What Is a “Good” Grocery Budget for a Family of Four?

Family Portrait of Four Outdoors

What is a Good Grocery Budget

I love reading the comments that Living Rich with Coupons followers leave on the blog and Facebook. Not only does it extend important conversations and open up new avenues of thinking, it also inspires me as a writer to design topics around what our readers really want to know. And a few weeks ago, exactly that happened when someone asked:

What’s a good monthly food budget for a family of four, three adults and one toddler?

Now, that’s a pretty loaded question and, regardless of the title of this post, it is one that I am not even going to attempt to answer. Instead, I did a little research and uncovered some amazing facts and figures that, I hope, will help this person (and everyone else) find the right answer for them.

Buying Food Is a Personal Process

Even on a website dedicated to spending and saving money, discussing the details of each of our spending habits is still a bit taboo. We love telling you how little we paid, but we are still afraid of being judged about the other purchases we all make. I also think we are too astounded by the social media ravings of people who feed their families for less than $200/month to own up to our own costs. (I didn’t make that figure up, by the way, it was the title of a blog I read during my research.)

…also, good for you if you do feed four people for $200/month, but I don’t and can’t and won’t even attempt to.

Instead, I feed a family of four (currently, at least) which includes me, my husband, and our 4 and 6 year-old daughters, for significantly more than $200 or even $500 per month. There are a variety of reasons for this, here are a few:

  • Taste – there are some things my family literally won’t eat and anyone who has lived through life with small children knows that the list of “yuck” outnumbers the list of “yum” about 10 to 1.
  • Dietary restrictions – my husband has a dairy sensitivity that acts up according to season and affects my meal planning. Some weeks, I could spend less if I could make different things, but his health and wellbeing are more important.
  • Beliefs about food and nutrition – I know this is loaded, so I’ll keep it vague, but there are some foods I avoid at all costs free or otherwise. This is incredibly important to me.
  • Location – I live in suburban New York, not the cheapest place in America to call home. However, I also live far enough outside of NYC that I am surrounded by farm country. Certain local items are a lot cheaper for me than my neighbors in Manhattan. Likewise, there are many items that are more expensive in this region as a whole as compared to Nebraska, for instance.

This is why your situation, even with the same family makeup as mine, is likely different, and why my budget numbers mean nothing to you. Plus, the whole concept of “Family of Four” is bogus as well because, again, my budget is vastly different from someone feeding a family of four which includes teenagers or boys with big appetites.

What the Statistics Say

While I am intimately familiar with my own grocery budget and the circumstances surrounding it, even I have no clue if what I am doing is “normal” or “average” or helpful at all to our readers. I only know that it works for me.

Luckily, there is a source of help available.

Each month the USDA releases a report called “Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels” which outlines the weekly and monthly cost of food per person at four levels of grocery expenditure which they label Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal. They use data about current food costs and real spending among real Americans as well as guidelines established in 2007 about nutritional (according to the USDA at least) eating across budgetary levels. Basically, we are looking at the 7-grain organic bread vs. the regular whole wheat.

Anyway, they break down cost by individual so you can add up the numbers for your own family. In my case, I have one child 4-5, one child 6-8, one female 19-50, and one male 19-50 to feed. According to data from December 2014, the range of our grocery budget should be between $603.80 and $1196.10. Score, because that’s exactly where it lies.

You can check out the numbers for your family on the USDA’s website, here.

Regardless of Your Budget, You Can Still Save Money

So, let’s return to the original question for a moment: What’s a good grocery budget for a family of four?

According to the USDA, there is a huge range of answers to that question, which makes sense. We all have different abilities, restrictions, and realities that impact our grocery spending and how we eat. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to use those factors to make a grocery budget. However, there is a way to see what is “normal” and none of those scenarios or ranges precludes the whole reason we are all on LRWC in the first place – saving money.

In my opinion, generating a budget is the number one most important and financially responsible thing you can do. The amount of that budget, however, is irrelevant as long as it is something you can afford. In addition, within that budget, there is a lot of leeway for saving money through the process of couponing, deal stacking, and meal planning.

In fact, I would argue (because I’ve done it) that it is possible to eat a moderate-cost diet at a low-cost or thrifty rate of spending with a little bit of work and planning. Bottom line: budgets are personal, but they are also flexible, and the numbers are less important than what they represent.

How does your weekly or monthly spending stack up to the figures offered by the USDA?

What is a Good Grocery Budget for a Family of 4

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  • george

    Wow. That’s a loaded question if there ever was one.Most of your bullet points of what you will or won’t buy for your family also apply to me, especially junk that will never find their way into my house. That said, I have a family of 9, 5 adults and and 4 kids ages 7-16. The 2 older boys must be counted as adults because they are growing boys who eat me out of house and home. Typical grocery bills for me average as low as $200 but it has ranged as high as $450 per week but I would say that the average food budget is $2,000 monthly.

    • It is a loaded question and a very popular one. Before I couponed my budget, and I say budget loosely, was about $350 a week for a family of 5. It was way too high for that many people. During our years of unemployment, I was able to spend, by couponing, just $50 a week. I continued with that for about 4-5 years until we gained employment and then paid off our debt. Now, I spend about $100 a week and am more picky about the foods I buy. Obviously I still coupon…duh lol! But, like I said, I’m more picky now and gave myself more wiggle room to do so.

  • mrsclaire

    very timely article for me! i know i spend about half of what i used to at the grocery store before i started couponing and following lrwc. at the beginning of this month, i decided that i was going to record every expenditure at the grocery store so that i could see what my actual total/average is month-to-month. so far gor february, my total is about $170 for my family of 3.5 (me, my husband, our 7yr old boy, and little boston terrier). i’m expecting this month to be somewhat light since i started out with a bunch of catalinas and since there are no big holidays and i don’t plan to do much entertaining. also, i have not separated out the non-food items (shampoo, lotion, laundry det) that i purchase cheaply (or get for free!) at the grocery store (shoprite). i probably typically spend 40-100 dollars at shoprite, depending on the week and including nonfood items.

  • Adrienne

    While I am not entirely sure of my monthly food budget either, since I started menu planning for the week and started couponing this past summer, it is certainly lower than what is was. The largest factor impacting my budget is keeping kosher. Thankfully, there is a wide range of products readily available in stores like Shop Rite, and that can be purchased at a significantly reduced cost discount. However, kosher meat and fish can be quite expensive! Too bad we cannot get those items cheaply.

  • christina

    Before I couponed…I spent about 1200$ a month on groceries including cleaning supplies…..I live in NY…..I now spend 550$ a month on groceries…not including my dogs and alchohol (lol) I used to be 400…but we buy more organic and veggies now…we eat a lot of chicken….but my kids have all the snacks they need…that’s where I roll the free couponing…that and tp and paper towels…never pay for toothpaste, cleaning supplies, shampoo, soap, conditioner..rice, ice cream. Buy everything else on sales.

  • Leann Saymore

    I have a family of 6, 4 adults, 2 kids. I feed my family for less than $500 a month. I cook at home 90% of the time. I am able to accomplish this by being very budget conscious.

  • Erin

    Overall we are a family of 4 and we average about $400-500 a month.

    When I first started couponing 3 years ago the best advice I saw to reduce your budget (aside from using coupons) is to base your meals on what’s on sale, not your shopping based on the meals you want. Getting my husband to buy in on this concept was challenging but the proof is in the pudding- or this case the receipts!!

    We also plan in advance when having family gatherings; last year for my son’s 1st birthday party I bought all the food over 6-8 weeks prior for 20+ people and we about $30, not including alcohol and items I already had in my stockpile (paper plates, soda, etc). This included chicken I got on sale (chicken thighs for $0.59/pound); we prepped & seasoned prior to freezing it so all we had to do was defrost and throw on the grill. Side note, the $30 also did not include the items to make the cakes since those also came from my stockpile (I don’t care for store bought).

    Also, we received a chest freezer from my in-law’s for Christmas 2 years ago. We save $100’s of dollars a year stocking up when I score on reduced meat and frozen items. Before when I scored 6 bags of chicken nuggets for $2.5 each I would have had no where to put them!!