Are You Spending Too Much on Groceries?

kids baking cookies

How much does the average family spend on groceries? It all depends, but here’s how you can spend less regardless. Photo: Rain0975

If there is such a thing as an average family of four, there’s nothing average about how much that family spends on groceries.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family of four with two kids under age 11 spends anywhere from $654.20 to $1,302.20 per month on food. Why the huge disparity?

First of all, these numbers are averages, so they don’t take personal factors into account, such as whether you’re a family of two or you have five hungry teenagers to feed. And second, they don’t account for the huge variations in grocery prices across the country, and even within certain neighborhoods.

Third, but most importantly, some families just spend way more than average on food for whatever reason — whether it’s because they don’t pay attention to their spending, fail to buy anything on sale, or insist on eating filet mignon every night.

You aren’t one of those families, are you?

If you created a zero-sum budget and started tracking your spending earlier this year, you probably have a good idea of how much you’re spending on food each month. And perhaps you were even startled by your findings, and vowed to make a change. We all know how easy it can be to blow through a grocery budget if we’re not careful — the necessities, splurges, and convenience foods can add up fast, especially if you’re not watching.

If you don’t know how much you’re spending on groceries each month, it’s probably time to figure it out.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to break out last month’s bank statements and tally up your food spending, or use your receipts to come up with a rough estimate. If you’re not tracking your spending, you could easily be on the “liberal plan” for groceries and not even know it.

Reining In Your Grocery Bill

Either way, there are plenty of easy moves to ensure your food spending stays in a range you can be proud of. And you don’t have to cut coupons or carry around a giant binder to score huge savings. These tips can help:

Take Inventory of What You Already Have

It’s amazing what can end up at the back of our pantries — spices we forgot we had, those pretzels we bought because they were on sale, a box of your favorite granola bars. And the fridge is no different. Sometimes the freshest, healthiest foods get pushed to the back and forgotten about — left to die alone and untouched.

Before you head to the store, take inventory of what you already have. Ask yourself what kind of dishes you can make with ingredients already in your possession, and make a list of foods to buy that might complement them.

Shop With a List

Once you’ve taken inventory of the foods you already have, you should have a list of items you could buy to turn those foods into meals. But don’t stop there. Make a list of other items your family needs this week, including staples like milk, bread, and fresh produce.

You don’t have to create an in-depth meal plan if you don’t want to, but it definitely helps to bring a comprehensive list to the store each time you shop. It will not only save you money, but it might also save you time since you are less likely to forget something you really need.

Shop Sales

It shouldn’t take that much effort to browse the Internet for your favorite store’s flier while making your grocery list for the week. And if you do, you might discover that several foods your family eats frequently are on sale. If so, add them to the list and plan your meals around them.

If strawberries and blueberries are on sale, for example, eat those in your cereal this week instead of raspberries. Be flexible. By creating your grocery list around sales, you can save money without the hassle of coupons or anything else.

Break Out the Crock Pot

It’s getting cold outside in most parts of the U.S., which means it’s the perfect time to break out your crock pot and start cooking in batches. We’ve written about some tasty crock pot meals, but there are plenty of other crock pot recipes out there. The Internet is a treasure trove for slow-cooker recipes of all kinds. Be sure to check out Trent Hamm’s favorite slow-cooker recipe ideas if you want some inspiration.

Eat Leftovers

According to Department of Agriculture figures, 30-40% of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted, which is about 20 pounds of food per person, per month. And while it may be true that much of this waste occurs on the institutional level — at production plants, packaging plants, and grocery stores — quite a bit of waste takes place in our homes.

The fact is, most of us throw away much more food than we should due to waste, poor meal planning, or forgetfulness. The solution is obvious; we simply need to become better stewards of our resources. The added bonus we will achieve from being less wasteful is that we can also save money in the process — a win for both the environment and our pocketbooks.

How Much Should You Spend on Groceries?

Even though grocery spending will vary by family and geographic location, there are plenty of ways to whittle down your grocery spending if you aren’t happy with the way things are going. And taking some small steps could lead to hundreds of dollars in savings. What could you do with that money?

The truth is, there is no right amount to spend on groceries for anyone. You simply need to figure out the right amount for your family and create a plan of action to make it happen. And once you do, you’ll end up with more money to spend on the things in your life that matter most.

How much does your family spend on groceries each month? What strategies do you use to save as much as possible? Tell us in the comments. 

Holly Johnson
Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.

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