How to Feed Your Family on a Tight Budget

When financial times are tight, the grocery budget is the easiest part of the budget to cut. Over the last 15 years our grocery budget has ranged from less than $100 a month (when we had no children) to more than $400 a month (last year when our income was higher). Right now our grocery budget is $400 a month. I may try to reduce it soon though.

To keep our grocery spending under $400 a month, I’ve been using the Grocery Game and stocking up on things when I can get them on sale with a coupon. Lately I’ve been a little disappointed with the deals at the Grocery Game, though, and I’ve begun to wonder whether the $10 every 8 weeks is worth the service anymore.

Fortunately, My Grocery Deals is another great option for those who want to save money on groceries. It’s a free site that shows you what’s on sale at your local stores. The best news, however, is that they are planning to add coupon matching sometime in the hopefully near future. When that happens, I will definitely be converting from the paid Grocery Game service to the free My Grocery Deals site.

Now that you know what my grocery budget is, I’d love to hear from you! What is your grocery budget? How many people do you feed on that budget? Does your grocery budget include paper products and toiletries? (Mine doesn’t). And how much do you regularly spend on meat? What are your tips for keeping the grocery budget down?

If you’re not comfortable sharing how much you spend on groceries, don’t worry about it. I’d still love to hear your cost-cutting tips!



Author

By , on Mar 28, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{52 Comments}

  1. About $250 including paper, toiletries, and anything from the pharmacy that isn’t a prescription. It’s a bit high for 2 people, but it works. And we often come in nicely under it.

  2. Lee:

    Our spending for groceries varies according to our income, but it seems to generally work out to 100-150. per week for a family of 5 (two teenagers and a 5 year old). This includes every category: food, toiletries, paper products, cleaning/laundry supplies, clothes and splurges…(books, magazines, toys)

    We have at times gotten a month’s worth of spending done in one shopping trip when my husband receives a large payday…and then all we have to do is supplement with milk and bread basic shopping every week. But it does seem to lead to extra spending sometimes the more frequently we go to the store, which isn’t too good for the overall budget.

    As for saving, I use coupons and shop the sales, and “comp” the sales at Wal-Mart with the local stores papers. We save a lot on some meats and drinks this way. But, we sure do have a ways to go to catch up to you, Lynnae, with your budget for groceries! That’s great that you can do that…one of these days, we’ll get there.

  3. sarah:

    Grocery budgeting has been the bane of my existence since we started a budget about 18 months ago.
    I have racked my brains as to why everyone in the world (who is paying attention) seems to have a smaller grocery budget than I do. We are a family of six, soon to be seven, and though my kids are all young they really eat a lot. My husband is also very interested in fitness and insists on eating according to Zone diet proportions… so there is really NO way to skimp that much on the meals. Meat and tuna end up being the most cost efficient way to get protein, but they are so much more expensive than the easy, filling carbs like pasta and rice!
    Still, by making everything from scratch (soaking beans, etc) and using frozen veggies, stocking up on meat when on sale, and buying NOTHING extra (no cereal, no crackers/purchased snacks, no ordering in or eating out, etc) we keep our budget to $600 a month. This includes toiletries and detergent, etc.
    I was so relieved a few weeks ago to hear Dave Ramsey say that the average family of four would really be STRETCHING it to keep the grocery budget to $600 a month. It was nice to have him put a number on it.
    I’m happy with this number for now, but I can’t wait until we are out of debt and can bump it up closer to $800, to include things like organic meat, more fresh veggies (I really miss mushrooms and asparagus!) and random splurge items like really good cheese!

  4. I spend about $250/month to feed our family of four (though the fourth member, a nine month old, doesn’t eat much). This includes toiletries and household stuff I pick up at the grocery store. I try not to spend more than $3/lb on meat, and normally end up spending just shy of $2. Pork loins and roasts regularly go on sale for $1.89 here. I do lots of stocking up when I can, and some coupons (but not much since I don’t get a paper). I always stop by our grocery store’s mark down section, matching these with coupons can give you a great deal!

  5. Melinda:

    We are a family of 5 living in Kansas. I generally spend around $150 a week for “food/household expenses”. That includes everything from groceries, to toothpaste, to a package of underwear. I would say that I spend right at $100 for groceries. I can, and have in the past, spend less on groceries, but now my teenage daughter and myself are on a diet. Daughter is also a vegetrian. I don’t buy a lot of special foods for us, but I do probably spend $20 a week or so just on name brand fiber cereal, yogurt, and some diet entree’s.

    I work at an elementary school and in a few weeks when school is out for the summer our grocery bill will be cut by at least 25%. I’m home more so I can make cheaper meals which require more preparation time that I just can’t do during the school year when I’m working full time and have kids in sports. Also, I’m not on salary so I will not have a paycheck coming in during the summer. We will eat most of our produce from our garden and that in itself will probably cut our grocery expense my 20% to 25%.

    Right now meat is probably our biggest budget buster at the grocery store. My daughters and myself could probably go the rest of our lives without eating much meat, but my teenaged son and hubby have a different opinion!!LOL We eat a lot of lean ground beef and chicken. Pork chops and more expensive cuts are the rarity at our house.

    Hope this helps!

  6. Lise:

    I’m just starting to track the food I buy and its costs — but I know it’s a lot!

    I’m a foodie (read: expensive tastes) and I love to cook. I’m trying to eat healthier foods, organic whenever available, preferably local, while keeping costs reasonable, which is why I started tracking.

    Although I don’t have a real solid idea of how much I spend.. I know some months it’s as much as you folks above spend for a family of 3 or 4… ouch!

    Thanks for this post. It’s given me an idea of how much I can save, and a challenge.

  7. I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I don’t live by a strict budget. All in all, I just try to spend as little as possible, and usually that ends up being less than I’ve budgeted for (when I’m written out a budget ;)). For one person, I spend about $40/month (now, since the Simplicity Challenge) – sometimes it’s $60, sometimes it’s $25. Some weeks I need to buy more than others, but it evens out to about $40/week.

    :D

  8. MichelleH:

    Hi Lynnae,
    We spend $350/mo for groceries and also eating out 1x/week. This is for my husband and I and our college daughter who is home on the weekends.We don’t play the grocery game but I do stock up on loss-leader items at our local grocery store every week and shop for other stuff at WM about 3x per month. I’ve recently started freezing milk – I didn’t know this was possible until a few months ago. I think this has saved us quite a bit as our local store runs it 2/6.00 (gal.) like once every other month and this past week had it 2/5.00. I also try to only buy meat for less than 2.00/lb. I’ve recently updated my price book also. I think this has helped our budget the most.
    Blessings!

  9. Our Budget four our family of five (with a teenager!) is $400-$450. We are trying to buy more organic produce, which can up the budget, but I found a solution that is working for us. We have our organic produce delivered once a week for about $35 (www.pioneerorganics.com). We have enough for our family, dinners and lunches, with a bit to spare/freeze. There are other great benefits, too. I follow most of the tips in the article above, including stocking up on sale items, but I would run to the store for fresh produce, and find myself “just buying this” or “that’s a great buy” and spending more. With the delivery, I avoid all that, and keep within my budget. One thing I didn’t expect: my kids love unpacking, cleaning, and prepping the delivery each week. It has brought them closer to know where food really comes from (not the freezer!).

  10. We budget $560 a month for our family of 4. It does NOT include anything but groceries.

    I know I can get my expenses cut a lot, but we both work full-time, my kids are very active in sports, so I tend to purchase a lot of convenience foods. Not the healthiest options, but still cheaper than eating out on the way home ball practice or dance class. I’d love to get involved in the Grocery Game, but I don’t know I would make the time to do it. I don’t clip coupons, I don’t stock up on things… I’m just a grocery shopping idiot! lol

  11. I spent an average of $415/mo last year on food (gotta love Microsoft Money for having this info at my fingertips!), and that included any meals out (which was mostly on trips, or special occasions). So far this year, I’ve spent an average of $380, but I’ve really only tried to chop it down this last month. I’m trying to incorporate more meat-less and less-meat meals into our diet (casseroles, soups, stews, etc.), so that should bring it down. My husband occasionally requests some expensive meals, so I know we could eat more cheaply, but he’d get mad. I like my husband, and like for him to like me, so I don’t push it too much. :-)

    Our household is my husband, myself, and our two sons, ages 3 years and 22 months.

    I try to buy in bulk. I’ve eliminated cereal, because even though I can find it for $1-1.50 at our local salvage store, the cost of milk is ridiculous! So that is an occasional treat, and no longer a staple. We’re trying to eat more beans and rice, and veggies, so we’ll see how that goes.

  12. Our budget for Hubby, 2yo boy, kitty, and me is 250 dollars. I include all toiletries, TP, PT, diapers, cleaning items and cat food in my budget. We used to spend over 500 dollars on groceries a month until I discovered a grocery challenge group on the msn.com money message boards. They have helped tremendously and we have been able to pay bills on time AND cut down our debt with the savings. It used to be the choice of “groceries or light bill” for us. Thats how bad it was. I have heard of the grocery game before but refuse to pay for something that i know I could get for free. I use couponmom.com and she matching the corresponding coupons to the deals at your local grocery stores. I also clip coupons every weekend they are available. And I get multiple papers. It takes me about 30 minutes to get everything clipped and organized and that 30 minutes saves me at least 250 dollars every month.
    So my poor hubby doesn’t have to eat chicken every night, I also keep track of sales cycles so I know when to stock up on ground beef, roasts and steaks when they are at their rock bottom prices. As a SAHM, I see this as part of my “job”….to stretch hubby’s check as much as I can but still give my family quality food. Plus, it feels like a fun game…that I keep winning!

  13. Tia:

    Oh and I forgot. We “own” a working share in a local farm which means we help distribute locally grown, organic produce and we buy 1 share for a discounted price. My mother and I split a share which is supposed to be for a family of 4-6. Because we help with the work we spend only $125 each for fresh veggies 1x per week. :) That $125 is for the entire spring/summer veggie season.

  14. Adrienne:

    For a family of four, we have gone from $700 a month to $500, but I’m hoping to cut it down more. That includes all things we buy- paper products, cleaning products, school supplies, laundry supplies, etc. We have a small apartment freezer, so I am limited on how much meat I can buy. It is usually enough for two weeks though. I plan our menu for the coming week based on what we purchased on sale two weeks ago. I buy whatever meat is on sale that we will use for the week after my menu plan. That’s probably clear as mud!

    We live in the land of no doubles, so free products are RARE. I feel the grocery game has really helped trim our budget.

  15. Tia:

    We are a family of 3, myself & 2 kids (ages 8 & 5). I have a budget of $200 per month for groceries and this includes cat & fish food & toiletries. I buy only organic produce when it is on sale. So for example, last month we had a great deal on oranges buy 1 get 1 free so we ate lots and lots of oranges. This month it was apples so we have lots of apples. My kids go through milk so quickly that I only buy it (again organic) when it is on clearance. They are guaranteed to go through a gallon before the expiration date and I have not spent more than $3 for a gallon of organic milk in over 6 months. If there is no clearance there is no milk. (I don’t buy into the hype that humans HAVE to have dairy in order to be healthy.)

    We stock up on loss leader items if they are healthy and I buy staples in bulk. I make our own snack foods (healthy muffins, cookies etc…)

    As far as meat, again, organic only so we don’t eat a lot of meat around my house. I just can’t afford it. If I see a great deal I will stock up but if we are running low and there are no good sales we eat vegetarian. The kids don’t mind. Great soups, salads, spaghetti, casseroles…there are lots of options.

    This does not include eating out though. Which I am ashamed to say in the past 8 months (since my dad died) has been wayyyy too much. I am finally starting to cut back on this again and we are back to our budget of $50 per month for eating out (includes Starbucks). :)

  16. Pete:

    I’m almost embarrassed to say that this is one area we hadn’t looked at until recently when we discovered we were spending almost $800/month on groceries, eating out, etc for only 2 people! Wow, what an eye opener when after I started asking people how much they spend they averaged anywhere from 4-500. My carpool buddy told me he feeds his family of 6 on $500 a month! wow.

    Needless to say we’re starting to cut back on this area of our budget and eating out less, bringing our lunches, and so on.

  17. Frank @ milkyourmoney.com:

    It’s just my wife and I and we budget $300/month for groceries. This includes all of our lunches and toiletries (at least the kind you can get at the grocery store).

    I do not use a service to find bargains, although I feel like I play the grocery game every Sunday I’m at Safeway. I typically only buy meat when it is on sale and I stock up. I refuse to pay more than $1.99/pound for ground beef and boneless chicken breast (the two forms of meat we eat the most). I end up grabbing these deals about once a month.

    Our Safeway card lets us know how much we save each trip buy buying the deals. My goal – and this is realistic – is to save 30% every trip to the store. You would be surprised how much you can save by creating meals based off the deals.

  18. Family of 4. Last year when it was just 3 of us and we were putting all our money into the house remodel, we spent $200/month. Now with 4 of us, we’re closer to $400/month, not including anything but food. We use occasional coupons but mostly just stock up when stuff is on sale. We only buy meat when it’s on sale BOGO and we’ve really been trying to limit meat consumption anyway. I buy most of our produce at a local farm stand which is soooo much cheaper than the grocery store.

  19. We live in expensive Los Angeles, the land of $6.99 organic milk. It’s 2 adults and a 17 month old toddler in our house, and we spend $400 a month on food (not including diapers and toiletries.) I just reduced our spending from $600 a month, so this is really frugal. We do not eat out. If we do, it’s an under $25 meal.

    I plan all of our meals for the week before shopping and try to use up what we have. We eat a lot of vegetarian meals – they really are cheaper and also healthy. I shop at Trader Joe’s for about 75% of my groceries and all produce/fruit, then with coupons and sale fliers at one of the commercial grocery stores like Vons, Ralphs or Albertsons. I’ve begun shopping the bulk bins at Whole Foods, which save a ton of money on staples like oatmeal, cornmeal, couscous, beans and rice. A friend has a Costco membership, so we’ve started buying coffee, toilet paper, paper towels, the Kirkland brand of diapers (which are awesome and so much cheaper than Pampers/Huggies) there in bulk. It’s easy to buy impulse at Costco and end up with hundreds of dollars in purchases, some of which really aren’t less than the grocery store, so I am sure to stick to my list.

    It’s easy to spend more in gas ($3.65 a gallon) by driving around to save 20 cents here and there, so I try to plan my grocery shopping with other trips.

    • Laura:

      Hey, thanks for posting this. I also live in expensive Los Angeles and do most of my shopping at TJ’s b/c it’s convenient and the quality is very good for what you pay. I’m only shopping for me and my husband right now, but we are spending way too much and I would like to have a baby soon, so I’m thinking of ways that I can spend the same/less and provide for one more. Your suggestion to buy bulk at WF and go to Costco for TP & paper products was very helpful–I tried going to Target for those things b/c I thought that it’d be cheaper than Ralph’s but it was WAY worse! Anyway, thanks!

  20. I budget $500 a month to feed our family of 7. This includes a 17,15,11,10,&8 year old. It also includes all our toiletries and cleaning products and any eating out. I get most toiletries and cleaning free with CVS and Walgreens and sales plus using store and manufacturer coupons. We also have extra teens and kids a lot of days with at least 8 teens eating every weekend (my kids friends that come over) I am making a lot more things like chili and taco soup or stretching spaghetti with more sauce per meat. I used to have most meals where each person got a piece of meat but cannot stay on budget with that anymore. I buy the largest bags of frozen vegetables and can when really cheap. I just bought over 60 cans of veggies because they were $.32 each. We drink sweet tea and water. I buy the Walmart brand sports drink flavoring to make our own sports drinks for the boys in baseball. I cut our milk consumption from 7 gallons a week to 2 when prices went up. We don’t eat as much cereal but switched to homemade pancakes and biscuits and grits.I add protein powder to eggs and french toast and make them healthier. I am eating eggs everyday with diet, and that is a killer with their prices.

  21. I do the Grocery Game as well, but seem to be having considerably more success than I expected. I budget $150 per week for a family of 5 (so, 650 a month) to cover groceries and household items. Pre-Grocery Game, meat was roughly 30% of our weekly food costs. Now, with all of the other foods being at such drastically lower prices, it’s probably closer to 45%.

    Tips for keeping the grocery budget down are pretty simple. I have a deep freezer, so I get as much of the meat and milk as I can when it’s marked down for quick sale. The rest, I use the Grocery Game and coupons to get for great deals. That takes care of the majority of our spending and helps out a LOT.

    *By the way… I’m writing a series of articles requested from friends. I’d love to share links and discuss some of your articles. Would this be alright?

  22. The best things to do are to have a list and stick to buyng only what is on it. Do not shop too often as you always buy more than you need. If you are hard up use up what is in your freezer and the back of your cupboards.

  23. Kara:

    Right now it’s just me and my husband, and I spend about $200 a month on groceries. I could get it down more, but I just enjoy grocery shopping and we always have enough food in the house to last a long time!

  24. We spend about $600 a month for our family of five but that includes about $200 of food enzymes that allow us to eat regular foods despite food allergies and lots of specialty foods for my oldest who can’t eat a lot of other things. So in the end we spend about $400 for groceries using no coupons, buying bulk, and making specialty foods from scratch.

  25. We spend around $500 for a family of four, with paper products included. I used to break out paper products, food, cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc., but it became too cumbersome. Now we just have a “Food/Household” budget category set at $500 and try to squeeze it all in under that.

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