Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How Much Do You Spend on Food Each Month?

If you asked me how much my family spends on food each month I would have estimated around $500. That doesn't sound too bad for a family of 5, right?

Photo courtesy earl53 at Morguefile.

However, an estimate wasn't good enough. I needed to find out the real number. So, starting in July, I began saving all of our food receipts and tallying them up at the end of the month. The result - I was underestimating our food spending by a few hundred dollars!

Here's how the totals add up for the last three months:

July - $854.28

August - $932.89

September - $780.27

I feel the above numbers deserve a bit of explanation.

July was the first month of tracking, so I decided not to do any cost cutting measures. I shopped like I typically would. I bought meat on sale for the most part, but not always. I bought a bit of produce, but my garden was starting take off, so by the end of the month, I wasn't buying produce anymore. Other than that, I wasn't meal planning or trying to cut back in any way. We ate out a couple of times.

We went on vacation for a week in August. I shopped before we left so we could drive to Florida with a stocked cooler. Still, we got pizza one night on the road, bought meal plans at Universal and ate out once or twice more. 

At the beginning of September, I set a goal to not spend over $750. I came very close and would have made it if I had done a little more planning. I didn't knuckle down to plan until the second week of the month. I was already playing catch up by mid-month when I decided I needed to shop every other week instead of every week.

The totals weren't what I expected at all! I'd been feeling pretty smug about how thrifty I was.  I guess I was way off base. I've always made a lot of our food from scratch. We don't buy junk food (though maybe we'd spend less if we did!  Ha ha!). We typically eat out only two or three times a month. Our eating out consists of either pizza or Mexican food. It's not like we hit the fine dining establishments. Clearly, though, I need to work on this a bit.

My goal for October is to spend no more than $700.

What am I doing differently?

I'm shopping every other week instead of weekly. The less time in a store, the less spent.

I'm buying a few things in bigger packages. For instance, instead of a 5 pound bag of flour, I bought a 10 pound bag. It costs less per pound and I won't have to buy it again for awhile.

I'm buying meat on sale only. Last week, this meant I did my major grocery shopping at Walmart, but went to Price Chopper for meat because they had much better prices.

Photo courtesy xandert at Morguefile.

I'm planning meals for two weeks at a time.

I'm going to "shop" out of my cupboard and freezer when I plan the next two-week menu.

Ultimately, I want to get our food budget down to $600 a month. Now that I've been keeping tabs, I don't think $500 is reasonable for my family, which includes myself, my husband and three growing boys, one of which is a teenager. Teenage boys are notorious for their big appetites and, I have to say, my son seems to fit right into that stereotype. He's also got the growth spurt to match! 

How do you compare? Do you have a budget for groceries? Do you go over it often? Do you eat out a lot? If you think you spend a certain amount each month on food, have you ever actually tallied it? 


  1. Yes we budget $701.60 per month for husband and wife. However, prices are going up and my husband often wants to eat out and I have to supplement that $701.60 because I am dieting on Weight Watchers and because of our eating out. By the way, WW has a great book for points when you eat out, but it is more expensive to eat out than to eat at home.

  2. Carol - That's interesting. Thanks for sharing! Eating out definitely bumps up the budget. Is your budget something you try to lower every month? Or are you pretty comfortable with what you spend? I want to save more money, so that's the main reason why I'm actively trying to lower our food budget.

  3. We do one meatless night every week, which I didn't think would make much of a difference. We alternate between a few favorite dishes like black beans & rice (favorite) for $1.89, apple & cheese quesadillas (so many different combos!), grilled veggie & hummus wraps (delicious!), whole wheat mac & cheese with spinach. It's amazing how affordable it is to do & we usually have leftovers with everything, but the quesadillas. We're also making a list of pricier items that we don't necessarily need like orange juice, honey, name brand cereals etc. & only buy them if they're BOGO. My husband asked what we we're doing differently because it has significantly lowered our grocery bill.

    1. Emily - Those are great tips! We do meatless about once a week, but almost never have leftovers. As the kids have gotten older, we've had fewer and fewer leftovers. I should increase the quantities I make so we can have them for lunch the next day. Thanks for commenting!

    2. You know now that you mention it, we rarely have left overs either and that means I don't have lunch for the next day so I am having to make (or in reality buy) lunch daily. I might just have to up the quantities. Would love to go every other day meatless but I just can't get that creative right now.

  4. Our shopping budget is about $400 a month but I am finding it hard to stay within those parameters right now. Family of 4 with the youngest being 10. My grocery budget includes things like toilet paper and laundry soap. I purchased the items to make home made laundry soap (the Dugger recipe) but never made it. I need to as this could be a considerable savings since I buy organic soap. We do not buy paper towels, but I cannot convince DH (or myself to go family cloth). We eat very little meat, but lately I haven't been meal planning (just haven't had it in me). My girls and I are Gluten Free going grain free and GF breads are not cheap. I need to learn to bake my own, once upon a time I was a decent baker, I don't know what happened but I just don't bake anymore. I am going to try just tracking my food spending from now to the end of the year and see how I need to adjust my budget and see if we can eat on $400 a month. Also my girls eat lunch at school, it is part of their tuition.

    1. $400 a month would be amazing! I think it would take a lot of planning to get that low. It might be possible every other month or so if I bought larger quantities of non-perishables in the more expensive months. Confession - I have the ingredients for homemade laundry soap, too! They've been sitting on my kitchen counter for almost two years! One of these days, I'll make it!

  5. Ooh, this is such a great topic. I love seeing real numbers from other families! I have seen my grocery budget balloon in the past three years! It used to be $300/month but then getting married and becoming a family of five (with one not yet eating food) it has gone up to $700. To keep it to that I have to plan menus carefully and make everything from scratch, and other than coffee and milk, we don't buy any beverages. Couponing drove me nuts when I tried it.

    1. In those past three years, grocery prices have gradually gone up, too. Couponing drives me nuts, too. It all seems to come down to planning.

    2. Yes, planning is key! And I always throw in the suggestion to look at the Amazon Subscribe & Save items... couponing saves more at the local stores, but if you don't want to spend time doing that, things like beans, oatmeal and cereal can be great deals on amazon.