What do YOU spend on groceries?

I have wondered this for years and was so interested and enlightened to learn, on a Yahoo group I belong to, what others spend on groceries in a month.   Only a handful answered the question, but the answers ranged widely, from $1,000/mo. for a family of 4, to $400/mo. for a family of 7.

Unless you’re new and not a subscriber to 12 Steps to Whole Foods, you know that part of my passion for teaching families to eat a health-promoting, plant-based diet, is helping them do so INEXPENSIVELY, within a budget, since the moms who are teaching the kids are usually in the stage of life where money is a scarce resource and must be accounted for carefully.

Maybe it’s a taboo subject, but if so, I’ll try to  pave the way  with some self-disclosure:  my family of 6 spends $800/mo. on groceries, on average (less in the summer, more in the winter).   It’s also important to note that all of  my kids are athletes and big eaters, two of them teenagers.   (Shouldn’t a teenager count as 2 people?!)

We save by gardening, participating in a CSA, buying in bulk and stocking up, and preparing meals from scratch.   We preserve and freeze food in our basement cold storage, second fridge, and upright freezer. As you probably are now aware, we eat whole foods and don’t buy meat, dairy, or boxed/canned processed foods.   All of the budget is whole plant foods except for the occasional church social, extended-family, or after-soccer-game food assignment.  We grow organic, but we don’t always buy organic.   We splurge by going to Sweet Tomatoes once a week, and I’m actually not counting that in the budget.

Please write here what you spend, and give any tips on how you save and how you splurge within that budget (and what percentage of your grocery budget is whole foods).  I think women (or the money manager in the home) will find this fascinating and helpful.   I know I will.

19 thoughts on “What do YOU spend on groceries?

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  1. We currently budget $360 a month for a family of 3+. My wife is pregnant, and we have a 3 year old. My wife is gluten sensitive and we are vegetarians. We only eat out about once or twice a month because we are single income and our diet requires us to go to more expensive restaurants, this is not counted in the grocery budget.

    We make all our food from scratch with the following exceptions: cereal, cereal bars, macaroni and cheese, veggie dogs, veggie patties, crackers, tortillas, rice cakes, and some sauces. Most of these we have cut back on, recently.

    We don’t buy meat. We do buy dairy (milk and yogurt are organic, cheese is not), and cage free vegetarian eggs. We do buy canola oil (which saves us money, but at what cost… I’m not a 12 stepper yet, so I’m not sure…)

    My wife went gluten free last fall and I started increasing my raw fruit and veg intake at the same time. We saw an increase of about $60 a month (could have been a lot more, but GF forced us to cut way back on frills like frozen pizza, veg patties, crackers, etc.) Cutting back on eating out has also increased the food budget slightly, but is cheaper when looking at our total budget.

    Due to the price of veg eggs and organic milk, and that I personally am desiring more vegan foods, I’ve recently been substituting ground flax or bananas for eggs about half of the time. I also make 3-4 quarts of sunflower mylk per week for smoothies, cooking, and my cereal.

    I have tracked prices for our staples at the stores in our city and the closest metro area, and try to only buy an item when I am shopping where it’s cheapest. We now buy our spices from bulk stores or in packets, instead of jars, saving quite a bit. I recently discovered that sea salt and yeast are way cheaper bulk, so next time I will do that. Half of the cheese we buy we can get in mis-packaged from the local factory, so it’s only $2 a lb.

    We are splitting a share of an organic CSA this year (the jury’s out on the cost savings), and hit the farmer’s market weekly. I buy organic when the tight budget allows (there’s a decent line of generic organics at our grocery store, so I buy organic cereal and canned beans. I can also get some organics in bulk that are the same price as conventional.)

    I’ve switched to dry beans instead of canned, but I wonder whether it is worth it because of the extra prep time and natural gas to cook them. I already spend between two and five hours in the kitchen a day, which takes me away from my family.

    I’m considering joining a buying club, but am not ready to buy in such large quantities, yet.

  2. We currently budget $360 a month for a family of 3+. My wife is pregnant, and we have a 3 year old. My wife is gluten sensitive and we are vegetarians. We only eat out about once or twice a month because we are single income and our diet requires us to go to more expensive restaurants, this is not counted in the grocery budget.

    We make all our food from scratch with the following exceptions: cereal, cereal bars, macaroni and cheese, veggie dogs, veggie patties, crackers, tortillas, rice cakes, and some sauces. Most of these we have cut back on, recently.

    We don’t buy meat. We do buy dairy (milk and yogurt are organic, cheese is not), and cage free vegetarian eggs. We do buy canola oil (which saves us money, but at what cost… I’m not a 12 stepper yet, so I’m not sure…)

    My wife went gluten free last fall and I started increasing my raw fruit and veg intake at the same time. We saw an increase of about $60 a month (could have been a lot more, but GF forced us to cut way back on frills like frozen pizza, veg patties, crackers, etc.) Cutting back on eating out has also increased the food budget slightly, but is cheaper when looking at our total budget.

    Due to the price of veg eggs and organic milk, and that I personally am desiring more vegan foods, I’ve recently been substituting ground flax or bananas for eggs about half of the time. I also make 3-4 quarts of sunflower mylk per week for smoothies, cooking, and my cereal.

    I have tracked prices for our staples at the stores in our city and the closest metro area, and try to only buy an item when I am shopping where it’s cheapest. We now buy our spices from bulk stores or in packets, instead of jars, saving quite a bit. I recently discovered that sea salt and yeast are way cheaper bulk, so next time I will do that. Half of the cheese we buy we can get in mis-packaged from the local factory, so it’s only $2 a lb.

    We are splitting a share of an organic CSA this year (the jury’s out on the cost savings), and hit the farmer’s market weekly. I buy organic when the tight budget allows (there’s a decent line of generic organics at our grocery store, so I buy organic cereal and canned beans. I can also get some organics in bulk that are the same price as conventional.)

    I’ve switched to dry beans instead of canned, but I wonder whether it is worth it because of the extra prep time and natural gas to cook them. I already spend between two and five hours in the kitchen a day, which takes me away from my family.

    I’m considering joining a buying club, but am not ready to buy in such large quantities, yet.

  3. First off, what does CSA mean? I am married with no kids and our budget is between $200-300. (Since we move it is hard to account for stuff we have to replace every week.) I am still working on adding more wholesome foods to my diet and meal plans. Does anyone have a great recipe for homemade mac and cheese that includes pureed white beans? I’m afraid to just throw things in a pot since I am trying to satisfy my husband’s need for mac and cheese without purchasing the boxed kind.

  4. Tricia, I used to make homemade mac-n-cheese before we gave up cheese. You can buy whole-grain elbow macaroni (I used the kind made from corn). Cook about 6 cups of the dry macaroni, and drain. Then make a white sauce from any milk (almond, rice, soy, or dairy), with whole-wheat flour and some butter. Once the white sauce is the thickness you want, you add some sea salt and a bunch of cheddar cheese. Pour it over the cooked macaroni in a 9×13 pan and bake, covered with foil, until heated through. To use white beans, just cook them, puree with water, and use that instead of the milk, or with the milk. Sorry that’s not exactly a “recipe,” but I never used a recipe, just went by taste.

    CSA, sorry: it’s Community Supported Agriculture, where you buy a share in a farmer’s produce for the season, picking up whatever they’ve harvested once a week. You’re supporting local growers and getting organic produce for a fraction of the typical cost.

    –Robyn

  5. I kept track of every food purchase we made back in March. I spent a grand total of $877. Not too bad, I think. Some of those purchases were bulk items that would last a couple of months.

    I don’t participate in CSA because the cost would be prohibitive for my large family. I get organic when I can, but mostly conventional or homegrown is what we use. I frequent the Farmer’s Market, which is MUCH less expensive than the grocery stores.

  6. We are a family of 7 (dh, me, 5 kids ages 10 and under) and spend between $200 and $300 a month on groceries. I try to keep it at 200 but when I find good deals or need to stock up, my food bill goes up. It also goes up in the winter.

    My budget is up this month because of our transitioning to the 12-step program. But I’m doing it at a little faster pace so really I don’t think it would have gone up so much if I were following the 12-steps verbatim.

    I do a lot of cooking but not so much that I feel overburdened. I make almost all of our bread products – bread, muffins, pancakes, waffles, tortillas, etc. I make many sauces and dressings. I make many of my own seasonings like taco seasoning and chili seasoning.

    We have ten acres and a very large garden. I have my own chickens so I have organic, free range eggs all the time. Some weeks more than others. It just varies and I have to plan our egg consumption by what we have available. I haven’t purchased eggs since November. It’s wonderful. Feed can be expensive especially with corn prices up so I try to grow as much as I can and we share our food with the chickens as well. They get any peelings, fruit cores, etc that don’t go in the compost pile.

    I would say that 85% of our food is whole foods. I’m aiming for closer to 95% over the next few months. The garden is near producing – we have Chard and zucchini – and will have black-eyed peas, corn, green beans, and tomatoes later in the month. I will also have melons, winter squash, and pumpkins before the summer is over. I have a fabulous fall garden planned and plan to overwinter as many greens as I can.

    I make extensive us of my freezer. Since I live in a very rural area, I have to use the freezer because it’s too expensive to run to the store all the time. I live 15 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart and 45 miles from the nearest health food store, whole foods store, or Sam’s Club/Costco. So when I buy things like fruit that will spoil before two weeks is up (I shop twice a month), I freeze it. Right now I have grapes, pineapple, cantaloupe, and watermelon in the freezer.

    I try not to let anything go to waste. When we have leftovers, I put them in the freezer so that they are there for another meal and we don’t get bored eating leftovers all the time.

    We eat a lot of beans – nearly everyday. If you want the convenience of canned but without the cost and additives, cook your beans in a crockpot until just tender. let them cool, and then package into quart-size (or gallon size if you have a larger family) and freeze them. All you have to do is defrost them and they are ready to use just like canned beans. Save your bags and wash them out. Turn them inside out to dry. You can reuse bags many, many times before they wear out. Then I use them for dry stuff.

    If you soak your beans during the day, you can drain them a couple of times before cooking. This helps get rid of some of the oligosaccharides that cause gas. Then you can cook them overnight (when you are sleeping and it’s cooler). Drain in the morning and let cool. Then package. I do this on a schedule. I cook beans everyday for a week – a different kind each day and package. Then when I get close to running out, I only have to cook one kind a week.

    Well, I’ve written a book here but that’s some of what I do. 🙂

    Sandra

  7. Wow Sandra I’m glad you wrote all that very inspiring!

    For our family of six I would have to say we average about $600 a month. But we have been building and rotating a year supply at the same time. We eat mostly whole foods and I make most things from scratch. We don’t eat meat, dairy, processed sugars and grains, and we try to avoid foods with chemicals 😉

  8. Well, it’s rather depressing to see all your responses, although my figure is misleading, though I don’t know by how much. I use quicken to track finances, and categorize as groceries anything I buy from grocery stores and Costco. The latter could include laundry detergent, occasional printer cartridges (expensive at one shot, but not bought often), etc. Without a lot more effort in data entry, I have no way to break down my grocery category into JUST food.

    I buy organic produce for the “dirty dozen” foods. We eat fish and organic beef once a week each ($6-9/lb), and chicken 2-3x/wk. We also live in one of the most expensive counties in the U.S. (I’m not sure how much that affects our food prices).

    So, having said all that, my “grocery” bill is $1000/month for 5 (2 adults and 3 kids, ages 12, 11, and 8). ACK! Will definitely need to examine what we’re spending so much on and see where we can cut it!

  9. Lori, hopefully this makes you feel better…

    Our grocery bill last week was $400 which would equate to $1200/month for a family of 9. I am buying ALL organic and we do eat organic meat 2x/week. We just started eating this way so it’s a bit of a shocker.

  10. Lori – you aren’t alone – we are a family of 6 (DH, me, MIL, 3 kids) and I keep track of all my purchases in Excel and I am averaging $1100 a month. I buy organic mostly – some meat, but good stuff. That amount includes all toiletries and paper goods, costco, target stuff, etc. I have been trying for a year to lower this – I don’t know how. I don’t buy processed, I cook a lot, we don’t eat much bread and any I get is sprouted whole grain stuff- we eat tons of bean dishes…….I just don’t know how else to cut it!!! We live on the coast and can’t grow a garden until DH has time to build a greenhouse – we have talked about getting chickens for the organic eggs.

  11. I’m so challenged by Sandra’s entry! I just love this topic, its so relevant right now as we move unofficially into the 12-steps(still haven’t convinced the hubby to buy the ‘e-book’ yet, but we’re getting there.)

    We spend about $500-600 a month for a family of 4(me, hubby, 2 three yr olds). We’ve been agonizing over this big cost, but don’t want to sacrifice nutrition. So we don’t buy anything premade except bread(I’d like to make my own soon, just need a good recipe), condiments, pasta, cashew butter, coconut milk, oils, flours and baking products. We are cutting way back on the meat, though hubby still longs for it to grace his plate, so we include it a couple times a week. We buy 75% organic and try for higher when we’re able.

    I have noticed, when I’ve planned out the meals for the week and we keep our shopping intentional and limited to items needed, that we tend to spend far less per week than before.

    We are trying out square ft gardening this year and we seem to be packing it in, so I hope to freeze tons of greens for smoothie consumption. One of the four 4×8 gardens has 128 spinach plants growing. Organic spinach is pricey ’round here at 5.99/lb. And we go through 2+ containers per week! Our growing season is wicked short up here, so we won’t reap what others might in quantity. Besides spinach, we are growing kale, chard, beets, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, watermelons, garlic, lettuce, basil, parsley, chives and mint. That should really help the bill. Any gardening tips would be most appreciated.

    Frozen fruit is pricey as well, so we are going to a pick-ur-own place this weekend to stock up for the winter. How many do you stock up on, Robyn?

    A couple things we are saving on is vitamins! Its so much more satisfying to eat your vitamins straight from the source than choke down some funky pill with ground-up-who-knows-what in it. And meat/cheese/dairy. We just don’t consume as much anymore. The kids get free WIC goat milk(due to dairy allergy, its pasteurized, but ‘good’), that I make into yogurt for them.

    Thanks for the ideas, sorry mine got lengthy.

  12. Wow Happies! 128 spinach plants! That’s awesome. I wasn’t able to get my spinach in this year because of all the rain we had – I live in northen MO.

    Square foot gardening is wonderful. I highly recommend it and I believe you will see great results. I just wanted to mention that you can get nonhybrid, open pollinated seeds from Bountiful Gardens – many of the seeds are organic. If you save your own seed, you can really save a lot.

    I just wanted to say that if you can afford it, don’t feel bad about spending more. We live on one income and are trying to get out of debt so there’s not enough money to really spend more. So I don’t want anyone to feel bad about what they spend. Everyone has different needs and motivations when it comes to buying food. If you want to cut down though, you’ll find a way. For me, it’s compulsive planning. 🙂

    Sandra

  13. My grocery budget is $900/month for our family of 7.5, one of which is a 14 yo son and 12 yo dd who often eats as much as the son! However, that includes all paper goods, gifts, birthdays, printer ink, etc, so I’d guess it’s more like $700 on food.

    I make almost everything from scratch, buy almost no convenience foods (much to dh’s chagrine, because he has a hard time finding stuff to eat). I have a square foot garden that’s not fantastic, but there! I have a GF daughter so occasionally I’ll spend the outrageous sums on GF breads just cause it’s so much more convenient. I only buy organic if it’s fairly close in price. We do still buy meat, as dh is not ready to give that up (and is also thinking of going GF at which point he definitely will not give it up!) We rarely go out to eat, but if we do we use our entertainment budget, not grocery $.

    I used to be a coupon queen (i’d get a cartful worth $150 for $5!), but found that the time spent wasn’t worth it for the loss of nutrition. I mostly bought convenience foods, and while I tried to only buy the “healthier” kinds, we still ate way too many.

    Also trying to build up the food storage, and I must say, I really struggle with my budget! I just don’t know how ya’ll do it on so much less except by perhaps owning a cow or goat, chickens and huge garden, but I’m too rural for that. Although one thing I am sure I could save a lot on is by eating more beans, and by soaking them myself rather than purchasing the cans, because that is one convenience item I still buy!

  14. I imagine it varies a lot based on where you live in the country & what resources are available to you. I remember Robyn sharing what she pays for raw honey and molasses, and there is no way I could get either of those items for the same cost. I can’t even find anywhere, not even my buying club, that has them in bulk.

  15. Ocean Skater:

    I’m not sure where you live but if you have a local person who has beehives, you may be able to get a good price from them if you let them know in advance.

    We can get local raw honey here in our grocery store. It’s expensive in the store but I have a friend who bought 60 pounds from a local beehiver and it was much, much less (can’t remember what she paid) than the store.

    Sandra

  16. Lol-budget? What budget?

    no, just kidding-our allotted budget is 800 dollars/mo for 2 adults 2 kiddos-including toiletries, misc., etc.

    The best way I save money is always, always planning out meals-i don’t think a week has gone by in 6 years when i haven’t planned at least a few meals in our week, even during visits with relatives, etc. Maybe im a control freak, lol.

    It’s really convenient for me, and easier to actually prepare meals during the week-i look at the list and say “such n such” for tonight, awesome-OR “hm, maybe we’ll have ___ tonight instead of Friday” And, to be honest, i do this for every meal pretty much-only because i have to plan DH’s lunches (2 lunches/ 14 hr. shift), and etc. It also saves because it keeps you from buying a bunch of stuff you might not eat, that could spoil before you remember it in the fridge. Saves GAS from having to make multiple trips during the week.

    Costco is a great place to save money, if you have the space for bulk items like beans and whole wheat flour, etc. Whenever they have a great deal on produce-peaches, pineapple, grapes-i always buy tons and freeze it for smoothies. Bulk pasta and rice at the Good earth or whole foods is way cheaper than at the regular stores.

    At this point, I would say that about 25% of our food is whole-maybe more, i guess I haven’t thought it out-we buy mostly organic, whenever we can-and the budget has gone up a lot because of that-where i used to spend 90 bucks now doubles. It’s okay though, because we tend to eat a lot less now than before, and i’m all for that! More efficient nutrition.

    We also freeze anything … like…. anything that we think we can freeze-meals, beans, cheese, greens, etc-anything that might be starting to go bad! (how’s that for cheap!!)I just scrape off the moldy strawberries and in they go-pull out the squishy spinach and the rest goes in…. i LOVE groceries…isn’t that wierd?! 😀

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