Raise your hand if you spend way too much time each week crunching numbers to make your grocery budget stretch a liiiiittle bit more? If you’re like me, making the most of your meal-planning money is a never-ending numbers game.
Why is a grocery budget important?
For most frugal families, planning your meals is essential to saving money and reducing waste in your kitchen. Have you ever cringingly tossed out moldy produce and literally watch your hard-earned dollars get trashed? You aren't alone. The USDA estimates 30-40 percent of the food supply in the United States is wasted. It’s a little heartbreaking. The good news--having a solid meal-planning system in place can drastically reduce how much you waste. The first step in a solid meal plan-learning how to make a grocery budget work for your family.
Before You Start Making A Grocery Budget
Before you get started on the meal-planning path however, you have to know how much you want to spend. So—what’s the best method for creating a food budget that’s actually doable for your family?
First, let’s take a look at the “average” food budget for a “thrifty” family in the same size and age ranges as my family. (One adult male, one adult female, and a 1, 4, and 6-year-old.) According to the USDA, we should spend—at a bare minimum-- $699.20 per month. A “liberal” food budget with the same size and age range would be $1,366.90 per month. (Some additional perspective—the average five-person family’s SNAP benefit (in 2015) was $556.00 per month.)
For our family’s situation, $700 a month is just totally out of the question. Our grocery bill varies slightly, depending on needs and season, but we typically average $350-400 a month. That’s still about HALF of the recommendation for the “thrifty” budget, according to the USDA. We buy 80-90 percent organic food. I can't even imagine what $1,300 would buy each month, and we are big snackers in this family. Lobster? Caviar? I don’t think I could spend that much in a month if I went on a supermarket-sweep style grocery run. (I may "eat" those words in a few years) Would it help to have an extra hundred bucks per month? Absolutely! However, I can assure you we aren’t skimping or going hungry in this household.
So, What's In Your Shopping Cart?
Here’s what we aren’t buying: soda (pop), juice, snack cakes, cream of crap soups and pre-packaged helper-style dinners.
Here’s what we are mostly buying: seasonal fruits and veggies, organic, grass-fed and/or pastured meats. Organic dairy, eggs, and grains. Convenience foods—we aren’t monsters-- (i.e. snack crackers, cereals, frozen pizza, chicken tenders) with simple, short ingredient labels.
You don’t have to spend half your paycheck to eat healthy food, and you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen for meal prep each week. We’ll show you how scratch cooking can save you money and keep your family healthier. Once you start down this path, it will change your life for the better.
How To Make A Food Budget: Three Options
Here are three different options on how to create a food budget to fit your family.
- Use 10 percent of your family’s take home income to spend on food. (If that’s $4,000 per month, your budget would be $400 per month.
- Use $100 per person per month.
- A dollar per person per meal a day
These numbers could vary greatly from family to family. If you're a two-person family who takes home $6,000 a month, your range could be $180-$600 a month. Conversely, you may have seven family members and take home $3,000/ month. Only you know your family's comfort level.
Put Your Plan Into Action
Based on the numbers in these budgeting scenarios, how does your budget compare? Is it already significantly higher, or do you honestly not know how much you’re spending each month on groceries? If not, take a few weeks to document it. Save your receipts. Find out how much you’re spending on actual meals versus snack and convenience-type foods.
Once you have a handle on what you’re spending, are you happy with that number? Would you like to slash it by a hundred bucks? What could you do with that extra money each month? Save up for a vacation? Pay down your mortgage or student loans faster? Build up a healthier savings?
Each family's situation is different so of course everyone’s answers will be different. If you're struggling to set a number start somewhere in the middle of the range you came up with. If that feels like plenty plus wiggle room, feel free to tighten it. However, if you're running out of food before your next shopping trip, then by all means, increase the budget!
The first goal is to focus on coming up with a budget that makes sense (cents?) to your family. Once you've nailed how to make a grocery budget and feel ready to move forward with meal planning, you can launch here with our Organic Start Guide. Browse meal plans here. Check out some of the ways we're able to eat healthy on a budget in this post.
Finally, tell us in the comments, what takes up the most space in your food budget? Produce? Meat? Snacks?