Todd Christensen Profile Picture
Staff Writer at Debt Reduction Services

 

Reducing the cost of groceries per person per month requires continual conscious effort.

How Much Should Groceries Cost?

As with most all consumer goods, prices do go up. In the years subsequent to my earlier post, I have tended to raise the figure, though not to what many still feel is reasonable. Most disagreeing parties either cite their own household grocery budgets, the IRS’ allowable living expenses national standards for food (see example here), or the USDA’s Food Plan as proof that I’m off my rocker.

After all, my suggested monthly grocery allowance per person is usually half that of the federal government’s suggestion. Even then, I know from personal experience and from other sources that it is possible to spend even less per month – as little as 25% of the IRS guidelines – and still eat nutritious and satisfying meals.I have received many, much-appreciated emails from readers and educators alike wondering about my suggestion from as far back as our 2011 budgeting presentation and a 2010 blog that households should try to spend between $75 and $125 per person per month in their household on groceries.

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supermarket-pixabayMany of these emails express concerns that the suggested budget amount appears extraordinarily low, especially when compared to the suggested figures released by the federal government (upwards of $200 to $400 per person per month – see latest USDA Cost of Food report).

I know from my experience in teaching, as well as my own household of four expenses (including pre-teen boys), that the $50 to $150 per person per month is a reasonable range for food for many (if not most) American households. The first point to make is that the IRS guidelines are not suggestions nor even averages. These are amounts below which related expenses claimed on our taxes are not questioned by the IRS.

Additionally, the USDA’s food plans are based on the assumption that most all American families can conform to one of their food plans: 1) thrifty, 2) low-cost, 3) moderate-cost and 4) liberal. If I were involved (and there’s a good reason I am not), the names of these plans would instead have been: 1) reasonable, 2) dial it back, 3) lap of luxury and 4) Alaska (yes, food is sky high expensive there).

Is it easy? No.

Is it convenient? Certainly not.

A Brown bag Lunch

At $125 per person per month, you would have to eliminate most of the grocery store budget busters that add nothing to our diets but do add inches to our waistlines, such as bags of chips, expensive brand name breakfast cereals, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.

A $125 per person per month grocery budget means that dinners are not served from convenient, but expensive, heat-and-serve containers or pre-chopped bags and boxes. Rather, dinners are likely prepared, if not from scratch, at least from several basic ingredients. Expensive meats are likely not an everyday affair on the dinner tables of households living on a $125 per person per month grocery budget.

A $125 per person per month grocery budget means brown bag lunches for all family members in school and at work. However, according to 2015 data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ website, more than ONE-HALF of all American schoolchildren are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches at schools.

A $125 per person per month grocery budget also probably means buying store brand rather than name brand products.

With all of these probabilities, you may be wondering what’s left to eat: crackers, peanut butter and the occasional water on the rocks?

Actually, in our household, where my amazingly resourceful wife regularly hits $50 per person per month. Such frugal budgets often require an extra hour or two per week of research on the Internet and circulars for special deals. There was a time when our grocery shopping habits included the extensive usage of doubled-value coupons, buy-one-get-one-free coupons and the like. However, now, grocery shopping trips typically include two trips a month to a warehouse (e.g. Costco), a weekly run to the supermarket, an occasion visit to the local grocery store for milk, and a monthly trip to the bakery outlet for half-priced (or better) bread. When our local grocery store has special deals (aka “case lot sales”), we usually stock up on many of the staples available at great prices.

Stacked Soda cans

But our $125 per person per month grocery budget also includes healthy and tasty breakfast cereals (hot and cold), organic deli meats for sandwiches a couple times per week, some convenience foods, but mostly healthy and delicious meals (including affordable, in-season fresh fruits and vegetables). Plus, we have our occasional – 1 to 4 times per month, or more often if I’m lucky – home made crepes with Nutella and fresh strawberries (that’s our splurge).

The truth is, a $125 per person per month grocery budget may seem like a farce to a household currently spending $300 per person per month, but it’s actually quite achievable. In single-parent homes or homes where both parents work full time and non-work time is spent hauling kids from one activity to another, grocery planning and shopping time are likely difficult to come by or not prioritized. For such families, spending $125 per person per month is not an impossibility, but it may be a casualty of the realities of life.

I do recognize that there are many communities and neighborhoods around this country that do not have grocery stores nearby but rather convenience stores or corner markets whose prices are higher than grocery stores. Additionally, grocery prices vary greatly around the country, with some large metropolitan areas such as New York and Boston, averaging prices 30% to 50% higher than those areas with the lowest grocery prices. Combined with the fact that many households lack sufficient transportation to carry more than a few bags of groceries at a time, and the strategies described above may either be irrelevant or much more demanding.

Following a Checklist

Regardless, here are the basic principles of minimizing grocery costs in every household:

  1. Plan and prepare for each grocery trip
    1. Be a little flexible in your meal planning options, since what is on sale may not match what you are craving for dinner that week
  2. Don’t pay full price unless absolutely necessary
    1. Take advantage of periodic sales on staples that have a long shelf-life
    2. Buy meat when it’s on sale and store in the freezer
    3. Use store coupons especially when items are on sale
    4. Check store ads and take advantage of store policies that match other stores’ low prices
    5. For additional ideas, see my blog on the 7 Keys to Saving Money on Groceries
  3. Leave the credit card and possibly even the debit card at home if you know that you are tempted to overspend using plastic

Keep in mind that I always say in my classes that the $125 per person per month grocery budget is a target, not an inviolable law. The reality is that the grocery bill is one of the easiest of all household bills to save money on with a little extra effort. So that makes it a great place to start when it comes to improving the household finances.

Good luck, and please feel free to share your successes (and your frustrations) in reducing your monthly grocery bill.

This article was updated May, 4th 2017 to reflect current grocery spending standards.

Todd Christensen, Author of Everyday Money for Everyday People

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Todd Christensen
Director of Education – Debt Reduction Services Inc.

Best wishes on your endeavors to take control of your finances!

Related Articles:

Cost of Raising a Child

Do You Have Questions About Grocery Expenses and Managing Your Expenses?

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  1. Kris

    I’m 19 years old and I’m going to be 20 within the next 2 months. I have a job where I get 30 to 30+ hours a week paying 9.50 an hour while getting paid bi weekly. I’m trying to do some research because I plan on living with a roommate sometime within the next 6 months and I’m tired of my parents and the main thing I’m worried about is being able to have the extra money monthly to pay bills like car insurance, utilities, rent, having money for my own downtime, etc., and i don’t quite know what would be the ideal list of things to buy for groceries that would last me a month. I feel like I eat quite a bit, and it would be hard to force myself to only eat 3 meals a day without snacks or very limited on snacks. I’m not sure if I’m leaving things out here, but this is just basically some info I’d need to know for now.

    • Todd Christensen

      Thank you for your post, Kris, and I congratulate you for even thinking about financial issues at your age. Too often (certainly the case when I was younger), we head out on our own without even considering the financial aspects.
      Your question is certainly related to the topic of reducing the monthly grocery bill. However, I don’t think I am the right one to give you a list of what exactly to buy. Here are a few links you might consider visiting:
      https://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/the-first-apartment-grocery-list-for-college-kids : it may be targeted at college students, but regardless of whether you are studying or working, the list of essentials is a good one. Some of these items, such as spices and condiments, you might build up over time. Don’t be like one of my college freshman roommates who took our weekly grocery money for dinner and spent half of it on some exotic spice for one meal. You will certainly need to watch your spending, and perhaps purchase smaller, though more costly-per-ounce items initially. Over time, you should be able to purchase staples in larger packages so that they last longer for you. Also, when it comes to breads, if you have a bakery outlet close by, consider visiting them first. You can often find loaves for half the price as what you would find in the grocery stores.
      https://www.hercampus.com/health/food/only-dorm-grocery-list-you-ll-ever-need : Here is another shopping list for students that includes reasonable snacks as well.
      https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-ultimate-grocery-list-for-college-students : I like this list because it also includes items to avoid, such as soda and chips, that you can go through in a hurry (Netflix binging anyone?) and that don’t provide much nutritional value
      You can find some other resources by Googling, “affordable grocery shopping list for college students.”
      Good luck, Kris, and enjoy this exciting new adventure in your life. Keep us posted on your successes and, well, learning experiences.
      -Todd

  2. Shavonne

    Quick question: do you include toiletries in the monthly grocery budget of $125/person? If not, what is your suggested budget for toiletries such as lotion, soap, shampoo, detergent, etc…?

    I currently combine both into my budget. At times I’m able to stay on budget, but the Sam’s Club Run for paper towels, toilet paper, often times sends me over.

    • Todd Christensen

      Great question, Shavonne, since, I would venture to guess, most households buy their toiletries and cleaning supplies at the same time and at the same store where they do their regular grocery shopping.
      It sounds like, in your case, a separate budget item for soaps, detergents, personal care, and shampoo products might be a good idea. Since you are shopping at Costco, you likely only need to purchase these items every three to six months because of the bulk nature of many of Costco’s products. So, take the price of the various toiletry items you use and divide them by the number of months they usually last for you. That is how much you should save each month in preparation for your next Costco trip.
      For a lot of us, this may seem like just one more line item to add to an already tight budget, but identifying toiletries as priority items means we have the money for them when we need them, rather than spending money on less critical fare.

  3. Audrey

    I live in Lancaster, PA, and my grocery bill is currently around $400-500/month for just me (and guests when I have company). That includes household supplies, but no pets, no restaurants, and no packaged convenience food. $96 of that goes to a CSA share ($24 per week for 7-8 organic vegetables – such as a bunch of kale or a bunch of potatoes). This usually provides everything I need in the way of produce, and I’m usually able to freeze some things. I spend the rest on ingredients to cook from scratch: bulk rice, beans, and grains, meat for about 1-2 meals per week, eggs, some dairy, herbs, fruit, seeds, spices, etc.

    I am committed to eating organic food and shopping locally, and I get most of my grassfed meat and dairy from local farms. I like to cook gourmet meals, so I’m sure I could spend less if I didn’t buy unusual ingredients. I could also spend less if I shopped at chain or discount grocery stores instead of farms and local markets. With my CSA costs, I don’t know that I could get my budget as low as $125, but I think I could still do a bit more.

    The tip that is most helpful to me is “plan and prepare for each grocery trip.” My local meat farm will often have an occasional seasonal sale. However, the other places I shop don’t really have sales. Perhaps I could menu plan around more basic ingredients (fewer premium items like saffron and salmon) and limit expensive meals to maybe once a week. I eat mostly pescatarian with occasional meat. Dairy is a major expense, as I only get cheese from humanely-raised animals. I also have to drive out of my way to get to the dairy farms. Perhaps I could switch to mostly vegan to save money.

    Another idea is to invest in a pressure canner. I used to buy bulk produce from my CSA and can things like tomatoes and peaches, but without a pressure canner, it took way too long. My freezer space is extremely limited, but canning again would lower my produce costs.

    I entertain fairly often, and cooking as my favorite hobby. I could probably give cheaper parties by switching the menus (e.g. taco bar instead of seafood, a meal instead of mojitos) or asking guests to bring some ingredients.

    • Todd Christensen

      Thank you, Audrey, for your comments. You hit on some important points, including the central issue of priorities in what we choose to eat and where we buy it. I really appreciate how you mentioned that if there were different priorities, you could probably save more on your groceries. That’s a really important point. We are all at different stages in our priorities when it comes to what we eat, so, naturally, our groceries budget will vary as well.
      I like the idea of a pressure canner, as you can save money by buying in bulk while still eating healthy foods of your choice over the coming seasons.
      And I know my wife and I enjoy being able to contribute something to meals when we go to visit family and friends. It’s a great way to build community.
      Thanks again for sharing!

  4. Jessica R

    So my challenges in the past was I loved to cook BIG meals… when there was more than 2 of us it worked out okay but I admit I wasted a lot of food. I also am guilty of shopping the sales and feeling the pantry and freezer with food I may never even eat – COMPULSIVE shopping is something I am working on now.

    I just under went surgery to have large kidney stones removed and honestly it is something I NEVER want to experience again. Those kidney’s don’t like being cut open just saying. My husband and I both need to change our eating habits to include not eating out and staying away from the beer with dinner- I live in the Pacific Northwest so Craft Beer is a huge deal.

    I did try several of the services such as Home Chef and Sun Basket which had great meals and healthier choices but honestly you might as eat out for those meals because the cost is the same… BUT it did help control portion sizes and had some really good recipes which I have saved and will use to shop going forward.

    For health reasons my husband and I are trying to stick to more a Mediterranean style of eating and and taking out the processed foods as much as possible. We are also cutting back on the protein in our diets and trying to start with fruits and veggies (healthier ones). I ate a turnip for the first time yesterday and I was quiet surprised that I really liked it.

    I have a budget set for food (to include eating out) but my goal is not to spend the whole amount so anything left over I can sweep into my savings account. We are trying to eliminate debt and honestly when I started tracking groceries, beer and restaurants I was horrified to how much of our money we spent on this… I am actually embarrassed to list a $$ amount. We would go out with my daughter and her husband and we would always pick up the check which was well over $100 typically…. ADDS UP FAST.

    We are now menu planning and I am using Fred Myers ClickList where you select what you want online and pick it up ready to go… for me this helps considerably on “compulsive” shopping and planning ahead. I do use the sales ads to plan meals as well. I have compared other grocery chains that offer the same service but for my area Fred Myers beats the every-time by at least 10%. I also do not pay a service fee because I hit the minimum with the planning and only buying every two weeks. My mom uses the WalMart version and loves it as well but I hate the WalMart in my area so I do not use them.

    Since we are newly in I am giving myself some buffer and allotted up to $520 per month for 2 people for household groceries to include non-food items as well. My hope is actually to cut that back as well so I can sweep money into my saving account each month for not spending it… feels like a reward almost… silly I know.

    Changes are not easy and you have to make actual effort typically to make it work… then it become more and more normal….

    • Todd Christensen

      Jessica, this is great! I love your openness with us, your honesty with yourself and your commitment to making a difference. I sure wish you all the best as you recover from the surgery!
      I also like the online shopping services for the same reason: they cut down on the compulsive spending.
      As far as savings, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that according to human nature, whatever we have left in our checking account at the end of the month will be spent on groceries, dining out, a movie, or anything else more enjoyable than savings. Just something to consider, but I recommend that you put 10% to 15% of that grocery budget into a savings account as soon as payday hits. It will force you to get more creative early on, but after two or three months, you will likely not even notice it’s gone. If you’re like me, though, you might have to place that savings into a bank or credit union other than the one where your checking account is held. That way, you can “raid” the savings just 2 or 3 weeks into the month when you have already run through the groceries budget.
      Good luck, Jessica, and thanks again for your post!

      • Lorraine LaChapelle

        Todd, I definitely need your help! I’m spending way to much on groceries trying to eat healthier. I am on Weight Watchers and have lost over 50#. I am a senior living alone. I’m at my wits end trying to figure it all out. I’ve tried menu planning and I get so overwhelmed I stop. I figure $200/mo. for groceries but at the end of the month, I’m using plastic, which I can’t afford to do. I feel like a hamster trying to get off the wheel but I don’t know how. Can you help me?

        • Todd Christensen

          Hi Lorraine,
          Thank you for reaching out. Your situation sounds familiar to a lot of Americans across the country. We want to eat healthy, and we try to organize our shopping, but at the end of the month, it seems like a lost cause.
          While there are a lot of factors beyond our control (food prices where we live, grocery stores located within reasonable distance from our home, health-related limitations to what we can eat, etc.), there are still several options to consider in cutting down on our grocery purchases. Some, you have already implemented:
          *Create a budget for our food spending (the $200 in your case)
          *Create a menu with a corresponding shopping list (which you have also worked on) – Flipping this around, though, can be a powerful money-saving tool. Instead of creating the menu and shopping for the ingredients, stay flexible and aware of heavily discounted ingredients and then create a menu from then. This typically requires a pantry of staples to supplement the on sale item(s)
          *Take advantage of bulk pricing, which likely requires sufficient storage in a pantry, a deep freeze, or other creative space in your home (under beds, in closets, etc.)
          Take a look at our other blog with “7 Keys to Saving Money on Groceries.”
          In some cases, speaking with a nonprofit credit counselor to review the rest of your budget might also be something to consider. If $200 a month is not possible given your unique circumstances, are there other less important expenses in your budget that you can cut back on so that you have a little more money to spend on groceries? Easy targets are things like cable TV, big cell phone plans, dining out, large gift giving budgets, and travel expenses (including car payments and insurance).
          Keep in mind that the most important key is time. There are no quick and easy magic bullets here. Find a way to spend $10 less this month, $20 less next month, etc., until you are a pro at saving on groceries.
          All the best,
          Todd

  5. Sandra

    My grocery budget is $80 per month for one person and I practice “clean eating”. That means no manufactured foods, everything cooked from scratch, mostly vegetarian, high-fat, low-carb, naturally gluten-free, lots of fresh vegetables, and supplemented with homegrown vegetables, herbs, and greens. I could spend a lot more even though I’m retired and on a fixed income, but I choose to be frugal and healthy. As an added challenge, I’m spending February on a $1-a-Day food budget. I got a little creative with this challenge by obtaining free food and very inexpensive food by asking for beef bones that a local butcher would have thrown away, asking for the outer cabbage leaves that a local grocery store would have thrown away, and other strategies.

    A typical day includes steel cut oats that I’ve soaked overnight before cooking in the morning, with a teaspoon of coconut oil, a dash of cinnamon, and either mashed fruit or a spoonful of sugar or honey. Lunch could be a quinoa pilaf made with onions, garlic, and greens from my garden, and carrots bought on sale, mixed with some type of seeds or cooked beans. I always use soaked and cooked dried beans, never canned. An early dinner might be a lentil and brown rice chili served with homemade masa tortillas, chopped greens, onions, tomato, and avocado, with some coleslaw made with cabbage, carrots, vinegar, honey, garlic, sea salt, and olive oil. If I’m still hungry after all that I can eat a piece of homemade cornbread with butter or hummus. My cornbread is made with masa and some type of bean flour. All I drink is a little black coffee in the morning, teas, iced tea, and lots of water with lemon juice.

    I’ve got a vegetable beef stew in the crockpot made with stock from the free beef bones, sunchokes, onions, garlic, potatoes, and turnips from my garden, carrots, and cabbage leaves. A mostly free meal that will provide a week’s worth of lunches and dinners. Of course, I’ll freeze individual meals so I won’t be eating the same thing every day.

    I can get away with this type of lifestyle because I live in a rural area but with access to several different grocery stores and a farmers market. The cost of living is very low in the area I live (Missouri).

    • Elizabeth Hennessey

      I’m right there with you…your menus sound delicious and nutritious….I have a glass of wine about 5 times a year at graduations/weddings/new year, etc..and have found that I’ve lost my taste for doughnuts – LOL – but love fresh fruit tarts that I make myself. Life is good.

  6. Sandra

    My grocery budget is $80 per month for one person and I practice “clean eating”. That means no manufactured foods, everything cooked from scratch, mostly vegetarian, high-fat, low-carb, naturally gluten-free, lots of fresh vegetables, and supplemented with homegrown vegetables, herbs, and greens. I could spend a lot more even though I’m retired and on a fixed income, but I choose to be frugal and healthy. As an added challenge, I’m spending February on a $1-a-Day food budget. I got a little creative with this challenge by obtaining free food and very inexpensive food by asking for beef bones that a local butcher would have thrown away, asking for the outer cabbage leaves that a local grocery store would have thrown away, and other strategies.

    A typical day includes steel cut oats that I’ve soaked overnight before cooking in the morning, with a teaspoon of coconut oil, a dash of cinnamon, and either mashed fruit or a spoonful of sugar or honey. Lunch could be a quinoa pilaf made with onions, garlic, and greens from my garden, and carrots bought on sale, mixed with some type of seeds or cooked beans. I always use soaked and cooked dried beans, never canned. An early dinner might be a lentil and brown rice chili served with homemade masa tortillas, chopped greens, onions, tomato, and avocado, with some coleslaw made with cabbage, carrots, vinegar, honey, garlic, sea salt, and olive oil. If I’m still hungry after all that I can eat a piece of homemade cornbread with butter or hummus. My cornbread is made with masa and some type of bean flour. All I drink is a little black coffee in the morning, teas, iced tea, and lots of water with lemon juice.

    I’ve got a vegetable beef stew in the crockpot made with stock from the free beef bones, sunchokes, onions, garlic, potatoes, and turnips from my garden, carrots, and cabbage leaves. A mostly free meal that will provide a week’s worth of lunches and dinners. Of course, I’ll freeze individual meals so I won’t be eating the same thing every day.

    • Todd Christensen

      Sandra, thanks for sharing your experience. I think you show how it is quite possible to eat on less money than even I suggest. Obviously, such measures do not work for everyone, but when income is tight or income is fixed, your experience shows how prioritizing and belt tightening do not mean doing without.
      You bring up some great ideas, though, particularly with regard to creativity. Those who have worked at a grocery store know that much food is tossed before it even makes it to the shelves because it does not “look” appealing enough to sell. Most of us didn’t even know you could ask about that food. I imagine relationship building with your grocer is important in your situation.
      Thank you again, Sandra!

  7. Susan

    I am a widow as of April, 2017 and we spent 500 dollars per month for the 2 of us. Now, I want to cut this way back and am looking for a way to eat 1 pkg ramen for one meal, an egg breakfast meal, and a $1.00 TV meal for dinner. Drinks would be whole milk and coffee. I take a full vitamin mineral tablet for 50+. I don’t need much.

    • Ash

      Dude living like that you’ll be sent to an early grave..

  8. JohnRV

    Congratulate to many people for successfully living a frugal life. I left my job and started a new career working at home 3 years ago. I thought things would have been improved greatly over the years since I was very much encouraged by the financial outcome of my new job at the start which I have experimented as a side job for a year and a half before leaving my corporate job.

    As a single person, I was a middle income earner by the U.S. national standard (income per family). So, I had to go over my expenses and cut down on my spending. I have a budget for some years and I stick to it. I gave up on my car since I wasn’t driving around much except locally. Now, I walk (5 miles round trip to grocery stores twice on the weekends and maybe another a few miles elsewhere). The money I spent on my car (gas, maintenance, insurance), now pays my grocery bills for the entire year.

    As a single male, my budget is $500 per month but I have averaged $350 a month last year. I live 20 miles outside of Manhattan-NYC. I hope to keep it at or below that level this year as well. $350 per month included food, laundry, clothing, gifts, entertainment, travel, tech equipments, memberships, personal hygienic products, etc. I spent a couple of months away from home last year in Seattle (a very expensive city). I ate out the first month and I spent about $800 for food during the first month alone. I spent $350. per month last year. But, I need to say that I think I spend about $200 a month in grocery shopping which includes household cleaning items, toilet papers, paper towels, hygienic products as well. So I assume I probably spend $150 only on food. I hardly ever eat out. I don’t go to the movie theaters. I have Amazon prime membership since I shop online (Amazon and Walmart) so I get to watch movies on various websites for free. I have an 15 years old TV but the last time I turned it on was during the World Cup in the summer of 2014. I just keep it in case I decide to watch something from my old DVD collection.

    I eat healthy and well: lots of grains, veggies, meat, nuts and seeds. I hardly ever buy fresh or frozen prepared meals. I make soups that are healthier and cheaper than the soups sold at great discounts (progresso etc). I bake everything at home. I hardly ever bought bread in the last couple of years. I work out twice daily (burn around 2000+ calories and consume less than 3,000 calories daily. I make sure I get enough protein and supplements.

    My daily food costs under $8. Here is an example of daily food consumption:

    Breakfast: A cup of coffee and 1 med pancake ( made from all purpose flour/oat meal flour, protein powder, flaxseeds), served with fat free cottage cheese, nuts/seeds, dried cranberries (I buy them in bulk and when there is great discounts so I pay half price or less. There was an error on my last Walmart order. They put a smile on my face by giving the second shipment of 7 lb of almonds and 10 lb of sunflower seeds ($65.- worth) for free. They didn’t want to be bothered with the return item although I offered them to pay a little less than the suggested retail price and their rep said, you can keep it. Accept it as one time new year gift to you from Walmart).
    or
    A cup of coffee and half a cup of oat meal with protein powder, flaxseeds, nuts and seeds.

    Lunch: Soup (made with lentil, chick peas, beans, meat, veggies) and rice (white, brown, bulgur, quinoa) or some veggies served with meat and rice.

    Snacks throughout the day: I cut down on fruits a lot due to its sugar content but I might have an apple, a pear, or a banana, some baby carrots. A Protein drink and or air popped corn with various spices and or home baked sugar free protein cookies/brownies. (Last month, Wal-Mart had clearance. I don’t know why but there were plenty of variety of chocolate chips on sale under $1.50 and as low as $0.56. I bought$15 worth of it to use in baking. The same items were sold over $3 and as much as $6 per bag in store or their website the following week).

    Dinner: A plate of Stir fry veggies with chicken, steak or lean ground beef and some type of rice or I may choose to go Mediterranean style ( a cup of coffee/tea and 3-4 thinly sliced toasted homemade bread served with dried basil tomato spread, a sliced plum tomato, 1/2 cucumber, a few slices of low fat mozzarella/ricotta cheese, green olives) or just two small size of cheese or tuna grilled sandwiches served with fat free mayo and pickles.

    Yes, it is possible to eat healthy with a budget of $150 per person per month.

  9. Ronda

    I have to admit that until just recently I had not truly given to much thought to how much I spent on groceries. I just went to the store and walked up and down the isle and bought what I wanted. Sure I looked at the sale ads and bought from them, but that just enabled me to purchase the expensive things along with the sale items. Your article has now given me a goal to aim at while and I will be watching in the coming months to see if I am within your recommendations.

    Recently I have needed to trim our food budget in order to reach some goals we have set as a family and so my work began. I work full time and drive an hour to AND from my job (it is a job I like very much so this is not as much of a sacrifice as it sounds). Weekends are spent working on restoring our house that is 5 hours away for our retirement, so I do not have a lot of time. But I can tell you that if you want to do something bad enough you will find a way.

    I have started to make my list and pull recipes a few days before my grocery shopping. I sit in the kitchen and go through the recipes ( I know how to make the food we eat but it is a reference so I do not forget something that is needed and make needless trips to the store). I look in the cupboards, fridge, and freezer for what is there and what can be put together. I make my online order to the grocery store who pulls my groceries for me and delivers them to my car so that I never have to step foot in the store unless I choose to do so, this is a free service for shopping with them. I save money by not going into the store and purchasing willy nilly as I like. I also have my list to shop at the discount store where I have to pick my own groceries but they don’t have all the fun things that entice me to purchase over the budget. I also order online a lot of goods that are cheaper and have them delivered in the mail, I can’t do perishables this way but there are plenty of things that I can get cheaper and I make a big enough order so shipping is free. I also make most everything from scratch and we eat very healthy well balanced meals. I look for different ways to make things so that we have a variety because I tend to get bored and I find that even eating a lot of chicken is ok if you make it a variety of ways. I look for the cheaper cuts of meat and challenge myself on ways to make it appealing. Making a large cut of meat does not mean eating the same thing over and over, repurpose them into something totally different so that you don’t feel like you are eating leftovers. A beef roast is a roast the first night with potatoes, carrots, and celery. On the second night it could be tacos with cilantro and onions topped with lime and salsa verde and on the third night it can be paninis. If it was a really big roast or you have a small family you can use the remaining for beef veggie soup with potatoes or barley. The possibilities are endless.

    I do like to eat out at a few favorite places so I will ask for gift certificates to those places for things like my birthday or when I am bartering work so that I still get to do that once in a while and then we will try to go for lunch or when there are specials so we can maximize our gift certificates.

    I recommend about 21 basic recipes that you really like, some easy and some a little more time consuming and rotating them according to your work schedule and doubling or tripling your recipes and freezing for when a quick meal is needed or my never ending second and third transformations. Also food sharing works well, if you can’t use 20 pounds of potatoes but the price is right get with your friend or neighbor and split the bag to take advantage of the price savings. Once I put my mind to cutting our food budget I was amazed at how well I did. After a while you do it enough that it becomes easier because you just repeat what you have already done before and you will keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for ideas that others have.

    • Todd Christensen

      Great post, Rhonda! Several things strike me about what you wrote, with attitude probably being the biggest. You make the point that it may not be easy or quick, but with an attitude that you are going to keep trying, you find new ways all the time to save money and eat well. And this from someone who works full time, commutes 2-hours a day and is busy restoring a home.
      You also mentioned the free service at one of your grocery stores. We’ve started doing this from time to time as well in our household. Not only is it convenient, but as you noted, it can help keep us from making impulse purchases. After my first experience, though, I would just recommend that you check the list against what was pulled. You’ve probably seen some of the “substitutes” for requested items and how not all of them make sense.
      Many other great ideas that I appreciate. I hope our other visitors can pull a few tips from your comments. Thanks!
      Todd

  10. Laura

    I spend about $30-40 Canadian a week. Each week I buy my veggies and eggs. In bulk I buy steel cut oats, quinoa, shrimp, rice, almond milk, goat cheese, veggie burgers, canned tomatoes, nuts and seeds etc… I occasionally purchase fish and poultry. I can whip up a ton of meals- and always freeze my
    Soups and chilies. I also eat very healthy and mostly organic. I find it easy to budget for my groceries. I like having more money to put towards bigger things, such as my mortgage.

    • Todd Christensen

      Thank you for sharing, Laura. $30-$40 CAD per week is the equivalent of about $105 to $140 USD per month, so you sound like you are well within the range discussed in this blog. What province and metro area are you in, if I may ask?

      • Britt

        Great artcle, Todd. I’ve found the best ways to save on groceries is 1) Only shop the loss leaders in the weekly grocery circular. 2) Shop area international markets where prices are usually much lower than mainstream markets for vegetables and fruit. They usually have great prices on dried herbs and spices, as well as pepperoncinis and other pickles. 3) Shop Dollar Tree, Everything’s a Dollar, and Grocery Outlet aftermarket stores for extra deals. 4) Make a big pot of soup each week. 5) And plan and prep crockpot dinners for each week. It takes a bit of organization, but the savings is worth it.

        • Todd Christensen

          Thank you, Britt, for sharing your tips. For some, it might be an adjustment to their meal planning, but soups and slow cooker meals are often tasty and healthy ways to save money on eating at home. I appreciate the tip on the international markets. I’ll check them out locally to see what they offer that we can incorporate to our own meal planning at home.

  11. Marie-Josée

    I agree that food expenses are an easy part of the budget to review and make adjustments to save. I also agree with many of your tips and suggestions with one caveat. I think for those who can afford to, it’s a good idea to support their local store, for more than just running in to get some milk. Local stores will close without the patronage of the people in the community. They provide an essential service, especially to those in the community that don’t own cars and don’t have the opportunity to shop around. Purchasing choices should not just be about our personal bottom line.

    • Todd Christensen

      Losing local grocery stores would be heartbreaking, I agree, especially for those without transportation. I appreciate what you’ve added to the considerations.

  12. Kaelyn

    It all depends on your outlook. We went from a two-income family of two adults and two elementary kids…to a one-income family with two adults, two elementary kids, a toddler, and I am currently expecting. We spend on FOOD in eastern central Indiana between $275-$300 monthly…that’s for five people plus a developing baby. Aldi and a discount grocery store are my main resources as well as Meijer ONLY for sales (such as their ten for ten and one free…and a strict list. It is possible but I also realize that it’s not for the faint of heart either…we have two (older and owned vehicles) so transportation is easy, we are within twenty-ish minutes of all the stores I shop at, and I am at home so getting groceries and preparing is not a big deal either. We eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables almost on a daily basis, use off brands for most items, don’t buy prepared meals or junk (except a bag of Doritos and ice cream once in awhile), eat fish chicken beef turkey as well as lunch meats, are not picky about organic, freeze a ton of bulk items or on sale things, have no allergies, and don’t buy much already frozen unless it’s a rare sams trip for bulk veggies on sale. We also don’t spend more than $20 bucks a month on eating out because we just don’t allow room in our budget for it. Yet…I laughed at my husband when he asked if I could cut back any more on the grocery budget…we don’t want to be mainstream society and have debt out the wazoo…so living like this can be a challenge but seriously, it’s so much nicer only having a few utility bills and a mortgage coming in the mail each month than wondering how to afford it all. And no, we don’t live under a rock…we have a five bedroom two story home which we just expanded into and will probably be here forever now. And yes our children have toys and electronics and are well adjusted and doing great in school. It is possible if you want it to be.

    • Todd Christensen

      Thank you, Kaelyn, for sharing your experience. “Not for the faint of heart.” Love that. It is not easy and not for everyone. But I appreciate you sharing how you have made it possible.

  13. Marilyn

    I am trying to reduce my food budget to $ 150.00 per person for the month. I am a senior so I get the discount ( 2% on Wednesday on select items ie. not sale priced items) and my son in his early 20s. I do not have transportation so I have to carry the groceries home in a backpack by walking 4 km. round trip. I changed the menu-plan to plain yogurt with fresh fruits like blueberries, strawberries and bananas with chopped walnuts plus a slice of multi-grain bread with peanut butter. Dinner is meat ( chicken / turkey, pork loin, hamburger, stewing beef, fish and dried beans) with rice/ potatoes / pasta and vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, cabbage, kale ( which grows like a weed in my backyard and survives the Canadian winter) frozen vegetables, or a salad ( lettuce, peppers, cucumbers etc.). Supper is a bowl of home-made soup or oatmeal porridge with raisins and cinnamon. I cook 6-8 servings one day and heat the leftovers the next day in the micro-wave because I have a disability and cannot always cook because I would risk a house fire on the “bad brain” days. I try to use a crock- pot for most of my meals.

    • Hannah

      Why isn’t your son helping more?

    • Todd Christensen

      Marilyn, I applaud your continued efforts to control your grocery spending. If you are on a fixed income, groceries can be one of the few expenses whose total cost you have control over. How are your efforts paying off? If you are in Canada, the $125-$150 USD range would be converted to about $160-$190 CAD. It sounds like you are doing much already to bring down your expenses. Having to walk and carry groceries means that buying in bulk at bulk prices will be limited, as will price comparison shopping at various stores. If the store does have sales on meats, that is probably where you might save the most, based upon the menu you described. Buy some extra at the sale prices and save it in your freezer. Saving $5 a week equates to over $250 a year (or two months of groceries per person according to this goal).
      Thank you for the update, and I wish you all the best! -Todd

  14. Jenn

    I wish basic groceries were this cheap where I live. If you live anywhere near Boston or Toronto this is unrealistic. The only way to spend $50-$150 is to live on rice and get very little protein in your diet. This is unhealthy.

    In Boston, fresh fruit and veggies alone cost $70+ per month (for one person, not per family). Toilet paper is also relatively expensive. In Toronto, eggs and milk are expensive, even if you get them at Walmart.

    • Jo Anne

      Can you use Walmart or Amazon to buy items online to buy things like toilet paper? I wonder if prices are marked up for the geographic areas, would be nice to know.

    • serema

      I ended up here just because of worrying about how much i am spending for grocery and what others do. Now I realize in the expensive area I live it is quite normal to spend 200-300$ per person for grocery. I always try to buy fresh ingredients no packed or ready to eat whatsoever and always read what is on the back of product meaning if there is too much sugar no amount of fiber i don’t buy it). It is definitely a financial pressure to not to pass the determined budget for grocery ( I didn’t buy my beloved apricots and fancy veggie crisps last time 🙁 the numbers in this article seems unrealistic but it is not impossible. I have seen people who out of budget or laziness only buy packed high caloric foods and a lot of conserved chips soda etc. The number of processed ready to use whatever shelves are just crazy in my opinion compared to other countries I have been and it is just a small remark of what market demands.

  15. Kathleen Loucks

    Sorry Todd,
    But your figures are ridiculous. Holy smokes…you haven’t a clue. You obviously have a partner who does all the meal planning, shopping, and preparing but never eats them self. I started laughing because I thought this must be estimates from the early 20th century. You also must not have any teenagers, or even little children as a matter of fact. I am not trying to insult you, but again, your findings are grossing off the real world.

    • Dawn

      I disagree. I feed a household of six, the youngest 14 years old. We spend $150 a week…I buy whatever fresh food is on sale, store brands on most items, always sale items and coupons. We also have one vegan, 4 vegetarians and a dairy allergy which means the much more pricey plant based milks. It can be done, flexibility and from scratch is the key.

      • Todd Christensen

        Hi Dawn, and thanks for your post. At $150 per week for a household of six, that is about $108 per person per month. That’s pretty darn good! I think your two points of being flexible (for me, building the meal menu around what is on sale more so than creating a menu and hoping to find the ingredients on sale) and making meals from scratch are so important. I appreciate you sharing your experience.

    • Kerrie Johnson

      I have been working to pay off our family’s debt, and had managed to “snowball” away all of our debt last year except the mortgage and one credit card. My daughter was asked to play club volleyball, which is not cheap, but something we wanted her to do. To find money for her league, I decided to cut back on groceries. I have been using the Clicklist service at Kroger. After three weeks, we are averaging $150, instead of $220 a week. Honestly, I could get our bill down to $125 a week for our family of four with two extremely large dogs, but I buy convenience foods, like Mac & cheese in a cup, individual ranch dip packets, and protein bars. These are worth it to me as a working mom with a busy schedule. I am embarrassed that I didn’t have better control of my grocery bill before now. But, ordering on line keeps me from making impulse buys and allows me to see exactly how much my groceries cost as I add to the basket.

      • Jo Anne

        Shopping online is great! I drive an extra fifteen minutes one way each trip to go to a Walmart out of town to pick up groceries. By going twice a month I am about $100 dollars under budget each month, when I was exceeding the budget each and every month. By taking two weeks to plan and review it is possible to eat great and save money! I use a lot of Great Value brands but don’t believe in sacrificing quality, such as I must have Heinz catsup. Good luck to all.

    • Todd Christensen

      Hi Kathleen,
      Insulted? Me? I’m fine. ‘Tis but a flesh wound. At least my readers know that I am not cherry picking comments to my post, right?
      I’m just sorry you think the numbers are so ridiculous. I will make the same offer to you as I do to others: if you will email me your grocery shopping receipts for the next month, I am pretty sure we can find some savings for you. In the meantime, I highly encourage you to look through the comments below from the many other people who have been able to achieve the $125 (or even less) per month per person. They are not ridiculous, but they did not achieve this end without time and extra effort.
      I do agree with you that it is MUCH more achievable for households where there are two adults (even better when one is not full-time employed outside the home). That said, my pillars of saving on groceries are applicable to ALL households: 1) Be patient because it takes time, 2) Find the deals on foods FIRST and then make a menu based upon those deals, 3) Check store circulars weekly for specials and shop the most affordable stores, 4) stock up on those deals when you find them, 5) store the extra bulk in pantries and the freezer (this is where a freezer can more than pay for itself over time), but beware of the temptation to consumer in bulk just because of the excess availability, and 6) be consistent. Don’t give up.
      What I truly hope, Kathleen, is that you don’t brush off these recommendations and those found in the comments below as impossible. It is definitely not something a household can do overnight. It can take years of effort, trial and error. But if you start with an open mind that saving $5 next week is a possibility, then you work to find another $5 to save the week after that, then another $5 the third week… you get the point. In just five months, you’ll be spending $100 less a month on groceries. That’s $1,200 a year. And hopefully no one is going to turn up their nose at that possibility!
      All the best, and Merry Christmas!
      Todd

      • Rita

        Thanks for the insight. The family grocery expense is one of the few items which can be managed. It’s helpful when the family members cooperate.

  16. Clairem

    125 a month seems very unrealistic. We spend about 120 a week for 2, sometimes more. When you include toiletries, household cleaners, pet needs the proce easily exceeds 125 a month. Here’s a guestament list of our current grocery list for 2.

    Rice 3$
    Almond milk x2 6$
    Eggs 5$
    Peppers 3$
    Avocado 3$
    Mushrooms 3$
    Naan bread 3$
    Tofu 5$
    Noodles 5$
    Apples 6$
    Bananas 2$
    Chicken/fish 10$
    Spinach 3$
    Stock 8$
    Peanut butter 4$
    Yogurt 3$
    Cheese 5$
    Frozen berries 4$
    Onion/garlic 1.50$
    Coffee 4$

    Not every week items/specific recipe items
    Jam
    Carrots
    Potato
    Tomato
    Corn
    Brown sugar
    Various spices/vanilla
    Flour/starches
    Protein powder
    Granola
    Honey
    Cooking oils
    Kale
    Nuts/seeds
    Juice orange/grape
    Lemon juice
    Alcohol
    Vinegar
    Bread crumbs
    Cereal
    Syrup
    Crackers
    Occasional treats, pretzels chocolate, special fruits, cookies

    Others
    Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toiletries
    Paper towel, dish soaps, laundry soaps

    • Todd Christensen

      Thanks for the detailed list, Clairem. May I ask the store you shop at, and what other grocery stores are nearby?
      Your options for reducing grocery expenses are generally these:
      1. Buy less food or less expensive alternatives (store brand food, or different type of food, such as more affordable meat cuts)
      2. Shop at a more affordable grocery store
      3. Purchase staples in bulk when on sale
      I don’t see anything extravagant on your list of basics, so cutting out food is not a reasonable alternative. Looking for off-brands or alternatives to some of the foods might save a little month, but not much. If there is not another, more affordable grocery store close by, that leaves option 3. This takes time to build up food in your pantry, but when you find something on sale (e.g. cereal for $1 or $2 or more off per box), buy several and store the extras for the next week. You can also freeze foods to keep them longer. As you shop, especially for things like sugar and rice on your list, make sure you are noting and comparing the price per ounce or price per use. You may already be doing these sorts of things, so if that’s the case, read the comments below for some other great tips.
      My main tip, though, it keep at it. There is rarely a magic wand for this. It takes months if not years to find ways to cut grocery bills in half. All the best! -Todd

  17. SUMMER SPEES

    Family of 6 here- two adults, two teens, one (overeating) 10 year old, one preschooler, in rural Wisconsin. We eat very healthy (no artificial anything, no HFCS, no hydrogenated oils, plenty of lean proteins including beans/lentils/nuts) and still we only spend about $125 PER MONTH PER PERSON! We coupon but not religiously. We shop in bulk when feasible. We shop at Aldi stores for about 50% of our food budget. And I’m constantly on the hunt for a good deal. If we didn’t live 15+ miles from the nearest grocery store, I could potentially cut the grocery cost even further. I can’t believe that anyone could spend $300/mo per person even if they didn’t go to the lengths we do to stretch our grocery budget!

    • Mama

      Try not living in rural Wisconsin, but NYC or LA. And dial down on the judgement, not everybody has the time to go hunting for the best deals all the time.

      • Todd Christensen

        Mama,
        Being on this post, you are likely hoping to find ways to save on grocery spending, like most of our readers.
        You are right, in that, as I noted in the post, there are many communities, cities and even entire states, where grocery prices are exceptionally high. New York City, for example, has grocery prices that, on average, are 30% to 50% higher than in the cheapest areas to live in the country. In such cases, rather than aiming for $125 to $150 per person per month, perhaps $150 to $225 would be a more realistic goal.
        My goal with this post was certainly not to give any sort of guilt trip to households not in a position to achieve the $125 per person per month level of spending. I do definitely hope that all readers who struggle within the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle (60% of Americans) or who are otherwise looking for ways to minimize their grocery spending in order to put those savings toward other goals will find among the many ideas on this post and within these comments a gem or two that will work for them.
        True, we do not have grocery prices in common around the various regions of our country. Also true that available planning time and income vary between households. Transportation and available grocery stores will be different in every community. Strategies, however, can be generalized regardless of such differences. Buying in bulk when an item is on sale, for example, is universal. Using cash rather than credit or debit will save most households 10% to 15% on their groceries each month, regardless of geography or household make up.
        Hopefully your own efforts to save on groceries will pay off and you can share your successes here so others can benefit as well.
        All the best,
        Todd

  18. Maya

    Hello Todd,
    Thank you for this article. We leave in California (in the Bay Area). We are 12 people in our home (5 of our boys are between the age of 18 and 14 and do 2and half hour of sport daily). We spend $2500/month in grocery and household items. Do you think that if we consider our area we should be able to diminish our monthly cost? Thanks, Maya

    • Todd Christensen

      Hi Maya, and thank you for your post. With 12 in the household, I hope you have some help in the purchasing, prepping and serving departments. That’s a handful!
      $2,500 per month for 12 people works out to be just under $210 per person per month. Different parts of the Bay Area are going to be more expensive than others, of course. For a small household of 2 or even 4, I would say that might be a per person expense at the upper end of our recommended range. For a group as large as yours, I would expect that there would be room for cost savings, even with 5 boys between 14 and 18. That said, I also recognize that many teen age boys love to hang out at the homes of other teen age boys, and if your home is that hub, you may be feeding many more than just the 5 teenagers. For readers in such circumstances, and when money is tight, there may need to be some house rules to change the open door fridge policy to one of a little more restraint.
      I would recommend, besides the text of this blog, that you look through the great comments below to find some other ideas. Here are 6 keys (a sneak peak at an upcoming blog on saving money on groceries) to cutting costs on groceries: 1) Take a long-term approach by finding ways to save an additional $5 to $10 each week; 2) find the best deals on groceries first and then make the menu based on those foods; 3) go through grocery store circulars each week to both understand typical area prices and to find the best deals; 4) stock up on non-perishables that are on sale, including at case lot sales; 5) use a deep freeze to store perishables (dairy and meats) and grains that you find on sale; and 6) keep at it.
      Good luck in your continuing efforts, Maya, to make a positive difference!
      -Todd

  19. Pradipta (Food lover)

    I spend around Rs 6200 ($100) for monthly groceries. I only prefer to buy some specific items from big departmental store and for rest I prefer local stores.

    Processed meat & other packaged non-vegetarian items, ready to eat foods etc actually cost more as compared to other grocery items. I normally avoid such items to buy from store. Rather I prefer to cook those at home. It helps me to reduce monthly grocery expenses.

  20. Alex

    how do you survive spending $5 a day

    • Todd Christensen

      When it comes down to it, $150 a month is $5 a day. Sounds pretty intimidating. I highly recommend, Alex, that you look through the many great ideas and stories in the previous comments about others who are able to feed themselves fairly well on even half that.
      Certainly, it’s pretty much impossible to buy individual meals and spend less than $5 per day. Taking advantage of bulk pricing and, even more importantly, sale pricing, it critical. And, as mentioned in the post and many times in the comments, where you live, where you shop, and what sort of food you eat will have a huge impact on how little can or how much you do spend on groceries.

      • Alex L

        My wife and I lived in San Diego for many years. She spends like $800-$1200 per month just for the 2 of us. We always had quarrels over this, I reckon that $500-$600 should be good enough per month; she counter argued that it was me who ate the most which I disagree. Neither one of us is obese.

        So in the last 6 months, I took on a new job in Austin, whereby my company provided all my meals. I spent only $20 per month on grocery for myself in Austin. In taking this job (I was paid lower salary in TX compared with CA), I calculated that perhaps she by herself would spend only $500 per month in CA, maybe $600 tops, and that would justify huge savings overall, hence this job is a great move. But boy, was I ever so wrong ! She continued to charge monthly amounts of $900-$1200 on the grocery shops in San Diego using credit cards. She does not eat starch, bread, potatoes, pasta, but still how is this kind of grocery spending possible for one person ? Very frustrating.

        • Samantha Kilbourne

          Honestly, I am working on getting my budget to 175 a month for a family of 4 it is achievable with work, however I make everything from scratch!

        • Mallory

          Hi Alex!

          I agree with you that the amount your wife regularly spending on groceries per month is much more than necessary. We are a family of five: myself, my husband and 3 kids (7and under). We spend between $300 and $400 MAX each month. We eat healthy and mostly shop at Grocery Outlet, but in the past have shopped at Sprout, Costco and sometimes Trader Joe’s. we live in east county (Santee) now but have lived all over- including downtown- with he same food budget. We shop once per week only. Our actual budget is $100 per week but we usually spend about $70ish per week. This includes all items we can purchase at our grocery store (toothpaste, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc.) . Hope this gives insight !! I have several friends who have slightly higher budgets but still in the near budget vicinity . We avoid specialized food items such as individually packaged foods and unhealthy options such as chips, soda, etc. good luck !

        • bakecookworkfrugal

          Interesting. So if she is not eating any “starch”, then what is she eating? Expensive protein powders? Salmon and other expensive type of proteins? Organic foods? Artisan style foods? Foods from “health food stores”? Imported high end foods?

          Perhaps she is valuing being thin over being more average (eating carbohydrates)and not being as thin. Meaning she is not starving but eating high end nutrition foods that are not realistic for most wage earners who are minding their food budget.

          Most people working average jobs with average pay with some ambition to have some savings at the end of their working life need to be very conservative with running expenses. It does add up after a good 40 years of working.

          I know of the odd person that spending/living like this, but then they either dont have a pot to piss in or they have a hubby that rakes in good dough, providing with future financial security, so grocery expenses are not high on the “concern list”.

        • Todd Christensen

          Wow, that’s a tough one, Alex! Thank you for sharing your experience, and I think your frustration is a normal reaction.
          Of course, I don’t have answers to all such situations. This does sound, however, that it simply has to do with what I call habitual spending. It is similar to parents whose kids move away to school or out on their own. It might take six months or more for the cook in the home to stop making such large meals and adjust them to fewer mouths at the table.
          Habitual spending is tough to address because, well, it’s habitual. Any change will eventually have to come from a self-awareness of the overspending. Such self-awareness often comes through either very difficult conversations or, probably more commonly, some very challenging financial circumstances that make us reconsider our our spending habits.
          Sometimes, it might also be the case that we see someone else in our social circles and have a conversation with them about their own spending. You know how it is said that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with? Our spending habits absolutely fit into this category as well. While she might be different, I would guess that your wife’s 5 closest friends spend similar amounts of money each month on their own grocery bills. If all they see when it comes to grocery shopping is each other’s grocery expenses, they will continue to think their spending levels are the norm.
          Good luck on the new job in Austin! Lots of expenses should be lower in Texas than San Diego. It just can match the weather.
          -Todd

  21. Colleen

    Maybe its where/how we live, but our food budget is much lower than even your suggestions. We are a family of 7 and spend around $500/month on groceries, which include pet food and other household supplies. I’m working on separating those in our budget, but aim to spend $400/month. There’s no way we could afford $125/person…$875!
    We shop at aldi’s, discount grocery stores, and walmart only on things we get our employee discount on (10% off produce & non-food items). We also raise our own chickens for eggs and garden to grow a lot of our vegetables that we freeze or can.

    • Todd Christensen

      Thank you, Colleen, for your comment. As you suggest, where you live does have a large impact on the cost of groceries. You also have the advantages of shopping for a larger household than most (getting lower prices on bulk items) and getting a 10% discount on produce. While gardens are a lot of work and chickens, well, come with their own smelly challenges, you probably save another $50 or more through the fruits of your own labor.
      I’m interested to know how many adults there are in your home and how many of you work full-time/part-time? Also, have you always been able to keep your grocery spending down? Or has it been experience or a system that you’ve developed over time?
      Again, thanks for sharing!
      -Todd

  22. Elizabeth

    I live in remote Alaska (on the road system). For my family of 9, our monthly grocery & gas budget is $1200. This also includes toiletries, etc. The USDA has a separate Cost of Food for Alaska & Hawai’i. Accordingly, the suggested budget for my family is roughly $1400 to $1500 for FOOD ONLY. Anyone in the lower 48 complaining that they can’t possibly only spend $125 per person per month is full of it.

    • Todd Christensen

      Wow, Elizabeth! Given your location (I like how you have to specify “on the road system” – so not Barrow, then, right), that really is impressive. To be honest, I have talked to people who, due to health reasons, have chosen certain diets that work out to be $1,200 in groceries just for one person! It does come down to priorities in most cases. The hardest part of any spending controls (whether on groceries, housing, toys, transportation, cable TV, etc.) is to understand our own motivations and priorities. Someone who spends $250 a month on cell phone service and a smartphone device may not have even asked themselves why they spend 5 times more than many others. For some, it might be quality. For others, it might be convenience. For others still, it might be a status thing. We should not judge (certainly not condemn) each other for our various motivations for spending as much or as little as we do, so long as we have thought about them and chosen them intentionally. Otherwise – and this is good timing given the series of tweets I’m sending out this month at EverydayMoney4U – we are walking financial zombies, spending without thinking or perhaps without realizing that we have options.
      Thanks again, Elizabeth, for sharing!

  23. Marti

    Nutritious breakfast? Nutella!? Main ingredient (58% ) is processed sugar, followed by vegetable oil, not to mention saturated fats and numerous other questionable (and NOT non-GMO I might mention) ingredients. Palm oil that is NOT farmed sustainably (can you say rain forests?) They have already settled a class action lawsuit for false advertising for inferring they are part of a healthy breakfast. Apologies for the negativity but it frustrating to find so many articles that one assumes is written by an expert in the field and then find food suggestions that are nothing less than a falsely advertised toxic tsunami.

    • Todd Christensen

      Thanks for visiting our blog, Marti, and for sharing your frustration. And I am sorry that there was a misunderstanding of both what I wrote and of my purpose for writing this blog. As an employee of Debt Reduction Services, Inc., I have never attempted to write anything that portrays me as an expert in healthy eating, with non-GMO, vegan-based, secure-our-food supply, sustainability or with any other type of nutrition angle. These are all important topics that are worth considering. This post, however, is on saving money generally on groceries.
      I am not, nor do I claim to be, an expert on nutrition. So once we can get that out of the way, I did fairly clearly indicate that when we have crepes, it’s our splurge, which should be understood to be something other than an actual meal. We do not have crepes and Nutella for breakfast but as a dessert after dinner, though when we have homemade crepes left over for breakfast the next morning, I love to fill them with scrambled eggs and salsa… kind of a Franco-Mexican way of waking up to the morning.
      That said, are you aware of any chocolate-hazelnut spreads that are more earth friendly? I’d be happy to learn more.

      • Audrey

        You could always make your own! There are recipes online, and you would just need a food processor. My grocery store now sells organic chocolate hazelnut spread, too. I believe Nutiva and Artisana are two of the brands.

      • Bernie

        Wax orchards is a healthy diabetic friendly chocolate spread. It is delicious! Sweetened with fruit juice only. I am not diabetic, I simply eat the product because it’s a healthier alternative to other things.

        • Todd Christensen

          Thanks, Bernie, for the post. You said the magic word, “chocolate.” It got my attention.
          I’ll check it out.

  24. SH

    I don’t think this is taking into account parts of the country. I live in NYC and could never imagine spending only $150/month/person. Even IF you could, you’d still have to schlep everything around since most of us don’t have cars. I’d rather see an article specific to the most expensive cities in the U.S.

    • Rick Munster

      Hi SH, thanks for the feedback. I believe the article makes mention of certain locations being unable to meet that particular target, however, if you apply what is discussed in the article you should knock down your food expenses considerably. The cost of groceries, for example, in NYC is approximately 30 percent higher. The $150 target looks closer to $200 and keep in mind that is running an extremely lean budget. Just a few additional purchases can really throw that goal out the window. I tend to look at grocery spend as a percent of my budget that I am comfortable using, I do the same for entertainment, transportation, travel, and clothes and it helps. I have a savings target in mind and do everything I can to contribute more than the goal.

  25. Arlette M Popiel

    I assume your budget is for food only i.e. does not include paper products, soap and things like foil, plastic wrap etc. What would be a good monthly budget for those items?
    I am a single person and celiac with other food allergies, any suggestions for keeping my food costs down?

    Thank you.

    • Haley

      I typically spend about $75-$90 per grocery trip, every other week, for 2 people. We eat a vegan diet and very little gluten. I often make tofu stir fries with a quick homemade sauce and frozen veggies, simple chili with fresh peppers for flavor and spice, TJ’s gluten free waffles for a quick breakfast, peanut rice noodles, and veggie soups. I buy about one container of Better Than Bouillon a month to save money on broth and it makes a huge difference. I favor meals that have rice as a base because it’s filling, cheap, and adds protein. If you eat eggs, I know Trader Joe’s and Aldi typically have a dozen for around $1 vs the usual $2-$3 from Kroger, Publix, etc. The key for me is to buy staple pieces and lots of spices so that I can transform simple meals into something really delicious. I like to make big batches too and freeze them for lazy days 🙂

    • Laurel

      My food budget does not include non-food items. For the most part I buy those in bulk at Sam’s Club or our local food service warehouse. I try to keep extras of most things on hand so I can take my time replacing them. Either waiting for a sale, clearence or a week that I spent a lot less on food.

      As for gluten-free… My family is not gluten-free, but serveral of my neighbors have family members that are. I’ve been participating in a meal exchange and have needed to exchange gluten-free ingredients. So I research those the same as any other ingredient. The local international market has a much better price on gluten-free soy sauce then the store I buy most of my groceries from. They had 5 different brands that had a gluten free version. One was twice the size of the Kikkoman at most stores for a dollar less.

      I’m told barrilla has the best gluten-free pasta. Go to the website and request coupons or look for them in the paper. At the store I frequent most, the gluten free version is the same cost as the regular. With a coupon, it could be cheaper than the store brand.

      Also, think about things differently. Eat more of the things you can get a good deal on and less of those that you can’t. Another example is… I made a quiche for my neighbor. Instead of trying to make or buy a gluten free pie crust, I cooked brown rice and pressed that into the pie plate in the same manner as a graham cracker crust. She said it was awesome.

      Research may take time, but it is well worth it. Ask employees, talk to customers in line, look for the clearance sections. Sometimes those are tucked in a corner out of sight. Many stores markdown the gluten-free and organic ingredients because they don’t move as fast.

      In the big picture it’s about little savings over time.

      • Todd Christensen

        Thanks again, Laurel, for the pointers. I really appreciated three key principles of lowering grocery costs that are tucked into your comments:
        1. When non-perishables are on sale or clearance, stock up on them.
        2. Adjust menus to what is more affordable rather than trying to find the most affordable options for a chosen menu.
        3. Time, as you point out, is always a critical component of lowering our grocery bills: short-term time spent now researching and shopping around, as well as long-term time that gives us the experience to know where to shop and how to build the best and most affordable menu.

    • Todd Christensen

      Thanks, Arlette, for the post. Yes, while we often purchase such supplies at the same time and at the same store as our groceries, they often add another $10 to $50 a month or more to the budget, depending on household size and needs. That said, such products are often among the best items to buy at discounts by combining manufacturer coupons and in-store deals.
      As for lowering costs when there are food allergies in the home, the cheap and easy answer, but also the best long-term response, it based on that from Laurel, below. Pick one grocery item a week to research and find where to buy most affordably. It will take months and possibly even years, but with sustained focus, saving $5 here and $10 there, it is likely that you will eventually find regular savings on groceries that can add up to hundreds of dollars a month. This is really a tortoise vs hare issue.
      Additionally, you can do an online search for saving money and grocery shopping with food allergies. There are a number of results that can provide specific tips and even coupons.
      I would also invite the community to share helpful thoughts, as is so often the case.
      Thanks again, Arlette, and all the best!

  26. Laurel

    There were a few other things I forgot to mention. I built my family’s food budget based on the USDA’s Thrifty food plan and cross referenced it with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. The Thrifty Food Plan gives expenditure shares for different food groups along with pounds of food for different age groups and caloric needs. I then took the recommended # of servings off the Guidelines for Americans and compared the 2. After you figure out that for a female ages 19-50, should spend 16% of her food budget to buy 2.77 lbs of grains per week, with a budget of $50 per week, that 2.77 lbs should cost about $8. That more than allows for nice loaf of bread at $3.00 per 24oz loaf, a box of name brand whole wheat pasta for $1.50 16 oz, and a box of multi grain Cheerios for $3.00 for 12oz. And a half pound of brown rice for .50¢. (assume you can afford to buy 1 lb and have it last 2 weeks). That would certainly cover breakfast lunch and dinner. You would pick a different variety each week, of course.

    I keep a “price book” spreadsheet of items I’m likely to purchase. When I find a new store I do a price survey to see if that store is worth returning to. Most stores are good deals on only certain things.

    With all groups of information (cost of local food, recommended amount to purchase, and expenditure shares), I was able to build a realistic healthy food budget for my family. (it’s just a guideline, for example we eat more whole fruits than juices, more legumes than animal protien, but these are personal choices).

    Yes, the project to took time and some skill with Excel but in the end it was completely worth it. It became a game to figure out how to meet our food needs for the least expense. I wish I could share my spreadsheet, but I have yet to figure out how to make it general enough to apply to most people.

    https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood
    https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/dietary-guidelines-2010

  27. Laurel

    It is very important for people to keep in mind that some people live in a food “desert”, meaning limited availability. They are limited by transportation, how much they can transport at one time, time available to prepare foods, education on food preparation, and storage space available.

    I look at my family’s food budget of $300 for 6. 3 adults, a 15 yr old, a 3 yr old and a 3 month old (she is breastfeed, so she doesn’t really count yet). I think we spend a fair amount. I don’t make everything from scratch, but we rarely eat convenience foods. I buy whole wheat bread from a local food service warehouse for .50¢ – $1.00 for a 32oz loaf. The last 2 years we visited a local farm that offered a u-pick at .25¢ per lb and brought home 1,500 – 1,800 lbs of produce over a 5 month season, that we canned, froze and dehydrated. I buy 25 – 50 lb bags of rice, beans, flour, cornmeal etc. We have a local store that offers 40 lb cases of chicken leg quarters for .49¢ per lb and ground beef cubes for $1.00 per lb. Around the holidays they sell turkeys for .49¢ per lb. I bought 8 over the season, cooked and froze the meat.

    I know that I am a very fortunate person. We have a lot of options available to us. I got my 1st chest freezer for $25, then traded it in for an upright for $65. We have a wonderful local chain of donation based thrift stores. I also get my canning jars for .25¢ ea.

    I’m a stay at home mom, so I have more time to be in the kitchen than a working mom. I can take all day to prepare a food, like cooking a turkey. I have help cleaning up after a big cooking project where a single mom would not.

    It would be unfair to compare my family and budget to another. My biggest piece of advice is to look at your current food budget and keep finding new ways to save yourself money based on what is available to you. I have whittled mine down over about 8 years from the days of being a single working mom. I use to spend $300 a month for 2.

    • Todd Christensen

      Great points, Laurel! I think your recommendation to keeping whittling away at the monthly grocery bill is absolutely on point. Going from $200 per person per month to $100 or even to $75 doesn’t happen over night, and there is no one big thing that will make it happen. It is an ongoing process of saving $10 a month here, $25 a month there; $20 this month, and $35 next month.
      Thank you for your post!
      -Todd

  28. kathryn

    A Canadian here. This is what my husband and I (both retired, mid-50s) spent in June 2017 We average about $200-250 per month, but in June we stocked up…
    month of June 1-30 2017=$391.51 (I didn’t pay this much, because I used my ‘points’ –store loyalty incentives)

    cold supplies & toilet paper- year supply

    cat food/cheese/coffee= several month supply

    Lots of ‘treat’ food and some ‘I don’t feel like cooking when sick’ food-

    DAIRY- & EGGS = $75.36

    NN sour cream $2.99 (600 pc pts) =$2.99

    dozen eggs 6 @ $1.88 =$11.28

    doz eggs- $1.88

    2Lmilk 3 @ $2.99 (1500 pc pts) – $8.97

    2Lmilk 3 @ $2.99 (1500 pc pts) – $8.97

    2Lmilk 3 @ $2.99 (1500 pc pts) – $8.97

    4L milk –2 @ $5.69= $11.38

    18% coffee cream – $2.07

    old cheddar (450g) 5 @ $3.77= $18.85

    PRODUCE= $37.39

    apples $6.99 (reduced) (600 pc pts)=$3.49

    banana= $0.36

    strawberries – $2.49

    bananas- $0.39

    mushrooms = $1.49

    lemon juice – $1.97

    rainbow peppers $ 3.47 (reduced) = $1.99

    3lb sweet potatoes- $2.97

    cantaloupe – $1.97

    Motts garden cocktail – $0.99

    mushrooms – $1.77

    tomatoes- $1.88

    strawberries- $2.97

    10 lbs russet potatoes 2 @ 2/$5.00= $5.00 (1000 PC pts) = $5.00

    cantaloupe= $2.47

    broccoli (reduced) = $0.75

    strawberries- $2.97

    mushrooms- $1.47

    MEAT= $25.25

    NN bacon –$3.99 (800 pc pts) = $3.99

    med ground beef ( $2.99 lb)= $8.32

    whole chicken 2 pk = $12.92 (PC pts 2600)= $12.94

    BREADS- $ 10.84 (we make our regular bread in our bread machine)

    OM hamburg buns – $3.59 (reduced) $1.79

    OM hamburg buns $2.49 (reduced)( 200 pc pts) =$1.24

    naan bread $ 1.69 (reduced) (400 pc pts) = $0.84

    pc tortilla 2 @ $2.99 (800 pc pts) = $5.98

    GV bagels $2.50 (reduced) = $0.99

    PET SUPLIES= $72.35

    friskas can cat food 10 @ 10/$7.00 ($2.37 coupon ) = $4.63

    whiskas can cat food – 12 @ 5/$4.00 ($5.34 coupon) =$4.60

    whiskas can cat food – 5 @ 5/$4.00= $4.00

    whiskas cat treats 4 @ $7.99 = $31.96

    pc ex meaty dry food 4 @ $6.79 = $27.16

    7000 pc pts per $35 cat food purchase

    CONVENIENCE MEALS= $18.32

    Hungry Man tv dinners 2 @ $3.33= $6.66

    Hungry Man TV dinners 2 @ $3.33= $6.66

    Fish n chips 2 @ $5.00 =$10.00 (reduced)= $5.00

    STAPLES= $49.26

    Basmati rice (8 lbs) = $11.99

    Jumbo shell pasta $3.79 (reduced) = $1.89

    kraft BBQ sauce 6 @ $0.50=$3.00

    GV oil- 3L= $4.97

    NN coffee 6 @ $3.99 (4800 pc pts) = $23.94

    instant coffee (200g)= $3.47

    JUNK FOODS= $3.36
    Sherbert fountain candy 2 @ $1.49 (reduced) = $1.48

    2L rootbeer – $0.88

    compliments cheesie sticks- $1.00

    BAKERY=$18.11

    gumdrop cake $4.49 (reduced) – $2.24

    Homestyle apple pie- $3.49

    donuts $3.00 (reduced) = $1.50

    donuts- $5.00 (reduced)= $2.50

    date squares –$5.00 (reduced) = $2.50

    Cinnamon rolls- bakery- $4.29

    Compliments cookies $1.99 (senior’s discount) =$1.59

    COLD + MEDICINE CABINET SUPPLIES=$62.80

    Halls Black cherry 2 @ $1.49= $2.98

    comp flu relief- $15.98 (senior discount) – $12.79

    comp cold & flu relief- $9.29 (senior discount) – $ $7.43

    Nyquil cherry- $12.49

    95 airmiles per $35 Comp purchase

    effervecient Vit C- 3.49

    Benylin DM = $13.49 (discount) = $11.47

    Compliments cough lozengers- $2.99 (senior’s discount)=$2.39

    Compliments elastic bandages 2 @ 2.33= $4.66 (seniors discount) =$3.77

    Advil cold and sinus meds- $7.49 (seniors discount) = $5.99

    TOILETRIES= $18.47

    Comp toilet paper 4 @ $ 4.99 =$19.96 (senior discount) –$15.97

    kids toothpaste – $2.50

    • Todd Christensen

      Hi Kathryn,
      Thank you for your openness! Are these figures in CAD or USD? At current exchanges, your groceries were either $377.51 USD ($188.76 per person per month) or, if figures are CAD, then the equivalent of $264.26 ($132.13 per person per month). Of course, other months are far less than that.
      Would you mind, Kathryn, sharing what metropolitan area you live in (large or small)? That also makes a big difference in the cost of groceries.
      Regardless, you have obviously learned how to navigate the grocery system to minimize your expenses, taking advantage of store rewards (points), coupons and senior discounts. Congratulations! Plus, with the little extra work you put in, you get affordable bread AND the unmatched aroma of a fresh-baked loaf in your home!

  29. Jessie Barrett

    I just want to point out (without having read through all of the comments, so apologies if this was covered) that grocery shopping and mostly everything else is catered to families or to at least couples, making it easier to divide meals and monthly expenses. When shopping for one, everything is more expensive, especially when you live in a highly populated and desirable place. I live in NJ by the beach where it’s commutable to NY and Philadelphia so it’s insanely expensive. $125 a month on groceries is completely unrealistic unless you want to eat like a college kid with little nutrition or variety. It would be nice to come across an article that was more realistic and helpful.

    • Kelle Payne

      I agree with you!! 180 to 200 per person is more realistic and provides more to work with when making tasty recipes and healthy snacks, drink, and meals! I spend roughly $375 per month for my 40 pound 18 month toddler and I, in the Phoenix metropolitan area

      • Todd Christensen

        Thanks for including your metro area, Kelle! Phoenicians, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, spend 13.9% of their monthly expenditures on food, just slightly higher than the US average of 12.8%. That is not the same as saying that food is slightly more expensive in Phoenix, although some might try to deduce that. The same site indicates that just 61% of food expenses of those living in Phoenix was for food prepared at home, while 39% was spent on food prepared away from home. That also is slightly higher than the 59.5% US average. Payscale.com indicates that the cost of living in Phoenix is 3% lower overall than the national average, with groceries being 6% lower.
        Being a single Mom, you have plenty on your plate already to deal with beyond affordable food options. The extra demands on your limited time mean that it is understandable that you spend a bit more than some other households per person if they have an extra hour or two each week to plan their shopping and to visit an extra store or two (or as a commenter below mentioned, perhaps four or five) in order to minimize grocery expenses.
        $180 to $200 is well within the USDA guidelines while at the upper end of our recommendations. If it’s working for you, and you are also achieving your financial goals (investing for the long-term, saving for emergencies and short-term items/activities), then keep at it. The $125-$150 per person per month groceries budget can be particularly helpful for households that are really struggling to come up with an extra $50 to $200 or even $300 or more per month and that are not approaching their grocery spending intentionally. I hope that households that are managing their finances well and making progress toward their goals don’t feel bad or guilty about spending more on groceries. That is certainly not my intention.
        Enjoy that toddler of yours, Kelle, and stay cool down there in Phoenix!

    • autumn

      perhaps your issue has to do with where you live, what grocery stores you shop at, lack of creativity or something else, but it is quite realistic to be able to feed one person on $125 per month. My husband and I eat on $50 each or $100 total. We eat varied meals with plenty of nutrition, but we do have to give up on luxuries like steak, shrimp, etc. most of the time unless it’s on sale for a really good price. I’ve lived in three different states: Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana and so I have gotten accustomed to how to look up what stores are around me within a 5 mile radius. I always check the weekly ads before going shopping and I only shop once a month. (Though I used to shop twice a month) I always have to go to 2-5 shops, but usually they’ll all be right next to one another. I shop at the dollar tree, meijer’s, aldi’s, kroger’s, lucky’s, fresh thyme, gordon food service, ollie’s, walmart, or save-a-lot depending on what’s on sale and unless I need cleaning supplies and spices I like to keep it at 1-3 stores that are right next to each other per month. I go to ollie’s usually for spices as they are 80 cents to $1 a bottle there unless I need salt or pepper which I get for 50 cents for salt at an actual grocery store or $1 for pepper at the dollar tree. Cleaning supplies and dog food for two dogs is accounted for in my grocery money. Cleaning supplies at the dollar tree work just as well as name brand from other stores. Dog food I get at Aldi’s at $8/8lb or at kroger’s for $10/20lb or $18/50lb depending on what is convenient and how low we are on dog food. Lucky’s and Fresh Thyme are organic specialty stores, but I don’t usually go to them unless their prices in a weekly ad are just that impressive. I once got cheese for $2/lb and saffron for $1.20, which are both quite impressive deals. Gordon Food Service is a bulk food store and so the price has to be impressive as well as my meat stores running low before I’ll go there. Speaking of which, I buy 100-150 count sandwich bags from the dollar tree and break down or cut my own meat that I buy in bulk. Like, if I’m going to have steak, I buy beef round roast and cut it into steak and cubes for things like beef stew. Pork chops you get from pork loin not pork butt as that is made different and more for shredded pork sandwiches. Anyhow, after the meat is cut to size, I package it in the sandwich bags and store it in the freezer until I’m ready to use it. You can even do this for ground beef. Just use a cup measure to measure them out to the size you want. You can do multiple sizes and label whether it’s for hamburgers or cooking things like lasagna, shepherd’s pie, etc. I do think it is wise to label all of your sandwich bags of meat with the date, what it is, and what you plan to use it for so that you don’t forget. Now, I don’t own a deep freezer, I just use my freezer, but if you get as good as I am at shopping you may wish to invest in one because meat keeps for months and usually when you buy in bulk and freeze for later it piles up pretty quick. Now, if you’re worried about how tender the meat is after thawing from the freezer there are several methods you can use. Cut hash marks or crisscrossed lines in your meat or use a meat tenderizer to help it cook in a way that’ll leave it more tender. Use a dry or wet marinade. Dry is just spices rubbed on the night before and wet is using a sandwich or gallon size bag and putting seasonings and vinegar in it the night or several days for even more tenderness. You can even add fresh garlic, onion, and/or mushrooms for more flavor. Now, freezing things usually doesn’t cause so many issues that you have to use tenderizing methods every time, but if you have no teeth or want the meat to be more moist it is useful to do these things. Cooking methods can also help. Things like using two step cooking methods like cooking the meat in oil until it browns the putting it in the oven or adding water to the pan and putting the lid on to finish cooking are just two examples. Meat actually goes from uncooked to cooked to tough to fall apart tender if you cook it correctly such as browning beef then cooking it in a pot for beef stew. Anyways, moving on. I usually have a method I like to use to determine whether something is a good deal. Produce should be $1 or less per pound and meat should be $2 or less per pound anything more than that means it’s one of the more expensive produce or meat options or that that store doesn’t have a very good deal on that food item at that particular point in time. Now, you likely also need to know what I do to keep fresh produce all month long since I pay so little for food and only shop once a month. You should only buy fresh items that spoil quickly enough for two weeks and use it first. Things like milk and softer veggies and fruits like tomatoes and peaches. Things like eggs and bread will last all month long if stored properly. Things like broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, and celery will also keep for most of if not more than a month if kept properly as they are harder veggies. Fruit wise think apples as pears which are harder fruits. You can also buy frozen veggies or fruits or buy fresh and prepare them properly to be freeze and store them in the freezer in sandwich bags. Now, I think I’ve covered everything to do with storing, but I’m sure you’re still bound to bring up your original point about shopping for one being harder to do than for a couple or family. While I’ve kind of been answering that this whole time, I will spell it out for you. If you buy in bulk and store in the freezer what you won’t be able to eat fresh within the first week than you can shop the same as families and couples do. Make smaller sizes of meals or make enough to have leftovers for a few days. Unused ingredients just mean you can make it again later and leftovers just mean you wait to use ingredients for other meals later. I see you have said you live in New Jersey, many of the stores I shop at are in new jersey and from what the ads show the prices aren’t much more than it is where I live. Another tip that might help you figure out how to plan for the long term in order to use ingredients bought in bulk is to plan out a months worth of meals with recipes and everything. First you’ll need to gather some recipes, some may be new to you, in which case buy only enough stuff to make that meal once until you know if you like it, if you do plan to have it more often the next month. Once you have the recipes, make sure you’ve converted them to either one serving or enough for just a few days leftovers. A digital kitchen scale which you can buy as cheap as between $5-$10 may help you ensure you have the right weights for meats and such. Then you can plan out an approximate schedule of when you’ll eat what. Try to account for fresh ingredients being used first and for when you plan to use leftovers as well. If it’s too much to do a whole month at a time, try two weeks at first. Just take the $50-$150 budget you set for yourself for the month and divide it in half and see if you can plan for two weeks for it. For example, let’s say you want to plan two weeks for $50. An example menu would be: lassagna-3 days, chicken parmesean with sauteed zucchini and biscuits-3 days, pesto based pasta with diced chicken-3 days, shephard’s pie-3 days, tilapia with lemon and butter, rice pilaf, and broccoli-2 days. This would require the following ingredients: 2lb ground beef ($4), 2 jars pasta sauce ($2), 1 tub cottage cheese($1.50), 8oz cheese($1.80), 3lb boneless, skinless chicken breast ($6), 1 loaf bread($0.85), 1lb zucchini($1), 1 can biscuits($1), 5oz spinach($2), 3 pk fresh garlic($1), 1 bottle canola oil ($1.50), 1 box pasta noodles($1), 1lb potatoes($1), 1 packet gravy($0.33), 3lb fish($12), 1 lemon($0.50), 1lb butter($3), 1lb rice($1), 1lb broccoli($1). All prices are approximated based on my experience and a new jersey aldi’s ad. May be cheaper or more expensive. Total for just dinner: $42.48. This might not leave much for breakfast and lunch, but if you’re like me you usually only eat two meals a day. $2 box of pancake mix, $1.50 pancake syrup, $0.75 for some eggs, already listed butter, $3 for some bacon. That brings the total to $49.73 for two weeks worth of food with major splurges like the $4/lb fish or $3 for bacon. If you got cheaper meals than that than you’d likely even be able to have extra food leftover at the end of the week. However, you said healthy and nutritional meals, so, I tried to list some variety and healthier meals. Many times the issue is also what you consider a serving size. For me 1/4-1/2lb per person of meat is normal and I only use 1/2 lb for my lassagna. However, I listed 1/2-1lb meat for the meals. For one person likely a carton of eggs, a box of pancake mix, pancake syrup which should last a month or more, and a pack of bacon should be enough for 2 weeks breakfast with reasonable portions. Heck, the pancake mix itself with the syrup would be enough for one person for 2 weeks or more for breakfast in my house as we can only really eat 2-3 normal sized pancakes each before getting full. So, I hope maybe I have sparked your creativity on how to better budget for one while still eating healthy meals.

      • haylee

        I don’t have enough room in my freezer to store tons of veggies and meat or pantry space to put things I get on sale or space to put things, period. I do what I can but I’m limited in my apartment. Having freezer space would help a lot. When you have space to put things, it’s easier imo.

        • Todd Christensen

          Absolutely, Haylee! To maximize savings on grocery spending, a freezer and some decent storage space are pretty much requirements. Still, I have known plenty of people in apartments that maximize storage space by keeping non-perishables under beds (and even getting risers for bed frames to increase storage space). Depending upon your need to save money and your creativity, you never know what you might end up doing to save on groceries.

      • Todd Christensen

        Autumn, you sound like you’re rocking the $50/person/month grocery bill. Thank you for sharing both your experiences and your suggestions. As you noted at the start, location and the availability of affordable grocery store options is key. Your ideas on how to purchase meats but spend less doing so are helpful. Yes, having a deep freeze would make things easier, but as you pointed out, not required.
        I would reiterate my point that spending less than $125 per person per month is absolutely not easy without some serious planning and discipline (which both get easier with experience), and it’s certainly not attainable without work and even some trial and error. But thank you for your post, and keep up the good work!

  30. Erin

    I spend about $260 a month on groceries (including everyday cleaning products and paper products like toilet paper) for myself alone. I shop at aldi and walmart also cause as pat said – they are the least expensive.

    Though I hardly ever make “fancy” meals, once a month at best it still seems $125 a month or even $150 is a little impractical.
    It very much CAN be done if someone drinks mostly water and eats foods that are just not filling, meaning you are hungry constantly. Ramen and generic, tiny frozen pizzas just doesn’t cut it.

    For this Todd guy, saying they have occasional crepes with nutella, deli meat a couple times a week, those things alone would put someone way over the $125 guideline. Once again, unless the family eats the same amount as someone in a third world nation. That will go over REAL well with the teenage boys of the family. I think 75% of any given household grocery budget is feeding them alone.
    Wait, did he say “organic” deli meats? The wages of sin is not as bad as buying organic. And organic deli, HUGE double whammy.

    I myself am always looking for ways to save money but here is the truth – if you save money in one area, the cost is still going to show up in some other area. The “cost” may not be money but may be some discomfort or inconvenience that wold not even be worth it. One can only “cut back” so far before it starts creating other problems.
    It would be like saying, “screw it, I can save $100 a month by not paying the electric bill!” It works great as long as you do not mind living like it is the year 1835.

    I call B.S. on this guy’s article

    • Annie

      Erin–gosh, all I can say is it must be nice to have enough money to not have to worry about the cost of “discomfort”. Honestly, ramen and frozen pizza are way beyond my budget abilities. A bag of rice, beans, plain oats, plenty of veggies and a gallon of milk go a long way. Throw in some eggs and flour and you’ve got meals for several weeks as a single person! (assuming you have basic spices on hand and a bag of yeast. You can even afford a rotisserie chicken as a splurge (which can make a bunch of meals and delicious broth!). I live in North Dakota where milk is 5.00 a gallon–and this is not a problem– but you included non- food products in your total budget (the 125.00 per person is food only) so I guess your comparison is not really accurate. I’m swinging 75.00 a month per person by necessity. We don’t starve and most of our foods are “clean” home cooked foods. My biggest splurge is buying coffee–which has little nutritional value for the cost.

      I would also like to point out that in very RURAL America groceries can be expensive, produce can be poor and shopping options very limited. We have cars but 120-250 miles of driving for better choices is just not economical.

      I have lived in 5 different states and nine different cities ranging in population of 1,000 to 4 million. This budget was possible in all– but my staples and “go to” meals change according to what is available.

      Joke about third world countries– I’ve been to those too and they have provided me with economical, filling, and tasty foods as well as PERSPECTIVE. Discomfort because I cannot afford a home chef to cook my steak = first world problem.

    • Melissa Jackson

      I agree with Erin 100%. We have a home of 7 people, 5 kids/2 adults. We spend about $175-$200 a month per person not including household items like detergent, paper and hygiene products. We shop at Target, Walmart and Aldi and live in Omaha. We are a family that has recently decided to stick to only buying clean, healthy whole foods. And while it is possible for us to not spend much more than we already do, eating higher quality foods (not because we are snobs but because it’s healthier for consumption) would be impossible at a budget of $50 per person per month. Eating poultry/dairy/meat/ from grass fed animals Is expensive. So is organic fruits and veggies. Yes, these REAL foods actually nourish your body thus preventing you from eating all day long, but it’s still more than $50 a month. And, time is money. I plan a menu, make a list and go to 3, sometimes 4 stores for our shopping. I don’t have much more time than that for groceries. I work 40 hours a week, my husband works 50 hours a week and is a full time student. Plus, we have 5 kids, all in dance, band, football, and other extra curricular activities that change constantly. Spending more time on our food planning is not an option. I do think that the $150 a month is doable, the $50 is not. But I’m just a 37 year old mom that’s been buying groceries for 18 years now.

      • Todd Christensen

        Hi Melissa, and thanks for the post! You obviously have a very busy household and do your best to save on grocery purchases regularly. I’m sure I was thinking of families exactly like yours when I referred to additional grocery savings being casualties of household realities in the post above. In such scenarios, I often just marvel at how parents pull it all off without pulling out all their hair from the craziness of life.
        For many a grocery shopper, just trying to keep grocery expenses at current levels is hard enough, let alone trying to lower them with extra time and efforts.
        And as you note, chosen diets can have a huge impact on our spending. This blog is not meant to make anyone feel guilty or unappreciated for their efforts to control their grocery spending. Hopefully the tips and experiences shared can spark ideas to help households in need of finding $50 or $200 to redirect in their budgets.
        So just as it would be unfair for me to say that all monthly grocery bills above $125 or $150 per person are wasteful and unnecessary, it would likewise be unfair for me to infer that all grocery spending of $125 or less per person per month is unhealthy or unrealistic. I recognize that there are plenty of American households spending $175 to $200 per person per month and getting the best deals they can on healthy food. There are also many American (and Canadian) households spending less than $125 per person per month and still eating healthy and wholesome meals.
        It is unfortunate that this blog post cannot address both the health and financial aspects of GMO vs Organic vs Processed vs Canned vs Fresh vs Home Grown vs. Community Garden vs…. foods. While health and finance issues are certainly connected, we need to maintain the focus of our blog on finance.
        Thanks again for your submission, and we wish you all the best in your continued efforts to keep your grocery spending down.
        -Todd

        • Alana

          Hello, I have a question because I am a vegetarian myself but my husband is a regular meat and veg eater. I am forced to buy two different meals each night due to this. My husband gets free lunch from his job because he works at a food place. I make dinner for us both but we each eat separate things. Sometimes I try to make a meal and just add in meat for him but not possible every day. Also I have a lot of illness and cannot just eat all things I found out. I live 2 blocks from a Co op but it is extremely expensive there. They sell all fresh organic foods however. I do eat dairy and cheese. Just not meat. I do like to eat more organic and natural foods like what Whole Foods sell, but can Not afford Whole. Sometimes I shop at Target, then Aldi, then Co op then farmers market, then Coopers ( local store), and still cannot get everything. I know I am using too much of our budget on food even though we have no children. We are lower income people ( in the USA) living In the twin cities of MN, where produce costs INSANE amounts in winter. But I have to buy produce because I eat no meat.fresh Food is a lot here because winters are months and months long and below freezing the whole time. I have no vehicle so I am forced to walk or bus in sometimes-20 windchills to five stores, and carry what I buy or pay for a lyft home which adds $10. We spend 30% of our income on rent exactly and cannot change that fact. I think my food will always cost more simply because we eat different diets and because my disabilities do not give me the strength to cook from scratch each day even though before I was ill I was a chef. Its kind of sad and I need help to budget food better, I never learned to budget and spent several years homeless ( In MN) between working and getting ill and then living here. I don’t mind if we spend more than 125.00/ person per month still but would like to try and spend less than I have been so we can save some money even with an income of only 35000. Thanks.

    • Todd Christensen

      Hi Erin,
      Thanks for taking me up on my invitation to share your frustrations in grocery bill reductions. I appreciate your willingness to share what you did.
      Just a few comments for you:
      First, I’m not sure where you live, but as I mention in the article, there are many places around the country where food prices are going to be higher than other locations. Alaska and Hawaii are the obviously expensive areas, but every state has a region or two that is more expensive than others. This may very well be the case for you.
      Second, buying food for a one-person household is usually more expensive than buying for a 3- or 4-person household, on a per person basis. In my presentations, I usually cite the $150 to $200 range for a one-person household monthly grocery budget and $100 to $150 for multi-person monthly household grocery budgets. Since you’re also include cleaning, paper and other household products in your $260 monthly grocery bill, your monthly spending does not seem much above my own recommendations.
      Finally, as I offer to anyone wanting to find a way to free up $50 to $100 a month in household spending, I invite you to take me up on my grocery spending challenge. For one month, snap a photo or scan your grocery receipts (x-ing out any personal information you are uncomfortable sending or any non-grocery items) and email them to me at [email protected]. You may be right in that there is no way to reduce your monthly bill. But if I could find even $25 a month to help you save, that’s $300 a year! I can think of a hundred things I’d like to do with $300. Any takers? This free service is available each month on a first-come-first-served basis, generally limited to just 5-10 consumers.
      Remember, we’re a nonprofit credit counseling agency trying to help all consumers anywhere to achieve a more stable and manageable household financial situation and reach their personal finance goals. We’re not out to sell anything or prove we’re right. We are, though, here to help.
      All the best, Erin!
      That Todd Guy 😉

  31. Chase

    I’m honestly a little baffled at the budget listed here? it seems extremely exorbitant. my idea of eating on a budget is a lot closer to 50/person/month at most and involves a lot of rice and beans, some fresh in-season produce, and not a lot of meat or full meals.
    Also, if you’re concerned about your food budget, maybe consider not buying organic.

    • Jeff

      With a diet like that there are other consequences, like starving your body of the nutrients it needs to thrive. Especially young children where the brain needs a lot of protein to develop properly. Otherwise, you will pay for it in the long run which includes herbicides and pesticides in your produce. Grow your own before you purchase non-organic conventional farmed produce if you are on a $50 a month budget. It was proven that in the UK their was a food shortage in the 40s and the poor actually ate better than the wealthy because they grew their own food.

    • Todd Christensen

      Chase, your post brings up a great point. There can be definite tradeoffs (what some might call sacrifices in quality, taste or variety) in all grocery budgets. Thanks for your comment!

  32. emma merriweather

    I have to have salt free foods…low fat..low cholesterol….prices are high in this state….I spend about two hundred….yes I get fresh fruits and veg…mostly chicken….but still need paper goods which are high…detergent…dish soap…yes I buy the cheapest..and store brands…real is real….not a junk food buyer…

    • Stephanie

      Emma,
      You sound like you are doing great on the food part, but the paper is killing you. You could switch to cloth napkins ,kitchen towels and un-paper towels for a substantial savings and you would be helping the environment too. Worth looking into. It’s all we use and I don’t buy paper anything (except TP) and we saved $100 a month on just that change!!

  33. Gloria

    Dear Pat, I was surprised to read you had diabetes and the description of what you do it. Not surprising that you do have
    diabetes. Canned fruit has a lot of sugar, frozen fruit would be better. And I know pizza is not good for a diabetic. Nor is starting
    the first meal off with toast. I hope you do not drink orange juice in the morning too. Seek more protein. My brother is diabetic
    and it is not something to ignore. Look and read up on many sources available online.

  34. Diane

    Hi

    Thank you for the article but where I live it is unrealistic.

  35. Linda

    Hi Todd…I saw your post from a few days ago, then read all the much older responses. Have you updated your numbers for 2017? I’m glad I found your site.

    • Todd Christensen

      Hi Linda,
      Yes, these figures have been updated, as far as the USDA food plan ranges and our recommended ranges are concerned. When we’re counseling with clients who live alone, we understand that they will likely have grocery expenses even a bit higher than our recommended ranges. $200 a month, I think, would still be reasonable for a single person, though there is always room for improvement. Then, of course, there are areas of the country where groceries are much more expensive (I’m thinking about the entire states of Alaska and Hawaii). Additionally, special diets can create huge ranges in spending. We’ve worked with individuals battling severe illnesses with very strict diets and have seen their monthly grocery bills three or four times higher than our recommendations. These are exceptions, of course. Many homes where the primary shopper has an hour or two a week to organize and plan his or her spending for the household can still, in many places around this country, spend $75 to $125 per person per month for groceries.
      Thanks for the inquiry! All the best,
      Todd

  36. Leah

    Found your site doing a Google search to see how off base my grocery budget is. I am struggling to keep it at $600 per month for just my husband and myself. It has been averaging closer to $700 per month. We eat a whole foods/locally grown/organic/grass-fed diet. I cook 90% of our food from scratch. I buy in bulk and watch prices so I can save on things we go through a lot. Coupons are no good because most of what I buy doesn’t have a bar code. We hardly eat out. I work full-time and spend hours in the kitchen as it is. We live in Southern California where healthy food is available in abundance but with a hefty price tag. Back when I used to eat a “Standard American Diet,” our grocery bill was still about $600, but I didn’t coupon, we ate a lot of junk, and spent about another $200 a month on eating out. You are so right that chips and juice and microwave dinners are expensive. It baffles me that we spend only slightly more on groceries as before, eat exponentially more healthy, and have almost eliminated our eating out budget. But wow – $75 – $125 per person per month…that is just impossible. At least where I live…

  37. Todd

    I created a free calculator that will calculate your monthly spend based on the USDA averages (without requiring the PDF lookups and complicated adjustments based on how many family members). It’s accurate and up to date with the most recent annual average posted (currently 2011).

    • Liz

      Todd, will you be sharing a link to this calculator? Pretty-please? And thanks for your great tips and insight — you’ve helped me save quite a bit on groceries and household expenses, despite my living in Alaska.

  38. Todd Christensen

    Mary, it’s cruelly ironic that many healthy, unprocessed foods seem to be more expensive, no matter where you live, than a lot of the processed, pre-packaged, ready-to-eat fare. I’m glad to hear you’re aware of and are using the new USDA Plate recommendations to have half of each meal be composed of vegetables and fruits (www.ChooseMyPlate.gov – I’m just disappointed that Dark Chocolate didn’t end up with its own plate portion).

    Of course, depending upon where we live, we have different options as far as stores to shop at: local markets and small grocery (even if they are local chains) in urban markets tend to be less affordable than the regional and national grocery and discount chain stores found in the suburbs. The farmers markets springing up around the country can also range from the very affordable to the very expensive.

    And as you are probably already aware, eating fruits and vegetables that are in season can have a positive impact on our monthly bill. Additionally, the age, metabolism, and general food preferences of household members can significantly impact the weekly grocery bill.

    Being practical and careful, it also sounds like you already avoid many of the grocery shopping No No’s like shopping without a list, shopping when you’re hungry or stressed, going to the grocery store without knowing what the weekly budget is, and shopping with plastic (credit or debit) rather than cash.

    Here are a couple of links to some blogs with extensive grocery shopping suggestions:

    1. http://bit.ly/oEmJ1B – 15 Tips on GetRichSlowly
    2. http://bit.ly/qFD9Y3 – 45 Ways to Save on Groceries at FiveCentNickel.com

    Enjoy, and good luck!

    Todd

    • seth

      Dear Todd,

      Loved the article and thanks for writing it.

      There are food co-ops and subscription-based produce that could lower monthly spending.

      @ a food co-op, like yourhealthsource.org, it’s $50 every two weeks for portions that feed a family of four, a wholly organic produce, with staples like rice, beans, possibly dough, bread, or flour, milk & cereal can be added to diversify.

  39. Mary

    We spend about $250 per person per month on groceries, for 5 adults. We don’t buy much junk food and buy meat and produce on sale. We are very practical and careful with our spending. The USDA recommends half of the plate at each meal should be fruits and vegetables, which makes meals more expensive. We live in California, so possibly the cost of food is higher here.

  40. Todd Christensen

    Pat, it sounds like you’ve already been doing some extra work to control your grocery expenses. The additional demands on your grocery bill, due to the health-related issues you’re dealing with, do certainly make the budget more challenging. Also, if you are cooking for one, you’re not able to take advantage of the economy of scale that a larger household would have.

    The $75 per person per month would be the lower end of a reasonable grocery bill. As I refer to in the blog, for some households, $125 per person per month might be a little more realistic, and this may be the situation you’re in.

    Here are a few links to other checklists/tips for saving money on groceries:

    http://zenhabits.net/50-tips-for-grocery-shopping
    http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/fresh-ideas/easy-dinner-ideas/budget-grocery-shopping-tips.htm
    http://www.diy-home-tips.com/diy-money-saving-grocery-shopping-tips.html

    Best wishes, Pat!

    Todd

  41. Pat

    I sure would like to see a months menu for $75 per person. I can spend $8-10 a week on just fresh produce alone at an inexpensive produce store and I shop for 1 person-myself. I do not eat meat everyday. I am also a diabetic so I can not live on macaroni & cheese, cereal, rice, potatoes and pasta. I do eat more bread than I should because of sandwiches and I usually have toast for breakfast. I also can not eat whole eggs or cheese everyday because of my cholesterol. I must use soymilk because I can not tolerate milk. Most of my groceries are purchased at Aldi’s or Walmart-the 2 cheapest places to shop. The small amount of meat I buy is usually from Costco which I portion and freeze. I prefer to cook mostly from scratch but use canned fruit and canned and / or frozen veggies in some of my recipies. I even make my own pizza with dough and sauce made from scratch. Most of the meals I cook are simple and fast to prepare because I am disabled and can not stand for too long.

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