Why I Stopped Having a Strict Grocery Budget

by Ashley Eneriz · 10 comments

My friend started a conversation on her high monthly grocery bill and told me to guess how much she spends. I quickly said, “$1,200” – mind you she is raising three growing preteen boys, and lives with her husband, mother, and stepfather, so basically seven adults. She seemed a little surprised that I was so close. As we continued talking about it, I told her there is no reason to even feel guilty about spending around $1,000 a month on food. Here’s why.

My friend basically spends less than $5 a day to feed each person if you work out the math. Isn’t that incredibly good? I don’t know the exact dimension of her budget, but I do know that even if they eat out 2-3 times a week, they are still eating most of their meals at home or from home. While many of us are not spending $1,000 a month, I know there are many of us who feel guilty about how much money we spend at the grocery store. If you cook 85% or more of your meals from home, have very little food waste, and are giving yourself and your family the nutrients needed, then there really should be no guilt.

Why I Stopped Having a Strict Grocery Budget

After years of writing about how to save money on your groceries and giving advice to friends and family, I will let you in on a little secret. I do not worry too much about what I spend at the grocery store. Obviously I don’t go crazy on what I buy, but I just get what feels comfortable for our family. Some months I might spend $100-200 extra if there are amazing meat (usually organic meat) clearances. Other months, I might spend $100-200 less because I am benefiting from a full freezer. When I had a strict grocery budget, I would miss out on good clearance deals, and I often felt deprived and fell to the temptation of eating out several times a month.  If my freezer is full, and I have good, fresh ingredients on hand, there is no temptation to eat out. I can whip up a quick and healthy meal faster than it takes for my husband and I to decide where to eat.

I will let you in on another secret. I rarely ever use coupons or search grocery deals online. I have in the past and enjoyed scoring a lot of stuff for free or cheap. However, now it is too time consuming and I buy very little processed foods. I also prefer to do most of my shopping at Costco and Trader Joe’s. Though, I will go to Vons on certain days and buy as much 50% off meat as I can for the freezer.

Set Your Grocery Budget Based Off of Your Needs, Not Others’ Ideas of Good Budgeting

I share all of this to encourage you to stop feeling bad about your grocery budget if it works well for your family. I probably spend $500-600 a month on groceries for two adults, one toddler, and one baby. Some similar family structures will spend more, and some will spend less.

I could save a lot of money if I ate more vegetarian meals, pasta-based meals, and bean-based meals. My grocery budget would be significantly less if I only bought produce that was in season and only choose cheap cuts of meats. I would save even more money if I made everything from scratch and didn’t rely on shortcuts, such as a bag of diced onions or frozen brown rice. Here is the kicker, I buy and cook what makes my family healthy and happy (well, I am happy because I don’t have to spend too much time in the kitchen). Obviously a package of frozen brown rice and pre-chopped vegetables are dramatically marked up in price, but paying that extra $1-2 saves me from falling into temptation of the drive-thru, which costs more money and offers less health benefits.

Every family’s grocery budget is going to be different based on health needs, income, and preferences. What’s your grocery budget and are you happy with it?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Wamylove says:

    I do the same- buy a bag of cauliflower “rice,” sliced mushrooms, big jar of minced garlic, frozen chopped onions, pre-washed baby kale or spinach, chopped fresh veggies and/or frozen veggies, maybe some canned black beans -saute in olive oil and add Spike spice mix. Around 3 times a week, it’s very fast and keeps me from eating take-out.

  • thecruiselady says:

    I make a game of grocery money. I budget $700 for two people, per month, except for December, when there is no budget. Also, toilet paper and paper towels are not included in this allotment, but it does include fast food trips and the monthly lunch out with co-workers.

    I cash a check for $350 twice a month. I have a see-through plastic zipper pouch I got in the cosmetics section of the local “drug store.” A portion goes into that, the rest goes into an envelope in the closet. I watch the sales and plan around them. I rarely go shopping with more than $50. It seems I do a “big shop” every 6 weeks or so, when I stock up on essentials. The rest of the time, I rarely use my $350 allowance.

    What I don’t spend during the 1/2 month goes into a bank and is put toward a vacation getaway. I can usually save over $1000 a year this way.

  • Jess says:

    Love this! Time is valuable and making everything from scratch is draining! You are right as long as you are not wasting food and it works for you then there is no problem!


    As a senior citizen, I budget my grocery money at about $120/month for one person + about $25/month on non-edibles (mostly paper products). I try to go for one main trip in the first week, then a couple of smaller pickup runs during the month, when I am out on other errands. I have a freezer, as well as a fridge & can cook most basic items well.

  • lana says:

    I try and keep our groceries to about $125 a week. We usually don’t eat breakfast at home or lunches. Half our budget seems to be snacks for the kids. When they move out in a few years, I hope to have a couple of nights a week designated meat free. My husband wants good quality food and plenty of it. I’m trying to anticipate what everyone wants, and not have any food go to waste. It’s a delicate balance.

  • Chrissi says:

    As you mentioned, a strict grocery budget can mean that you miss out on good deals.
    For instance, I used to rely upon only spending a certain amount on food each week, but had a bit of a wind-fall last month, which enabled me to make use of a special offer on coffee that I found – I now have 8x500g of coffee sat in my cupboard, having cost me only €28, whereas the normal price would be at least €35.
    Whilst it doesn’t sound like a huge saving, €7 have been saved on something that I always use, and they can be spent on something else.
    I would recommend staying as flexible as possible, and stocking up on those special offers for things that you always buy!

  • Ms. MyCountdown says:

    Our monthly grocery budget for two people is around $300-$350. We try to make meals from scratch that are healthy, but will also last a few days like soups and bean dishes. The grocery budget can be tricky, because there is always somewhere you can trim the fat, but you don’t want your grocery shopping to be so restricted you feel deprived. Though I enjoy low cost meals, I splurge on wine purchases pretty regularly when I grocery shop ????

    • Ashley says:

      Life’s too short for crappy wine 😉 My husband hates soup and beans lol! Thankfully my daughter loves both, so that will save us money when she actually eats a full meal.

  • Ramona says:

    We still overspend when it comes to food. We don’t eat out (so that’s a huge saver), but we do purchase only fresh quality ingredients / produce and it’s not cheap. Not to mention we try to get our daughter the best fruits possible, even if they are pretty costly. Down the road, the savings we miss in this department should help us save on medical bills, since, eating healthy should keep us in good health (at least in theory) 🙂

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