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the national monthly average for food is WHAT?…

$885 in 2011!

No really, are you serious?  Granted, I took the US Department of Labor’s estimate of a typical family of 4 eating “moderately” at home in 2011 but even so, the “low cost” (read, more processed foods and smaller portions) is $664.  Basically this means if your family eats rather nutritiously, with whole grains, natural lean proteins and lots of fruits and veggies as the staples of your diet, it is estimated that you would spend nearly $900 this year!*Ok, so our food budget (for groceries only, not eating out, and not including household items like cleaning products or diapers, etc) is…$385 $400*** for 2012.  And that’s for a month, so about $93 per week ($400 divided by about 30 days in a month x 7 days in a week).  Now that I know what the average is, I’m feeling pretty good about myself.  How are you doing?

A Quick Caveat:
We’re a family of 4 but my kids are 3 and 1 and we often have leftovers.  So if your “family of 4” includes 2 teenage boys, your budget will likely be higher.  Each family may be a little different.

Establishing a Budget:
I settled on a monthly budget of $385 $400*** over the last year as the kids have started eating a little more and I’ve evolved in my cooking and gastronomic** philosophy.  Every family will be different depending on your needs, dietary restrictions, etc.  The point is choose a food budget and stick to it, but make sure your family isn’t starving at the end of the month and decides to turn on you…I would feel awful.

Let’s be honest.  These days we could all benefit from stretching our dollar while still living well.  So let me show you how one Frugal Foodie Family does it…

*This study was from 2009 with an estimated 4% increase yearly which is how I arrived at 2011 estimates.
**This may very well be the first (and possibly last) time I use the word gastronomic on this blog.  Just trying it on for size.

***Updated:  I updated my budget to $400 for 2012 in keeping with the standard 4% increase in food costs.  That would also make the moderate national monthly average $920 (up from $885 in 2011).

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ok your food budget seriously impresses me! Our families are pretty much identical and we spend $500-600 a month.

    I used to be in a community group with your parents and so that’s how I found your blog.

    Interested to see how you accomplish this and how if it fits with our evolving food philosophy as well.

    May 26, 2011
    • Thanks for the feedback! We have CSA’s out here too but it seemed a little more expensive than what I usually pay. Do you mind sharing approx. what you pay for your CSA with eggs and dairy?

      May 26, 2011
      • We do Abundant Harvest which for the small box, PLENTY for us, is $21.80. I have tried to get the amount of organic produce we get in the box elsewhere and have not been able to achieve it. The eggs are $7/doz and the raw milk is $7.35/half gal (I know, I know…) I can get pastured eggs at the farmer’s market for $3.75 a dozen though, which is only a little more than what I pay at TJs. So that’s where I am getting my eggs now. Still not sure what to do about dairy. So much of what I’ve read freaks me out about most other sources.

        May 28, 2011
  2. That is just disgusting! And I bet most of that includes unhealthy foods. I have been slacking lately, I don’t coupon, or shop sales like I used to, but we are a family of 7 (well 5, daddy is deployed to Afghanistan, and the baby won’t be on solids for a while, but two of my boys are teenagers) and my budget is $500 a month, and that includes either a expensive meal (t-bones on the grill, a nice big fresh salmon, etc) or going out to a restaurant every couple of weeks. If shop smart, I can usually get away with $400 a month, and that includes fresh produce every day and the 8-10 gallons of milk my kids go through a month.

    Looking forward to trying new recipes and adding energy back into my menu.

    May 26, 2011
    • Heather it sounds like you’re doing pretty good especially with two teenagers! I’ve found that by planning what I’m making ahead of time I can get away with steak or salmon occasionally…just do something lighter on another night. Do you have a Trader Joes or Sprouts/Henrys close to you?

      May 26, 2011
      • We have a Trader Joe’s here but it is pretty far away, and so tiny, like the size of a 7-11. No Whole Foods, no Wild Oats, nothing. I am pretty much limited to Costco, Safeway, Fred Meyer (Kroger Family) for food. We have a co-op here, but I already split my shopping between 3 stores (Oroweat outlet, Costco & Fred Meyer/Safeway) so it just isn’t worth my time to go to the co-op just for produce.

        May 26, 2011
  3. Sarah #

    It is a pet peeve of mine when people say it’s too expensive to eat healthy. Even if you can’t afford organic, you can still eat pretty healthy food! We just RAISED our monthly grocery budget to $320! We’re a family of 5, but Johnny doesn’t eat too much yet :), although he can work his way through a box of O’s pretty quickly.

    Anyway, back to my point. I don’t buy junk food for my kids. We don’t have chips or cookies around (unless I make them). And I totally agree that meal planning is HUGE. That’s the only way I can afford our budget. I plan leftovers into our week, and sometimes our meals are smoothies and half a panini or quesadillas or something else.

    Great blog, Kel! You’re definitely gonna be famous 🙂 I can see you on Today!

    May 30, 2011
    • Wow Sarah! Thanks for checking it out. Maybe you should be passing along some of your tips for eating well on a budget 🙂 Keep the feedback coming!

      May 30, 2011
  4. We spend that and sometimes a little more and there’s two of us. But a few special dinners at home can really up our budget and I include those in grocery costs. Unless we go out and this year’s special dinners have mainly been at home. My wife says we should look at ways to trim, but we’re pretty frugal all around. Wine and food, well and travel, are our indulgences.

    June 6, 2011
  5. Deanna #

    Hi Kelly, thanks for all the great info! I know this is a food blog but I was wondering what your budget is for household goods? And what store(s) you prefer for household goods. We live in Orange County too. Our monthly budget is $800 for food and household goods combined (I should sit down with my receipts and separate them out but I don’t). We’re a family of five (our boys range from 4 – 9) and we’re always trying to trim our grocery budget (although most months we exceed it!). The boys are at an age where they eat a lot more and we also tend to need a ton of snacks for team practices, play-dates, school lunches, etc. I shop primarily at Trader Joe’s for food and Costco, Target and Stater Bros for household goods and odds and ends. I also go to the Costa Mesa Farmer’s Market every Thursday to buy fruits and veggies. We have a Sprouts really close by and I recently took your suggestion for buying meat there. Thanks again for sharing all your great recipes and how your family budgets!

    May 23, 2012
    • Hi Deanna,
      Thanks for the feedback! Our budget for groceries and household is around $475, with diapers. BUT, I only have two small kids. They don’t eat as much as your boys do, and we’re not yet into all the sports and activities that require additional snacks, etc. I don’t buy a lot of paper goods but just make the kids eat off washable plates, utensils, etc. Also (and I’ll admit this is where I’m a little crazy), I try to reuse paper bags and sandwich bags so I don’t have to buy those over and over. It adds up!
      I do the Thursday market a lot too, sometimes splurging at a food truck:)
      Hope this helps!!

      May 23, 2012
      • Deanna #

        Thanks Kelly for the quick reply! I plan to do a spreadsheet for all our household goods and personal care (toilet paper, tissue, toothpaste, soap, shampoo/conditioner, etc.) at the beginning of next month and see how much we are really spending on those items and what we are spending on food.

        May 23, 2012
  6. Lisa #

    Holy moly! Our spending (tracked in Quicken) for food and coffee for two adults adds up to about $900 a month! No alcohol, mostly whole foods, organic where possible, no expensive steaks or meat (expensive whole-bean coffee though), and this doesn’t include eating out (I only eat one meal out a week and my DH about 3). I’m careful with food and there’s little waste. I shop mainly at Trader Joe’s and Sprouts with some fill-in purchases from regular grocery stores. I need to figure out where it’s all going! Help! 😦

    September 17, 2012
    • Oh girl! Do you meal plan? I’ve found it helps to get the Sprouts circular each week and base my meals around what’s on sale (you’ll see a lot of my main dishes are based on chicken sausage (often on sale at Sprouts), chicken breast, ground chicken or turkey, or vegetarian meals).
      Also, I cook almost everything from scratch (minimal processed foods), grow my own herbs and lemon tree,and buy organic when it’s on sale and for those things that we eat the most of only. I shop usually once a week (at TJs and Sprouts), and if we’re running low for the week we might have eggs and oatmeal for dinner.
      I’d love to talk more about how I can help. Do you have specific questions?

      September 17, 2012

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