Realistic grocery budgets can be a big struggle for a lot of families. Korilynn VanDyke of One Cheap Utah Chick shares tons of tips for setting and sticking to a grocery budget that meets your particular family’s needs.
Groceries aren’t cheap. You know that. But, if you find yourself stressing over your grocery budget and going over your grocery maximum, maybe it’s not your spending habits — maybe it’s your budget. Most shoppers set unrealistic budgets for their groceries. While some people can really shop for $40 per week and feed a family of four, that’s not realistic for about 90 percent of the country.
Let’s Talk Numbers
According to the USDA, a family of 4 for 2014 spends:
- $128.90 to $147.70 per week for a Thrifty Plan
- $164.00 to $193.20 per week for a Low Cost Plan
- $202.90 to $241.80 per week for a Moderate Cost Plan
- $251.20 to $293.40 per week for a Liberal Plan
Are there only two of you in the family? Even then, you would spend on average $88.50 per week on a Thrifty Plan and up to $175.60 on a Liberal Plan.
Reality Check Time
So, now that you know what is an average, even for a super thrifty plan, how does your budget look? For those who spend $40 per week or $160 per month, they are way under the thrifty average. The USDA’s average does account for the entire nation, which includes areas where grocery costs are high (i.e. California, New York, etc.).
Yes, some people really can feed their family for as little as $160 per month, but that’s not feasible in all regions — let alone the majority. Where I live, for example, you can’t double coupons and the only groceries you can get for free are processed junk. In my opinion, you’re not really saving all that much money when you’re filling your family full of junk food.
So if you consider yourself frugal and thrifty and you’re spending less than the $128 to $147 mark each week, you’re doing just fine!
Here’s another thing to consider:
What does your grocery budget include? Do you use that same budget for diapers, household cleaners, toiletries, etc.? Or is your grocery budget strictly for food? Most people who spend $40 per week on groceries are talking about their food only — they don’t include toiletries, diapers, etc. into that amount. If they did, it would be a lot higher.
So, what is unrealistic about a $40 per week budget?
- It doesn’t include other necessities (diapers, baby wipes, cleaners, household products, and toiletries).
- It isn’t even close to the national average — making it highly unrealistic for the majority of consumers.
- It often means eating processed foods and omitting healthy, wholesome foods.
- It often means your weekly meal plan consists of very basic recipes (which is fine if that is what you like to eat).
Is Your Budget Unrealistic?
There are a few ways to tell if you have an unrealistic grocery budget and before you can set a realistic one, you need to know where your current budget is failing you. Some signs you might have an unrealistic budget include:
1. You’re consistently going over your grocery budget — even when you barely buy anything.
2. Your grocery budget is under the Thrifty Plan national average. Let’s face it; the majority of American consumers are not labeling themselves as thrifty. Most stick to Low-Cost or Moderate-Cost food plans. So if your budget goes under the Thrifty Plan too, you might be setting an unrealistic goal.
3. You’re trying to spend $40 to $50 per month for everything — including household items, toiletries and even diapers.
Tips for Setting and Sticking to a Realistic Grocery Budget
Experts say you should spend 18 percent of your income on food-related expenses. So if you earn $1800 per month, you should spend $324 on your groceries each month maximum. If you have a two-income family, it would be 18 percent of your total combined income for the month. This is your maximum. If you’re going over this, then you have a spending problem.
I suggest starting with the national averages. If you are a family that likes to eat well, stick to the Low-Cost or Moderate-Cost Plan as your starting point. If you use coupons, shop the sales and are a frugal shopper, then use the Thrifty Plan as your starting average. Then, slowly track your grocery expenses. See how much you’re spending each month and what you’re spending it on. While some things can be cut, other items like diapers or milk can’t always be cut from the budget.
A few more tips for success
- Create a menu plan each week that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. This will help you plan what to buy and keep you from spending your budget on unnecessary items.
- Make a grocery list and stick to it. Don’t buy anything not on the list — no matter how good it looks.
- Use coupons and shop the sales. When you buy everything at regular price, you’re going to go over budget.
- Add a Meatless Monday to the mix. Cutting a meat-containing meal once a week can help you save significantly.
- Start buying meat in bulk and freezing it. My local Smith’s brings chicken breasts down to as low as $1.20 per pound if you buy in bulk, while the regular two-pack of chicken breasts is $2 to $4 per pound.
- Avoid convenience items — pre-made meals, baking mixes, etc. By making it from scratch you can save up to 80 percent.