review: look at what you spent and set the budget based on actuals and adjusted for expectations for the year. Groceries doesn’t change much each year.

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