48 answers

What Is a Reasonable Monthly Food Budget?

I am completely obsessed with lowering my grocery bill and wonder how others are doing it.

We had a surprise expenditure in March that shocked me into reality about how much I am blowing on convenience food (takeout from Panera and other places) and not having a plan before going to the grocery store. I was totally shocked when I added up our food expenditures for March. I included grocery store purchases, takeout meals, a few meals out, and my husband's lunches out during his workday and the figure was nearly $2,000 for my husband and me, and our 12 and 14 year old kids. Granted, I have never been budget minded, have rarely thought or planned dinners ahead, have rarely gone to the store with a list, and pretty much always ended up buying many things I don't need.

So far this month I've spent less than half of what I normally would by planning dinners ahead and shopping with a list and buying ONLY what's on the list. I refuse to scrimp on health, though... I buy organic and local whenever possible. But I'm skipping the convenience items (like frozen organic burritos for the kids lunches--they are expensive) and take out. We're vegetarians, so I don't have the expense of any meat, fish, or foul, but fresh fruit and vegetables aren't cheap. I make my own bread and yogurt and we eat a lot of grains, beans, pasta, and nuts. I don't buy things with artificial ingredients or high-fructose corn syrup. Unfortunately healthier food costs more, and again, I just will not scrimp on my and my family's health.

I think I'm on the right track, but I know I can do more. Summer will be better when local produce can be bought inexpensively from farm stands and farmer's markets. In the mean time, I'm not buying packaged cereals (again, expensive!) and instead am cooking up oats for breakfast. I'm baking a lot of different kinds of muffins for snacks, and trying to use up what's in the fridge and the cupboards before I shop. Fortunately our kids like healthy food, too.

What does everyone else do to save money or stick to a food budget each month? Maybe if we share tips for saving money and healthy eating we will help each other stay on track.

2 moms found this helpful

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Wow, it's been great reading everyone's comments, ideas, and suggestions. I am really pleased with my own progress so far and will definitely incorporate some of the ideas that have come up here. I am really in awe of some of you women that manage to feed large families on what seems an impossibly small amount. I can see that it takes dedication and creativity, and I appreciate your willingness to share your tips here. Thank you!!!

Featured Answers

Hi! I don't know what I spend a month but I do have a few tips. 1. I make my own pancakes and muffins and freeze them for a quick breakfast. 2. I make cookies and snacks and place in small snack or sandwich bags for additions to bagged lunches. 3. I make extra for dinner and fill divided plastic containers that microwave well with the leftovers for my husbands and my lunches. Hope this is helpful.

More Answers

Wow! I know how easy it can be to spend more than you planned. Christmas is the hard holiday for me, I have a habit of going overboard and it can seriously hurt our bank account.

My husband and I sat down and worked on a yearly budget. We look over our budget every three months to make sure we are still on track. We looked at how much money is coming in and listed all of our fixed expenses (mortgage, sewer-water-trash pickup, electricity, etc.) Then we looked at our other expenditures (groceries-which includes any cleaning chemcials needed, car expense (oil, gas, maintenance), home maintenance, etc.) We worked to figure out what we might need for the year and then broke it down into monthly (and sometimes weekly) expenses. We also made sure to budget for family vacations, gifts (including extended family and Christmas), emergency fund, etc.

We made sure to pay ourselves, $10 a week allowance, for those things that we wanted that are frivolous. I have discovered if we didn't pay ourselves then we overspent dramatically without realizing it. Now we know how much is in our own envelopes at any given time.

Then we made envelopes for those budgets that we needed to be accessible, and I get cash once a week from the bank. Those budgets are dogs, allowance (we each get our own envelope), eat out, and groceries. I made the envelopes out of scrap fabric and ironed on Velcro so the change doesn't fall out.

Now, if I don't have the money I don't buy any extras. I have been known to ask a grocery clerk to put a few things back because I couldn't afford them for the week.

Most weeks I come home with $5 or $10 extra in our grocery pouch. I save this extra money for when there is a huge sale on the foods we use regularly.

My son has 7 food intolerances so we buy mostly organic foods, but I am able to feed our family of 3 for $150 a week. We can't use coupons very often because I buy unprocessed foods and companies don't make coupons for fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. =) But I use them when I can.

I hope my story helps you figure out where to start. Check out the FlyLady website: www.flylady.net. She has a FACE your finances control journal that breaks the process down into manageable steps. The link directly to her list of journals is: http://www.flylady.net/pages/control_journals.asp

The FACE is the first journal listed.

Good luck! I hope you find financial peace.

2 moms found this helpful

Well, I long to eat the way you do, although we do eat meat etc. and my dh has Crohn's and lives on fudge bars *sigh* and my son 6 yo is especially picky and can't eat any sugar and my daughter is willing to try stuff, but doesn't necessarily like a huge variety. We live on food stamps and get $280 but we also spend some money. I order grains in 50 lb sacks and grind them with my vitamix. I get a lot of my beans from food pantries, which aren't organic but I'm sure you could order them in quantity. I bought giant mason jars that hold almost 50# and they all back my couch and look kinda cool! I grow our vegetables as best I can, but I also have bought veggie shares from CSA's many years. It's awesome! even if you live in the city, many of them will have local drop off sites. we never eat out, we have chickens to get our eggs, I keep playing with the idea of breeding one of our goats and milking her... lots of responsibility there though and I'm not ready to take it on. Hope something there was helpful!

1 mom found this helpful

Sounds like you are definitely on the right track if you've already reduced your spending by half. My husband and I are big Dave Ramsey fans. We are new students of Financial Peace University.:) What he suggests is using ONLY cash and the envelope system. We do budgets bi-weekly with a great worksheet he has on his website. Here's a link:

http://www.daveramsey.com/media/pdf/fpu_monthly_cash_flow...

We watch every penny. I am a stay at home mom (journalist on a break from the biz). We have two little boys and two cats. Hope this helps!

1 mom found this helpful

I certainly don't want to sound harsh, but perhaps you need to look at the nutritional value you are getting from Panera and other take out places. I think the extra money you're spending on organic and whole foods (which are good) is being wasted when you add up the junk you're getting with the take out. You are putting so much effort into feeding your family healthy stuff, and then having a couple meals per week that are less than healthy. I think you could save a lot of money if you skip the take out, and then relax a little (only a little) on the groceries. I can only guess that you would find you are getting healthier meals (averaged thru the whole week) for less money.

Does any of that make any sense whatsoever? LOL

~L.

1 mom found this helpful

I'm a grandma and vividly remember the last REAL recession this economy had in the 70's. At the time I was a divorced mom with one child. The popular thing then was "food co-ops". Something I'd like to see come back. Families numbering 25-30, as a group, would rotate 4 or 5 shoppers from that group to purchase fresh produce from Eastern Market. We would barter on case pricing. All the goods were divided up at one of the member's homes with volunteers bagging. The program saved me a lot of money and we ate healthy. However, it is all about cooking at home.

Hi L. D--I just read in the paper that a family of four averages $900 per month on food, but I can't remember whether or not it included eating out. One of the easiets ways to reduce spending is to not purchase convenience foods, healthy and organic or not. Having said that, I do like to have a few convenience things in the freezer for emergencies, but I only purchase those when on sale. As others have suggested, make extras when cooking and then freeze leftovers for another meal when not used for lunches the next day. Also, consider reducing the amount of animal protein you eat. I am not a vegetarian, but I am intentional about eating more meatless meals. Purchase organic animal products only. They are more expensive but you should be eating less of them for optimal health so your expenses should actually go down. I have lots of other tips so feel free to contact me if you would like them. In health, D.

L.,

I am interested in the responses you get. We live on one income and I am always running to the store or Sam's club because we have ran out of 1 or 2 items for the week ( I never walk out of the store with 1 or 2 items thou). J.

I cannot tell you what a good mynthly budget is but try these websites.

www.menuplanningcentral.com/MealsForYou
www.kidapprovedmeals.com/HappyKids
www.dinewithoutwhine.com/MealsMadeEasy
These sites have helped me in the past so check them out.

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