In August I shared our trial grocery budget with you. We decided to watch our food habits more closely to see how much we were really spending. We decided to budget $560 for groceries for the month, giving us roughly $140 to spend each week.
For fun, here is 2012 Gallup poll in which Americans answered how much they spend each week on food.
I started off very determined. I saw our goal and knew we could hit it, so I went shopping for week 1. I got some great food and the trip totaled $140.07. All seemed well until I had to make a quick stop at Harris Teeter on Friday for some essentials to get us through the weekend, bringing our week total up to $176. Yikes.
Before tracking our budget, I didn’t realize I stopped by grocery stores and farmers market to supplement our food supply as often as I did and I needed to better account for that in my initial grocery haul.
The next week, to save money, I meal planned specifically to include a previously frozen meal and a vegetarian dinner.
While watching my budget I realized I often overlook meals and staples and I have on hand in the freezer and pantry. Using these helped me clean out food that might have been wasted, thus saving money.
At one point I realized I was buying things I wouldn’t normally buy in order to save money. I decided this was not the point of our experiment and instead bought the products that I wanted my family to eat to get a realistic picture of what we usually spend.
I realized that we don’t usually think of wine and beer as included in the grocery budget, but these items ended up costing around $75 and eating onto our “food” budget.
While I was being so intent on planning every meal for the week at home, I ended up being much more strict on eating out than I needed to be. We more than halved our eating out bill, which ended up saving us a ton. It’s amazing how a hot tea here or a quick sandwich there adds up.
However, I realized that I do need to factor in 1-2 meals out a week. It works with our budget and I find by Saturday I am burnt out and really appreciate the eating out treat to help mentally separate the weekends from the weeks.
My favorite money saving tips I stand by are:
-shopping more than one store to get the best deals
-taking advantage of the store-savings card
-planning at least 1 vegetarian meal a week
-using what is in your freezer and pantry
-meal prep (prepare dry bulk bin foods instead of buying them canned, wash and cut fruits and vegetables, etc)
-look for alternative protein sources, like black beans, hemp seeds for smoothies, and edamame
-use coupons when you can, but don’t waste hours of your time to save $1.00. This one may be controversial, but it’s simply what works for me at this time.
-make your kids’ snacks (like lara balls) instead of buying prepackaged, kid-specific snacks
this week’s Harris Teeter cart
So what were the results? Again, the target grocery budget for the month was $560. Our total grocery bill for the month clocked in at $676.13, an overage of $116.13.
I feel like I learned a lot and have a better sense of an appropriate target for our food bill. I’m more mindful of what I’m buying and we have readjusted our grocery budget for September to $650.
To share another fun fact, did you know that Americans spend less on groceries (by percentage) than many other countries?
Why do you think that is?
I think Americans spend less on groceries because we eat out more,so why buy groceries.
That could explain why Americans are over weight more than in other countries.
We try to stick to once a week also, but some families eat out on a nightly basis. I could not imagine doing this personally.
Brittany Dixon says
Great point! I do think Americans eat out more. It’s an easy trap to fall into (I’ve been there), but it certainly more cost and waistline efficient to eat at home!
Parita @ myinnershakti says
I agree with Karen. I’m sure the eating out percentage of the total budget is highest in the US.
I’ve really enjoyed your posts about grocery shopping, Brittany. And I agree with your (controversial) tip about going out of your way to save a dollar. I often find that when I coupon I buy things I wouldn’t normally buy or I end up buying something because I saved a dollar elsewhere.
I think there’s not enough information in that chart. It’s interesting to see, but without more context I don’t think it has much meaning. What’s the average yearly income of families in each of those countries? And what’s the average cost of a basic like milk or flour in each of those countries? I doubt they’re the same. If average incomes in Egypt are much lower than in the US, but food prices are similar then they’re obviously going to spend a higher % of their income on groceries, but not necessarily by choice. Just interesting to note. (And I’m a huge data nerd.)
Brittany Dixon says
I love data nerds 🙂 I totally agree with you that it doesn’t come close to showing the whole story. I just find it interesting that we (myself included) are so quick to whine about food prices, but we don’t really spend that much (proportionately speaking) on our groceries. Maybe it’s more about our priorities (willing to spend $50+ on a night out, but not on good food?) than actual food costs? I’m not sure exactly either; just found it to be discussion-worthy!
Interesting. I did a very rough calculation of how much we spend % wise on food at home and it is about 7-8%.
I agree with the above comment too, I think many people eat out tons. We aim for once a week together but then I usually end up eating lunch our once a week with friends too.
I am of the same thinking of those above that Americans eat out way more than other countries. Also, Americans eat less “real food” as well I would guess. Thanks for sharing your grocery trips and tips! I took the hubby and toddler grocery shipping yesterday and actually only spent $67, which is similar to what I spend weekly without bringing him. I wanted to give him a better idea of what things cost. He only put 2 snacks in the cart so I was pleased as I usually buy him a snacks item each week anyways. He’s working on trying to snack healthier in the evenings. I also enjoy having a break from cooking for a meal out! We spent a little more than normal eating out last week which means no eating out this week. Therefore, I put 2 grill meals in the meal plan, which my hubby cooks so I will get a break! Good luck this month with your budget!
Brittany Dixon says
Love your grilling tip almost as much as I love that you took your whole family shopping. What a great experience to get everyone involved and seeing what the costs of things are. I think often times we (women) handle it all that it’s hard to convey how expensive things can get. Awesome job!!
Megan @ The Running Doc says
I’ve really enjoyed reading your grocery budget posts the past month as my fiance and I just set up a budget of our own!
One question I did have, does your grocery budget include things like toilet paper, paper towels, etc.? We set our budget at $150/week and while I feel like we can definitely keep under that for food, I didn’t take into account that we also buy lots of non-food products at the grocery store.
Brittany Dixon says
We have a separate budget for household items (toilet paper, shaving cream, dish soap, paper towels, etc). I try to buy these in bulk (using 1 day passes to large wholesale clubs if possible!). Occasionally I’ll pick up an item at the grocery, but otherwise I try to buy those items at cheaper places 🙂
Where do you included kiddo snacks (ie, pouches) in your overall grocery budget or somewhere else? I know are great about real food snacks, but know you’ve used them here and there. I’m trying to set up a better budget to see how we’re spending and am deciding of our toddler should have his own budget or just do a general food and household budget.
Last month I was able to spend over $200 less just by being a bit more careful about how we spend, where we spend it, what we already have in the fridge/pantry and not making too many little trips throughout the week. I also have been going to a store further away that has significantly better prices and I get a 2 mile walk in to boot. We live in NYC, so I have to decide how much I can fit in the stroller and carry back. I find living here it’s easy to make many little trips throughout the week because you can only carry so much home, so you end up need to go back at some point and then buy more than what you actually needed.
Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family says
Interesting! I think the US spends less on groceries because we as a culture tend to cater to fast food and eating out more than eating at home. That’s just my thoughts though!
We spend 15% of our monthly income on groceries …EEEk. One area we need to work on.
Brittany Dixon says
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to spend 15% on food! I don’t believe that less is always better and spending a bit more to buy high quality food is a value I believe in. So don’t beat yourself up 😉
I agree with this, don’t stress yourself out! My husband and I spend way more on groceries, but healthy eating is a priority us so we cut back in other areas. 🙂 We’d give cable the boot before fresh seafood, higher quality meat, organic milk, etc.!
char eats greens says
That last stat is SO interesting. Wowzahs to Egypt!!! I love that you did this and the ideas you suggest. I need to totally sweep through my cupboards and figure out when I can use already on hand to save us money. I found some black beans in there yesterday that I soaked up, and am cooking today, so that totally saves a few bucks vs. buying the canned version!
Great post!! I have to agree with others and say that I think Americans tend to eat out more which isn’t good because that’s why obesity is so big in the US. We eat out at least once a week and that’s good for me!!
Nicole @ FruitnFitness says
I have loved reading these grocery budgeting posts! I wonder if americans spend less on food eaten in the home because they eat out more? I know that I try to keep my grocery bill low, to match the low income of a grad student but there have been times where I know that the store brand of greek yogurt 20+ grams of sugar just isn’t as good as other brands with pronounceable ingredients even if it does save a few cents.
I wonder if we spend less on groceries here because we have a tendency to eat out, and also have smaller families… but I dunno!
Amy @ Long Drive Journey says
Really interesting idea! I plan out my meals religiously, but I don’t usually have a grocery budget. Groceries are the first thing that I buy after I pay my bills, and my leisure money is whatever is left over. I generally spend about the same amount on groceries each month, though.
Just curious, are you going to add the extra cost of wine into the grocery budget, or do you count that with more discretionary eating like going out to a restaurant?
I think it’s probably a combination of everything listed above, (the fact that we eat out more, and also that our incomes are larger, therefore lowering the percentage that we spend,) but I also think a large chunk of it is the fact that Americans have found a way to mass produce food in cheap ways. Think of all the super cheap processed foods that aren’t available in other countries. It’s a double edged sword though, because it wreaks havoc on our health. There is a list making its way through facebook that talks about ingredients that Americans have in their foods that are banned in other countries. It’s interesting. All the preservatives and chemicals allow us to eat more cheaply, but at the same time we have obseity through the roof and other diseases that aren’t afflicting other countries like that.
Great post! I’m a big fan of making lists before I go to the store. When I don’t, I find I end up buying a bunch of stuff that I already had. Every time I shop, I do it in this order.
1. Make a list of EVERYTHING I already have.
2. Find recipes and make a meal plan (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks) for however long I need. I try hard to make my meal plans use anything I already have.
3. Check out the sales ads for ALL THE STORES, haha. In my case, it’s Kroger, Giant Eagle, GFS, and ALDI.
4. Make the list based on which stores have the best sales.
5. SHOP (my least favorite part, heh).
I spend about $200-$300 a month for two people.
Matt @ The Athlete's Plate says
I think Americans eat out too much. I’ve learned this by just observing my co workers!
I think a lot of Americans are too busy thinking about quantity rather than quality. Sure, you can eat super cheap if you’re getting Mac n cheese and frozen pizzas, but what are you doing to your body?
I read with interest all your comments regarding how much money people in other countries spend on food.I am from India so I can only tell you what I have observed when I go to Delhi.The average pay in Delhi is 261$ a month, which don’t forget supports more people than in America.Compared to income the food prices are very high.Example a burger from McDonald cost 2$.in India also people eat a lot of fast food which is cheap and unhealthy.all my relatives who come to visit can’t believe how cheap the groceries are and the eating out is not as expensive as in delhi
Brittany Dixon says
Thank you so much for sharing your perspective! I find it very interesting and it’s also news to me that in India people eat a lot of fast food. I guess I was ignorant in thinking that Americans are the ones that eat mostly fast food!
Susan (Susonia.com) says
I love your budgeting tips and how open you are with sharing your numbers. Here are my two cents after growing up in Germany and living in Canada for the past 5 1/2 years, and now living in Southern California: Food in the US is CHEAP, in addition to very low taxes and higher incomes (wealth, in general) compared with the above mentioned countries (not saying that this is the case for every American family of course – I’m aware there are a lot of people struggling with feeding their families), it does not surprise me that the money spent on groceries is so low. From what I can tell, Americans spend a lot more money on “stuff” (car loans, clothing, electronics, etc.) than Europeans/Canadians do. Additionally, sales tax in Germany is 19%, Sweden has 25% (yes, including groceries), and when we left Canada, BC had a combined sales tax of 12%. Needless to say, our grocery bills were through the roof!
Brittany Dixon says
Thank you so much for your comment. I think it’s so interesting to hear directly from people that have experienced other countries first hand! I completely agree with you that Americans spend more on stuff and generally prioritize healthy eating below more tangible goods. Great point about taxes, too. 25% tax on groceries gives me heart palpitations!
Tiff @ Love, Sweat, & Beers says
I totally agree with you on the coupons (or lack thereof), increasing veg meals, and meal planning. I’m a huge planner, and it helps to plan around what’s on sale or what’s in season.
I’m Canadian, and always notice on vacations to the U.S. how cheap food is, especially dairy and meat (and beer!). Canada regulates dairy prices to support small farms, and also outlaws growth hormones (BGH) that are legal in the U.S. It makes our dairy more expensive, but I think it’s worth it.
I read that high food prices in Egypt was one of the factors that helped spark the revolution.
This isn’t a critique, but I’m surprised you don’t make hummus from scratch. Tastes better and is cheaper.
Brittany Dixon says
I have several times, but unfortunately I don’t always have time to make everything from scratch. That’s life!
I love this post and this whole experiment. I’m really trying to save money so I am now following your lead – I spent most of my money on food and I think we can eat as well without spending so much with some changes.
Danica @ It's Progression says
I’m really glad you shared about this experience with us, and I think the tips you gave are great – thanks!
And to answer your last question – there’s no doubt in my mind that Americans, in general, spend so much less on groceries because 1) people eat out way too much and 2) the majority of people don’t buy the healthiest of foods (fresh foods, veggies, organic, etc.) which, unfortunately, are the more expensive items.
Interesting blog, thanks for sharing! I think a large part of this country’s lower percentages are because we grow so much of our food in America as well as eating out too much. We supply the world with a good amount of grains, produce, etc. We have spent time in Europe especially France and even Hawaii’s food costs are very high compared to the mainland. Just think of the shipping cost alone!