Do you ever feel like you’re spending way too much on groceries? Today, I’m answering the question, “How much should I spend on groceries,” with a detailed grocery budget guideline. (This post is updated several times per year with the most current food costs available.)

I never appreciated how controversial the subject of grocery budgets could be until I shared my $170 grocery budget challenge.

In it, I reflected on the experience of telling my son I didn’t have any bananas or peanut butter to give him. As I noted in the post, of course, I provided him with a variety of other healthy foods, but I also didn’t run out to the store to restock on his favorites in an effort to keep our grocery budget down.

All of a sudden I was no longer just a mom trying to save money on groceries to get out of debt faster. In a moment, there were two camps of Facebookers entrenched on either side of my parenting decision.

On one side were those aghast that I would dare to deny my toddler a simple banana when he asked for one. One commenter put it something like this, “she should go get a second job instead of making her child suffer for her irresponsible spending and debt.”

On the other side were those who thought even my $170 grocery budget wasn’t low enough. Well, those frugalistas said, “I feed my family of 10 on less than that!” (Ok, I may be exaggerating just a little.)

And on and on it went.

Luckily, my husband happened to be home sick the day the post went live, so it was much easier to stay lighthearted about it all.

What I learned from the whole experience was what an emotionally charged subject our finances, and especially our grocery budgets can be.

I believe the reason for the controversy is this…

Deep down each of us moms desperately want to feed our family’s the healthiest food possible

But for the most part, we feel entirely unequipped to do it on our real-life budgets.

Today, I want to start by answering the question, How Much Should You Spend on Groceries?

Grocery Bag full of Produce
How much we budget can be an emotionally charged topic, but when it comes down to it, each of us moms just wants to feed our family the healthiest food possible on a realistic budget.

How much should I spend on groceries?

Each month the USDA puts out a report about the cost of groceries, so I use this as my starting point.

In the table below, you can see grocery costs calculated for a range of family sizes and make-ups for the Thrifty Plan. This number is essentially the average minimum for grocery spending per month in the continental United States.

Keep in mind this chart is an average grocery bill, and of course, prices will vary depending on your location and which stores are available to you.

This table has been updated based on the most recent data available.

Prices have been creeping up this year

But the increase represents only about $2 to $10 per month for most families

Although grocery prices continue to rise, I find that the students in my Five o’Clock Fix meal planning workshop can often feed their families a very healthy diet, on the Thrifty Plan listed below. And this has been true for many of those eating special diets. (And it doesn’t require clipping any coupons.)

The table is calculated assuming adults are 19-50 years old and living in a two-parent household.

The variation of grocery costs is due to a range of ages and genders of children.

In theory, at least, older children eat more than younger children, and boys eat more than girls. Use the lower end of the range if you have young children, and the higher end if you’re feeding hungry teenage boys.

Monthly Grocery Budget Guideline for the Average American Family

Family SizeUSDA Thrifty Food Plan – Young ChildrenUSDA Thrifty Food Plan – Older Children
Grocery Budget for 1$198$208
Grocery Budget for Family of 2$286$386
Grocery Budget for Family of 3$468$550
Grocery Budget for Family of 4$549$698
Grocery Budget for Family of 5$626$822
Grocery Budget for Family of 6$757$972
Grocery Budget for Family of 7$859$1062
Grocery Budget for Family of 8$1001$1187
Grocery Budget for Family of 9$1151$1285
Grocery Budget for Family of 10$1300$1379
Grocery Budget for Family of 11$1448$1464

(Calculated from data in the Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, November 19)

What can a family eat on a thrifty grocery budget?

Now that you’ve had a chance to look at the average food costs for your family, you might be wondering, what does someone eat on this lower budget? After all, when you’re starting out, it can seem pretty low.

That’s why I put the grocery spending guideline to the test.

I created a one-week meal plan for a family of four. It includes an itemized list of what someone could buy per week to stay within this grocery budget. It also has a meal plan along with links to recipes.

You are welcome to use it yourself. There’s a free download at the link below. Just adjust as needed for your family size.

Next Step Resource: Download my free $128 per week grocery list and meal plan

What does this mean for your family’s budget?

Whatever you do, don’t be like those people who wasted time criticizing what I chose to feed my child or how high my grocery budget was. I know you would never do that, but you might be thinking something along the lines of, This will never work for me because a) we’re gluten free or follow a special diet b) I have picky eaters c) we live in an expensive locale.

My own family, as well as many of my students, follow special diets, and most are still able to reduce their grocery budgets. In fact, the grocery list and meal plan I put together that goes along with this grocery budget guideline is gluten-free. I have specific suggestions for gluten-free families as well.

As for picky eaters, my philosophy is that the best budget-friendly meal plan should include foods that the family eating them loves. After all, if they won’t eat the ‘cheap’ meals you make, then they’ll only go into the garbage and waste money anyway. There’s almost always a way to adjust to your family’s preferences.

The funny thing is, this little guy can't even stand the sight of a banana all these years later.
The funny thing is, this little guy can’t even stand the sight of a banana all these years later.

Where to begin to get your grocery budget lower

Hey, whether you run to the store to get them a banana or hand them the apple that’s in your fridge instead, take the steps now to get your grocery budget under control.

Look up your family’s size and the age of your kiddos in the tables above to select the right grocery budget for you. Then, make a goal to move toward that guideline.

It doesn’t have to happen all at once. Small and steady changes are more sustainable anyway (and less crazy-making for us busy moms).

If you need ideas for what to eat on your new thrifty budget, go download my $128 per week grocery list and meal plan.

But get started now, because it’s even the small changes to your budget that can help you pay off debt faster and save for your family’s future.

Alaska Monthly Grocery Budget Guideline

If you live in Alaska, I don’t have to tell you that grocery expenses are much higher where you live. In fact, if you’ve been struggling to keep your grocery budget down, you might feel better to know that groceries cost approximately 35% more in Alaska than in the lower 48.

But that doesn’t mean you can ignore your grocery budget. It just means that you need a different goal, one that’s realistic for your locale. That’s why you can find an up-to-date monthly grocery spending guideline for Alaska below.

Family SizeAlaska Grocery Budget – Young ChildrenAlaska Grocery Budget – Older Children
Grocery Budget for 1$240$248
Grocery Budget for Family of 2$400$463
Grocery Budget for Family of 3$553$675
Grocery Budget for Family of 4$748$864
Grocery Budget for Family of 5$865$1030
Grocery Budget for Family of 6$1020$1214
Grocery Budget for Family of 7$1141$1325
Grocery Budget for Family of 8$1315$1472
Grocery Budget for Family of 9$1495$1618
Grocery Budget for Family of 10$1728$1765
Grocery Budget for Family of 11$1856$1912

(Calculated from data in the Official USDA Alaska and Hawaii Thrifty Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home (1st half 2019).)

Hawaii Monthly Grocery Budget Guideline

If you live in Hawaii, I have to imagine you’re often met with a mix of awe and jealousy when mainlanders here where you live. However, you already know what a challenge it can be to make ends meet in your tropical paradise, especially when it comes to groceries.

That’s because groceries in Hawaii can be around 85-90% more expensive than on the Mainland. That’s nearly double! Even Californians have nothing on you.

With the odds stacked against you, it might be easy to want to give up on grocery budgeting all together. However, many of the same grocery savings strategies will work for you. You just need a more realistic goal to work towards.

To that end, you can find the average monthly grocery costs for Hawaii below.

Family SizeHawaii Grocery Budget – Young ChildrenHawaii Grocery Budget – Older Children
Grocery Budget for 1$362$397
Grocery Budget for Family of 2$599$696
Grocery Budget for Family of 3$827$1011
Grocery Budget for Family of 4$1118$1294
Grocery Budget for Family of 5$1293$1543
Grocery Budget for Family of 6$1524$1822
Grocery Budget for Family of 7$1707$1989
Grocery Budget for Family of 8$1971$2208
Grocery Budget for Family of 9$2243$2427
Grocery Budget for Family of 10$2593$2645
Grocery Budget for Family of 11$2786$2864

(Calculated from data in the Official USDA Alaska and Hawaii Thrifty Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home (1st half 2019).)

Grocery Budget FAQ

Does the USDA food plan account for household supplies like paper plates, household cleaners, zip lock bags, and other ‘non-food’ items?

The food plans only include the cost of food at home. They do not include the cost of non-food items even though you may buy at the grocery store like pet food, toilet paper, and paper towels.

If you have been struggling to keep your grocery budget in check, try this. I often recommend to my Budget Breakthrough students that they create a separate budget category for food versus home supplies. This way you can build more awareness around your spending. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw a bunch of extra items in the cart (especially at grocery ‘superstores’ that carry a huge selection of products in addition to food) and then wonder where your grocery budget went.

Does this include money spent eating out at restaurants?

No, this includes only food at home, so restaurant spending is not included. As I’m sure you know, eating out is many times more expensive than eating at home.

That’s why one of the first places to start to get your food spending in check is to put a manageable meal planning system in place and starting eating at home more often.

If you feed your family at home instead of going out for just one meal out per month, you could easily save $50. And even that small amount would allow you to pay off your debt months or years faster.

Is this based on a two-income household?

The grocery budget guidelines above reflect the basic nutritional needs of the members in the household. It would be difficult to feed a family nutritious meals on less than this without getting outside help. So, to answer your question, this represents your food budget needs regardless of whether you’re a one or two-income household.

What is the timing of the tables per week or per month?

The grocery budgets above are for food spending per month. However, if you would like to convert it to a weekly budget, simply divide by 4.3 (this is the average number of weeks per month).

Is there a coupon source I need to know about?

No. I find that it’s not sustainable for most moms to rely on coupons to keep their grocery budgets down. After all what happens when the kids get sick or you have a newborn at home? The good news is you can stay within these budget guidelines without ever clipping a coupon.

If you’re struggling to stick to a budget, click to join my free budget mini-course to help you get your budget on track. 

How much do you spend on groceries each month and how many are you feeding? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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