What I learned growing up
Growing up finances was a taboo topic in our home. It was something the kids needn’t worry themselves with and therefore we didn’t really know much about what our parents spent on anything, including groceries. In fact, we never really learned how to effectively grocery shop or meal plan either. That left me kind of stumped when I first moved out on my own and was faced with the task of planning, shopping for, and preparing meals for my husband and myself.
I’m a fairly decent cook, but I only knew how to make a handful of things really well. And you can only eat spaghetti so many times! I also had no clue that meal planning was even a thing, let alone how to do it. As a kid my parents would typically ask about an hour before we wanted to eat, “what do you want for dinner tonight?” The answer was limited based on what we had available in the cabinets, not the other way around.
Figuring it out as I go
So needless to say, over the 7 years I’ve been married, it’s been quite a learning experience figuring out what works and what doesn’t work for our family. We’ve tried various meal planning services and even a couple of meal planning subscription boxes. I think we’ve kind of landed in a groove that seems to work for us for now, but we’re constantly learning and changing the way we do things!
One of the areas that
So how do you figure out what the right amount is for your family? How do you know what to budget for groceries each month? Well, there’s a fairly simple way to decide!
How many people are you feeding?
The first thing you’ll want to consider is how many people you’re feeding. A good amount to start with is about $7 a day per person. So for a family of four, you should start with a monthly budget of about $840 ($7 x 4 people = $28/day x 30 days in a month = $840).
Who’s in your family?
Next consider who you’re feeding. It’s pretty common knowledge that, on average, males eat more than females. You can also assume that the older your child, the more they will eat. My infant and toddler don’t eat a whole lot, but most healthy teens eat just as much or close to what an average adult eats. Take this into consideration when deciding how much to budget.
are your eating habits?
Do you tend to order take out most nights or are you a master chef who loves spending time in the kitchen? Does your family pack their own lunches or grab something on the go? How many meals and snacks do each of you consume on any given day? Are you more of a red meat and potatoes kind of family or do you enjoy a vegetarian lifestyle?
All of these things play a huge role in the amount of money you’ll end up spending on groceries. If you plan to eat out more than in you can safely budget less for groceries and more for dining out. If you eat more meat than veggies, your grocery bill will likely be higher.
Where do you shop?
If you plan to do a majority of your shopping at stores such as Aldi, which is recognized by many as one of the lowest cost grocery stores, you can count on saving loads of money. Alternatively, if you prefer to shop at higher-end stores (like, say, Whole Foods), you should plan on adding extra funds to your grocery budget.
Coupons and rewards programs can also offer you additional savings at many stores. If your goal is to get the most bang for your buck, opt for lower-priced stores. You can do a little research for your area to determine where you’ll save the most money. Sometimes splitting up your shopping between two or three stores, while perhaps a little inconvenient, may save you some cash.
What’s included in your grocery budget?
If you really include only food items in your grocery budget, you’ll typically be able to spend less. Other items you may decide to include in your grocery budget include household items (cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc.), baby supplies (formula, baby food, diapers), and maybe even dining out. Obviously, the more you include in this budget category, the more you’ll need to fund it.
My family’s grocery budget
Let me get right to the point. We have a family of four made up of two adults (myself and my husband) and two boys (currently aged 1 year and 2 years). We budget $615 a month for groceries. That includes any food items we plan to eat at home and household supplies.
We keep formula/baby food separate because it’s expensive and it’s temporary (thankfully it looks like we’ll be phasing it out in the next couple months!) Dining out is separate because we’ve decided that we want to do our best to eat at home more and eat out less. Keeping the funds for those two things separate helps us stay more accountable to that goal.
So what’s the magic formula?
In order to figure out our budget amount, I took our average spent on groceries over several months and made that our budget. But if you don’t have that kind of data available to you, here’s a breakdown of how you could arrive at your budget number. We’ll use my family as an example.
The two adults in our household eat an average amount. Both of our boys combined currently eat maybe the same amount as an average adult or less per day, so we’ll just count that as one more “serving” per meal. Most of the time we try to eat dinner at home and we often eat
- 2 adults at ~$6/day (each) = $360/month
- 2 children at ~$5/day (combined) = $150/month
- Household supplies ~$100/month
- Total $610/month
That’s only $5 away from what I actually budget! Of course this is only a starting point. You’ll need to adjust your budget as you begin learning your family’s specific needs better. The best way to get the most accurate picture of what you should be budgeting for groceries (or any other category) is to track your spending for 6 months and then use the average to set your budget.
Of course, your budget will change over time as your life circumstances change, so you should always be tracking, adjusting, and learning. You will also have occasional times where you may need to adjust for a specific situation, like hosting a holiday dinner or going on vacation. Just be sure to exclude those extra costs from your average so they don’t throw off your results!
My budget is an ever evolving beast and I don’t think I’ll ever have a magic number that will work every month for the rest of our lives. But I do have the tools to keep making those adjustments here and there to work with all the changing aspects of our lives from day to day. And now you do too!
Don’t have a budget? Try YNAB! It’s the best budgeting tool available (in my humble opinion) and has loads of great features. One of the best features is the ability to easily track your spending over any amount of time using YNAB’s reports. This allows you to see your spending habits so you know what to budget in the future or so you can see where you need to make some changes. Sign up now and get up to two months free (YNAB gives you 34 days free and signing up using my referral link gets you an additional 30 days free)! What do you have to lose?!
Here’s to better budgeting in 2019!