Why I Stopped Having a Strict Grocery Budget

by Ashley Eneriz · 13 comments

My friend started a conversation on her high monthly grocery bill and told me to guess how much she spends. I quickly said, “$1,800” – 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 $1,800 a month on food. Here’s why.

My friend basically spends $8.50 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 $1,800 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 don’t 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, it’s now too time consuming for me, especially since the best deals are often for processed foods and I buy very little of it. 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 $700-800 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 the temptation of a 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? Are you happy with it?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Camay Cannon says:

    We are a smaller family (me, my husband and our 4 year old) and I’ve sat down and spent countless hours budgeting, setting strict meal plans etc. I would feel guilty too, when people would ask what’s our budget or what we spend. Often times, I’d say “oh about $400” when it’s around$900. What people don’t get is that healthier, non processed foods cost more because there’s nothing in them that allows them to sit on a shelf for months(cue me looking at bread dates and wondering why they last over month before molding, lol) The truth is.. I grocery shop 5-6 days a week to get fresh ingredients and/or other non processed foods. I know this may seem extreme to most people BUT most people I know see grocery shopping as a hated chore and despise cooking. We love cooking, exploring different foods etc. I also know it’s a shocker to most that we rarely eat leftovers. They’ll say “you’re wasting food”. How? When we only buy what’s needed for that meal. Anyway, I stopped budgeting for food and buy what we enjoy. I no longer feel guilty for not having a budget or having a budget that’s more than “normal” for our size family. 98% of our food is cooked at home and there is no shame in that.

    • Caroline says:

      You shop as many Europeans – especially southern European, Italian, Spanish and French shop and cook, i.e. little-and-often, fairly high quality, generally from fresh / nearly fresh. A relative has been married to an Italian / lived there for many years, and has a very small fridge, considering she has 3 kids. It’s because they don’t generally store very much food. Yes, they do keep milk frozen and sometimes stock up on seasonal meat specials, but as a rule, they eat what they’ve bought within the last 2-3 days at most. She estimates she food shops at least 3 times a week, often more, for her veg, fruit, the night / next night’s meal. It’s just how they do things… and they all seem incredibly healthy and well doing that!

  • 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.


    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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) 🙂

    • Ashley says:

      I’m glad I am not the only one 🙂

    • Caroline says:

      It’s fantastic to eat well, and to get good-quality food for you and your children, no question… but the notion that somehow you might be exempt from medical bills as a direct result is a bit moot!

  • 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!

  • 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!

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