A quick Google search told me that, on average, Americans spend $150-250 a week to feed a family of four; I know families that spend that in one Costco trip and STILL have to visit another grocery store for non bulk items. When my children were younger, I was able to feed them on fifty dollars a week, but it wasn’t the healthiest menu and their appetites grew just as fast as they have. After years of strategic planning, I learned how to calculate a grocery budget for a family of six, that healthy eating can be affordable, and how to consistently feed my family at home without tiring myself out.
Determine Your Price
Current Spending: Start by looking at how much you currently spend on food. Create a log and track your trips to the grocery store, or if you don’t use cash, look it up on your bank statement. Tally up how much you spend on groceries AND eating out for one week (yikes!). Set a goal for how much you want to decrease it by and adjust only as needed (example, a $50 budget was unrealistic), not because of lack of effort.
Price Per Meal: Next, determine how much it costs to feed your family one meal at a fast food restaurant. Your goal should be to work that number down. While a 50% savings may sound good to some, understand that the majority of fast food costs come from convenience, so be ambitious and aim to cut your cost per meal by 75%! Trust me, if you keep reading, you’ll understand how this can be achieved.
I use fast food costs for two reasons:
- We think these places offer cheap food. Using this number as the “standard” for what you think a meal should cost your family helps you see that you can provide them something more valuable at home for less money.
- Everyone’s family dynamic/stomachs/nutrition/diets are different. Setting a “X” amount of dollars for one family of four kids under the age of five would not be helpful to another family with vegan athlete teenagers. Budgets and needs vary family to family.
For our family of six, it costs us $30-35 to eat out at McDonalds; $10 Dad (value meal + dollar menu items), $5 Mom (usually a salad and coffee), $6 for our oldest son (value meal), and $4 Happy Meals for the three younger kids. My price per meal should be $8.25 which would give me a grocery budget of $115/week if we packed our lunches, ate from home all week, and not including breakfast. Currently, I aim for $5-6 a meal, we pack lunches, and I cook dinner 5-7 days on a grocery/household items budget of $125/week.
Change Your Shopping Habits
Shop Sales: Most grocery store sales (with the exception of Target and Walmart) start Wednesday and end the following Tuesday. Online versions of sale ads are available to view late Tuesday/early Wednesday. Every Wednesday morning I look at the ads of my local grocery stores and list the best deals. I do not shop at EVERY store, I simply compare prices to see where my time would be best spent when it comes time to shop for that week’s groceries.
- Produce: Save money on fruits and vegetables by only buying what is in season, which is usually offered at $1 lb/unit.
- Protein: Meats also go through sale cycles, and can be strategically shopped for. Prices drop on seafood before/during Lent, corned beef for St Patricks Day, ham for Easter, etc. When shopping, keep an eye out for Manager Specials, they are packages of meat that are meant to be consumed in the next day or so and are generously discounted!
- Carbs: Pastas, rice, and bread are usually the least expensive item to shop for. When they are on sale for less than $1 lb/unit, stock up!
Stack Savings: Think less extreme couponing and more informed, strategic shopper. I love grocery stores that have their own reward programs because they will send you offers based on your shopping habits (they gather this information every time you enter your phone number at check out). Log into your store account before you shop and see if you can save on things you were already planning on buying.
- Target often offers gift card promos when you buy a certain quantity of an item or spend a dollar amount in one department. Similarly Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS offer “store money.” These deals can get VERY complicated, but the jest is that the stores are giving you money back for buying sale products. Buy them then apply the gift card or “store money” to the rest of your groceries.
- Cash back apps are a great way to stack savings. You simply shop, scan your receipt in the app, and earn cash back on select items. There are a ton out there, and yes you can scan the same receipt on multiple apps that offer the same product rebate. My favorite one to use is Ibotta and if you want to learn more simply click here.
Being intentional about the food you buy, consume, keep, and use will make a huge impact on your finances. It seems overwhelming at first, but keep it simple and it will become a habit over time.
Inventory: Clean out your fridge and pantry to see what you have to work with. Rotate perishables and items that need to be used first to the front, in plain sight. Do this regularly so that you can build a menu off of what you already have in order to reduce what needs to be bought.
Inspiration: You’ve worked through your fridge and pantry and have room for a few “fun” meals on your plan? Draw inspiration from what you like to eat when you go out, other cultures, or search Pinterest!
Prevent Burn Out: Cooking at home all the time gets tiring! Work “easy” nights into your meal plan; crockpot recipes, cook a large batch of one dinner and freeze half for another day, or schedule your kids to cook. There is no shame in frozen pizza, cans of soup, and sandwiches for dinner a couple of times a month.. the kids will live and you’ll keep your sanity.
- Establish an “Eat Out Budget.” While the goal is to eat at home a majority of the time, eating out happens, and thats okay. Setting a budget for it is just another way to be intentional with your finances and you’ll think twice before hitting up that fast food drive thru. Make your budget stretch by searching for restaurant coupons, buying gift cards at a discount (I use the Raise app), and seeing what Groupon has to offer.
Setting your family’s grocery budget is JUST. THAT.. YOUR family’s grocery budget. No one is here to tell you to go from spending $600 a month in organic gluten free food to $50 of processed macaroni. If your goal is to reduce your grocery spending, regardless of your family size and diet, it IS possible by following the above mentioned steps. Decide today to end the mindless trips to the grocery store and standing in front of a full fridge with no idea of what to cook for dinner. Be intentional, have a plan, and save money. Good luck!