What’s An Appropriate Home Food Budget for a Family of Four?

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In my recent article about having a weekly cheap supper night, I made the following fairly innocuous statement:

I looked into this question for my own family recently when calculating our estimated food costs for a month. Over the period of a month – and this includes the prorated costs of bulk food purchased earlier – I estimated our food costs for our family of four to be around $770. That comes out to be an average of $2.07 worth of food consumed on average per family member per meal.

This simple statement elicited a lot of shocked reactions from readers. Here’s a sample.

$770 per month on food for a family of 4? Is that a typo?

And- $770 a *month*? Really? That seems awfully high, especially since you garden.

Maybe I misunderstood, but $770/mo seems like an awful lot for 2 adults and 2 kids under 3.

I was thinking $770 was high as well, especially since Trent has a garden.

When I first saw this reaction, I thought perhaps something was off base, so I went through my receipts again (and also added in my own estimates for fractional costs of things used, like spices and garden vegetables) and I came up with the same number again – just shy of $770 for the four of us per month.

After that, I did some research. The first place I looked was in the huge public data available from the federal government, and it didn’t take long before I found the data I was looking for. According to the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the average cost for a moderate meal plan for a family of four in the United States is $771.10. This is substantially less than the liberal food plan, which comes in at $954.60 for a family of four for a month.

In other words, my estimate is pretty much in line with normal food spending in the United States. That seems reasonable to me – a lot of our staples are cheaper, but as I’ve mentioned many times, we spring for things like organic milk, free range chickens and eggs, some organic vegetables, fresh cheeses, and the fairly regular bottle of wine.

What Constitutes a “Moderate Meal Plan”?
The details of what exactly constitutes a “moderate meal plan” is found in USDA publication CNPP-20, The Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans, 2007. Needless to say, if you browse through it, it’s extremely detailed.

But is it reasonable? I compared what’s in both the moderate and liberal food plan to what my family and I actually eats in a given week – and they’re pretty comparable, actually. The actual dietary content of the moderate meal plan and what my family eats is pretty similar.

I also looked at the low-cost and liberal food plans and found them only really different in specific food choices – choosing higher quality grains, for example. Is a loaf of twelve grain bread at the store better for you than a normal whole wheat loaf? Yes, but is it enough to make it worth that extra cost? Your answer to that question and countless others like it – and there is no right answer for everyone – will determine a big part of your food costs.

What Would Trent Do? The Healthy-Cheap Balance
The question then becomes what’s the right balance between healthy food choices and saving money? Here are a few principles I stick with in my own food purchases. Sometimes they don’t produce the cheapest purchase, but they do produce healthy food and they largely produce inexpensive food.

Stick with staple ingredients. Usually, buying components of an item is substantially cheaper than buying the prepared item. Stick with the items in the produce aisle and the fresh meats aisle and you’ll usually be just fine.

Buy healthy versions of those staple ingredients. However, I don’t encourage people to buy the least expensive version of the staple ingredients. This is a personal decision you’ll have to make up your own mind about – I’m not going to advise you whether a free range chicken is a better choice than a regular chicken, or grass-fed beef is the right choice for you. On most ingredients, my family tends to pay a premium for ingredients with fewer hormonal, herbicidal, and pesticidal treatments, but we’re lucky to be in a situation where this is a choice we can consider on merit rather than be pushed into by our pocketbook. Do your own research on this topic and make up your own mind.

Grow some of your own. Gardens not only produce very inexpensive produce, they give you a very cheap hobby to fill your time, too. It’s not as difficult as you might think, either, and you can grow whatever your heart desires in your own garden.

Look at a CSA. If you’re committed to buying healthy produce, look for a local community-supported agriculture group. Most CSAs are strongly committed to sustainable and healthy practices (meaning very healthy food), but it’s produced locally, meaning almost no transportation costs. Many CSAs require you to buy shares up front, which entitle you to regular allotments of food over the growing season – and the quantity of food you get is usually a solid bargain. The only catch? Finding a group with an open slot and paying the cost up front for that share.

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182 thoughts on “What’s An Appropriate Home Food Budget for a Family of Four?

  1. We do it on about $300 per month. We don’t eat much meat, almost never eat out, buy bulk at clubs, use coupons, and don’t buy anything if it isn’t on sale. I think that we eat healthier, because we eat staples a lot.

  2. I’ve just begun paring back my food budget and am astonished at how well I can do for much less than I previously spent.

    I’m trying to eat a more healthy diet, so this isn’t about utilizing the dollar menu or boxed dinners. Yesterday my grocery run included, for example, lean ground turkey and extra lean ground beef (93%), steaks I trimmed of fat myself, fresh corn, fresh peppers, red potatoes, canned organic tomatoes, fresh rapsberries, celery, onions, and 100% grape juice, among other things.

    It was all purchased at the local Safeway and my tab was $95. Because I’d used their weekly specials to plan by list, I saved 40% off the regular cost of these groceries. And what I purchased will allow me to make low calorie, healthy dinners for the better part of a month. (I live alone, but entertain twice a week)

    The lesson for me is that taking the time to plan can cut costs tremendously. I no longer wander into the store and pick up stuff randomly. I watch the specials, shop accordingly, make food ahead and use my freezer. The result is great, healthy food I like at a fraction of what my unhealthy diet cost me.

  3. Actually a loaf of twelve grain bread is likely to have much more refined flour than whole grain flour. Multigrain is really a labeling gimic. The best bet is to look for 100% whole grain on the label.

  4. I’m still surprised.

    Even more so that this is the US average for a family of four. ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’ comes to mind.

  5. We (2 adults) have a food budget of $200, meat is in just about every meal, almost every meal is cooked at home from scratch.

  6. I think that the reaction to the amount just demonstrates that people do not do a good job of tracking where their money goes. My food budget always look pretty good until I start adding up take out and work lunches…then it gets ugly!

  7. We do it on about $500 a month, but have little ones, so we’re still buying juice and crackers and things we otherwise wouldn’t. We shop sales, use some coupons, shop at 3 different stores regularly, shop Costco, and the farmer’s market.

    We would like to buy a “share” in a farm, but none are available (the waiting lists are long).

    We buy organic produce on sale, grow a bit, and preserve fruits and veggies in season.
    We try to avoid buying fresh foods that are sprayed with pesticides; we also avoid high fructose corn syrups and trans-fats, plus cured meats. We don’t buy a lot of pre-packaged foods or snacky items.

    I have Celiac disease, and the flours and such tend to cost more.

    To offset the extra expenses we have, we almost never eat out, bake our own breads and cookies, and limit things like sodas. We cook almost everything from scratch. We eat a lot of non-gluten grains and beans.

    A lot of our meat is from my husband hunting in the fall, and we eat meatless meals to stretch what we have. If we purchase meat, we try to buy organic and/or antibiotic-free on sale. We have a deep freeze and stock up when we can.

    BTW: I’m counting detergent, bathroom tissue, foil, etc., in our total. If I subtracted them, I’d say we’d be at about $450.00.

  8. Wow. I can’t imagine what $770/month for 2 adults and small kids is like. I live on my own now, but back at home my mother manages about $400/month for the remaining 2 adults, teenager, and 11-year-old boy at home…and the fridge, freezer, and cabinets are so full that I doubt much more food could be crammed in them. Fresh vegetables, good meats, even some junk food for “fun”…always anything you could want. (Though we never saw a benefit to organic milk and free range chickens/eggs — it was always “why bother?”, as there is no proven difference between milk from rbST-treated and non-treated cows.)

    I learned to buy on sale, get generic brands, and use coupons from her shopping habits. My monthly shopping for just myself now ranges from $50-$100/month.

  9. I was going to say we spend about $300 a month on food to feed 2 adults and a 5-year-old. But… Add $24 per week for our csa subscription, plus another dollar or so for cukes when they’re not in the basket. Plus assume about $100 our of our $150 mad money account is spent on food. And most of our $100 per month entertainment account is spent on food. That puts us at $600 per month to eat. That’s just food; no paper goods or cleaning supplies. $400 per month is on raw groceries that include local and/or organic veggies, milk, eggs, and meat. The rest is meals out. Seems I spend about the same each week at Kroger and the local food coop. I bake my own bread and cook mostly from scratch. I do my best to plan the week’s menu in advance. I don’t have a kitchen garden this year because I thought we’d be moving by now and I figured if we had to sell the house empty, neglected flowers would look better than neglected veggies. Finally, I know we spent $300 on food because this month we used cash only and I stopped buying groceries when the money ran out. Back when we charged our groceries we often went over and rarely went under. And yet we pretty much ate the same this month.

  10. I think the surprise level might come from this being a site where you write frequently about frugality, including food frugality topics such as baking your own bread, eating a lot of beans, and shopping with the circulars, setting up the expectation for readers that your food budget would be lower compared to most Americans rather than in line with them. Instead, it seems that your frugality measures are leading to your family eating the liberal food plan for the cost of the moderate plan. In the end, like you said, it comes down to what your culinary priorities are.

  11. I just feel that, since I spend $250 a month between my husband and I (no children), and we have pretty good eating habits, it seems strange to accept frugality tips from a person who can’t spend less than the national average. Your post starts with the surprise shared by many readers who can’t understand how you spend so much on food… and ends with tips on how to spend less? Maybe the people who expressed shock at spending 770 a month might not need tips. Sorry, but even if 770 is the “national average”, it still looks extremely high to me.
    http://www.escrevalolaescreva.blogspot.com

  12. The amount of dollars also depends where you live.
    I live in a suburb of Cleveland where it ake 45 minutes of hard driving to get to a Costco or Sams. The local grocery is ridiculously high. I have a family of 5 (with 3 teenagers), never eat out, eat meat at every dinner meal, no junk food purchases, all lunches made and packed from home, no drive throughs, no lattes AND our grocery bill for 5 is 985.00. THAT is with being a VERY clever shopper—when name brand cereal goes on sale at K-Mart of all places for 1.41 a box….I bought FOURTY-FIVE boxes–no coupons–many kinds. I think Trent is right on money with 770.00.

  13. I’ve read loads of posts regarding the same thing I my own feeling is those who seem way under “normal” probably aren’t tracking the numbers very well.

    My mother in law spends $350 CDN a month for 2 seniors and shop very very carefully. My sister in law spends about $550 CDN a month for 4 adults, and doesn’t have time to do a lot of comparison shopping.

    I spend about 70 euros a week but tend to eat out alot when the wife is traveling.

  14. I don’t know. I spend $30/week for one person in order to put the money away for retirement that I didn’t when I should have.

    And like you said, it’s all about priorities. I don’t see the need to buy organic, non-hormonal, etc. expensive choices of meats and produce. To me, that’s another gimmic to get my money.

    I eat meat (the cheap, hormonal kind that’s packed in separate, reusable bags in my freezer) twice a week, never buy lunch out, don’t buy ‘instant’ or prepared foods. Accept produce happily from friends, co-workers and neighbors. Shop at cut rate stores and bakery outlets. The whole nine yards. I have 2 tomato plants and 2 sad pepper plants that I only water – don’t mulch, fertilize and only vaguely weed.

    While I don’t break it down into minute details, I take how much money I have to spend to the store with me and no more. Stuff goes back. If pasta costs more than 50 cents a pound, it stays at the store and I eat rice.

    So, in short, give me a family of four and a $770 a month food budget and I’ll be paying all our utilities with 25% of it and $200 extra will go into the bank.

    Just sayin’.

  15. Holy Smokes! I have been feeding seven–including my five kids (three of whom eat almost like adults) on $600/mo! We live in NW VA–not an inexpensive part of the country in which to live–AND I’m a part time chef who likes to eat WELL. I have been feeling slightly guilty that I am likely going to have to raise that amount some, given the way food prices are going through the roof, but no more! So, I thank you again, Trent, for a great blog. I am getting good info–and this time–”permission” to spend more. Cool!

  16. I would have to say that it seems to me that those figures are still high. I can feed four, including a growing teenager and two healthy dogs on around five hundred a month. This includes all kinds of meat including lamb, mainly organic veggies, soda, coffe and dog food. It doesnt include wine or paper products. Obviously prices are going up.

    We dont have a garden. However, other than dairy and produce we ONLY shop loss leaders. WE shop to stock our pantry and freezer and cook from there except for fresh produce and milk and butter and such. I have learned that everything, even racks of lamb or veal chops go on sale at some poitn and put them in my freezer then.

  17. I have a family of 5. Our grocery bill every two weeks is $200 or less. Our total food budget for groceries and eating meals out is $550 for the whole month and we never spend that. I can’t believe somebody spends $770. We use tons of coupons that my wife trades for online, sale priced items, and of course we use no box dinner items. We buy mostly store brand stuff from ALDI and buy from 3 different stores. We do not eat beef. We eat Chicken, ground turkey, pork, and sometimes buffalo, which is definitely more expensive. We eat a lot of rice, pasta, frozen vegetables, and usually make large batches. Our grocery bills for the month are always under $450 and our bills to eat out are around $100.

  18. alyssa’s right re. multigrain but it’s hard to stick to good-carbo bread all the time. Gimme my Jewish rye.

  19. I can’t see how anyone who reads Trent’s blog can be surprised that his food budget is high. He has written quite frequently that one of his main splurges is on food.

  20. I know exactly how much I spend, since I always write everything down. My husband and I spent one year in Detroit (August 07 to July 08), and we spent exactly $ 2.670 on food. Actually, I don’t calculate “food” only – this amount includes anything bought at a supermarket. We also spent $ 942 on eating out (mostly take-out – Chinese food). If you add both and divide it by 12 months, it’s $ 301 a month. And we didn’t have a car, so we had to buy most of what we needed in more expensive places in midtown Detroit. For me, that 770 average seems very, very high.

  21. Hmm, I’m single and live on $200 a month for food in upstate NY. No gardens, no fancy stuff, not buying the cheapest, not too much bulk buying and not going too crazy with coupons. For a family of 4, that would come out to $800; I think Trent’s estimate is reasonable.

  22. $770 seems about right to me. We are a family of 4, rarely eat out, take our leftovers for lunch, buy about 60% organic and I’m a vegetarian (rest of the family are meat eaters). We spend between $700-900 a month depending on what our garden is doing. But that cost also includes paper goods, pharmacy type items, oh, and I make my own dog food so maybe really we’re a family of 5!

  23. We’re at $175 (two adults in CA). We buy vegetable/fruit loss leaders almost exclusively, bulk grain from the Indian store, and eat meat maybe once a week. I basically use bulk staples and cook around whatever greens are on sale and rarely use meat.

    Of course according to the government we live in abject poverty or something. This is the same government that pays $800 for a toilet seat, so I’m not offended/surprised.

    According to http://www.stretcher.com, it is even possible to do quite a bit better than we do.

    I’m rarely impressed by official numbers. I mean, looking at fitness standards, walking, yoga, and even playing computer games is now considered exercise. When I was young …. ten miles … uphill both ways, blabla :-D

  24. I’m more interested in what the median spending is, than the average. “Average Spending” figures are always skewed by a small number of super-big-spenders. (If one family spends $5000 a month, and ten spend $100 a month, that’s an average-per-family of $545 a month– averages are virtually meaningless when it comes to money. It’s the median that matters.)

  25. That seems high since your kids are so small. DH and I spend $250 a month and that includes raw milk at $6 gallon, we buy all free-range local meat (chicken, beef, pork, turkey), it’s much more expensive that loss leader meat, but much healthier. We also buy all local cheese by a small local artisan. We get all of our produce from our garden (which is pretty small), as local you-pick places, and at the farmer’s market (which is a great money-saver). We make everything from scratch which is where we save so much, bread, pasta, muffins, cheese, butter, etc. We don’t however buy any alchohol, we’re not big drinkers (too cheap). So that might be why we spend so little. We don’t buy any cheap processed food either.

    I think if you shop at a grocery store though, Tren’s figures seem just about right. Last year when we were shopping at stores we spend about $350 a month. Shopping locally is better for your budget, the local economy and the environment.

  26. Interesting post, my thought is that sometimes it is worth paying a little more to eat well because then you are healthier and you enjoy life more than you would enjoy life if you had an extra $100 per month but ate crap

  27. Well, at least you’ve given a lot of people the opportunity to feel superior. :-)

    I think it’s really interesting to hear how other people distribute their food money, nonetheless. I’ve been beating myself up lately because I’ve been struggling to meet our grocery budget even shopping coupons-on sale-farmers markets-etc., but looking at the government’s worksheet it looks like my expectations are probably unrealistic and that I should just be darned proud of myself for how well I *have* done! So thanks for the boost.

  28. That sounds about right to me. My family of 4 (well really 3 because the youngest is an infant) has spent an average of $690/month over the last year, and there are plenty of months where we have spent nearly $800. We do live in the Boston area where the cost of living is pretty high. That includes everything purchased at the grocery store or warehouse club though – not just food, it also includes everything from toilet paper to kitty litter to toothpaste. I did just last month start tracking these in sub-categories, because I wanted to see how much of our spending is food vs paper goods and toiletries. Maybe some of the people here are including strictly food purchases and not those other items?

  29. We spend between $700 – 800/month on food. But we buy organic, and rarely eat out. We bring lunches to work/school and entertain in our home instead of going to restaurants. We are also a very active family of 4. (marathon running, etc.) so we do eat a lot. (But aren’t overweight…I swear!)

    Food is one of our great pleasures. Also, I think in the long-term by eating healthier we will (hopefully) save $$ on health care costs. Maybe?

  30. Thanks for this post–this is a very relevant issue for me. My family of 3 spends an average of $640 per month on groceries/toiletries/dog food (all the same receipts, and I don’t separate them.) (this does not include the apx 100/mo we spend eating out.)

    We shop at the local food co-op, buy in bulk, and go to the big grocery store to stock up on what’s cheaper there. We buy very little meat, lots of fresh fruit, subscribe to a CSA, and also have a small garden. We live in Austin, where it might be a little more expensive. I think organics and produce are what push our spending upwards.

    This week, all week, we agreed to eat rice & beans (different varieties) as a cost-saving method. But yikes! I really find it amazing that we spend so much on food, and that it’s as hard as it is for us to cut those costs down.

  31. What “seems” right for food spending and what is right are two different things.

    I agree that, based on my own experience, Trent’s figures are right on for what a decently frugal person (family) can reasonably cut their food budget to.

    In general, I am skeptical of most people’s statements about how much they spend on anything, because I see that many people don’t really know what they are spending.

    It’s just easy to be fooled about costs. By nature we do not do well at assessing them. For example, even though I track all of my spending, I have noticed that sometimes I still hold onto inaccurate mental estimates of what my expenses are.
    For months I thought that I could spend $135 on groceries and $35 a month on eating out, for example. So I kept setting my food budget based on those levels.

    Looking back over the last 6 months of actual spending records shows that, although I keep under the $35 on eating out, my monthly spending total for groceries comes to between $170 and $200 per month for just me. This is with even buying only foods that are low priced in their categoties ($4 a pound cheese, lowest price meats, the less expensive vegetables, etc, (all staples, no prepared stuff except maybe a monthly tub of ice cream) and eating from a pantry that is mostly bought on sale (loss leaders) and which could probably feed me for 4 months.

    Short of gardening, I couldn’t really spend less, and it’s still $40 to $65 higher per month than I was convinced I was spending. It’s time for me to accept reality and know that my current income just doesn’t, and can’t, go as far as I thought it could.

    Once I have consistent spending figures for a year or more, I’ll be able to see better the average cost of groceries, but I’ll be very surprised if it ever drops below say, $160 per month, and if my overall spending drops below $200 per month (allowing for a fairly paltry $35 monthly for food out).

    An earlier post expressed shock at Trent’s $770, or $192.50 per person, monthly cost for food. The same post stated that eating locally grown foods and shopping farmers markets was less expensive.

    This is something I see no supporting evidence for in my own life. Farmer’s markets and “local food” don’t seem to cost less, and in fact seems more expensive than my local Stop and Shop supermarket in all staple items. While it’s more fun, is supportive of the local community, and the food is fresher and higher quality, it’s not cheaper in dollar terms. Yet the same post that says the farmer’s market costs less also says that Trent’s figures for food are exorbitant.

    Unless farmer’s markets elsewhere than where I live are vastly different in pricing, I’d say this poster may have fallen victim to fuzzy accounting.

    On a side note, just driving to U-Pick and back would cost me probably $4 or more in gas, and a lot of them are not that cheaply priced anyways compared to what I find in the supermarket. (I’m not saying they should be low priced–those people deserve to make a living.

    I’d have to but a LOT of blueberries to make up the $4 in gas cost in blueberry savings. So I make a point to not do U Pick unless I happen to be driving by, and I would only buy what I could eat in 3 days.

    If anyone is managing to spend less on food per person than, say Trent or me or some other posters and has some tips to share on how to do it, that’s great. All I’m saying is I’m skeptical because I’ve seen that even when I eat always at home, the bill comes right in at the level Trent is describing on a per person basis.

  32. I agree with Trent’s numbers also, we are a family of five and I budget for $700 but we are REALLY struggling to stay within that budget. We eat out on only the rarest of occasions and I never purchase any “convenience” items. We hardly even buy cereal. I do buy cage free eggs and meats that are no hormone and purchase the recommended organic fruits and veggies (the ones that are the worst to buy in the mainstream aisle) but I do a lot of beans, and bulk buying and honestly $700 no longer cuts it. I would love to see how these people do it who think these numbers are so high, and if they are actually buying foods that I just wouldn’t put in my families bodies or are they just that much better at shopping than me. I will say this, I use very few coupons because frankly the coupons that come out here is a bunch of prepackage crap and I like fresh homemade foods. If we were to eat with a little more freedom we would be well over $800/5people.

  33. My wife gets 180/week for a family of nine. This includes food, paper, cleaning,and toiletries. She shops at three main stores(Aldi’s, Wal-mart and Wegman’s) using very few coupons. The only other part of the equation is part of my compensation at work is 1/2-3/4 of a beef per year which will not last for a full year. We tried a garden for the first time this year that was not very successful. We eat a lot of rice,and pasta dishes. We live in upstate New York

  34. I agree that $770 is a pretty reasonable estimate for four people. We spend about $825ish a month for grocery items (including toilet paper etc.) But I think the fact we spend so much on groceries helps to save money on eating out. I think if people don’t stock their homes with items that they care about eating, they will be very tempted to go to restaurants. Also, healthy food can be expensive. We get organic eggs ($5 a dozen), organic milk ($4 for half a gallon) etc. It costs more but it’s not a bad investment. We do grow a garden, too, but I don’t know how much that saves when you factor in mulch, water, and everything else.

  35. I think people are of two minds when it comes to food/spending. Some people who value food as a source of pleasure, so they’re more concerned about the quality and enjoyment than the cost. Other people view food primarily as fuel and don’t place value on the enjoyment of the food. For them, the value is in spending as little as possible on food.

    After worrying so much about my spending on food (about $85-100 a week for the two of us), I’ve decided we need to spend more because I want to be local pastured eggs and poultry in addition to the pastured pork and beef.

    And yes, our farmer’s markets are cheaper, because we live in California where most of the country’s produce is grown. Our farmer’s markets are also open year-round.

  36. Like Trent, I too, am a foodie. Meaning that I derive a great deal of my pleasure from shopping and cooking high quality food. Food is more than than fuel for me and I don’t necessarily buy the cheapest ingredients. However, part of being frugal means that you make what you have stretch and I believe that Trent does this. Spending $770 per month is reasonable when you frequently purchase free-range meats, organic milk, and so on.

    Also, you can either pay the farmer, grocer, etc. now for higher quality ingredients or the doctor later. I’d rather pay farmer.

  37. It seems about right to me! We’ve tracked our food budget on/off for years, and we just don’t buy enough items that have coupons to significantly reduce our food costs, though we do clip and use coupons. We shop sales and find out where the best deals are and buy in bulk when possible. Our grocery bill is less than that because we chose to eat out a couple of times a week, but if I cooked every meal that is about what I’d expect to spend on groceries alone.

  38. We’re currently spending $500 a month for the two of us and a 3 year old in Minneapolis. Nothing but food, but we eat all organic (or local grass-fed, hormone free, no pesticide, blah blah) and the cost of food here is at least 30% higher than where you are. I would have guessed your figures to be lower, but we also eat a few vegetarian meals a week, too.

  39. I think it depends were you live.
    I live in Melbourne Australia I am a widow. I spend AUD $ 290 per month. I could cut back but
    I rather spend money on good food instead of doctors and medicine.

  40. I also still think $770 is high for someone who claims to be preaching frugality. The Tightwad Gazette has a whole article on the USDA’s numbers, and I agree with Amy Dacyczyn’s claims that it’s easy to feed your family healthy food for much, much less. I feed our family of five on organic fruits and veg, organic dairy products, whole grains, and highly nutritious breads, legumes, nuts and seeds – and even without a garden, I do it for under $400 a month on average.

  41. If he’s got formula and diapers in there, he’s doing GOOD for $770. We struggle to keep our spending about the same with a 3 and 6 year old – but our biweekly Costco run includes dog food (big greyhound), cat food, paper products, and some paper supplies (I work from home). We spend about $300/month at Costco, $60/month on organic local farm veggies, and another $400/month for fruit and miscellaneous stuff we can’t get at Costco or Farmer’s Market. We eat a lot of pasta and beans, too, so it’s not like we have an expensive diet.

    In the end, it’s the eating out that gets us consistently, and I’ve decided it’s OK because those weeks we need to – that 45 extra minutes/day I have to sleep instead of clean up the kitchen are well worth the cost, at least in terms of $$$.

    Being frugal isn’t about not spending money on ANYTHING, it’s about PRIORITIZING it and ONLY spending money on what truly is important… I see no disconnect between Trent’s food spending and his blog.

  42. I guesstimate that it’s about 70 euros a week between the boyfriend and I, but at least 10-20 of that isn’t really edible: it’s for kitty litter and cat food, toilet paper and toothpaste, and once-in-an-every-great-while things like oils (olive, sunflower), a bottle of port for him (relatively cheap here), and cleaning stuff. 50-60 euros/week on strictly edibles is pretty close–and it’s really hard to spend much less if you don’t have a car to take you out to the more distant grocery stores. I already make a 2-hour circuit by bike once a week, and as much fun as riding a bike is, it’s not if you’re loaded down with 20 euros’ worth of fresh fruits, veggies, yogurts, cheese, olives, or whatever is a good deal that we’ll eat that week (it’s a lot of food).

  43. To be meaningful, expenses for food have to be about food and nothing else. Paper goods, pet food, and detergent belong in other categories (for me, that’s “House” for toilet paper and detergent, “Pet” for the pet food and also bird seed in winter.

    Under “Food” I place food, vitamins, and other nutritional supplements, since those items all contribute to nutrition. In August my total was $186.80 for one person.

    RE: comment #32 about formula and diapers, formula is food. Diapers are not. If you have a separate category “Baby” for for formula and diapers, then you are cutting the baby out of the family where food and nutrition are concerned, and the food expenses are skewed. The categories need to be very clear for us to have a productive discussion.

  44. My family of four (2 adults and an 18yo and 11yo) spends about $350/mo. on food. I track every penny I spend, so I know this is an accurate figure. I gasped at Trent’s $770 figure too, especially since his kids are so young.

  45. I feel better about my grocery budget now, especially knowing that Trent likes to cook and eat good food and his kids are small. We are a family of 6 ( one infant) and I struggle to keep our budget under $800. We buy nothing organic except sunflower butter ( due to peanut and nut allergies), and very little that is prepackaged ( again food allergies). I do like fresh fruit and veggies though and my family will only tolerate just so many legumes.

  46. I agree with the people who commented that what makes Trent’s $770/month most shocking is the fact that his family of four includes an infant and a toddler. The $770 could seem more reasonable if he were feeding two teenagers in addition to him and his wife.

  47. I know that Trent does enjoy cooking with high quality ingredients, but $770 still seems high. I think the national averages include families with 2 teenage boys who eat much more. If you feel that you are getting your money’s worth and can afford it, then that’s great, but we eat very healthy on much less than that.

  48. I spend about £180 a month on food (approx $324), which is a lot for one person. In my defence, it’s harder to buy for one, and I think food prices in the UK run about 10% higher than they do in the US. But, it’s still an awful lot of money.

  49. I think a previous poster is correct–that the reason for the shock was that most of your readers are already frugal and looking for tips to spend even less. For a lot of families, groceries is the first place to try strategies to save money. We have two adults and three kids (5, 2 and 2) and eat for about $300/month. Although I coupon, it’s mostly my weekly meal planning and shopping the sales (planning meals around loss leaders) that save us the most money.

  50. My grocery “budget” is nothing more than a recurring transaction in Quicken of $185/week. This amount is intended to cover ALL grocery items – food, toilet paper, laundry supplies, etc.., for myself, my wife, two teenagers, and a dog. Some weeks we spend more, some weeks less (last two weeks, $100 and $140). If I have Costco’s monthly coupon book, I’ll go stock up, spending a $200-$300 there alone, buying TP, paper towels, laundry, etc..

    For my wife and I alone, I think we could get by on 1/4 of this amount. Not gonna happen with the teenagers however. I’ve tried paring back what we buy, but if there aren’t sufficient “grazing” foods in the house, the grumbling and threats of rebellion begin. I know, proper education, lead by example, blah blah, whatever, easier said than done. It’s easier and less stressful to just buy the crap they want.

  51. Keep in mind also that Trent works at home. So (I’m guessing) the $770 includes breakfast, lunch and dinner costs, too.

    Frugality is a very relative term. I’m sure we could cut our grocery bill from pretty much the national average to something cheaper, but I don’t think I’d especially enjoy the diet. Also, my wife and I both work full time, so we don’t necessarily have the time to make stuff from the true “staples”.

  52. I think the $771/month USDA average represents a typical family that overbuys at grocery stores with poor planning, allowing many perishables to perish before they are consumed. I bet these people have full trash bins each week. In other words, if you are reasonably smart about your grocery shopping, you should do better than this.

  53. “I think the national averages include families with 2 teenage boys who eat much more.”

    I provided the link, read it yourself. It includes a 2-3 year old child and a 4-5 year old child.

  54. Sounds totally reasonable to me. My hubby and I spend $400-$450 per month on groceries for just the two of us. Like Trent, we buy mostly local and/or organic foods, which are more expensive but are expenses we’re willing to pay for.

  55. Good article. I’m planning on moving out on my own soon and will need to be spending as little as possible to stay afloat. What would you say would be a good spending goal for food for 1 person per month?

  56. That does sounds a little bit high but not outrageous.

    My budget for my girlfriend and I technically allows for $400/mo but only goes that high if I buy something for a special occasion. For instance this past long weekend we went away to stay with friends and I spent a little extra on some ribs and chops for the whole group. Usually though we spend about $320 and put the excess into debt repayment.

    We follow sales to an extent but hardly ever clip a coupon.

    We eat pretty darn good for that too.

  57. we’re only two and we spend $600. I shop at the farmer’s market for all the produce and then a relatively upscale supermarket for the rest. we are vegans with a serious coffee habit, so that explains the high cost of our groceries. a lot of people claim that eating meat is more expensive than eating veg but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I started making some of my own vegetarian meat substitutes recently- TVP sausage and seitan, it’s a big savings over the same thing purchased at the store (store bought costs 600% more than homemade!) why are all these people having a fit about your grocery bill? I appreciate these tips (we’ve been considering CSA for some time now) and would love to have a garden and grow my own. Good food is very important- we might spend $600 , but we never buy pre-packaged food and don’t care to eat out because the food we have at home is better :)

  58. My husband and I spend around $112 a week on food for the two of us, plus two meals a month that we host my parents (they live nearby and cook Sunday dinner on the other two weeks).

    I know we could spend less, but we buy everything we can from a farmer’s market, and only supplement from the grocery store. We could save money if we bought produce and meat laden with chemicals, pesticides, and dye, but that’s not the kind of food we want to eat.

    I think it’s strange that some people who complain that locally-grown, organic food is too expensive go home to a plasma TV and 500 channels of cable programming. It’s all about priorities.

    I like to read about frugality, but the holier-than-thous annoy me. Good for you if you spend less than him. Trent’s food budget works for his family, and frankly, I’ve never seen a coupon for any food at the supermarket that I’d care to eat.

  59. My fiance’ and I have been keeping a budget of all food expenses for over a year now. I looked back, and we spend on average $140/month. For 2. I can’t even begin to understand how you could be approaching $200/month per person. And it should go down per person for more people. $770/month is a really disappointing number to hear.
    I eat healthy as well. Vegetables, grains, water, milk, fruit in every day. Buy huge bulks of chicken, hamburger, local produce whenever possible, etc. I use coupons all the time, and make a shopping list. I also buy a ridiculous amount of food when it’s on sale. For just the two of us, I have a 5 ft^3 deep freezer and freezer on the refrigerator stocked full of food, mostly meats.
    I’m just so shocked…. $770/month is my house payment! lol

  60. I am surprised to see so many people criticizing Trent’s food budget. Yes, it may not be the cheapest way to eat, but Trent writes often about food, why he may or may not believe in certain types of food (organic, local), etc.

    I am a college student living in NYC, which is one of the most expensive places to feed oneself in the country, even if one cooks all meals at home. I am blessed to have a kitchen, but things around here are rarely on sale and I usually won’t compromise–I like organic produce and dairy, and am willing to pay a premium to have a diet full of fruits and vegetables, even when they’re pricey. Everyone has to decide what they’re willing to compromise on; frankly, I’ll take better food and spend less on other luxuries. After all, food goes into your body and has a very great effect on your general well-being.

  61. I’m also surprised to see so much criticism of Trent’s budget. DH and I spend $400-$500/month on food (mostly groceries, some eating out). We don’t buy meats in bulk as we don’t have an additional freezer or space for it. We do buy a lot of fresh veggies and fruit and free-range/organic meats, dairy, eggs and limit pre-packaged foods.

    I would love to see the grocery list and associated prices for those of you who have such low costs. We’ve tried coupons, but find that the store brands are still cheaper for things we’d use coupons for (paper goods, toiletries).

    I’ve also found that the free-range/organic items we purchase are cheaper at Whole Foods than at the local supermarket, so weekly shopping often involves two stops.

  62. Matt –

    We have a family of four. We plan meals and use a shopping list. We pack lunches four days our of five on the workweek, and generally eat lunch in on the weekends. We bring breakfast to work. Yet we still reliably hit the $770 number. However, that’s based in a large part on the TOTAL grocery bill. We don’t necessarily separate out things like diapers, formula, toilet paper, kleenex, etc. Our fridge is generally pretty sparse by the end of the week. We might have one vegetable that we throw out, but that’s about it.

    We have tried to reduce the bill many times, but find that we might be able to squeeze it down by $30-40/month at most, then grocery prices increase again and all the savings are lost.

    Most of the stuff we buy rarely has a coupon, too. We’ve tried that tack, as well, and at most saved $1-2/week. We don’t buy stuff just because it’s on sale, either.

  63. We used to eat on $400-$450 per month (family of four), but as food costs have risen and our own desire for a more healthy diet has come on strong here in the last few months, we’ve seen our monthly grocery bill approach $600-$700. I don’t consider your $770 food bill excessive, and it is still much less than if you took your family out for one meal a day!

  64. I noticed a 10% drop in our food expenses when we stopped buying at two supermarkets and started buying in only one of them. Going to two supermarkets, we would end up buying a lot that was “on sale”, even if those included things we didn’t really need.
    Anyway, Trent can spend as much as he wants on food. My point is that a frugality expert should spend much less than average – especially when he recommends coupons, gardening, and making homemade things (diapers, bread, etc) to keep costs down. All these strategies don’t seem to work, or else Trent would be spending much less, right? Or you mean to say that, without coupons and gardening, his food costs would be even higher than the “average” 770 a month?
    Also, I would like to hear a better description, if possible, of what those 770 include. Eating out? Anything bought at a supermarket (toilet paper, cleaning products, dog food etc) or only food for the four humans?
    Personally, I believe it would be very easy to spend that much on food. The big challenge is to spend much less than average.
    It would be great if you, Trent, could write another post about all this discussion. But without getting offended or defensive! After all, the beauty of interaction is that we all can learn from each other. Maybe, after some thought, you could reach the conclusion that you are overspending?
    http://www.escrevalolaescreva.blogspot.com

  65. I guess I should clarify that my $320/mo stated above includes all grocery store items (cleaning supplies, light bulbs, etc..) as well as food.

    I buy almost all my meat and produce from a market.

  66. Food costs vary greatly by region, and not necessarily the way you think they would vary. My family is from Cincinnati, Ohio. They are always blown away by the food prices (especially meat) where I live in St. Louis, Missouri.

    Using a cost of living calculator available from CNN Money, groceries would cost between 9% – 13% less if I moved from St. Louis to Cincinnati, Kansas City or Des Moines, even though housing in all those areas would cost more!

  67. I think some people just clearly like to get in drama. Keeping with my post from yesterday—WHAT AREA of the country are these purchases made? store competition in area? It is substantiallly CHEAPER to live in the South than the North—I know that firsthand as a recent transplant. I’m a firm believer that if a nice variety is available at home, then you won’t want to eat out—with three teenagers I know. I realize that Trent has toddlers but also knowing –most of them are the worlds pickiest! Just because Trent is a “frugality expert” as quoted by a previous post, you expect him to eat only beans? I’ve never thought of Trent as an “expert”–just a normal guy trying to help others learn while he is also learning AND I’m thankful for that!

  68. I guess I feel relieved because we spend around that (and more) but keep feeling bad because people are posting that they are feeding a family of 4 on $400, as many of you seem to be doing. However like Trent food is one of the things we “splurge” on, especially as the 2 kids are young, I want to make sure they have a high quality diet. I’m also curious what the food budget includes, if it includes toliet paper, diapers, wipes, dog food, other stuff get at grocery store that is not food but not seperated out. If so we may be even closer to Trent’s numbers.

  69. I’m with Anna up there, who said that the “grocery budget” cannot include TP or toothpaste. Unless you have that for supper once a week (and I had to put it in those terms for it to compute with the spousal unit!). Our $600/mo for seven (one infant who eats what I send down)is just food (including raw milk and pastured eggs at $6.50/gal and $3.50dz). No cleaning supplies, diapers, etc. Our spending is easy to track because I have $300/cash in my hands every two weeks. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

  70. Golly, I keep trying to get our bill for two down under $800!!! Of course that includes whatever we spend money for at the grocery, not just the food items. And it does include the beer and wine, :-P

    Trying-Trying-Trying to stop throwing away food that’s gone bad. That just galls me.

  71. I don’t think people mean to criticize, it was just a very shocking number to see Trent write when he talks about saving a few dollars a month with CFL’s and making your own laundry detergent like it’s a big deal. He could save over $2000 a year on groceries without breaking a sweat and still buy organic healthy food but doesn’t see the need. I think that undermines a lot of his frugal messages on this site. Now if that number includes diapers, formula, wipes, household supplies, then it makes sense.

  72. I agree with Sandra (comment 53). Trent is not a “frugality expert.” He is opening up a part of his life to his readers in the hope that it will help them in some areas.

    Also, the term “frugal” means “economical in the use of resources; not wasteful.” It does not necessarily mean “cheap.” (Anyone remember The Frugal Gourmet? He used to point this out all the time.) Trent seems to me to be very frugal. I would bet that very little is wasted in his household.

    The comments have been interesting, though. Families of four and five for under $500. Good for them! I wish I could do it, but I can’t, so I’ll stick with what I spend and not feel bad about it.

  73. $770 sounds reasonable to me. Just my wife and I spend $400 – $500 a month on groceries. Obviously these costs are going to vary depending on what part of the country you live in. People need to think about that a bit before they react in shock that some of us have to spend a bit more money for food.

  74. Wow. With a family of 3, we spend an average of $275 / month for food.
    Add in dinners out, and the total is just over $400.
    Add in supplies, like TP and soap, and we’re at $450 a month.

    Every receipt is recorded, so this IS accurate. We don’t do much coupon-clipping. We do buy the store brand of almost everything.

    Of course, we’re on a budget of under $2000 a month, total.

  75. Trent I honestly feel you are spot on. Me and my family of 5 live off around 500$ a month. We buy EVERYTHING on sale and my wife is really the coupon queen. Literally every time shes in the supermarket the cashiers always give her the most amazed looks based upon the amounts we save. We have twin 7 month-olds and 1 nine year old. Once we get out of the formula and diapers phase I feel confident we can get that number down some more but maybe I’m wrong. My #’s include everything we can buy at the grocery store, any dining out, plus any stops at the convenience store for the occasional soda/junk food.

    My wife’s dedication to research gave her the ability to find MANY coupon clubs (baby clubs were VERY beneficial) and trading coupons with her friends yielded great results.

    If you didn’t count coupons we’d definitely be around that national average.

  76. At first I was very shocked with Trent’s budget. I’ve followed “Tightwad Gazette” for years, shopped for all my gourmet bread flours and supplies at Mennonite stores and institutional wholesale centers.. but I also remembered my own situation when I was in a family of four. One of us was at home, so that person did all of the from scratch recipies organic or not.

    Now that I’m a divorcee with two teenagers, I depend a lot on school lunches so I dont have to make them and eating out on soccer & football practice nights. Sundays I often spend cooking up a week’s worth of meats so dinners are quicker and cheaper. One night a week I let the kids have fun with ramen recipies (they love the stuff.. I can’t stand it) and we eat a lot of oatmeal for breakfast still. My own budget would be a lot less if I had the time to do more.

    So yeah… Trent’s budget is understandable. When you’ve got a really busy life trying to meet your other goals, it’s really easy to spend 770.00 on four with two young kids. You’ve got snacks and sippy cups and juice instead of water, formula and milk instead of iced tea. Teenagers just eat volume, but little ones eat more expensive items. It’s about the same budget wise really.

    Aggie

  77. i’m not bashing you by any means (people should spend money on the things they want to and save where they can), but i just posted my august numbers and i spent $624 on all my groceries and household items combined (along with expenses for a party and many school supplies). this does not include our once a week eating out (ranges from $10 to $50).

    we have plenty of food (my cupboards are nearly overflowing) and we eat balanced meals with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. i only buy 100% whole grain bread. but i’m also very committed to matching up sales with coupons so i stock up every week on different items.

    if $770 is what works for your family, great. but it can be done for less.

  78. My boyfriend and I budget for and spend about $400 per month on groceries. Most of our meals are vegetarian. We don’t buy pre-packaged foods (frozen dinners, etc.) and buy about half of our produce organic. We only go out once a week, so $400 covers most of our meals (and the occasional friends that come over). That is 20 meals a week x the two of us = 160 meals per month. $400 / 160 meals = $2.50 per meal. That is a great deal for yummy homemade food. Your grocery budget sounds reasonable to me. Plus your budget is YOUR budget. If it works for your family, don’t worry about what others say, but thanks for opening it up for discussion.

  79. We spend about $700/mo on groceries for a family of 3. But I’m including non-food items here (laundry detergent, diapers, trash bags, cleaning supplies, toiletries, cat litter, etc). I typically buy all this at the grocery store, so I just keep my grocery budget at $700. In reality, we probably spend about $600/mo on food. I still think this is really high, but we buy a lot of convenience foods because we’re lazy… And we have a small kitchen that is hard to cook well in. I don’t get home until about 6pm or later and I don’t feel like spending an hour preparing food in our tiny kitchen.

    We’re trying to cut our grocery bill further by including a lot more coupons. I already buy mostly generic and on-sale items… I just think our bill is higher due to the boxed foods we buy.

  80. Our problem lately is we tend to repeat the same dinners every week. The wife works 3 days a week and we don’t have much time to cook when we get home before our one-year old gets hungry. Anyone have any good websites they could suggest with good, easy and healthy recipes that we could try out?

    Last week I did buy a whole chicken, made it on Sunday in the crock-pot and had that for dinner. The leftovers were used for chicken salad sandwiches all week for lunch and BBQ chicken pizza later in the week for dinner. However, I think we’d get sick of doing that every week.

  81. I have two children roughly the same age as Trent’s and we easily spend $800/month on food. My three-year-old has a huge list of allergies so we eat almost exclusively organic, no milk, no corn (corn syrup, dextrose, etc.). I am comfortable saying that we eat healthier than 99% of Americans. In addition, we follow a rotation diet, no foods may be repeated within a four-day period, therefore, we also get a healthy variety of foods.

    We could easily cut down our food bill by buying more processed foods but we would pay for it with doctor bills and overall comfort, so for us it is worth it, and basically a necessity.

    I think the point here is that Trent is feeding his family more healthy food than many get, despite the fact that many believe they are feeding their families healthy food. If it is processed at all, it is not healthy.

  82. To the folks who say “it seems strange to accept frugality tips from a person who can’t spend less than the national average…”, please re-read Trent’s post. He says that he and his family spend MORE on some items on purpose, such as free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, etc. If he’s adding these higher-cost items into his food budget, then yeah, he’s spending more- but he’s doing so conciously, choosing to buy some pricier items and spending less on others so he can fit them into his budget.

    Trent is a guy who has paid down massive debts in the last two years, so I’d say yes indeed, we should accept tips from him- he’s proven that he knows what he’s doing!

  83. Kate – I agree that Trent has expressed a clear interest in food. However (I hate writing ‘about’ someone!) he also cuts coupons, comparison shops and presumably grows some food items in his garden, hence my personal surprise at the figure mentioned. Additionally and more importantly (live and let live for Trent personally), I just do not believe it is indicative of US spending in general.

    I have a family of four with children of 7 & 8. This makes enough of a significant difference when it comes to appetite and calorie requirements. I’ve just done my homework – an infant aged 1-3 needs 1165-1230 calories/day, whereas my children need around 1800 calories a day – not far off the recommended 1940 for an average adult woman!

    We have a full grocery budget of £400/month which equates to $720/month. We have been under budget every month this year so far – by £150 this month alone. The budget is for everything from shampoo, toilet rolls, cleaning products, cat food & other items. These non-food items would total at least £100/month (except during Aug obviously otherwise we would have starved to death!) No coupon clipping, bulk buying, low quality ‘meat’ etc to stay within our budget, hence my personal surprise. And naturally food, like everything else, is more expensive in the UK than in the USA.

  84. Oh my! First, I think we can agree that Trent positions himself as a frugality expert (he has this site with many well-researched posts, huge traffic and huge respect, and he’s writing/written a book too).

    But since when does being frugal mean one must spend the absolute least in every single category? Regular readers know he has a ginormous savings account, moderate expenses, and I doubt he splurges on a lot of designer clothing or a string of mansions. So his family enjoys good food — and plenty of readers sync with his budget, too.

    My favorite part of this post is the interesting comments that have added to the comparison. (And at our house, so far this year our average is about in line for a family of 3, although the number will go down over the coming months as big expenditures on a CSA membership and a quarter of a free-range, organic cow average out.)

  85. It sounds pretty close to me.
    Our family of 4 budgets $700 a month for groceries. Sometimes there is a little left over for a few meals out a month sometimes the meals out are over and above the $700.

    We eat clean and healthy so nearly all of that goes to buying fresh whole foods. We buy very little if any prepared foods but we don’t skimp on quality when it comes to our ingredients. Range fed meats. Organic produce etc. We don’t bulk shop or really try to clip coupons. We do try to buy whats on sale.

  86. That’s in line with what we spend. I just checked my Quicken, and in an urban area in Texas, two adults and a 4 and 6 yr. old, we’re averaging $706 a month. It includes some alcohol, some entertaining, some non-food items, and a decent number of splurges (good cheese, occasional ice cream, fancy condiments, soy meat substitutes, etc.), but not our dining out (which is a bloated budget category here). I use coupons, do some warehouse shopping, belong to a veggie coop (which I think is actually MORE expensive than standard grocery store produce bought on sale), and we are 85-90% vegetarian. Basically, we eat a lot of beans, grains, veggies and fruit. We could spend less, and I am trying to cut the bill through better planning and less waste.

  87. I don’t think people mean to criticize, it was just a very shocking number to see Trent write when he talks about saving a few dollars a month with CFL’s and making your own laundry detergent like it’s a big deal. He could save over $2000 a year on groceries without breaking a sweat and still buy organic healthy food but doesn’t see the need. I think that undermines a lot of his frugal messages on this site. Now if that number includes diapers, formula, wipes, household supplies, then it makes sense.

    I just copied and pasted the best post.

  88. I don’t think Trent has ever identified himself as either being or wanting to be a “frugality expert”. And I don’t need him to prove to me that he can get by on less than I can. I personally am not in a competition much I can cut things or deprive myself, and I don’t expect Trent to, either.

    What I have taken from the Simple Dollar is that Trent is writing about the steps he is taking in order to set and reach his financial goals, which in turn are themselves only a tool for him to reach larger personal goals.

    For most of us, regardless of our income or assets, prioritizing and controlling our spending is an important part of meeting our financial goals.

    It’s a misleading mistake to get overfocused on frugality and make a religion of it.
    Frugality is a tool, and should not be put up on a pedestal as the be-all-and-end-all of existence. The really important goals in life are much higher than that.

  89. One thing that should enter into the discussion a bit more is that cost of living varies dramatically across the country. I checked a couple of online cost of living calculators, and they show that Des Moines is maybe 30 – 40% cheaper for groceries than the Bay Area, which is where I live.

    It did surprise me that Trent spent the national average, but that was more because he lives in Iowa, which is generally an inexpensive place to live. He clearly prioritizes healthy food for his family, though.

  90. Good for you on choosing to eat well for your family- each family has different areas where they spend more.
    I have found that we spend about $400 a month (2 adults and one baby) but I shop with coupons and buy only things that are on sale. My husband drives me crazy when we shop together because he chooses with his stomach and not his wallet- when I shop the sales and buy much more than we need and stockpile.
    If only we had the space for a chest freezer!! Trent, you should write a post on the benefits of shopping at the farmers market. We live in the ‘burbs of DC, but there are tons of local farms nearby. We buy local farm raised produce, frequently for the same price at the grocery. It is better for us and supports the local economy :)

  91. I’m not a family of four… more like a family of one!

    I currently do the following:
    - clip coupons for my “staples” (things like beans in a can, stewed/diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tuna, frozen veggies, etc)
    - buy ALL meat in bulk from my local BJ’s and freeze it (this is the ONLY thing in my freezer, that and frozen veggies!)
    - shop at my local farmers market for my produce/fruits (except bananas, as they’re actually cheaper at my local grocery store – same with granny smith apples depending on the time of year)

    Averaging out the meat puchase to 2 months (I spend about $150-200 each time I go) and my other purchases, I end up spending abour $120-150 on food for myself for the month.

    Nothing organic, I don’t grow anything, and I also don’t eat pasta, potatoes, or rice – my main complex carb source is beans!

    I could do it much cheaper if I ate cereal, mac n cheese, or ramen noodles, but I don’t.

    My family typically spent about $400-600 when we were a family of 4 – sooo 4 years ago (the kids have since both moved out).

    Given how prices have escalated, I’d say my parents would be spending $800-1000 for the same items now/month, and my mom is a modest coupon-clipper!

    Trent’s overall message seems to be that he puts his money where his priorities are.

    Investigate and practice frugality whenever possible, but if you feel that eating healthily is a priority for you, make you budget accordingly.

    Frugality doesn’t = modest in all areas for the sake of saving money EVERYWHERE… at least that’s what I get from his posts! (Perhaps I’m wrong)??

  92. $770/mo for family of 4 sounds right to me. We are a family of three, two adults and a one-year-old, and we spend $600 or so per month (varies based on whether there’s a bimonthly Sam’s club visit or not). We enjoy good food, including locally grown and/or organic where practical. We buy lots of store brands, too, though, and very few name brands, very few prepared foods or boxed mix type things, and meat in bulk. (Note that this amount includes paper products, personal care, diapers, formula, etc. If you can buy it at your local grocery store, shouldn’t it be considered groceries?) It would be less if I could convince DH that meat was not required at 5 out of 7 dinners per week.

    It was quite a bit more at one point, but we made a conscious effort to use what we bought and ended up buying less.

    I read all the time on blogs about people who feed their family of four on $300 per month. I’d love to know how they do it.

  93. One thing that is cheaper for me at least, at the farmer’s market, is eggs. I’ve noticed that the store eggs are usually older. I live alone so I can’t eat a full dozen of theose before they’ve gone bad. But I can buy an 18 pack at the farmer’s market for less than a dozen would cost at the store, and eat them all while they’re still good.

    I spend about 300 a month on food just for myself. I eat out pretty often and buy almost everything organic, free-range, local, whole foods. I think that my frugality in areas like clothing and entertainment covers the cost of really good, delicious food for myself.

    It’s all about your own priorities, right?

  94. I think, Trent, that people are so used to you encouraging frugality that we were surprised that your food budget isn’t more frugal. That said, with a little more thought we would have remembered some of the things you pointed out–that you pay extra for some organic food–and the fact that GOOD food is really, really important to you. You’re frugal elsewhere, so you can afford not to be so frugal in this area. Right?

  95. Trent’s numbers are his own business (nice of him to post them) and should not affect whether you take his advice or not. Remember he “paid his dues” as a college student, so why should he go back to that minimalist level of diet?

    How many of you remember that Trent likes a bottle of wine? At $7-10/bottle, 3 bottles per week, that’s $84-120/month. Hmm, adds up quickly! (and I’m not saying his family actually drinks that much or that they drink less)

  96. You know, what’s frugal for one guy isn’t frugal for another. 7 years ago, my husband and I were spending $450/month on groceries and $400/month eating out. This was with no attempt at being frugal.

    The best I ever did, consistently, was to bring that down to $280/month for groceries and $100/month eating out. FOOD ONLY (no alcohol). But with the increasing grocery prices, our grocery bill doesn’t really ever go under $375 (with one toddler). That’s with eating mostly vegetarian, buying sales, mostly staples, having a price book…I’ve been into keeping my grocery bill low for years now.

    $770 month seems high at first, but if that includes wine and free-range meat, and organic dairy, I have to adjust that. A free range chicken locally is $12. It’s $2.50 on sale at the grocery store. Organic milk is $6.50/gallon. Regular is half that. Trent CHOOSES to spend more on certain items, which doesn’t mean he’s not frugal overall.

    I choose to spend $20/week on the local, organic CSA. I could buy enough produce for my family at local stores for half that – it wouldn’t taste nearly as good, nor would we have the variety.

    And finally, a lot of people REALLY don’t know how location makes a difference. I live in So. Cal. I have shopped, fairly often, in rural PA and upstate NY (near our families). HUGE difference in prices. Those areas have regular sales prices that are often often 25-33% cheaper for staples. If you are shopping at Aldi and Walmart, you have a financial advantage that some of us simply don’t have. YOU try finding dried garbanzo beans for less than $1/lb in my town. Good luck.

  97. I’m with JE (comment #31) – I think Trent’s number sounds really high. I feed and equip our family of about 3 and 1/2 (one is only 3) for $400-500 per month. (Equip meaning toiletries and personal care items.) I live in northern Virginia, in one of the richest counties in the country (though I am definitely NOT part of that rich majority) and a very high cost of living. That budget includes MAYBE one trip to Subway for the four of us each month. We don’t do that every month. We eat very well – very little processed crap, all whole grains, lots of fruits and veggies, legumes and beans, and very little meat. I know Trent’s made a lot of people feel better about how much they spend, but you really shouldn’t compare yourself to other people. There can be so many variations in situations that you should really take a look at your budget and challenge yourself to do with a little less every month. See how low you can take it – get creative, start baking your own bread, making your own granola for cereal (cut down the sugar and fat from most recipes though), try beans for dinner. You’d be surprised what you can do when you really put your mind to it.

  98. Wow-We are a familly of 6 and manage to buy groceries and soft goods(paper products, toiletries and laundry products) for 550.00 or less/month. We garden and can and make most everything from scratch and pack our lunches. I even pay myself each week out of my grocery fund for my work in saving us money with coupons and comparison shopping. I take 5.00 out of my grocery fund before shopping for my savings fund and then whatever else is left over after shopping goes in the fund as well. It is a motivator to play the game even better. I am an avid CVS and Walgreen’s shopper so am able to get many of my supplies there for free or near free. There are websites devoted to teaching one how to excell in that as well. Finally, I glean whatever I can from field and tree to freeze and can. The men in our family hunt deer which helps as well. I have been doing these things for years and think I can excell still more. You can always get better at the game!! Thanks for all the great info on this site. I am always looking for ideas on being a better steward of the resources I have.

  99. My personal food bill (17 year old girl who can out-eat my parents) is as follows.
    Breakfast: Pastry from day-old rack, glass of milk or juice: $1
    Lunch: Granola bars, simple sandwich, bottle of pop or water (water is free, pop is 16.6¢ a bottle in a three liter that I pour into smaller bottles): $1.50
    Dinner: High quality, huge meal cooked by my amazing mother, usually including chicken or pork (under 1.50 a pound at our grocer!) salad, fruit, and side dish : $2.50
    So I eat at about $2 a meal, but some days I skip lunch if I’m not hungry, and if we go out, it’s usually fast food (Last night I had water polo until way too late, so we stopped and ate dinner for about $2-$4 a person [I was starving so I ended up going back for seconds]). My meal costs go up in the school year because of water polo and decrease substansially in the summer when I sometimes eat brunch because I slept until 9.

  100. I think people need to remember the huge variation in basic food costs in different areas of the US, and also to make sure they include *everything* they eat into their monthly totals…many people forget if they buy lunch at work, or go out, and are only listing groceries. I used to feel bad about what my husband and I spend on food each month, because I would look online and read about frugal families spending $400 a month or less for a family of 4. We live in San Francisco, and the two of us spend at least $500 a month just on groceries. Neither of us buys any food at work, and I plan all our meals in advance for the week calculated for leftovers to take to work. If we eat out at a non-fast food place *once* a month, that raises our total by at least $50. It is a very expensive area…much more expensive for basics than where I lived in Texas for the last 20 years! As a side note, I am 27 and have been lurking on the simple dollar for about a month, and it has really really inspired me to change my habits and worldview of money and wealth.

  101. According to the US government, it only takes $80 per month, per person to eat a healthy nutritious diet. This does not include things like alcohol, toothpaste, toilet paper, pet foods, etc. The figure only includes things intended to be eaten by humans.

    Where did I get this figure from? This is how much they give people on Food Stamps.

    About 2-3 years ago when my family was on Food Stamps, I actually got yelled at by my case worker because I wasn’t spending the full $240 each month to feed my family of 3. This was in spite of the fact I was splurging on things I wouldn’t have considered buying before, and my cabinets, fridge & freezer were packed full, and I even had a laundry basket loaded full of snack foods (yeah, I know, but they told me I had to spend it and I didn’t know what else to buy).

    The surplus just kept growing & growing till I had to start giving away stuff to the local food pantry or face my apartment being so full of food it wouldn’t fit my family. I even started shipping coffee to online friends that were college students, that couldn’t afford any to keep themselves awake, to study for finals.

    I have no clue how to spend an amount equal to $770/month on food, unless I invite all my neighbors over to help me eat it all.

  102. I’m sure the cost varies by location. And it also varies seasonally. More fresh produce available in the summer. We also tend to eat lighter food now than in the winter. Also, here in FL, we don’t keep our freezers full during Hurricane season. So we don’t stock up until late fall. (Lose power for just a day or 2 and you’ve thrown away hundreds of $$ of food)

  103. I live in Minnesota where we have a very short growing season. I’m trying gardening to stretch our food budget (about $350-$400 for seven of us, with 3-5 extra visitors to feed usually 4 days a week). I love to shop our whole foods co-op and farmer’s market, but rarely do since they are too pricey. I’ve found mostly local, no hormone, free range chicken and beef (not always grass fed since we have a lot of winter here) that I buy from local parties and stock up. (I have 2 upright freezers). I buy local raw milk for $2.50/gal and freeze between 8-12 gallons per visit to the dairy as it is 20 miles away to cut down on gas costs. I buy day old bread from the organic bakery and freeze them, along with muffins. Being a single parent, I try to combine shopping trips, stock up, and freeze to cut down on costs. This year we went to pick your own berry farms. I froze the berries to later make jam. We try to limit refined foods, and since I’ve made that change, the variety of my purchases has become much more limited to shopping the outside aisles of the supermarkets. I think someone’s budget depends a lot on their location and whether they buy organic or not. I hustle to find deals, but rarely can use coupons anymore because they usually are for highly processed foods. I’m always looking for ways to cut costs, so I’ll continue to use this site.

  104. For some folks, giving up perceived quality is simply not a good ROI. It really comes down to that.

    I found a feed-your-family-for-$70/week on Hillbillyhousewife – you use all reconstituted milk, lots of mac/cheese, tea, corn-based baking goods. Not a terrible diet as it includes lots of veggies and legumes – but DH would be miserable.

    Making peace in the family for us means spending a bit more on food. It’s the one thing we haven’t completely cut out – and for my guy – if I give him ravioli twice a week instead of beans yet again – he’s much nicer to live with! Our compromise is I get the ravioli from Costco – half the cost of Vons here (So Cal).

    I just can’t see good food being considered any kind of vice, unless it is costing you longterm goals. It makes a BIG difference for some folks in their day to day well being.

    In the I’m-cheaper-than-you olympics, this one isn’t necessarily worth winning.

  105. Frugal Dad, Trent’s budget isn’t much less than if he took his family out to eat every day. It averages to $26/day. My husband and I could eat at a sit down place every day for $750/mo. Add in another $50 for lunches and breakfast at home. True, that doesn’t include kids, but at their ages, they should be only eating a few ounces of food off their parent’s plate.

  106. So Trent splurges on a few items with his groceries. He admits to liking to eat well and buy the occasional bottle of wine.

    I see nothing wrong with that since the cornerstone of frugality is to not spend on things that are unimportant to you so you can spend on those things that are.

    Could he spend less on groceries? Of course, but it would lower his quality of life.

    To aim to spend the absolute minimum in every area would not be living frugally but living miserly.

  107. I think Trent’s numbers make perfect sense.

    I was thrilled when we cut our monthly grocery budget in half – from $1,000 down to $500 per month. That does NOT include eating out, which we no longer do. We’re vegans, so we don’t buy expensive meats and we no longer buy organics. No alcohol and no junk food. We shop at Food 4 Less, Dollar Tree and Trader Joe’s and we stick to a strict list. We even grow a lot of our own vegetables and I’ve been experimenting with baking our own bread, which is what originally led me to The Simple Dollar months ago (so far, just baking a few whole-wheat bricks, but I’m not giving up).

    I would use coupons if I could find any for healthy items, but most seem to be for unhealthy convenience foods. I won’t compromise my family’s health to save a few bucks. Any tips would be appreciated.

    I live in the heart of Central California and we have no fewer than five weekly Farmers Markets nearby. However, they are MUCH more expensive than the grocery stores and seem to be geared toward the trendy and affluent. Why produce grown a few miles from me costs four or five times more than produce grown on another continent and shipped thousands of miles is beyond me. Very disappointing, which is why I try to grow much of my own organic produce now.

    When I read posts from people who spend $250 a month for a family of 6 and that even includes a few meals out, it makes me wonder what I’m missing…

  108. Thanks for pointing folks to the USDA numbers. I often reference this site when helping folks set up budgets. They often underestimate how much they spend on food or need to spend on food. For example, my friend’s husband wanted her to spend $200/mo on all grocery items & household goods (soap, tp, etc.) for the two of them. USDA thrifty plan is $350 for them and that is just for food… You can see where this caused some problems for them especially since he is over 6 ft tall, in the military and trying to gain weight!

  109. I still think $770 is awfully high. We are a family of 3 (3-year-old, me and my husband), and we spend between $350-400 a month. We buy one weekly whole chicken–it’s amazing how far you can stretch that–and eat a lot of rice and beans. Like Trent, though, we love nice cheese and wine, but unfortunately don’t splurge on that stuff as often as we’d like. I still think $770 is a LOT of money!!!

  110. Putting it in perspective: Trent’s numbers are $2.17 per person per meal. If the kids didn’t eat anything, it would be $4.34 per person per meal and, even so, that’s pretty good value!

  111. What a relief to see those numbers! I was feeling like a failure because my husband and I spend $400 a month on food. We brought that down from $500, but it still felt like a lot. Five years ago we were both Jesuit Volunteers. We had a budget of $420 for six people ($70 a month each), so I was thinking that for two people we should easily be in the under $200. But now we eat meat and enjoy cooking fancy meals once in a while. I have found that our local Farmer’s market doesn’t save any money.

  112. I think your numbers are right on, even for the children being young. It is just me, my husband and an infant (on some baby food, mostly formula) and we probably spend the same as you. I like to think I am frugal with the grocery shopping, as I use coupons, work CVS for the household goods, buy the formula at BJ’s, etc. but I also buy organic milk, eggs, meats, etc. which are much more costly.

    I think you’ll find that a lot of the readers that are shocked at your spending are the ones using the grocery game to get free boxes of macaroni and cheese to feed their families. Not that you would, but don’t let them upset you. You are obviously doing a good job in all of your other budgeting areas.

  113. Wow! We have 2 parents and a 18 month old and squeak in between 100 and 150 every month. Granted, we are students and take advantage of every mooching opportunity for free food we get, it can’t have that much of an effect. Maybe we just eat boring food all the time….I didn’t think so, but hey, I don’t know anything different.

  114. There seems to be a lot of criticism about how a “frugal” person could spend so much on food. I could eat for free if I really wanted to, by picking perfectly good food out of the dumpsters behind the grocery stores. I could feed my family off the dollar menu at McDonalds. But frugality isn’t about giving up quality of life. Its about expanding your quality of life – making your purchases meaningful, and stretching your dollar so you can get what you want for less. Some people have a priority to spend the absolute smallest amount possible on food, and you absolutely can do that if that is your priority. But, my priority is eating healthy, organic, local, fresh, and delicious food. Im not going to punish my body for the sake of saving a few bucks. There are certain things I am willing to do to save money… like fewer restaurant meals, and vegetarian options. But, its about making the changes you are willing to make, or getting the same thing for less money. Not abandoning your standards and basing everything on price.

  115. People also seem to be up in arms that “Mister Frugality Expert” seems to be unable to pare down his food bill to something you deem as acceptable. But just because he is offering options and tips for saving money on your groceries, doesn’t mean that these are the things that he personally does, or that they are going to work for everyone. I personally won’t touch coupons. It’s cheaper to buy food that is not pre-packaged. But… you will find plenty of people who clip coupons and save money on their groceries because they base their shopping list on the sale items. Its all about what works for you.

  116. Yep…this is one of those topics where “Your mileage may vary.” And there are lots of variables in food budgets:
    - location/market prices (our farmer’s market is more expensive than the store)
    - perceived quality of food (I don’t insist on organic)
    - tastes (the kids won’t touch a cooked bean, and DH doesn’t eat anything with cooked tomatoes)
    So the name of the game is doing the best you can in a mindful and attentive way, which I think is what Trent proposes.

    But as I read people throwing our their numbers, we must note that there is a huge difference between a Food budget and a “Grocery” budget. In an ideal world, we would track our food spending separate from the household goods. In reality, I buy food and groceries from the same stores and I don’t want to take the time to parse out the separate categories at the end of each trip. (I shop 2-3 times a week.)

    So I lump it all together–food and household stuff–and run $650-700 a month for 2 adults and 2 teens. We’d be where Trent is if I bought better meat and more organic.

    Keep up the good work.

  117. I think the USDA numbers are high. I remember before my husband and I got married during the financial part of the pre-marriage counseling we talked about these numbers and I told the leader we would be under even the “thrifty” section and he said it couldn’t be done. Well, two years later we’re still under the USDA’s numbers. We eat meat in most dinners, eat a lot of leftovers and many fresh fruits and veggies. Our meals are based on what is on sale at the local grocery store and we clip coupons. I think it’s possible to eat for less and still eat healthy.

  118. $770/month?!? Sorry, but that is nuts. My family of 4 (one being an infant) spends less than $300 per month, and we live in Europe!! We eat great, meat every meal, very balanced, no corner cutting. $770…Wow!!

  119. I looked at the website and to feed my family of seven it was $1017 a month for the thrifty plan. I budget $500 but have been spending more towards $700 in reality (I need to both increase my budget and reduce costs) I have a 15 year old football player, 18 year old girl, 12 year old girl, 10 and 8 year old boys. I also feed my daughter’s boyfriend most nights. Most weekends we have 5-8+ kids friends(mostly teens) that we feed. This is why I am over budget. My 15 year old has football practice for 3 1/2 hours each day and comes home starving. He will eat 4 sandwiches at one sitting. I buy stouffers meals for $1.00 as a snack for him before supper. We are trying to get calories in him so he will bulk up some. My daughter’s boyfriend also eats a lot. It is true that buying the health foods costs more and although I try to cook from scratch we do eat worse that if I had money to buy all the organic stuff. I cannot afford organic. I have a garden and am learning to grow some food. I bulk buy produce and meat on sale. I use CVS and combining sales and coupons and buy snack foods and brownie mixes and stuff that are not as healthy but they are almost free. I am the only one overweight- the eye doctor even complimented me that all of my children were of a good normal weight. He said he sees so many fat kids. I don’t like all the preservatives in food but I cannot go overboard with it- I can only do so much to cook from staples and mix that with adding some boxed stuff when we are busy.

    It is good that Trent has the choice to spend more for healthier options. His budget seems high, yes, we could all do it cheaper, but it comes down to the choices we make in what we do with our money. When you live without debt and have more money you can choose what things are important to you and spend more in some areas and less in others. I choose to be a home where kids are welcome and being southern that means feeding them while they are here. The kids love to come here and I love “knowing” my kids friends. I would rather put a little more money into our food budget so that I can feed them than have them feel unwelcome or a financial burden.

  120. Dale, you’d be surprised, I think, on how mooching free food can really make a difference. I am around a lot of grad students, so I see it! In fact, I used to have a lot of mooching opportunities at work. They have ended now, and my food budget went up.

    (Free tea, free leftover pizza from a business meeting, maybe a donut leftover from someone’s breakfast…my husband gets free soda, and at least 3x a month leftovers from someone’s meeting.)

  121. I keep a specific grocery budget, and track only food. This includes buying a soda or a bottle of water while running errands, but doesn’t include pet food or vitamins. Looking at the link, I spend above the moderate cost plan but well below the liberal plan. I know that my grocery budget is high and that I could spend less, but I make the choice to buy some higher quality, more expensive items, and it sounds like that is something Trent does as well. I’m impressed that Trent also gets a few bottles of wine into that budget, which can easily tack $40 or more onto your monthly food budget.

  122. $120/month for one. That includes Tillamook cheese and ice cream :) But all the rest is from scratch cooking and cooking for the freezer for the leftovers for lunches etc. This is NOT a cheap area. I go to Costco – 85 miles away about 3 times a year for bulk flour, rice, beans, cornmeal, powdered milk, etc. Just use the newspaper coupons – nothing fancy and few rebates. ONLY buy when something is on sale, and stock up! That’s the secret!!!

  123. Seems like no one is factoring in the fact that he buys organic and free range items. These are usually much higher costs than the regular produce. Also if he is eating a healthy, whole food sort of diet again costs are higher here. If he were to throw organic, all natural out the window and begin to shop with coupons for ridiculously unhealthy processed garbage like Hamburger Helper for 50 cents a box then I bet he could get the grocery bill down to under $250 month. But why would any sane person want to do that? Less processed garbage means less medical bills = healthier person.

  124. $771 might be the average, but the average family also eats a whole lot of expensive junk and drinks a lot of expensive soda, bottled water, juice, and other unnecessary (and unhealthy) drinks. The average family also spends a lot on “groceries” that are actually expensive pre-prepared meals, if frozen. If you actually by ingredients and prepare meals yourself, you can save a TON.

    Now a lot of working parents don’t have time to cook, and that’s fine if your time is more valuable than the money you could save doing so. But if I had a family of four I would cap my monthly food budget at $500 (but I don’t buy any drinks besides the occasional milk and I don’t buy a lot of snacks or desserts either).

  125. My SO and I (who live separately, me in upstate NY, him in western PA) each spend nearly half of what Trent spends, just for *one* person. And, I’m only counting food, bought at the grocery store.. no toiletries or cleaning supplies, and certainly not the cost of eating out every so often. I consider myself fairly frugal.. I buy the cheapest product that doesn’t suck, and I use coupons when possible. I also do not buy organic produce. I mostly buy fresh produce (my lunch every day is a salad), dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese), and tofu. And I’m still spending $50-$90 per week. My SO spends a bit more than that, maybe more like $100 per week, but he also buys meat, some organic stuff, and the occasional junk food. Neither of us buy things like frozen meals or other convenience foods.

  126. Wow. I really don’t even know what we spend on food. It isn’t that I don’t try to keep track, but I have a check card for bills and one for groceries, my husband has a card for each of these accounts as well. So sometimes, to offset a huge and unforeseeable electric bill, replace a cracked windshield, have an injured or ill pet go the vet, have to call an electrician, etc, we may need to dip into the grocery/general expense account more than we want to/should, or even have to dip into the bill account which means that after all is said and done, there is very little; if any, left in either account to go into extra savings, or into a vacation/home improvement/etc account.
    We are a family of four in Suburban Atlanta. I am a stay at home mom, my kids are 8 and 11. My husband makes somewhere in the 120k-140k area, which after taxes, 401k, healthcare and dental coverage, and all the rest that most of us know gets funneled out of each paycheck; plus the cost of gas, oh the gas…Dh has a long commute and thanks to the housing market, we don’t have close to enough equity anymore to be able to move further into the city near his job; if we could even sell the house anyway, no one has sold a home in this area for almost a year, and not for lack of trying. His car is virtually costing as much as us to feed, just so he can get to work. It is just a mid size sedan, not a Hummer or anything.
    So basically, it is incredibly hard to figure what exactly we are spending on FOOD. Considering that there are nights my husband gets home too late for me to cook the dinner I planned, so he picks up something on the way home. Or the kids eat the tomatoes and cheese as a snack while I am in the shower, and so dh has to stop and grab replacements on the way home, and with our luck, the store will be out of at least one of the things I needed, so one of us ends up going thru a drive through for dinner that night. While dh is still in the store, he will grab some diet coke, maybe some beer, or if I have PMS, some chocolate ice cream. On top of that I will realize the dogs are out of food and the cat litter is getting low and call him to tell him… He remembers that he needs shaving cream and grabs it… Maybe he used the grocery card, sometimes the bill card, depends on if we are seriously close to being out of grocery money or not. If I had to use some grocery money on an uncovered rX, or to buy socks, shampoo, and underwear for the kids, a birthday gift for the party they are going to, some vaccum bags, or even a new vaccum because ours started smoking and repairing it costs almost the same as a new one; those things would have all come out of the grocery/expense account, and therefore it maybe low, so borrowing from the bill card would be needed, assuming we know(and usually do)that we have a ‘cushion’ in there, that if we are lucky can go into savings at the end of the month. Therefore, next time we go to see what we are spending, we have no idea what is going on. Total financial chaos.
    I know I usually get out of the grocery store spending about $350 for ‘most of 1-2 weeks of food’. I say mostly because they are always out of the one key ingredient that I needed for a certain meal, because fresh fish and produce needs to be purchased within a few days of eating, so if we have Salmon and fresh asparagus for dinner, it needs to be bought within a day or so of when we are going to prepare it. We try to eat fresh fish at least twice a week, and fresh vegetables every time I cook (except spaghetti or cheese burger nights), so going back out every few days or so, or having dh stop and grab those items, means I don’t know what that week may have run us until it is said and done, even then all I have is a vague idea. Even then, if I get a migraine there is no one else who can boil water here, so in comes more take out.

    I just cannot seem to get a good idea on what we spend on food, and thus I cannot decide on a budget amount, or have no idea if I am sticking to it or not. The last time I was grocery shopping at Walmart, we were out of vitamins, advil, almost all our cleaning supplies, and other necessities. I spent close to $400, and that only included breakfast for the kids, lunch for me (usually a Weight Watchers Muffin or a bowl of Kashi per day), and about four to five dinners. So it looks like we spend a ton on food, but I know that alot was spent on non food necessities.

    Does anyone else have issue with trying to grocery budget because so much bought at the grocery store are non food necessities? How do other people figure that?

    What about finding that after extensive meal planning, the store did not have the last ingredient needed for one or two meals, therefore you come up short on meals or have to make a special trip for those items and it not only gets confusing when you look at your spending, but also costs more because while at the additional store, some one will call and say we need milk, dish washing soap and toothpaste…

    Pet food? Toilet paper? Do I count that in the budget, or not? If not, how then do we find a good way to budget those items, separately from food, even though they are bought in the same transaction as the food, and came out of the same account?

    Also, I see a lot of people saying that they are taking a family of four or five out to eat for a $100 per month! Where on earth can you take a family of five, just once for under $100, unless it is fast food?? When my dh and I take the kids out it ranges from $50-$125 depending on the restaurant, and averages $80 including tip, excluding fast food or all you can eat or cafeteria style restaurants; that is for us to eat out one night! No, we are not eating lobster either.

    We do try to eat healthy. Try to choose organic if possible. Always try to get the all natural super lean meats.

    What are people eating that they can spend so little at the store? What restaurants are you going to that you can take the whole family 2 or more times for a grand total of $100?? I use coupons, buy in bulk when needed or smart, usually buy store brand if the quality is good and the product is nearly identical to the brand name.

    Also, my husband eats out every day for lunch. He says that taking lunch is not an option and has a thousand excuses for why. Sometimes he uses cash, other times the grocery card. I know he pulls a lot of cash out, but often I don’t know if he bought gas, his lunch, or my missing groceries with it. By the time we meet to discuss it, he doesn’t recall where the cash went exactly, so I don’t know what percent of his cash withdrawals are on food. He often has to attend business conferences where he has to pay cash to park- in one of the many fine Atlanta parking lots that charge you $5 on a good day, but upto $20 on a busy day where demand for parking is high.
    I don’t like to harp on him because since his last promotion, he works 100 hours+ a week, and I feel bad telling him that he can’t pull out cash so he can eat at the deli across from his office, or that I need receipts from everything; he is struggling as it is trying to get sleep in, let alone worrying about every receipt.

    We do like wine with dinner 4 days a week, give or take a day. We almost always, with little exception get a bottle over $12, and strive to spend $8-$10 most of the time, as we do have access to some great wine sales. A bottle lasts 1-4 meals depending on whatever.

    It sounds out of control, and it is! How are you all doing it??

  127. “Does anyone else have issue with trying to grocery budget because so much bought at the grocery store are non food necessities? How do other people figure that?”

    I actually buy very little non-food at the grocery, because it’s generally cheaper at Target. However, I keep a list of how much I spend on each grocery trip, and if I bought something other than food, I make a little note with the cost.

    As for eating out inexpensively, it *can* be done, but it really depends on where you are. My city has a fantastic selection of restaurants, some of which are relatively inexpensive (but still yummy and fairly-healthy). At my favourite Mexican restaurant, two adults can have a delicious, filling meal for under $20 (slightly more if we get one of their giant $8 margaritas which is enough for two people, especially if one of them needs to be able to drive home afterwards). Last night, $40 paid for dinner for three adults plus leftovers for my lunch today at a Chinese restaurant (and I mean *good* Chinese.. we could have spent even less if we’d gone to one of the many take away places). I mean, yeah, there are certainly restaurants here where you can spend upwards of $40 for two adults, especially if you’re drinking, but I try to balance it out with the less expensive places every so often.

    Judging from the responses on this list, I don’t doubt a lot of people are sacrificing quality/taste and eating so cheaply because they’re going to diners or chains.. possibly even fast food. But you don’t necessarily *have* to.

  128. $360/month for two adults, a six year old, three year old, and 10 month old. I can claim no credit for the low figure, that’s all due to my wife’s aggressive couponing–buying primarily loss leaders, stocking up when things are free, etc. This is in southern CA, where the cost of living is pretty high. Local supermarkets have stopped doubling coupons, which will definitely affect us.

    There was this one time they *tripled* coupons for a promotion. Oh, man, what a day we had! We did the research, and went through with two carts heaping with merchandise. Total before coupons must have been at least $300. The sizable stack of coupons took some time to process, so I was standing around, credit card in hand, waiting for the actual total. Which turned out to be something like $3.00. Bemused, I dug into my wallet for a few ones and handed them over to the patient clerk.

    I don’t know if we’ll ever top that, but luck favors the prepared. It does take research.

  129. I might add a couple of points to my previous comment:

    1. We eat quite well, thanks. We have occasional meals that are quite inexpensive (spaghetti), and occasional meals that aren’t (prepackaged, for example).

    2. In my opinion, as long as you know where your money is going you’re way ahead of the average, and really on the right track.

    3. Trent, you guys should try couponing for a month, in the spirit of the one month trial concept. I’m sure there’s tons of commenters that could get you started. You don’t have to commit forever, just try it a month.

  130. We eat on $65-$75 a week depending on if our staples are on sale. Family of three and a neighbor who visits for at least 3 or so meals a week. We buy 98% organic and our meat we buy free range-vegetarian fed if the organic meat is not on sale.

    $770 seems extremely high to me because we shop at the expensive natural grocery AND we live in Portland(pretty pricey).

  131. I found your blog because I was searching for the government link in your post. I wanted to see where we fit compared to the average family of five.

    I agree that buying organic, fancy cheeses, and wine will definitely increase your grocery budget. If you were on a tight budget, those kinds of things would be the first to go.

    My family is on a tight budget so we do not buy organic. However, I do buy hormone free milk and provide my family with a nice variety of healthy, home-cooked meals. That said, we spent $438 this month on all food, household products, and baby products (diapers/wipes) for our famly of five. In addition to that, we spent $70 to eat out three meals and $20 to take a friend out for a birthday dessert. I guess that means I’ve succeed in living frugally.

  132. $770 ~ oh my gosh!!! We eat very, very well — healthy food and spend maybe $150-200 a month for 3 people. I do the same as a previous post ~
    aggressive couponing–buying primarily loss leaders, stocking up when things are free – yes you can get groceries (healthy) very cheap. Where I live there are no double coupons and I regularly get 80-90% off my bill with coupons/sales. It’s all in the planning and knowing your prices. I simply can’t image spending that much money a month!!!!!

  133. Quote from The Simple Dollar September 2006.

    Once I understood my budget both in and out, I put strong caps on all of my frivolous spending. I allowed myself to spend a bit on entertainment, but I strongly budgeted it. I also began to cut down on frivolous spending even on things like groceries, where I taught myself how to shop in a much more frivolous fashion using tools like coupons and shopping lists.

    How quickly we forget. Trent, if you used coupons in 2006 – why did you stop?

  134. I live in the Midwest – just quit my job in March and am trying to feed my family on a budget. We are a family of four w/two teenage boys – (adds to the bills!) For food – including all work lunches and school lunches which I pack at home, I have averaged about $700 per month, so I think Trent is about right. I use coupons, shop store specials, etc. We eat meat about 4-5 nights per week.

  135. We have a family of four. Two under three years of age and my husband and myself. And I figure that we spend at least$700 a month at the grocery store. Plus we probably spend another $50 eating out a month. It is hard for me to believe how people say they spend so much less. Especially with more people in their family. I guess I have alot of food allergies, so some of the foods I buy are more expensive. Like quinoa is a staple for me (cause I have a gluten intolerance). Most of the really cheap foods I am allergic to (like eggs, bread, peanut butter, tomatoes, etc). But we still stick with low cost, but healthy foods and don’t buy junk foods. We also drink mostly water. We eat lots of produce, meats, and whole grains. So $700 for a family of four seems about right to me, and when my little ones get older, we will be spending a little more.

  136. I’m always looking for ways to save money in my grocery budget. We spend $125 a week for our family of 5. It could probably be lower, but we do love to eat.

  137. Trent: You spend that much because you have it to spend. I am a single mom w/ 3 teenage girls to feed. We bring it in at $350-400 month.After a breast lump, I was told: no more hormone-containing milk/meat. So, organic only. I think if we dared buy the cheap milk and the cheap meat i could bring this baby in at WAY less. I bake the week’s bread every weekend, that’s a way to balance out the high cost of organics. EVERYTHING we eat is cooked at home, period. I don’t use coupons cuz we only buy bulk. And the bottom line is–I JUST DON’T HAVE MORE MONEY EVEN IF I WANTED TO SPEND IT!!! I only use cash. No credit cards. Also, my grocery bill includes TP, printer ink, kitty litter/catfood, laundry soap, light bulbs . . the works. My godsend is the extra freezer I bought years ago–buy/cook/freeze in bulk. There’s always food in our house! AND–we virtually never get sick and we’re slim ‘n’ healthy too. Hey hey.

  138. Wow, Trent, I’m not gonna say you spend too much, but I have never had that much to spend on my family.
    I didn’t see the first article, but does this just include food? OR is it petfood, cleansers, toiletries, etc.??
    I agree w/Lalina – you have it, so you spend it.
    We NEVER eat out, don’t have a garden (lots of times I get it from the mark-down bin in the produce dept.), and I use sales/clubs/and group cards.
    I don’t want to sound like a reverse snob, but I guess since we don’t have the money, my kids expect very little as far as steaks, or “fancy foods”. It’s just a lifestyle thing. If this is
    budgeting for you and your family, then great –
    I think alot of people can’t do it, tho’.

  139. Some of you are clueless – the cost of living varies depending upon where you live. Two adults and two boys are probably going to eat more than two adults and two girls – two adults who have small frame and possibly work in an office are going to eat less than two adults that might work in construction – the “average” is from all areas – so sure, some will make it on $300 a month – while some might need $800 a month – anyone here have teen boys that play sports?!?!

  140. I really appreciate your sharing this. I was beginning to feel guilty about my grocery budget: $220 a month for one person for all grocery items (food, household items, paper products, toiletries, etc.) When reading a lot of websites/blogs about this subject, it seems that many people spend a lot less on groceries than I do. However, this is a conscious decision I have made for several reasons. First, I am blessed with the income to be able to spend that amount (and still have a very good amount left at the end of the month to go toward my debt). Second, I am prioritizing my health and weight loss and therefore I would prefer to eat a lot lean meat and fresh produce and very little breads/cereals/starches that don’t really fill me up rather than save 100 dollars a month. Third, I have also made a conscious decision not to spend several hours each weak clipping coupons, looking for deals, and shopping because many other things (such as having time for exercise) are more important to me. I do buy most of my groceries at Aldi so I buy the cheapest possible of the things I do buy and I do still try to buy the produce and things that are on sale, but I just don’t spend hours poring over coupons and sale papers. Fourth, I do spend less in other areas to make up for it. That said, I think your amount is very reasonable and it is a very personal decision based on your priorities and goals. I don’t think being wise with your money means spend the absolute least amount possible in every area – it means consciously deciding what you value and what is important to you how much it’s worth. To me, it’s definitely worth an extra $100/month not to spend countless hours chasing every grocery deal and to be able to have very healthy, convenient foods available for myself.

  141. I like your budget number because it is a lot higher than mine. However, I think that unless you have diapers and (if you use it) formula in that calculation, you probably could count your children as one adult, which would put you a bit higher than average.

    For me, frugality in the marketplace is KNOWING that you are spending more for a given option, and deciding that it is still what you want to do. I have seen people just blindly saying “this is what’s on TV, has the best, brightest packaging, or is just in front of my hand” and end up paying a lot more for identical items. Likewise, I have a friend who would die if she had to use margarine instead of butter and another who wouldn’t dream of hand-me-down clothes for her family… but they both know the costs of those choices.

  142. I think a lot of people leaving these comments have a difficult time with math. $400/month for a family of 4???? That breaks down to $13/day for the family, $3.33/day per person, $1.11/meal per person. It costs more than that for a head of lettuce and a tomato! We’re at about $800/month. That is a little less than $9/meal for 4, which seems pretty cheap to me.

  143. We have a total of 4…two adults and two children …we have a total of 120 a week for gas, necessities and food…we don’t buy any junk food, no can or boxed food…we buy meat, veggies, fruit, grain(bags you have to cook up lentels, bean,etc.), eggs, milk, yogurt…we are very simple

  144. WOW! My family inlcudes my husband, son-10, daughter-8, other daughter-5. We spend aproximately $800 per month. I would need to track the in-between stops for bread and milk and add the school lunches I allow them to buy. And now I WILL. I have learned alot here. You think your doing something right and then! BAM! I almost had it right. I never by ANYTHING that isn’t on sale or that I don’t have a coupon for. If I really HAVE to have it I will buy the storebrand. I can see now that this is only a good beginning. Something I have noticed, the cheaper I buy the heavier we all get. When I prepare meals that include lots of fresh vegitables and fruit my grocery bill is higher and dramatically so. The local farm market is not much savings at all. We are talking cents per month. BUT! I am trying to grow my own, seeds are very inexpensive. And I have a groundhog issue. aaargh! NO! I will NOT eat the groundhogs LOL I know a few of you were thinking it. The figure above does include toiletries and cleaning products. I stock up when these items are on sale and I have coupons at the same time. I will be taking bits of informationfrom here to help reduce my monthly grocery bill. I saw some great ideas. Thanks. $770 is not splerging, but we MAY be able to do a little better. I am going to try.

  145. WOW- I got on this website to get some money saving tips. After seeing this I think I should start my own site. I have a family of 6 and my budget is $400/mth. That includes all of our cleaning and paper goods too (shampoo, laundry, hygene, dish det. etc.). Even if we went out once a week at $50 each trip my amount for 6 is considerably lower than Trents. I did look up the amount we would get for food stamps if we were unemployed and for my famiy size it would allow up to $981/mth just for FOOD. Do we wonder why Americans are so fat and lazy?!?

  146. I could definitely see spending over $700 a month on food, however, our new rule is everything must go before we food shop. I’ll buy basics (milk, eggs, bread, peanut butter) but that’s it. Once snacks are gone that’s it! We’ve gone from soda to sparkling water at $0.68 a bottle and we love it. My food bill went from the over $700 to about $400 a month. i diligently clip coupons, make a list based on the supermarket add and plan my meals for 2 weeks so I’m sure I have what I need and don’t need to “run out quickly” for something. We all take lunches to work/school. We only let them buy lunch on Friday’s when it’s pizza day and that money comes from extra change during the week that gets put into a jar. I could spend upwards of $50 a week on food at work if I bought lunch….i refuse too!!! I’m definitely getting alot of helpful tips from this website….Glad I stumbled upon it.

  147. Hi All,

    Quick update for me. Family of two in Minneapolis, all toiletries included, about $45/week (we eat almost exclusively at home). I suppose if we had two younger kids, we’d be looking at perhaps $400/month? $700 sounds really insane to me unless you live on the coast or something?

  148. I live in Minneapolis too, and we spend about $500/mo – we only buy local freerange meat & grassfed milk & butter, which is more expensive but

    1) we can afford it and
    2) I grew up downstream of here and don’t to be responsible for manure spills anywhere.

    It’s totally possible to spend less – when I was a stay at home mom we spent about 1/3 less on food (same amount of cooking) and before that we were pretty much freegan for a few years – in 2000 my grocery budget was $50/mo for two people.

    But that doesn’t mean you have to. I think the commentator who said Trent’s family is eating the “liberal” meal plan on the “average” budget is spot on.

  149. I have a family of 4 in New York. I clip coupons and closely follow the sales in the store circular. It’s rare that I buy anything that isn’t on sale. I buy a ton of fresh produce. We eat a lot of meat but I am working hard to get more vegetarian meals into our diet. I recently let my warehouse club membership expire because I can (mostly) get the same good prices at the regular grocery store, although I have to pay more attention and wait for the sale to come around. I use a breadmaker every week (have not bought any store bread since June 2008! only hot dog rolls, although I really should try them with dough from the breadmaker) (When I run out of yeast, I will go with a friend who has a warehouse club membership because the yeast there is WAY cheaper than the little packets in the grocery store. The flour, too.) I use a credit card (have never carried a balance) and every so often I can redeem the “points” for a grocery store gift card. My monthly bill is about $380 and that includes all toiletries, cleaning supplies, medicines, soaps etc. Does not include cat food, I count that separately.

  150. Don’t dismiss the infant. I assume food includes formula or infant food and those things are really expensive. We had twins and couldn’t wait to get them off formula we were going through a large tin+ a week (@ $25 – 30 a tin). If “food” also includes non-food baby items – wipes, diapers etc. then that baby is using their fair share of that $770.

    $770 doesn’t seem unreasonable, though it definitely depends on where you live and the priority you attach to food and thus the types of food you buy.

  151. A lot of this sounds like people who are overweight saying “I really don’t eat all that much.”
    It’s very possible to spend way less than $770 a month on food for two adults and two preschool children, if you want to or need to. I can make six meals on one chicken, if I want to– 1/2 breast for stir fry, the other 1/2 for fried rice, 1 leg and 1 thigh for enchiladas, etc etc etc, ending with tortilla soup from the carcass.
    May I suggest that Trent try a month with a lower food budget and see what happens?

  152. I spend about $800 a month to feed 11-12 people, most of whom eat like adults. That averages to less than $300/mo for the ‘average’ family of 4, and I feel pretty good about that.

    I think one commenter, above, probably said it right that Trent is probably managing a ‘liberal’ meal plan at a ‘moderate’ price point. If I had to go cheaper with my food budget, I could. I think $600 would be doable. But when it comes down to it, I’m not willing to sacrifice THAT much. And fortunately, because of frugal choices in other areas, I don’t HAVE to.

    The really cool thing to realize about frugality is that is about HAVING choices. Being frugal in some areas often frees up the budget in areas where you are less willing to compromise. The trick is to make choices that work within your own budget.

    I have a hunch that Trent is doing just fine at that.

    Mary, mom to many
    author FAMILY FEASTS FOR $75 A WEEK

  153. Several people here have said that it depends on where you live. Since I’m retired and could therefore live anywhere, I’d like to know where the absolute cheapest place is!

  154. I don’t think 700 a month is that outrageous. Most of the stuff we buy rarely if ever have coupons. We try to eat from the local food shed when we can. It’s worth it for us to spend more for quality food. When a teen age boy can taste the difference in the eggs from the organic pasture raised chickens then I know we are on to something. We choose not to spend money on new cars, lots of “toys,” or cable tv, for example. It’s all where people decide to prioritize their spending.

  155. Food budget definitely depends on where you are in the country (mid-West suburban in a temperate climate has so far been cheapest for me) as well as how you shop and what you are willing to sacrifice. My husband and I buy generics whenever possible. We recently increased our budget from $50 a week to $60 a week since I’m pregnant. This includes pet food and litters for 2 cats as well as paper products. We eat well, with plenty of meat, but are not into “fancy” meals, since my husband usually cooks at least half the time.

    We eat tacos, casserole, hamburgers, chicken stir fry, spaghetti, or “breakfast for dinner”. He eats lunch out twice per month, and we usually eat dinner out together twice per month. I figure the cost of cooking those extra meals at home would be marginal if it were necesssary. He also buys 3-4 2-liters of diet soda a week. Milk in our area costs $2 a gallon and we can usually find hamburger for $1 a pound on the clearance rack and we cut up the larger packages, repackage, and freeze them ourselves.

    Why are we doing all this since right now we make $80,000 a year? We recently paid off his student loans in less than 3 years ($40,000) and plan to live on just his income when the baby comes in August. Is it for everyone? No. Does it take sacrifices? Yes. Do we eat healthy, filling foods? Absolutely.

    No vegetable garden yet, since we live in an apartment, but definitely looking forward to that when we get our own home (we have $30,000 in liquid savings for a down payment, vehicles, medical expenses, emergency fund).

    And yes, we usually stick pretty close to the budget (we were $7 under last week and $10 over this week, but that included enough toilet paper and paper towels for 3 months). We do buy brand names when on sale and when the quality is better (I can’t do generic toilet tissue, I use Charmin ultra strong and can usually find a really good sale).

  156. I would love for those who are feeding a family of four for $400-$500/mo to give us a food plan, I’d love to see what they are buying and how much they are spending for it.

    We are a family of 4 and I’ll tell you, I’m not sure what we were spending, but I’m sure it was $700-$800/mo. I was making some things from scratch some times, but my goal now is to make pretty much everything I can from scratch (mayo, mustard, the works). I’d love to get our food budget down to $400/mo.

  157. Wow… this is quite a discussion!

    We live in an expensive area for food-the equivalent of a gallon of milk is almost $8, which I think it pretty high. Meat and veggies are bad, too. Unfortunately, the things I’m trying to feed my family more of (fruits, veggies, good meats, fresher anything) are the things that never go on sale and NEVER have coupons available. Coupons just seem to be for junk. No farmer’s markets closer than an hour’s drive away- and if you factor in the 30 min. drive to get to a grocery store with good produce, it just drives the prices up even more.

    I used to think I did pretty well on grocery spending… until I really started tracking every purchase. Those quick stops for milk and bread really add up!

    I’m learning to keep costs down by planning meals and shopping less frequently, but I still throw out too much gone-bad produce (I buy vegetables with the best intentions, but nobody here likes them, even cooked really nicely) and too many leftovers.

    As for Trent, he’s always saying that being frugal means you have money to spend on what’s really important to you, and for him, food is clearly it. I don’t think this “revelation” undermines his message. He’s doing what he loves, enjoying his life without going into debt to do it.

  158. We live in Nebraska, a family of four (soon to be five). We spend $800 a month. We eat mostly produce based pastas. I cook every night, we rarely eat out. We do buy organic milk. We don’t usually buy processed foods.

    My husband and I are very frugal, so when we moved, he disputed my monthly budget amount for groceries. We spent the next month saving every food related reciept (groceries, fast food, etc). If you do ittoo and are honest with yourself, you will notice how those small midweek trips add up. So I think the average is right on. I won’t feel guilty for buying healthy food for my family, knowing that we eat and not let go to waste.

    However, I wonder if the national average is based on grocery bills that are full of cheap processed foods.

  159. I have a husband who works construction (big eater), a mom, an infant on formula, and myself.

    All of our groceries plus Enfamil formula plus diapers and other toiletries runs about $350/month here in Minneapolis. We don’t eat out often, and we all bring lunch to work.

    I have mixed feelings about the “average” figure reported in the post!!

  160. If you are feeding your family of four on $770 a month while buying local, organic, hormone-free food, Trent, you are doing very well. I would wager that the average moderate family of 4 is not spending the $771 on items that are as healthy.

    I have been on both sides of the fence on the issue of how much to spend on food. I have a family of 4. We have a 7 year old and a 3 year old. I used to spend $300 a month using Aldi, Walmart, and Kroger to get the maximum amount of savings possible. But I have changed my priorities recently. I have started going to a coop in town that sells local, organic, and healthful food. I have also joined a CSA and try to go to a farmers market as well. I don’t buy much junk food and we make our own bread and pretty much every meal is from scratch. Our bill is a little closer to $600 per month now–and we live in an area of the country where food is not terribly expensive.

    Organic food in the U.S. is not subsidized. That’s why it’s so expensive compared to non-organic items. So for all of the people who have criticized you b/c they eat on a smaller budget, their food might cost close to the same as yours to produce but Uncle Sam is subsidizing it (mostly to farmers working for big corporations,) and the independent organic farmer relies on only his customers to foot the bill. So, a person’s grocery costs might not all come out of his/her individual pocket, but society is paying for it just the same.

    Also, Americans spend an average of less than 10% of their money on food. In Europe and Japan, it’s about 16-17%. They don’t eat stuff laden with corn syrup. They are more healthy overall and have less medical expenses, too. It’s good to be frugal…but not at the expense of one’s health.

  161. Perhaps those of you who are feeding a family of seven on $600 (see #15 Salve Regina @ 5:01 pm September 1st, 2008) a month have a stay-at-home mom or dad who has time to cook the majority of meal from scratch and comparision shop. I’d like to see more responses from young families of four with two full-time jobs and two kids under the age of five. More information on jobs and age of children would be very helpful.

  162. All of these messages have been interesting to read. I am a single parent of 3 kids. My 2 adult kids (18 & 22) live with me, as does my 2-week old grandson. My youngest child (12) is here to visit for the summer. I bring home (after taxes & insurance) less than $18,000 a year, and my daughter gets WIC and $200 in food stamps from the state per month – and we make it on that. Our food budget right now is the $200 from my daughter’s food stamps and I try to supplement our food budget whenever I can by doing cleaning & painting jobs on the side. We do not have credit card debt, an expensive car (10 year old minivan) or a lot of luxury bills. Just the basics.

  163. Wow, I just did a search on frugal shopping because I’m struggling with my $300/month budget, and found this.

    I’m absolutely sure that is all that gets spent on food (in answer to a couple old posts asking how people keep track.) My husband tracks every penny spent and where it goes, and I never use more than $150 at the grocery store (I go twice a month) and we don’t eat out AT ALL. The food I bring home every other week is the only food we eat. My husband may grab a coke or candy bar at work IF he has change…probably amounts to about $5 a year. Lol.

    PLUS…my budget(which is for 2 adults, one 2-yr. old and one infant-I nurse so I eat more)…that budget also has to cover all household items, hygene stuff etc, about $70/month in prescriptions (asthma and eczema), $15/month in dog food, cat food and litter, and any gifts for birthdays or extras.
    ~~~So basically, my $300/month budget covers EVERYthing that is not bills or gas for cars. For food itself, I probably spend about $200/month. (Which breaks down to just over a dollar per person, per meal.)

    Oh, and I stay at home, cloth-diaper my infant, and cook everything, we have oatmeal for breakfast every day, weekends we get eggs or pancakes. Lunches are whatever is left over from dinner, and my toddler doesn’t eat packaged snacky foods (like crackers cookies juice etc.) We usually snack on leftovers. Basically I buy a little meat, lot of grains (lentils, barley, beans), lot of potatoes, try to throw in some fresh veggies, and some milk, cheese, baking ingredients, and pb&j. I don’t buy soda or candy or any packaged foods. I do garden, but as we live in high desert, it only produces some tomatoes (which are cheap anyway) and a few spices and some squash. Doesn’t make a dent in my shopping.

  164. Well let’s think. We have three kids 2 4 and 10. I buy luvs diapers and only use pull ups at night. Two boxes of diapers and one large pkg of pullups and wipes is about 75 a month. 10 toilet paper 10 paper towel 10 laundry detergent 5 dish soap and my monthly groceries are over 100 and I haven’t even bought food yet. We drink approx 4 gallons of milk a week. A bag of green apples might cost $3 on sale strawberries2.50 and grapes. Now add in lettuce carrots potatoe corn and zuchinni. Oh and bananas. And that’ just fruit and veggies. I spend 800 easily. Plus 50 a week in gas. Plus eating out clothes shoes and medical expenses averaging 1250 a month. I know because we charge eveything and pay it off every month to get bonus points. I’m sure we could eat much much cheaperbut I value fresh veggies and fruit and outside of july and august here they cost a pretty penny.

  165. I spend about $450.00 a month for a family of four(three adults, one twelve year old boy). This also includes cat food for four cats, and two dogs, all paper products. (We do use microfiber cloths a lot. Also includes dishwashing products and detergents.We eat well, and have a varied and healthy diet. I only shop sales,and use coupons where I can. When I can’t,I buy generic. I also rebate, when available.We always have a freezer full, and our pantry is over-flowing, most of the time. We don’t drink alcohol or eat out. What we fix at home is always better.We shop several stores within about a seven mile radius. We do have a small garden.I understand if people have allergies or medical conditions and can’t eat certain foods. I do belong to programs where I get discounts on pet foods.(large coupons) We also utilize any leftovers. I would love to have a budget or $770.00 a month. I would use the leftover money to add to our savings for said twelve year old’s college account.

  166. We spend anywhere from $450-$600 on food per month for two of us in the upper Mid-west. I have celiac disease so the coupon packs that come with the Sunday paper are largely useless to us. I have to be careful with meat- a local grocer was selling chicken breasts for $1.99/lb last weekend, but the meat was treated with chicken broth- a common feature of cheap meat and a big no-no for someone with celiac disease (the “natural flavor” is often barley malt, which doesn’t have to be labeled as it isn’t one of the big 8 allergens). This means I end up spending more for either brand names like Jennie-O that will label all gluten or for organic meats. It also means that it is even more difficult for me to eat at others’ houses or restaurants. All labels must be read at all times. Sale items are often off-limits and as a grad student I don’t always have time to hit several stores to stock up on loss leaders. Special certified gluten-free flours are considerably more expensive than standard wheat-barley all-purpose flour. GF pasta is two to four times more expensive than standard wheat pasta. We don’t fuss about organic butter and cheese, but we find that usually the organic milk keeps longer in our fridge, which is important because we don’t go through it quickly. We cook almost all of our food at home (since restaurant meals are like Russian roulette for me) and we cook from scratch as much as possible, so we spend a lot on things like cooking oils, vinegars, spices and herbs. We buy GF grains (rice, quinoa), nuts and legumes in bulk which save money overall but up the grocery tab for the month in which they were bought. It doesn’t help that my husband has a hollow leg and will often eat half or more of a meal that was intended for four servings- he has a freakish metabolism and has yet to break 150 lbs at 5’9″. We also like to have people over for dinner and tend to cook big dinners- much cheaper and safer than dining out, but that adds to the monthly bill as well.

    Given all this, I’m totally okay with spending a lot on our food. Now that I know how to treat my disease, I don’t get sick anymore. I’m not dosing myself up with all kinds of pharmaceuticals to get through each day. I’m not spending money on doctor co-pays only to be told “I have no idea what is wrong with you”. Totally worth the expense.

  167. Hi all. We have really struggled the past couple years with job layoffs. After literally having no food in our house and getting down on our knees begging God for food, we finally applied for food assistance. The first month we got $280 and I fed our family of four better than I ever had before! Food had always been last on my list. I paid all bills first and then bought food with what was left over which was usually not much. My poor active husband pretty much starved. I shopped at Save-A-Lot, Gordon Foods and Walmart and was able to make lots of casseroles and pasta dishes. A bag of frozen chicken breasts is usually $10 at GFS for 15 breasts. I strongly believe in healthy eating so I tried to cook as healthy as I could with canned foods. Then, unfortunately we lost some more income (believe me, we are desperately trying to figure out our situation. we live in a very rural area and there is not much opportunity) anyway, we lost some more income and our food benefits were increased to $475 per month! Wow, we eat like kings! And always have money left over! We shop mostly at Super Wal-Mart and we are able to get all kinds of amazing produce! we eat a lot of fresh spinach, peppers, strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, tomatoes, etc. and have more food than we’ve ever had! We spend between $300 – $400 per month. I can’t imagine spending $770! They must be able to eat pretty much everything they could ever want! I already feel like I have that on $400 per month. But, maybe that’s because we were used to eating nothing and pretty much starving ourselves. The only reason I sought assistance was because I realized that while I could get by on very little, it was not healthy to do that to my kids. We are trying everything we can to climb out of our hole and not have to use government assistance anymore! I can’t wait until that’s our reality and we have money!!!!

  168. Start by planning your meal around an inexpensive “base”: Bread, potatoes, rice, or noodles. Pick one of those first. Then add some meat, veggies, fruit, dairy to round out the meal. Only make enough meat for 1 serving per person (unless you’re planning to use leftovers for another meal or the freezer). If people are still hungry, point them towards the bread/potatoes/rice/noodles. Same goes with the milk consumption. Give the kids their 1 cup serving (use a measuring cup to see where 1 cup comes up to on the drinking glasses you use). If they’re still thirsty, point to the water faucet.

  169. I’m single and spend $50-$60 a month on food (and yes, I do eat meat, cheese, dairy, etc). That would translate to $200-240 per month for a family of 4. I cook everything from scratch–and work full-time. Even when I had kids at home I worked full-time (and at times had additional part-time jobs) and cooked from scratch.

    As I always say: If you’ve got time to watch television (or spend hours on the internet), you’ve got time to bake bread, cook from scratch, make laundry detergent, sew, etc.

  170. I find it interesting that people are willing to cut corners on healthy food. Of all the things to spend money on, this should be at the top of the list, and not the place to cheap out. Also, it would be extremely helpful to see where each commenter lives. Here in the Seattle area, the cost of living is pretty high. I have been shocked at my family’s grocery bill, but haven’t figured it out without non-food items. Will go and do that out of curiosity! Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  171. I found this article while going on my own quest for cutting our food budget. We make a small fortune and our savings is…well… horrid. So I sat down a few weeks ago and started adding everything up. I’m a stay at home dad with a 5,6 and 10 year old and I cook 100% of the meals here. Food is certainly a highlight of everyone’s day here. My wife and I are both very healthy. She’s 5’6″ and 130 and I’m 6’5″ and 189lbs. The kids are all of equal size. With that said, prior to this month my grocery bill was around 1500.00 in a suburb of Indianapolis.

    I didn’t change my menu much and reduced our bill down to around 650.00 a month. How? I stopped going daily or every other day to the grocery store. Instead, I do a monthly menu and shop every two weeks for all the items only going back for milk bread and eggs. Why? easy, daily shopping always adds a couple of dollars for extra items. Biweekly doesn’t add anything if you have a list and stick to it. We’re not eating any boxed meals, I won’t feed my family that nonsense. We don’t eat fast food, it’s too unhealthy. My wife drinks soda, but me and the kids drink milk, juice and primarily water.

    The trick for us, was making a master menu in excel but paper would work. I listed all of the meals I cook, the ingredients for each meal and how balanced of a meal it was.

    from here, I’m able to make my shopping list and not miss anything. Meals with ingredients that won’t last two weeks I make first or make and freeze. For a month, we’ve been eating much the same for much less money. The kids don’t know any difference. My wife notices that we’re coming up with almost 1k extra a month and is loving it.

    I found this by typing in “average food budget” wondering if I’m still higher than needed, or lower. It appears I’m doing well but considering I’m in a state where my milk costs me 1.90 a gallon and my bread is rarely over .65 for 100% whole wheat, I think I can do even better.

    If I can offer one piece of advice, plan ahead! Not just a week, but a month or more. Make a list and stick to it at all costs.

  172. Thx for this Trent. Frankly I don’t know how anyone is making it on the numbers posted in this blog for less than your average. My wife does all the shopping weekly for all three of us in the household plus our large dog. She has a budget of $200/week and this is inclusive of personal hygiene products (toilet paper, deoderant etc). We have a nine year-old who is very active. I’m the only one in the household classified as overweight so I probably eat more. I’m an accountant by trade and tirelessly watch our dollars and track everything in Quicken meticulously. At $200/week or $800/month divided by 30-days and then 3 persons -that works out to feeding and keeping clean at roughly $9 per day. Take that number and divide by 3 meals per day and we are eating at approx $3/meal. We rarely eat out and generally cook our meals for 3-4 days in advance every week. I’ve noticed that most of the products in our panty are Great Value (Walmart brand)since brand names have become out of reach. HOW THE HECK ARE PEOPLE EATING FOR LESS/PER MEAL OR PER DAY? I just don’t see how that is possible.

  173. My husband and I first started working on getting a handle on our food budget (really, our finances in general) in 2006. We are two early-thirties, average-sized vegans living in Southern California. Upon calculating our food spending, we were surprised to discover that we were *each* spending around $600 a month on food, for a household total of $1200 on food a month. I’m not kidding. For people who wonder how two people can spend this much, it’s a combination of: over-buying groceries (we were throwing spoiled things out every week); not comparison shopping/paying attention to costs of foods; buying only really high-quality ingredients, often from an expensive health food store; eating lunches and dinners out a couple times a week for about $6-12/lunch and $30/dinner; and just generally having no clue what it was “normal” to spend.

    Four years later, after much effort and learning, and with zero reduction in the quality of food we eat, we each spend $160/month on food, for a combined household total of $320/month. This number doesn’t include the around $100 we spend on staples like dried beans and quinoa at Costco every 3 months, though, so figure that kicks our cost up to around $354/month.

    We made the following lifestyle changes to reduce our spending: carefully organized the fridge and pantry from top to bottom, so we always know what we have at all times, meaning no more buying excess and wasting it; pack all lunches at home (we *never* buy them anymore); bake our own bread every weekend in the breadmaker I bought 3 years ago at a heavy discount; switched from canned beans to dried beans (we cook a big batch in the pressure cooker every weekend – so much cheaper); buy bulk oranges and make our own juice (we freeze small amounts in little jars and then move them into the fridge as needed – delicious, cheaper, no added sugars or anything); make a large batch of brown rice every two weeks and freeze 1 cup portions, so they’re always on hand; we cook with the crockpot and in big batches more than we ever did before, so there’s always food in the house; we cancelled our CSA, which was $35/week, and began going to the farmer’s market every Saturday instead, which is much less expensive in our area (I understand the cost of CSAs vs. farmer’s markets may vary by region); we made a price book and learned where our staples were cheapest, and began to only buy them there; we eat out only once a week now at the very most, and only at our favorite restaurant’s “happy hour” – all their healthy appetizers are 1/2 price before 6pm on Fridays, so we can share 3 big appetizers (things like salads made from local, organic produce, quesadillas made with caramelized veggies and vegan cheese, etc.) for under $12, and still have leftovers for lunch the next day, bringing the cost of this date-night “splurge” down to $3/person/meal; we never order alcohol or soda in a restaurant, and drink only so-called “two buck chuck” wine from Trader Joe’s ($2/bottle) at home; we buy organic for things on the “dirty dozen” list of pesticide-retaining foods (strawberries, apples, etc.) but less expensive conventional produce for the rest; I never ever buy cleaning products – we make our own from bulk jugs of vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda, saving money, keeping toxic chemicals out of our home, and helping the environment; rather than 3-4 trips to the store/week, we shop just once a week now, under the theory that every time you walk into a store it’s $ out of your pocket; we routinely make our own salad dressings and vegan sausages instead of buying them, which is kind of fun and a huge savings; we bought a few plastic food storage tupperware bins for a few bucks from Ikea, allowing us to keep all our fresh produce in either the crisper or a bin, and it stays fresh many days longer because of this; and most importantly, we put ourselves on a cash only, strict food budget each week, and when the money is gone, it’s gone, and we eat what we have in the house.

    I also looked into couponing, but it just isn’t possible for the way we eat. I always see couponers insist that they buy “healthy” foods with their coupons, but when they list some of these supposedly healthy foods (sugary juices, chips, cookies, and other snack foods, mac and cheese, frozen dinners, etc.), I have to respectfully disagree. We don’t personally eat things that aren’t whole grain (we don’t even buy non-whole grain pasta, let alone rice, bread, etc.), and eat only unprocessed, fresh, and vegan foods, so coupons generally don’t apply to any of our items. That said, I can often find veggies and fruits on sale for under $1/pound at our local Henry’s Market, and our farmer’s market always has $1 bags of things like onions, zucchini, squash, bell peppers, etc. that are an amazing deal. We eat lots of meals of simple, cheap things like roasted veggies (veggies roasted on cookie sheets with a little olive oil), chili, vegetable soups, veggie curries over rice, salads with beans and rice to make them more filling, and so on. Dessert in our house means either popcorn popped from kernels we buy in bulk, or a piece of fruit. Once in a blue moon, if we want a cookie or something, I bake a cookie with flour we’ve bought in bulk and chocolate chips I’ve gotten on sale.

    I think the key to managing this area of the budget without compromising quality is to track things carefully and thoughtfully, using a system that works for you, and to challenge yourself to eat the same on less every month, until you hit the level where doing so stops being possible. Then you know your minimum necessary food budget, and you can make an informed choice about how much to spend each week, fortnight, or month. Then develop a system of sticking to your budget that works for you – for us, the key was going to an all-cash food budget, and to manage it in easier to track two-week, rather than month-long, intervals.

    Finally, I’m sure that if all I had was $150/month to feed a family of four, or whatever people are claiming they do, I could find a way to do it, but not without seriously sacrificing the quality of the food I was buying. Everyone has to do what they have to do to get by, but I don’t really think anyone can tell anyone else what the “right” food budget is for their family, and especially not people living in different parts of the country with different food costs, and with different definitions of what “healthy” food is.

  174. I’m both amazed that Trent is being criticized for his budget and amazed at the low numbers provided by families who are getting by on so little for groceries. Good for you, frugal families! I have no idea how you do it!

    Like Donny’s wife, I have a budget of $200/week for groceries and toiletries/cleaning supplies. My boyfriend and I eat $400 in groceries and probably spend $100 in eating out per month. Since our goal was to get *down* to $500/month in food costs for the two of us, our current budget makes us feel very thrifty!

    We do, however, feed our friends and family members a couple times a week when they are low on cash or as a way of saying congratulations/thank you/etc (we are pretty generous about helping them out with food), and we opt to go out to a $20 dinner and watch NetFlix movie occasionally rather than, say, spend the same amount on a theater movie.

    I wonder, respectfully, if the individuals with low food budgets are making up for it by spending more heavily in other areas? An example besides the movie theater bit would be that we help our friends and family with food, but we do not donate to church or other charitable organizations.

  175. I’m living in Souther California , My wife and I both work full time, I’m out of town every other week, 7 days on /home for 7 days. Our Home consumables FOOD/ Cleaning supplies/ Toilet paper/ and everything else you buy at the store runs about $3,000 a month.
    The wife doesn’t seem to think this abnormal, I do. I have been cooking and freezing meals and trying to lead by example. I hope to at least save about a third of this money and put it towards home repairs and vacations.
    Oh yeah, we are a family of Four our daughters are 5 and 12 years old.

  176. READY FOR THIS? I SPEND AN AVERAGE OF $100 PER WEEK FOR A FAMILY OF 5. THATS A 20 YEAR OLD GIRL, A 17 YR OD BOY AND A 14 YR OLD GIRL. TODAY MY CHECK WAS $99.42, WITH COUPON SAVINGS OF $78. THATS A SAVINGS OF 44%. I ONLY SHOP AT ONE GROCERY STORE. I USE THEIR COUPONS AND ONLY BUY WHAT IS ON SALE THAT WEEK..BOUGHT 9 PORK CHOPS FOR $11. SAVED $8.33 ON THE PACKAGE. TWO PACKAGES (24 ROLLS) OF TOILET PAPER FOR 9.98, 2 $1 COUPONS AND A COUPON FOR $2 OFF MY NEXT SHOPPING ORDE! THAT MEANS I SPENT $5.98 INSTEAD OF $12. BTW, NONE OF US ARE OVERWEIGHT. I BUY NO SODAS, FRESH FRUIT AND VEGIES ONLY IN SEASON. MY KIDS MAKE THEIR SCHOOL LUNCHES ABOUT 2-3 TIMES A WEEK..,THANKS FOR LETTING ME BRAG. :)

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