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?