March 26, 2011

How much does the USDA think you should be spending on groceries? Find out!

Our family’s current monthly budget for food is $250 – this is for two adults, a 3.5 yr old and an eight-month-old. Some months we spend less and some months we spend more, but it usually averages to about $250 a month. I recently discovered that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) actually calculates the average cost of food at home, on a monthly basis, and they calculate it at four different rates –

  • Thrifty plan
  • Low-cost plan
  • Moderate-cost plan
  • Liberal plan

I calculated what our budget SHOULD be according to the USDA and it was $509 (for January 2011) and this was for the Thrifty Plan! We are spending HALF of the most frugal plan! I guess they need to add another plan – the couponer and smart/strategic shopper plan! Did you look up your family? How does it compare to what you actually spend?

I was thinking about doing a series of posts visually showing (with photos) what $250 could buy you when you combine coupons, sales and rebates. I would take photos of our groceries for an entire month, so you could see what I bought. I think we would all be surprised at how much food (and healthy food!) you can get for $250 when you calculate in coupons and sales. What do you think, would this be interesting for you? Would you be interested in photographing your groceries and sharing what you get for your monthly budget?

Update – I wanted to add that I think a big reason our monthly budget is so low is because we have a good stockpile, so when we can’t find good deals we just don’t shop. Also, we don’t buy a lot of red meat and lately we’ve been getting our chicken from Zaycon Foods and it lasts us a while. I wouldn’t expect a family of four to immediately drop their budget to $250 – I would do it gradually over time, as you build your stockpile of free or close to free items.

How much does your family budget for groceries each month? Before you started couponing (or shopping strategically) what was your monthly budget? THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG ANSWER here – budgets are personal decisions and there are lots of factors that go into budgets – dietary needs, location, etc.

(Thanks to Molly who sent me the USDA info!)


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  1. wow, my family budget according to the USDA is 1166.60 and that is the thrifty plan. We really struggle a lot to make ends meet. we have a 1 1/2 yr old a five yrd old a 7 yr old a 9 yr old a 14 yr old and 1 16 yr old and my fiance. Also the two teens are my siblings im raising,due to being orphaned and they only eat Kosher food. Does anyone have any tips or advice ? I sit down and do meal plans utilize the farmers market and shop sales. what am I not doing?

  2. I just happened upon this site and don’t know if anyone will look at this, but I just have one thing to say: Food is one area in which price should not be a factor; I believe you need to spend the most you can affort and still get fresh, real food; local & organic whenever available. We are what we eat, and spending the money in the short run is a huge stragey in preventing having to spend it in the long run on being sick. I never apologize or feel guilty for paying what it costs to feed my family high quality food. I am very thrifty and buy things that are marked down due to being close to exp date, use any coupons I can find (not readily a found for organic foods and local options), shop at 2 health food stores + Costco….but we are RARELY sick.

  3. Wow! We are a family of 6 2 adults and 4 young adults ages 16, 18, 20, and 22. We often also send plates to our aging parents who live on our street.we spend 1,200 a moth on food and eat healthy. I need to lower this. I have a hard time finding time to cut coupons and shop around.

  4. My DH and I spend $150/m. Have for the last several years. No coupons, nor stockpiling ( though should for emergencies). we cook from scratch and eat no processed food but lots of whole produce and fresh meat. Everyone can reduce what they spend if they just keep at it. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a diferent result”

  5. EricaLynn says:

    I actually have already been doing the picture thing! I started an album on my facebook called “My Couponing Adventures” and am planning on doing it for a year. I started at the beginning of March!

    • EricaLynn says:

      I’ve only been couponing since February, so I don’t have a lot to go on, but between my four March photos, I spent $170 for the month at the stores. Add in another $100 for our organic produce delivery service. So $270 for myself, my husband who is on a 4000 calorie a day diet, and a roommate that eats at least a few meals a week with us, plus a dog and two cats (which I believe were fed out of the stock pile of pet food deals from Feb!).

      Before I started couponing I would easily spend over $400 a month and had no stockpile! And that $400 didn’t include much produce. We started the organic produce delivery service only after the couponing!

  6. Wow- that plan was very, very high. I have a family of four- 2 adults, a 2 kids- 5 & 3. We spend about $300 on food for the month…and that includes shopping at Whole Foods & Trader Joes. I buy all organic produce & RBST/ high fructose corn syrup free everything. I’ll also hit up Grocery Outlet for cereal, frozen antibiotic-free chicken & (usually more expensive elsewhere) staples like pure maple syrup. I don’t have a stockpile. I buy 2 copies of the paper every week- file the inserts by date and go to the file when I need it- no large coupon adventures where I save gigantic amounts, unfortunately. I pay very close attention to the great deals I hear about through sites like yours and spend a lot of time (too much) in each grocery store reading labels and finding deals through in-store coupons/offers that I can stack. I thought I was spending too much…. I guess not- comparatively speaking. That $300 does not include household stuff though so I have to say that I am absolutely impressed with those of you who are doing it all for less.

  7. Our “grocery and household” budget is $350 for a family of four. This includes everything that involves shopping for home use items. Food, diapers, detergents, cleaners, stock-up, make-up, etc. We never go over because we use cash! We have a separate budget of $100 a month for going out to eat and clothing.

    This is all thanks to couponing and Grocery Outlet.

    • Wow! I just did the USDA thing and it said that my family should cost $574 a month!! And that’s JUST the cost of food!

  8. This was an interesting post. I wonder if their amounts are for food only, or if they include household and health & beauty items. Probably not. I would love pictures – a picture is worth a thousand words.

  9. Wow the USDA says that my family of six (2 adults g/14 b/11 g/9 b/4) should be spending $980 a month on the thifty plan. Last month we were in the $650 range and that was everything, and I’m still working on getting that number lower. My stock pile looks a little low to me this month due to the fact that we have been helping out some other families out of it.

  10. Thanks for sharing this information! WOW! We are around $250.00 per month for a family of 3 plus 2 dogs. We have a good stockpile as well. That keeps us going when the sales are not rockin!

    thanks again for sharing

  11. I would love to see pictures of you monthly spending because we are a family of 5 and I don’t get out of the produce section each week for less then $40 (at the cheapest). My kids get a packed lunch for school 5 days out of the week. I have a hard time believing that someone can feed a family of 4 for $250 a month while giving them a healthy diet (no processed foods) and not spending a fortune on gas driving around town to find every deal avaliable.

    • Most of my budget is spent on produce and dairy products. Which we only get at rock bottom prices. We do eat some processed foods, but not much. Our eight-month-old is still breastfed, so her food intake is minimal. The biggest reason my budget is $250 is because of the big stockpile that I have on hand – which is what we eat when there just aren’t any good deals. It will definitely be interesting photographing our food choices for a month!

  12. All of the comments are so inspiring ~ I look forward to learning how to lower my monthly food budget. My goal is under 500 for food, household, and 3 pets.

  13. karin jones says:

    Would love to see the monthly shop!! Before coupons I would spend between 700 and 800 a month. Now my budget is about 350 – 400. It’s slowly dropping the more my stock pile grows. I’m hoping to get it to 300 for my family of 3. 🙂

  14. Heather, it will be really interesting. I look forward to that

  15. It says on the thrifty plan we (myself and my 2 year old son) should be spending around $248 a month. In February our groceries totalled just under $90! 🙂

  16. Our budget is $400/ month for family of 6- 2 adults and 4 teenagers, 2 are cross country athletes! We do save a lot because we live on a farm and produce our own eggs, lamb and beef. We also grow a fairly large garden, so have produce during the summer and I try to freeze excess for winter use (primary corn, tomatoes and green beans). I shop at Aldi and it is wonderful! So much lower prices and I love the small store because I can get in and out in 20 minutes with a week’s worth of groceries. 5 minutes for just milk, fruit and yogurt.

    I play the drug store game (using coupons, ECB, etc) at CVS to pick up our peronal care items, so they are costing just pennies. That takes a while to work, as I just buy whatever is a good deal that week and put it in a box. But now that I have been doing it pretty faithfully for over a year it is working very well. Most of my family will change brands of items they use to whatever is in the box. There are a few things that appear to never be included that are favs, so I need to pick them up at Wal-Mart because they unit cost is less.

    I do buy a few things at Sam’s Club when I am in the area for other reasons (ortho appointment, 4-H meeting, etc). Those include: flour, yeast, vanilla, dog food, toilet paper, non-stick cooking spray, honey, etc.) We do enjoy the food samples while there.

    I have been on the food budget bandwagon for over 20 years. When I first became a stay at home mom my grocery budget was $20/week! That was in 1990, but it was still a very LOW number. I made it work and as our family has grown and our income increased we have been able to also increase the grocery money.

    To encourage all of you, just think about what you spend. I find it hard to not buy “fun food” but those things usually cost more. I try to stick with the basics and occationally buy something the whole family will enjoy as a treat.

    I wrote a series on my blog about managing your grocery budget that you might find interesting and hopefully inspiring. Check it out:

  17. Celia Husmann says:

    It’s so hard to say because of the stock pile! As a new couponer, I wouldn’t expect to be at Queen Bee’s number YET. Keep following and you will be there some day. Also, if you have food allergies etc, you might spend more, it truly depends on what you eat!

  18. We spend about $400 a month on groceries, cleaners and paper products for 2 adults, 3 boys (10,8,6) and one breastfed infant. I use cloth diapers and have been couponing for a long time. Only recently have I discovered your blog and all the information you put together to help me find the much better deals than my own old-fashioned way of couponing. I used to only clip and save the coupons for the items I knew we would use that trip. Now that I save all my coupons I’m able to find that there is so much more available to good couponers! I’m always learning something new on your site! Thank you for all your hard work to help the rest of us!! So appreciated!

  19. Our budget is $500 a month but that is just a number. To be honest, I do not monitor it at all until later on when I put all my receipts into the computer to see where I’m at. BUT that is not just for groceries, it’s for everything: groceries, household, toiletries and food items etc. for 2 dogs, 1 rabbit and 1 ferret. So I can’t really say what we spent on groceries only since I’m not seperating that.

  20. I will start paying more attention but I think we are at about the $300 month range just for food. Once I got into the couponing it made such a difference. I spent next to nothing that first month and stockpiled my shelves. It looks like a food bank in my basement right now. I need to work on my organizational skills. But I really stocked up over the holidays on stuff that is rarely on sale at any other time. There are only two of us but we have family dinners every Sunday for about 12 people. I really can’t believe I have been paying retail for Cheerios all these years. I haven’t spent more than $1 a box since I started couponing.

  21. I would love to see also. I’ve been thinking about doing the same thing on my site, actually. I’ve been budgeting us $300/mo for food/toiletries/diapers (I do cloth so its usually just 1 pack /mo for when we are out and about) etc. I was so proud of myself this month because I spent only $211! Of course it was a few days short on the end of February, but still. 😉 It proved to me that I can do it on less, so I am permanently shaving another $20 off my household budget for a few months and hopefully I can get it down even farther in the future. The government wishes I was spending $520! LOL

  22. Paula Perez says:

    Yes, I’d love to see your groceries for a month!

    We are a family of four, and our two sons are 14 and 17. OHMYGOSH, CAN THEY EAT!!! I am the only one in the family with multiple allergies, to dairy, gluten and preservatives, so I must avoid many commonly used foods, although I still buy them for the rest of the family. We eat very healthily as a family, with few processed foods, lots of whole grains and produce.

    Our monthly consumables budget is currently $900 (this includes vitamins, health and beauty, and household cleaners). If I only counted food, I think we’d be about at the USDA “thrifty” level of $647/mo. I have been couponing only since last month. Our food budget was $1200-1400 a few years ago, before we took the Dave Ramsey course.

  23. Wow, it said we should be spending $662.40 a month on the thrifty plan. We spend no more than $300 (food only) a month for our family, which is 2 adults, a 2 year old, a 3 year old and a 9 year old.

  24. I would love to see your food for a month. We budget $1000 a month and barely make it. I have just started couponing so looking forward to saving a ton!!!

  25. Beth Archer says:

    We have 3 adults, a 17mo old and a breastfeeding infant. Our monthly budget is $600/mo which includes all of our food AND household items (toiletries, diapers, toilet paper, laundry deterg, etc). I use some coupons and I try to buy on sale but I wouldn’t call myself a coupon shopper (although I am coming to your class in April).

    I feel like our budget is reasonable considering that all our household stuff is in there. I am curious what the $250 includes and if household items are a separate category for you.

  26. I think that would be very powerful, seeing what you could get at the grocery store with coupons and sales. Great idea.
    BTW, I checked the USDA site as well and we are way under in the thrifty category. 🙂

  27. Judie M. says:

    Yikes! They said that our budget should be about $700 (at the low cost plan). I wasn’t sure what we were spending before, but when I started couponing, I set a budget of $500/month, and we’re well below that each month.

  28. I think that would be super interesting.
    My hubby & I do not buy (or try not to) buy any preprocessed food. And we are Dave Ramsey FPU grads. We also buy in super bulk, do food storage, and grind our own wheat so we do not buy flour.
    So all that being said we budget anywhere (depending on if we are planning parties or not) from $140-200.

  29. Stephanie Allen says:

    I would also be very interested in seeing this. I would LOVE to only spend $250, but we’re not there yet.

  30. Yes, this would be very interesting to me! Your blog/facebook has been so informational and money saving!

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