How Much Should Groceries Cost?

I was talking to a neighbor about our grocery expenditures, and she was shocked when I told her we spent just $175 a month for my family of three. She has one more child than I do, but she spends almost $1000! Her astonishment made me wonder if this $175 figure was still accurate. After all, it had been a couple years since I tracked all my purchases. Back in May of 2009, I wrote about saving money on organic groceries. Then, in My Shopping Lists: Saving Money at the Grocery Store, I revealed exactly what that $175 got me.

So, last April (in 2011) I tracked my purchases again—and I shelled out $280! That’s a 60% increase in just two years! Now, according to the USDA food plans (updated in 2011), we’re still doing well. A family like ours (a man and woman in their thirties, plus a five-year-old child) would pay $450.80 a month on food on their “thrifty plan.”

I had to wonder why my spending had skyrocketed in just two years. Here’s what I came up with:

1.       I stopped caring so much about saving money. My shopping list for 2011 contained crazy things like wine and fancy cheese.

2.       We entertained more. We had one party and five overnight house guests, necessitating more food.

3.       My husband developed a sweet tooth—for apples. This new problem cost us over $30.

4.       The cost of food went up. Everything seems more expensive now. I used to buy butter when it went on sale for $2 a pound. Now it’s difficult to find for less than $4 a pound. That’s a 100% increase! The bread I used to buy has increased 50% in the last two years, too. Obviously, those are just two examples.

Overall, I’m not too worried about this new increase in my food spending. We’re still well under the USDA’s “thrifty plan,” so my status as a penny-pincher will remain intact.

Comments

  1. That is definitely impressive! And I think the number one reason should be the cost of food went up because it really has. Grocery prices are so sneaky that we don’t notice the little increases (and decreases in volume) and we mix up sale prices and regular prices. Also, you have more eaters! As kids get bigger they eat more.

    I think I spend around $300 a month for the three of us and I shop mostly at our local grocery that is a little more expensive but less gas and more local produce. We eat meat but rarely steaks or roasts and not every night. About once every 2 months I make a big costco trip and stock up on staples. Other people have told me this bill seems really low but I can’t for the life of me figure out what people are buying when they spend $1000 a month on groceries.

  2. Eileen, I can explain the $1,000 a month to you because I used to spend that much for my husband and I (just 2 people!). The $1,000 that I would spend was from purchasing almost all of our meals in the form of microwave dinners and from a total lack of regard to prices. I actually had a cashier tell me once, “You know these are buy one get one free, right?” I had no clue, and I didn’t care. When I finally got around to tracking where all my money was going, I had to ask other people if spending $1,000 a month on groceries was normal. Now that I cook everything from scratch, that alone has reduced my grocery bill to $300. With the use of coupons and attention to sale prices, I can get it even lower.

  3. I do a happy dance when our bill (two adults, a four year old and a one year old) for a week is under $100. I can’t really meal plan around sales, because I have the world’s fussiest husband, so have to do the best I can with what I’ve got.

  4. We’re at just under $400/mo for our family of four. When we first got married (almost 6 years ago) it was $100/mo! I did that without coupons, but man it caused a lot of stress in our marriage. I constantly had to say “no” to everything- beer, ice cream, salsa- anything that wasn’t a necessity. Anyway, $400/mo feels like plenty now that I am couponing and stocking up from our garden this summer. We don’t always have snack foods around or desserts, but we have pretty good homemade meals and the occasional good beer to satisfy my husband. I’m thankful to not have to watch every single dime anymore.

  5. Haha! There’s no WAY my husband would live in a world without beer and salsa. I do make all of our meals, including his lunches for work, from scratch and mostly vegetarian so that helps I guess. I am too lazy to do hardcore couponing so we do end up spending more than $400 per month though…not sure how much more. I don’t mind, we enjoy having good quality food and good beer around. We just save in other areas of life.

  6. Reading this article, and responses, I am totally freaking out because I spend WAY more than all of you. I have a (fussy) husband, a (fussy) 11 yr old, a 17 mo. old and an infant just starting to eat solid foods. We also have 2 cats and 2 small dogs.
    I buy meat in bulk and cook from scratch on the weekends, then freeze to reheat during the week. I spent $253 this week and didn’t even buy pet food nor diapers (both babies still in diapers) but wipes and paper towels. Contrary to how it looks, I’ve paid attention to cost and value.
    I stopped using coupons when the items offered by coupon required more accompaniments which increased my spending, or, required me to increase spending by buying more of the same (“buy 2 get 1 half off”).
    I know part of this has to be that I live in a state where the cost of everything is very high and we have the highest taxes in the country.
    But I guess I need to go over my expenditures with a fine toothed comb. Thing is, I don’t know what to do because I’m already buying the basics without anything fancy. I have been telling my husband to stop drinking whole milk which isn’t good for him and to save it for the kids.

  7. Carolyn, I don’t think your costs are truly that much higher, considering you have two more people and four more animals than we do! How much do you spend per month on pet food? And the cost of food does vary a lot from state to state. We don’t have sales tax here. Another thing to consider is that my husband doesn’t eat that much. He weighs under 130 lbs. If your husband is much taller/heftier/more muscular/something, he could possibly need even twice as much food!

    According to the USDA’s thrifty plan, your family could spend $695/month. (That is, obviously, not including four pets.) It sounds like you spend just over $1000. There may not be that much room for cost-cutting, but if you wanted to, you could track for a month like I did and see where that money is going. Then you could see if there was room to cut back or not. I’ve also heard of people using a cash system for grocery shopping. Supposedly this really helps people stick to a budget.

    I’ll answer your other questions on the other shopping threads you commented on!

  8. We spend more, too! I do try, really hard. My husband is tall and works a physically demanding job and eats a ton.

    Before our daughter was born we could do $100 a week, which included our cleaning supplies, TP etc. She is only 10 months and is eating solids like a champ but has a ton of allergies and intolerances. Whoa! I have to make absolutely everything from scratch and there are a lot of misses that go straight to the compost. I still don’t know what our average bill is really going to be because I’ve been stocking the pantry with new allergen free staples to cook for her, so it’s all off. Last week I spent $200. I’m assuming my new weekly bill will be somewhere in between.

  9. Its wanderful to save money on groceries, and I acctually benefit from moms who share their ideas. But we have to give our food a break, how much do we spend on monthly bills overal? What is that vise that is more important than our food? I am huge on keeping a body as healthy as possible, organic, pesticide/chemical free soaps, makeup, we are the most important thing in our budget! Hurray for green moms, it takes effort and we should give ourselves a break!

  10. We spend way more than that for a family of four! But food costs more in Canada. I used to spend $40-$50 a week for my husband and me back when I couldn’t work and he was a student. Now it’s probably closer to $150 or maybe more. I buy more organics, more dairy, and I don’t stop at all the little shops looking for the best deal. It’s worth the extra money not to drag my kids on the trek as it’s all on foot. Also, food prices have gone up considerably! Dried beans are a staple in our house and have been for a long, long time. When my husband brought home the latest haul I couldn’t believe the price! I dug out an old bag from 3 years ago that still had a price label on it. It was half the price! Even beans are getting expensive!

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