Having a frugal grocery budget allows us to eat healthy real food, plus we’ve also been able to pay off our debt and buy a house in cash. Our food budget is low & we’ve never been healthier!
Several years ago my husband and I cut our monthly expenses in half. We set a grocery budget of $330 a month for the two of us based on what we were spending.
And now that we’re a family of four, with a teen and a preteen, we are still able to maintain our grocery budget at around $400 per month.
I’ve learned over the years that guessing and assuming, when it comes to the budget, won’t work. Coming up with a number for a frugal grocery budget cannot be random. In fact, it must be strategic!
There are several factors to take into account before working with a frugal grocery budget. Don’t worry though – I’m here to walk you through it!
Why Make a Frugal Grocery Budget
The simple reason to create a frugal grocery budget is to save money. What you do with the money you save is entirely up to you!
- Our “one-day” dream was to buy a house with cash, and you know what? We did it!
- Maybe your dream is to pay for your kids’ college so they don’t have to take on student loans
- Or save up for a new-to-you car
- Or to build an emergency fund in case of unforeseen job loss
Whatever the reason, the biggest reason to make a frugal grocery budget is to save money.
When you set your heart and mind to it, you’ll learn to get creative by thinking of ways to get more out of your grocery budget. You’ll soon realize that you can eat VERY well by not spending a lot of money – it’s all about being strategic!
I’ve shared the exact strategies I’ve learned from the years of working within a frugal grocery budget in Grocery Budget Bootcamp.
However, I want to give you the basics of how to make a frugal grocery budget because I believe it’s absolutely vital to share with others.
How to Make a Frugal Grocery Budget
Make a commitment to reducing your food budget
You absolutely cannot create a frugal grocery budget, or work within a budget if you’re dead set against it. It simply will not work.
- Mentally prepare yourself first. Commit to making a food budget – no if’s, and’s or but’s allowed. There will be a cap on your spending. If you reach the bottom of the money jar before the month is over, you’ll have to learn to make do with what you have.
- Take heart: eating well with only your pantry at hand is not an impossible task. We have gone 33 days without spending any money at all.
- The whole family needs to be on the same page with the grocery budget as well. Sit down with the family to explain why it’s important to have a grocery budget, and how it will allow you to achieve your greater money goals together.
- Explain how it will help you stop living paycheck to paycheck, and how to be more mindful when grocery shopping.
Soup nights, leftovers and meat-less meals go over much easier to manage when the family knows the reasoning behind them.
Add up your current spending
This step takes a little bit more time. To figure out what you SHOULD spend on groceries, you need to figure out what you ALREADY spend on your grocery bill.
- For the next month, keep every single receipt you spend on food, from the grocery store and dining out. We’re not going to account for that in the final budget tally, but seeing how much you spend eating out is very insightful while making your budget.
- Now be careful – you might be tempted to cheat. A tall cup of coffee from Starbucks or a bag of popcorn while shopping at Target seem harmless, but it’s still food and it still counts!
- Be sure to keep track of ONLY your grocery expenses. A grocery budget should not include household items like cleaning supplies, toiletries, or paper goods.
- You need a separate budget for toiletries, and following these tips can help shave your budget down AND cut down on chemicals in your household.
At the end of the month, add up all the receipts for a grand total. This total is your starting point. From here on out, your first goal is not spending more than that on groceries. Your second goal is to lower your spending.
Lower your grocery spending
This is the bulk of the process and it doesn’t happen overnight, so be prepared for the long haul.
There are many ways to reduce your grocery spending, like monthly meal planning with seasonal produce, cooking from scratch, buying in bulk, and using coupons and rebate apps (although I have chosen not to use coupons anymore). But here are some “out of the box” ways you can cut your spending:
- Categorize your spending. Do this according to the foods you bought and eliminate anything that didn’t fall into a major food group.
- Stop buying food when you’re doing other things. (i.e. a bag of popcorn while browsing Target, coffee from Starbucks while running errands)
- Conduct a pantry inventory. Include your fridge and freezer inventory. This is so you can see how much food you ALREADY have before you go shopping again.
- Avoid food waste. Wasting food is throwing away money. You can even avoid waste by using up food scraps.
- Stretch cuts of meat into more meals. Stretch chicken into 7 meals, a pork loin into 7 meals, and 2 pounds of ground beef into 8 meals!
- Cutting back on meat means you are eating more fruits and veggies. This, in turn, means you’re eating healthier!
- Keep your pantry stocked with real foods. Keeping real food on hand helps you have the ingredients you need to make a tasty meal. Then you’re not tempted to buy junk or eat out.
- Start a price book. Creating a simple price book can save a lot – HUNDREDS of dollars a year.
- Focus on reducing one food group. Start with coffee, cheese, milk, dairy, produce or meat.
- Substitute expensive items for things that cost less. Making food substitutions is the first thing I have my Grocery Budget Bootcamp students do. Many save up to $100 the first week!
Refine your grocery budgeting process
This is where the rubber meets the road. Do you want to save money? Then do it.
- Make the hard decisions. Skip the wants. Eat leftovers AGAIN and purposely have beans and rice for dinner. Or go extreme and spend just $50 a week on groceries.
- Hold yourself accountable. Don’t make excuses and just keep trying! If you go over budget, find ways to make up the extra money and keep going!
- Make lasting changes. There’s no way you can completely overhaul your kitchen and eating habits overnight. If you want the changes to be successful, they must be done in baby steps and slowly over time.
When you’ve reached this point, take a look at the types of foods you spend the most money on and start there. It is possible to eat healthy food and shop frugally, even if you factor in specific food for food allergies.
What is a reasonable grocery budget per month?
I get this question A LOT. And honestly, there is no right answer! You cannot compare your budget to another family’s budget, including mine. What I spend for a month for my family is going to be different from you.
Here are some of the reasons why:
- People have different preferences and dietary needs.
- They have different family sizes or appetites (teenagers are big eaters and eat a lot more than toddlers!).
- The cost of living and/or food varies across the US.
YOU have to determine what your grocery budget will be. If the steps above aren’t enough to get you started, use this guide to determine how much you should spend on food.
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to keep up with a frugal grocery budget, but it can be done and it is SO worth it!
Just keep putting one foot in front of the other…
Do you need some help with your grocery budget TODAY?
There is no better time, than right now, to start using the above strategies on creating your grocery budget! But if you need more help, I invite you to join the waitlist for my flagship course, Grocery Budget Bootcamp.
- In this course, I teach my strategic system of making healthy food work within your budget, plus so much more!
- It’s very much like a college class, so enrollment is only open twice a year. You can either register for the course, or join the wait-list on this page.
- As of this writing, my students have collectively saved over $7.5 million dollars. THAT’S A LOT OF MONEY!
You can get your piece of the pie – just register for Grocery Budget Bootcamp, or sign up to be notified when enrollment is open!
Lots of suggestions, my wife and I will start on $ tracking during our next grocery store shopping trip.
Karen @ Team Crumbs
Great! We wish you the best of success with your grocery budgeting. 🙂
Does this grocery budget include things like pet food / litter, medications, toiletries, paper products & cleaning supplies? For 2 of us in Buffalo, NY, we can spend up to $650 / month on groceries, including these things (and that is down now that we’ve started going to Aldi and buying more from Walmart).
I used to go the 1st of the month or the 1st Monday if the 1st fell on a weekend with my mother – in – law and do a “comprehensive grocery shop.” I took the day without pay and spent 4 – 5 hours. It was typically limited to 4 stores: Aldi, Save – a – Lot, Wegmans and TOPS, and later in the week I would go to Walmart as well. Sometimes we’d go to K Mart, Target, Market in the Square, the pharmacies and / or dollar stores too. I’d supplement with buying milk, work lunches and produce the last 3 weeks of the month, or any staples or items needed for meals that we’d run out of. I kept an “Expiring List” posted on my fridge of everything that would go throughout the month and made a “Meals List” based on that. I replaced the items from the “expiring List” the next month.
Then my mother – in – law passed away and I was on my own for everything and had to work those days when I could. But despite that, our grocery bill has gone down – even changing from cheap cat food to Blue. Now that I’ve been “let go” from my job, am moving, and starting my own promotion, I could stand to cut costs even more any way(s) I can.
My mom’s best friend lived in Florida, now Ohio, and she swears by Dollar Tree dinners – egg rolls, fried rice, etc.
Hi Jayna! In order to get your expenses under control, I recommend that your grocery budget be comprised strictly of food, not pet supplies or medication or household items – those should all have their own line items in your budget.
I’m also in Buffalo ny and we’re starting to budget our grocery bills and the first thing that needs to go is Wegmans. I love it but it’s so expensive and it’s probably the reason we have such a huge bill. Good luck with your budget!
I love this and wish we could apply it. We have 3 boys and all with allergies. Eating cheap or in bulk is not possible. I’ve tried it multiple times. We can’t eat: corn, soy, oats, wheat, gluten, strawberries, dairy, pears, avocados, lemon, peanuts or walnuts 🙁
I have to respectfully disagree Vennesssa. I have over 2,000 members in my course Grocery Budget Bootcamp and MANY of them suffer from food allergies. If you have a proven strategy that works, you can make it happens!
I started tracking my spending on food this month and I am absolutely gobsmacked by the results.We are a family of two adults, a dog, a cat and an occasional homeless friend who pops in weekly. My food bill is over $ 630.00 per month plus another $112.00 eating out. I shop at discount stores and try to eat mostly organics. I can’t believe I am spending this much on food. The only thing I can think of is I like to experiment with ethnic foods.So I have a lot of spices according to what country I’m craving for the week. Last week it was experimenting with Seitan. This week it was Persian gormeh szabzi. I even cut way back on meat this month and yet, my food bill seems astronomical. I thought I was very frugal but apparently I’m not when I compare myself to the people on this site. Another wild card is my vegan brother whose belly never seems satisfied. He stares in the refrigerator looking for some nonexistant foodstuff. Help!
When you say Groceries what do you mean? I always include cleaners, supplies and dog food in my “Groceries”. Should I be making a separate budget for these things?
Groceries are the foods you buy to eat… unless you eat cleaners, aluminum foil and dog food, they should be separate. 😉
I don’t know where I’m going wrong. I’m almost to ashamed to say this but this is the first time in my life I’ve tried to do a budget. I’ve been out of work since Jan 30. I have a new job but have no idea when I’ll get paid (I haven’t started yet). My 21 yr/old son lives with me. We are REALLY trying to do the ketogenic diet which means 20 carbs or less per day. So, I have lots of meat, eggs and cheese. I suppose these are some of the most expensive things at the grocery store. I started with a month I had a job (obviously) and figured that we spent nearly $850!! I’ve not figured any other month yet but I will probably in order to get an average (ish). Oh and I bought a new car last June. If I’d only known!!! I had no car payment prior to buying the car. My first goal will start the day I get paid. I will not spend more than $600 the first month. Goal will be 400-500. One thing I guess I have to give up is buying bulk? I’m not sure. But I like getting a bargain anywhere I can. Forgot to mention we live in Oklahoma. Yes, one of the fattest (if not THE fattest) states.
Coming from a physiology and nutrition standpoint, carbohydrates are the most readily useable energy for the body, required to burn fat and build muscle. The idea behind the ketogenic diet is for the body to go into fat burning (ketosis) directly, which sounds good at first flush, but puts strain on your organs. Doctors will not recommend it for longer than a few months, as Keto is unsafe for populations with any pancreas, liver, thyroid or gallbladder conditions. Be mindful that consuming excessive saturated fats (ie. fast food and red meat), increases a person’s risk for atherosclerosis, making them susceptible to coronary disease and heart attacks. The Canada’s Food Guide omitted dairy from the food groups and suggests half a plate of vegetables. Frozen veggies are picked at the prime and flash frozen, I would recommend those to cans, if you are trying to cut down grocery spending. There’s definitely more reading you can do on the subject to make a decision for yourself and your son. Take heart, things will get better.
Do you resources include wheat and dairy? We are mostly gluten and dairy free (and we only eat a few legumes – but not often). I’d love to use your resources to save on our budget. Can you advise which ones I’d gain the most from?
Laura in NH
Tiffany, you may or may not see this comment as it is a year since this post, but I wanted to let you know it’s still helpful! We’ve had some changes in our finances and have needed to tighten up our food budget considerably. My husband is anxious about this but I feel confident that I’ll make it work so that we don’t need to turn to credit cards this winter. Thanks for your continued inspiration!
You’re so welcome Laura! Best of luck with setting your budget. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know! ♥
I am a grad student who spends $400 a month on just me! I’m really inspired by this blog and have been searching for concrete ways to get down to my goal of $200 ( with an extra $200 going to student loans). Thank you everyone for sharing, and for this post!
You’re very welcome J – welcome to the community!