Our grocery bill is out of control! Let's look at the average household grocery bill, and ways to cut down on yours — and ours — so that we can use that money somewhere else.

family eating dinner, text overlay "what is the average monthly grocery bill?"I could easily have named this post the egregiously long (but super-honest) title:

“I didn't expect our grocery bill to soar so high after having just one baby.

That's because in all of the things we did to prepare for our precious Conner to enter this world (including learning how to cloth diaper), saving up for the added expense of groceries was not one of them.

And we don't seem to be alone in this. You introduce kids into the picture…and food bills can just balloon out of control.

Just the other day, a reader emailed me concerned about the amount of money her family spends on food.

Her grocery bill for four people (husband with kids aged 4 and 1) has ballooned to almost $800 a month, and they eat out for lunch and dinner approximately twice a week.

Some weeks she says that it seems like they won’t make it to the end of the week before they reach the end of their food. She shops almost exclusively at Kroger’s, and feels that each month it just keeps getting worse.

Before I get into our own story and how our grocery bills have changed over the years — from being a single gal, to buying groceries for 2 after moving in with my husband, to having a baby together — I want to show you what the average household grocery bill is (we need a reference point).

What is Considered “Average Grocery Spending”?

According to the  Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall average grocery spending for all consumer units (sounds like we're robots living in containers) is $3,971/year. This comes out to $330.91/month. But that includes single households as well as households of six.

How are you supposed to know what is the average grocery bill for a family of 4 from that statistic, versus what is a what is the average cost of groceries for a family of 3?

So not terribly helpful.

A Gallup poll shows that Americans with kids under 18 at home spend on average $173/week on groceries, or $692/month. While this still doesn't give the number of kids in a household, it's a bit more specific (speaking of which, households without kids under 18 average spending of $143/week or $572/month).

Hmmm…clear as a Mississippi Mud Pie.

Here's what else I found:

The USDA came up with a way to report the average spending American's do on food when eating at home — by breaking it up into four categories of spending: Thrifty Plan, Low-Cost Plan, Moderate-Cost Plan, and the Liberal Plan.

Because let's face it — we all set our own limits on what we think is “acceptable” to spend on our food. Still, it's helpful to have these categories, and to also get some sort of “average” from them. So, I've done a little bit of math for you to show you what the average household grocery spending would be, using these reports (you can certainly click on over and look at your situation to get a better idea).

According to the USDA's Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home (May 2019):

  • Average Grocery Bill for 1: The average grocery bill for 1 person per month (an adult) is $275.50 (males between 19-50 years), and $241.13 (females between 19-50 years).
  • Average Monthly Grocery Bill for 2: The average monthly grocery bill for 2 adults (19-50 years) is $568.28.
  • Average Grocery Bill for Family of 3: The average grocery bill for family of 3 (monthly) is, unfortunately, not specifically given. So, I've averaged the cost for two adults, plus one child, and it comes to $779.50.
  • Average Grocery Bill for Family of 4: The average grocery bill for family of 4 (monthly) is $823.40 (with kids aged 2-5 years) and $967.43 (kids aged 6-11).

Needless to say…groceries and paying to feed yourself and family really takes up a significant portion of income.

And boy can I say that from experience.

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Why We Didn't Think Our Grocery Bill Would Explode

I was fully expecting − really hanging my mama dreams on − to breastfeed. Even though I knew this still meant higher costs because I would eat more, I figured I was eating more/spending on “cleaner” foods while pregnant anyway so the cost of groceries afterwards would be about the same as what we were spending during the pregnancy.

Well, that never happened.

And I'm going to get a little personal on you for why.

I could not have predicted the nightmare scenario we were met with during birth − not to mention my six-day hospital readmission due to complications. So while I tried my damndest to get my milk supply going over the next month (a pipe dream considering the trauma my body had been through), it never came in for me.

Yes, there were many, many tears and struggles over that. Just writing about it gives me the sniffles, and it happened over 10 months ago. Even my mother − a neonatal nurse with her lactation consultant friend on-call − got highly emotional with how hard I was trying and how little I was able to accomplish. She understood how much it meant to me.

So I gave it a month, and then I made the really hard decision to let it go. That meant that up until a month or so ago, we were spending around $150/month on formula (and that was with buying bulk at Sam's Club paired with $5/off coupons from the manufacturer). Our cost now is probably around $100-$120.

The other reason we didn't think our grocery bill would balloon after birth? Because, honestly, how much can a baby really eat from a grocery store? Not much.

But both of these reasons have nothing to do with why our bill ACTUALLY went up.

A Little Inside Scoop for All the Preggo Ladies Out There, Or Those Hoping to Be

As a sunny pregnant lady (still sunny, by the way…I just also understand what's what now), I could not have foreseen:

:: him waking up each night sometime between 12:00 and 2:00 a.m. from Month 4 through Month 8 (after he had been sleeping 7 hours straight for two months leading up to that)

:: having mere moments to shove something into my mouth to eat for lunch, breakfast, snacks…and coming to the conclusion pretty quickly that I might as well shove something halfway healthy in. Hint: healthy convenience foods are pretty expensive

:: there would be emotional eating involved (oooohhhh thank you ice-cream for making me feel better about getting 3 hours of sleep that one night, and then that other night, and heck − if I'm going to be honest − about 4 nights a week)

:: that because I was wary of leaving the house with an infant, I would squirrel away food like I wouldn't be able to leave the house until there was another full moon

Needless to say, our grocery budget ballooned. And by “ballooned”, I mean it was like watching Violet Beauregarde blow up after eat that gum on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Granted, we still saved money during that time period by eating at home. Let's face it, a ballooning grocery budget is better than a ballooning restaurant + take out budget.

But it wasn't pretty.

Let me give you some estimates of how our grocery budget has grown over the years.

Our Cringe-Worthy Grocery Store Receipt Creep

Through the years, as my life changed and we were in different places, this is what our grocery spending has looked like:

Note: I've always prepared almost every meal at home, and since getting together with Paul, we've mainly stuck to that. So these expenses represent around 30 days of breakfasts, lunches, dinners.

Early 20s, Single Gal

I remember calling my friend, Aurora, and asking if this was normal: “At the grocery store I spend like $75 in week one of the month, then $25 the next week, then $75 the following week, then $25 the next week.” I seriously thought that I was spending too much on food (insert giggles). She conceded that her own single grocery trips were looking about the same.

Single Gal's Total Monthly Grocery Expenses: $200

Moved in with Paul

In 2008, after both of us were laid off within two weeks of each other, we came to the conclusion that it was the perfect opp to live closer to one another (he was in Texas, I was in Florida). So Paul and I moved in together. I don't have receipts from this time period, nor did I write a post about it. But I do remember complaining to Paul one month after figuring out we were spending an egregious $360/month on groceries!

Feeding 2 People: $360/month

Early Marriage Years, While in Debt Payoff Mode

While I didn't keep the receipts, I wrote this on the MyDollarPlan blog:

“Before we were debt free our monthly grocery budget was $250 (there are two of us, and two cats). Now that we are free of our non-mortgage debt, we have increased our grocery budget to $300 per month. We both love to cook, and this extra affords ingredients for more exotic fare that are both fun to make and to try. Of course, food prices have also increased since we paid off our debt in 2010, so the extra has helped with just keeping the status quo.” Here's an example (with receipts) of what the two of us cooked for a whole month for just $288.78.

Married, in Debt Payoff Mode: $250/month, then $300/month

Married + Pregnant

We kept to the $300/month for quite awhile. Then when I got pregnant, I became SUPER picky (not in a diva way, but in an I-can't-possibly-eat-that way (my body protested a lot). So during that time our cost of groceries crept up to about $400-$450/month for the two of us.

Married, Not in Debt Payoff Mode, Pregnant: $400-$450/month

Married, with a 10-Month Old

Oh dear me. I'm afraid to even talk about this, but hey, I'm human right? So last month, including formula (man is formula expensive) + baby purees (yeah…that idea where I was going to puree all of his foods? Out the work-at-home-Mom window), we spent about $650. And that's been pretty normal for us the last few months.

Married, with a 10-Month Old: $650/month

Grocery Saving Posts Roundup to Keep Money In Your Pocket and Ours

Soooo…how are we going to fix this?

Well, mainly by becoming aware of the situation. Over the last month I've changed things up by doing freezer cooking, monitoring receipts, and taking things one more ladder rung back to the “from scratch” style of cooking.

I've rounded up some awesome + super-actionable posts that will help you and I keep our money in our own pockets.

And don't worry. None of these strategies suggest feeding your family ramen noodle dinners.

The Trick to Keep Grocery Spending Under Control

Spoiler alert: Her trick is something I learned in my 8th grade home economics class that is still valid today. Don't go to the grocery store hungry. “Our grocery bill was $10 and $12 more on the “hungry trips.” But more importantly, on the two “hungry trips,” we wound up with twice the amount of junk food and half the amount of essentials.”

Freezer Cooking for Baby + Beyond

I attempted my first freezer cooking day ever…at 36 weeks pregnant. Not recommended! But definitely better than waiting until after the baby was born.

I lay out for you the six steps I took to create 26 meals/prep ingredients for meals for just $95.08, plus links to all the recipes. And guess what? We used these meals over the first three months with our little guy. What a relief they provided!

Steal My Two-Week Dinner Meal Plan (Free Printable Shopping List

We grocery shop every other week in our household. And honestly? I love staying out of the stores. Not only is it a money-saver, but it's also a time + energy saver. Every two weeks I use my meal planning + grocery list for two weeks system to figure out what we want to cook. However, sometimes? I just don't feel like sitting down and putting in the planning work.

So I developed this post about not only for myself, but for you. It includes two weeks' worth of dinners, plus a free, printable ingredients list you can print out and use as you go through your cupboards (check off the items that you DON'T need).

How to Grocery Shop Once Every 31 Days

I thought we were extreme by only shopping every other week! But this lady lays out (with video) how she shops for her family of 4 once per month. She does all her shopping in one day, and it generally takes 4 hours to accomplish (the actual shopping part, not the planning part). Needless to say, her big thing is to only shop once per month because if you go to the store more often than that, it's likely you'll overspend. And how does she store all that food? She does it with 1 big pantry, 1 fridge/freezer combo, and 1 freezer chest.

Groceries on a Budget for 2

Our grocery budget for 2 each month used to be $250.

When we paid off the last of our non-mortgage debt in September 2010, we added $50 to our budget for a total of $300 per month.

We only grocery shop twice per month.

Not only has this decreased the amount of time we need to spend on planning meals, but I am convinced that it cuts costs because there are only two chances for impulse buys instead of four.

It also allows us to get creative with our meals, specifically during the second week when the more convenient foods have been eaten.

When we did this, we only shopped at Kroger, and didn't hop from store-to-store to chase deals.

If we go out to eat—which is only once or twice a month—it comes out of our fun money budget. We also both love to cook things from scratch, and Paul cooks more often than I do.

Our grocery budget typically does not include toiletries, as we play the Drugstore Game. Finally, we shop the clearance bins, discount bins, and clearance meat sections at our local store.

Below are our receipts for the month of July:

Receipt from Grocery Shopping Trip #1:Shopping Trip 1 collage

Receipt from Grocery Shopping Trip #2:Shopping trip 2 collage

Below are the recipes and meals that we made in July from the groceries + staple items in our home. I have included links to the exact recipes when I could find them online.

Dinner Recipes

Let me share with you what we made for dinners from the list above:

Sides

For side dishes, we had:

Breakfast

Breakfasts included:

Lunches

For lunch, we enjoyed:

  • Leftovers
  • sandwiches
  • salad
  • blueberries
  • fresh pineapple
  • apples
  • yogurt
  • carrots/ranch dressing
  • grapes
  • chips
  • fig newtons
  • strawberries
  • pumpkin soup
  • cheese dog with chili
  • pepperoni/cheese stacked on crackers
  • applesauce
  • homemade guacamole.

Desserts/Sweet Snacks

Dessert is definitely a course in this household. Desserts in July included:

While I don't ever expect to get back down to those $200/months (ahhhh − those were the days!), I do know that our current spending is radically out of control.

It just feels…ick.

But how out of control? I love numbers, so I set out to find some stats.

Now it's your turn. How many people are in your consumer unit (i.e. household), and how much do you estimate you spend per month on groceries?

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.
8 replies
  1. Dannielle @ Odd Cents
    Dannielle @ Odd Cents says:

    Managing the food bill is a big project. You have to decide what to cut back and think about how it will affect something else. If it’s something you need, you might consider looking for less substitutes, but then that raises concerns about quality. The baby’s food is a necessity and there is no cutting back there. You have some good suggestions – can’t wait to see your update in a few months.

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman
      Amanda L Grossman says:

      Yes, no cutting out the baby food…however, he’s super interested in real foods and we’ve begun feeding him little things here and there. So I feel like the jarred purees (run us about $75-$100/month) could be substituted for whatever we’re eating within the next few months.

      Reply
  2. Crystal
    Crystal says:

    We fluctuate a lot, but I think we are still spending $500-$600 a month on groceries and eating out (it’s because eating out is financially dumb, but it’s our social life with friends so we consider it part of our fun money). Good luck, mama!

    Reply
  3. Traci
    Traci says:

    My life! Lol. I know you have personally guided me through this like a dozen times. Two adults and two growing boys (8 & 4) our expenses highest to lowest is daycare, groceries THEN mortgage. It’s crazy…I’m following this closely as always!!

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman
      Amanda L Grossman says:

      Hey Traci! It’s always great to hear from you. And now I understand a bit more (though not totally) about your own budgeting obstacles. That is shocking that daycare as well as groceries are both more than the mortgage! Of course mortgages are lower here in the Houston area than other parts of the country (like where I’m from in the Northeast). So we’ve got that going for us:).

      So have you tried a freezer cooking day yet? I know I was intimidated to do one at first, but am SO glad I finally gave it a go at 9 months pregnant.

      Reply
  4. Kate @ Cashville Skyline
    Kate @ Cashville Skyline says:

    It’s tough at my house because my boyfriend never buys groceries or cooks. He runs a local marketing agency and simply doesn’t have time. However, I can’t afford that type of lifestyle. I’m trying to keep my food budget around $400 (including meals out and networking), but it’s a constant challenge. You’re totally right about awareness being the first step to making changes.

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman
      Amanda L Grossman says:

      Hi Kate! That is a tough situation, for sure. If I were you guys, I would (whoever has the time or can set aside time) do a freezer cooking day about once every 2-3 months. Then when you’re in a pinch with work, you can just plop something into the oven or the crockpot and be just about done with it.

      Reply

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