Grocery Budget Discussion: Expense or Investment?


I ran across this last week at Beauty That Moves (hat tip to Small Notebook), which is part of an excellent discussion of the grocery costs for buying healthful, whole foods:

I wonder how much other families spend on groceries each week. Is that
too bold of a thing to ask? I've been wanting to pose this question for
several days now, yet admittedly, I don't really know why I need the
information. But then I thought, maybe it's not just for me, maybe we
all need the information - from one another. Maybe it would help us to
feel a little less alone as we hand over
however much it is to
the cashier in our respective hometown markets each week. I was taught
growing up that our grocery budget is the one area in  our household
finances we have the most control over, and I do believe that still.
But I also am still so amazed at how much so little costs each week,
regardless of not buying packaged foods and doing all of our cooking
from scratch.

I highly recommend that you read the rest of the post fully, as well as look through the lengthy comments below. The discussion is well worth it.

For those of us who are committed to purchasing nutritious and higher-quality foods, it can sometimes be daunting as we face the balance between a commitment to our health, and the financial constraints that most families find themselves in.

I love the question "expense or investment", because I think it's a very valid one that most homemakers have to continue to ask themselves as they make choices about what they will and will not purchase, and how many dollars they will spend. 

Personally, we've chosen to try to take as balanced of an approach as we can at this stage of life. We agreed early on that good food is an investment in our health, and that you either pay now (in higher food prices) or you pay later (in poor health, medical bills and reduced quality of life). However, we're still a young family, working to save money and spend what we have cautiously. We have a specific and not-so-roomy grocery budget, considering the quality and cost of the foods that we value buying. It's a very tough balancing act, month to month, and it only increases as our family grows.

For me, it's a worthwhile tension when I look at the bigger picture, but I definitely feel the stretch of it each and every month, and have had to make many sacrifices- a bit less meat, no convenience foods at all (even healthy ones), almost only homemade treats, raw milk that we ration out over the course of the week, few bought beverages (but lots of water!), everything from scratch…

How do you view your grocery budget? Is it an expense or investment? Do you relate to the grocery budgets and the concerns of the women who commented on the other post?

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  1. I’ve been finding that 2 things help keep our grocery budget down to about $100/wk for a family of 4. 1.) Cooking from scratch! We’ve dropped the processed foods and, not only are we eating better, but it’s costing us less. and 2.) I shop once every 2 weeks. I plan 2 weeks worth of meals and only shop once. I can’t explain it, but there’s almost always food leftover at the end of the 2 wks, where as before I was scraping to find things to feed the family at the end of the week.

    Love your Blog!

  2. Hello, I don’t think I’ve commented here before, but I love your blog. It’s very inspiring and encouraging. I especially enjoy reading about how you home educate your kids and posts like this on healthy eating. I have 2 questions, which may be ignorant, but I’ll ask anyway! What do you mean when you say you don’t buy any convenience foods? and How much milk do you buy that you say you stretch over a week? We have 3 girls ages 4 and under and I feel like they need that calcium, but since milk is so expensive, I’m stretching it out as much as I can, too, but feel so guilty since their little bodies need that calcium! Just thought I’d ask. Thank you for your posts and your encouragement to provide healthy food to my family!

  3. Always a good subject to talk about. I think the best for me is to know a great deal, keep a book. For example right now we have purchased a huge amount of blueberries that are on sale (99cent/lb). I flash freeze and bag them up and some will be dehydrated too for nutritious eating all year long!

    Also, one of my “lightbulb” moments was when we realized that we didnt need to use as much meat that was called for in a recipe and were much happier with how it turn out! Saves money too.

    Last (sorry so long too much coffee this morning) I look at budgeting for our home as a game. Sure sometimes it is annoying because I cant purchase something that I want right now but this gives me a chance to further develope the fruitages of the spirit.

    Always lovin’ your blog:)

  4. I view our food as an investment. I’ve noticed that when we start eating more refined (cheap!) foods like pasta, white flour baked goods, white sugar, we get sick right really easily, and that means lost work for hubby. We spend $425/month for a family of 3 eaters (one breastfed). We don’t usually eat organic produce, but we do eat organic meat 90% of the time, and organic grains about 90% of the time too. We’re mostly dairy free due to allergies, and we use a lot of bone broth from organic chicken to hopefully help with the calcium aspect.

    My husband does do a physical job (construction), and we live in Montana, both of which affect our food spending. When he was off work this winter, I noticed we only spent about $250-300/month on food, so that’s a huge difference.

  5. Up until very recently, we were spending a fortune on food and wasting a lot of it. I would grocery shop, then my husband would stop at the store to ‘pick up a few things’. Our pantry and fridge were stuffed full of food. I would buy odd (expensive) ingredients and have no clue what to do with them, so they would sit & rot and get thrown away.
    After telling my husband this had to stop, I started planning our weekly menu. And I said he had to stop going to the store for random items. This has been SO helpful. On Sunday I sit down and plan out the week. Knowing what we’re having for dinner has made my life so much easier and there is little to no waste.

    When school starts, I think it will be even better, since only 2 (of 3) of my kids need to pack lunches. I buy mostly organic & local foods, but I buy in bulk and shop at a local farm also. I have no idea what I spend on groceries yet. I will soon I hope. I do know we go through about 5 gallons of organic milk a week which adds up to $120/month on milk alone. I don’t even drink milk. Maybe I don’t want to know the total. Sorry so long!

  6. Long comments are fine, ladies! I love hearing what you have to say!

    Lisa, by “no convenience foods” I mean that I don’t buy spice mixes, jarred sauces, baking mixes, already-made meals (frozen pizzas or burritos, for example), mac and cheese (even the healthier ones). Stuff like that. When we need something quicker or more convenient I use foods I make ahead for the freezer (baking, casseroles, pre-cooked meat), yogurt and fruit, sandwiches with homemade bread or tortillas, raw veggies, quick pasta dishes and other things that I can whip up quickly.

    As for buying/rationing milk, we usually buy 1 gallon a week for the 4 of us (though I’m struggling to afford that much, as our raw milk is ludicrously expensive). I try to make sure that everyone gets an even amount throughout the week, because I believe in the benefits and nutrients of the wonderful raw milk we buy (otherwise I wouldn’t pay so much for it!). To make up not getting as much milk as we’d like, we also eat a lot of cheese, mostly raw, as well as lots of kefir and yogurt that I make using pasteurized organic milk. I also make bone broths, which are a good source of calcium as well, and I use the broth as often as I can. Plus, green leafy veggies and nuts and seeds are great sources of calcium, and we eat lots of those as well.

  7. More than ever I regard the food we eat as an investment. However, that doesn’t change the fact that we must live on a budget and do the best with what we have. We have a monthly budget of $750 cnd to feed five (including a teenage son who eats as much as his dad) but when we earn extra money we’ll often put an extra $100 or so towards the purchase of bulk organic grains, a 1/4 local beef, etc. Part of me would love to have more money to spend but then I know this would allow me to be more lax about my food choices. Homeschooling helps, I think, as does the fact that my husband takes leftovers/fruit to work for lunch. We meal plan and bake lots.

  8. O.K. I am SURE that I am going to hit the big numbers on this one. I have five children: 3 are teen/almost teen BOYS. I have one teen girl, and one fussy four year old. We have a revolving door of hospitality, and we don’t feed them “junk”–guests or family. So, if I can keep it down to $200.00 a week (or less), I feel like I’ve won some sort of prize. Some weeks we topple the $200.00 a week and other weeks we slide under. I generally do my happy dance at the checkout if it is less. No, my husband is not a multi-millionaire or something. He is an engineer with a steady income. All I can say is: God continues to provide, but I never turn down free food. Most of the $ goes for fruit and veggies and decent quality things. Hugs. There is a group of us who value good nutrition enough to pay for it, I guess.

  9. To be honest, in our family the grocery budget is an investment AND an expense. We spend about $100 a week and really try to get it under that. I use coupons and save usually about $40 a week using them. We also shop at discount food stores and take advantage of sales to replenish our stockpile.
    I try to buy the highest quality food that we can afford. However, the budget is the determining factor.
    We try to cut corners in non food items, like laundry detergent, cleaning supplies and other general purchases.

  10. For some reason only half of my comment is showing up.
    Anyways, we are also very focused on being good stewards of what God has provided for us. I LOVED your post on the soup bones…so right on! It is amazing how we can easily lower our grocery bill when we actually use ALL of the food that we already have!!

  11. Hi Stephanie,
    Where do you buy your raw cheese? We are milking goats and have been making cheese and that has helped in our cheese bill. But with several “teen hungry mouths” to fill, well, buying raw cheese has not really happened lately. Do you get yours from Azure?

    On another note… are you going to let us know as soon as you can about your new little blessing?… we are checking in everyday to hear the great news of Baby’s arrival!


  12. Cynthia, I do buy my raw cheese from Azure. I used to buy the 5 lb blocks of raw cheddar made by Brunkow, but have recently switched over to the 5 lb blocks from Rumiano (also raw cheddar). The price difference is about $8, I believe. It’s the best deal I know of for raw cheese.

    And yes, I’ll let you know as soon as baby arrives, and I may even post once I’m in labor, depending on the situation or how fast things are moving. You’ll know, I promise! Any day now! 🙂

  13. I find that having a standardized menu for breakfasts really helps with our food budget. Limiting variety (except for seasonal fruits) is just fine in our household, because my boys aren’t morning people. 🙂

    We have Taco Tuesdays, which have become very inexpensive. I use beans mosts weeks, and other weeks I’ll cook up a small bit of organic chicken or beef.
    Slow-Cooker Wednesdays are usually soups made with homemade stock and dried beans, along with whatever chopped veggies I can find. Pizza Fridays involve my homemade whole wheat crust, frozen organic shredded cheese that I buy on sale, and rotating bits of meats. Sundays are always for roasts of some sort. Routines help me stick to my budget, and eating locally and organic doesn’t seem quite so expensive that way. I leave Saturdays for my experimentation meal…I often try something new that we haven’t had before, that may take more time to cook. I’ve started buying organic chicken thighs, we find that so long as we trim any extra fat, the flavor is better, and we’re eating less of it while saving lots of money.

    Great post, Stephanie! You’re in our prayers…can’t wait for the arrival of your baby!

  14. Hi Brooke, would you be willing to share your pizza crust recipe? I am not good at making homemade crust but would love to have a regular Friday pizza night.
    Thanks you 🙂

  15. We recently started examining our budget & are trying to keep the groceries (including personal & household cleaning items) to $500/mth. So far we’ve gone over almost every month since. We’re a family of 5 (2 bigs & 3 littles, not to mention the dog & 2 cats) living in central NC. We’ve always tried to eat some organic, but in the past have relied too heavily on prepackaged foods & grocery store meat. In the past few weeks I’ve begun learning a lot more about nutrition, whole foods, raw foods, fermented foods, pastured animals, & the politics behind the current state of food & agriculture in the US thanks to the wonderful blogging community. I had some vague awareness before that we should be doing more, but really didn’t realize how vital it was to our lives & our community. (I find it ironic that all of this information that is so new to me was common knowledge not so very long ago in historical terms. Greed & technology have really taken us a long way from God’s design in the last 100 yrs.) So, we’re going to try to overhaul our diets & food sources. I’m researching the local resources right now & we’re going to join a CSA for $18/wk. Next year we want to start a garden as well. I’ve also recently begun making all of our bread & have gone shampoo free. This week I’m going to try soap nuts for laundry & dishwasher among other things. I’ve made my own household cleaning supplies for years (except toilet bowl cleaner). I also want to start making kefir. We also buy in bulk as much as possible. Basically we want to become more reliant on local means & what we can do ourselves. The challenge will be that I’m much better at procrastinating than planning ahead, so a lot of times 5:00 rolls around & I haven’t even thought about dinner let alone started working on it, even with a menu plan.

    I’m starting a list of links & resources on my blog that I find helpful to assist us in this journey. Feel free to swing by: http://ordinarymarvels.blogspot.com

  16. Hi all!
    This is my first time on this blog and I’m so pleased to find this discussion! My husband and I just welcomed our first baby 6 months ago (a beautiful little girl)and I quit work shortly before she was born to start my new job as a SAHM. About the same time, I assumed responsibility for managing all the household finances. I was suddenly aware of how much groceries cost AND how much we were spending on them and I’ve been working hard ever since to cut back and keep our spending in check with our new single income lifestyle. Our current goal is $95/week for a family of three, with our daughter still primarily breastfed. This includes toiletries and household items (i.e. cleaning products). We live on the West Coast, so prices are higher here than in some other parts of the country. I’m also making a gradual switch to as many organic, local products as I can squeeze out of our limited budget. Trader Joes is a lifesaver for quality products at a reasonable price. I’ve also worked on coming up with simpler meals (I love gourmet food, so that’s a sacrifice for me!). Simpler meals mean that I can buy a few high quality products and still stay within budget. My husband is works as a manager at a grocery store and we receive a small percentage off store brand goods. Sometimes it’s tough, but I try to see the fun in budgeting!

  17. Hi Stephanie, I loved that post!

    The quality of food I feed my family is so important to me, that it is top priority in the budget. I will find a way to make do with less in other areas, but not food.

    We are a family of 2 adults and one 19 month old, living in northwest IN (near Chicago). I don’t strictly budget our food, but a few quick calculations tell me we spend about $200-$225 per week right now. I’ve been transitioning to grass fed, pastured meat, raw dairy, NO processed foods, and a diet of organic whole foods for about 8 months. This has been a huge change, and I’ve taken it slow so that I don’t become overwhelmed. There are definitely “start up” expenses, and that’s where we are now. I expect, and hope our food expenses will drop in time.

    Last fall we purchased 1/4 grass fed beef, 1/2 pastured pork, and 10 pastured chickens from a local farm for about $800. That was a LOT of money for us up front, but it’s enough meat to last a year. So dividing it out, that’s about $16 per week for the best meats available. It was approximately $3 per pound total, and that is a STEAL for the quality!

    I also spend about $100 per week for my organic delivery service that includes 2 gallons of raw milk, raw butter, raw cheese, grass fed yogurt, 2 dozen pastured eggs, and various other “groceries”. These include raw nuts, seeds, popcorn, baking suplies, fruits, veggies, cuts of meat we didn’t get with our bulk purchase, raw honey, and maple syrup. We joined a CSA this year for $30 per week, lasting July through early December. We get a box of veggies every week, and a box of fruit every other week.

    Finally, I have miscellaneous purchases online, including grass fed organic cheese (local, but online), coconut oil, olive oil, cod liver oil, wild seafood (not readily available in NW IN!), and probably a few other things I’m forgetting at the moment. These purchases aren’t all local, but the nutritional content is important to our family. We buy local when possible, and purchase elsewhere when necessary.

    At this point, my pantry and freezer are stocked, so if necessary, we could drastically cut food expenses for a while.

    Things that make these expenditures possible: no car payments, reasonable mortgage payment, rarely eating out, and rarely going out for entertainment.

    We are a one income family. I stay home, take care of our son, and cook, cook, cook. Thankfully, I LOVE to cook (and my hubby loves to eat).

    I am convinced that eating organic, whole foods IS health care insurance, and an investment in our future! Recently my hubby told me how much better he feels since we started eating healthier (and I do too). That makes all the work of sourcing products and spending more money totally worth it. We do vote with our dollars, so please everyone, spend yours wisely.

  18. We spend $300 a month for 5 of us. We eat only grass fed beef and pastured chicken. I buy some organic veggies (we don’t have a huge selction, really we barely have a selection). Most of our fruits veggies come from local farms, or the commissary (we are military). Raw milk is so illegal here so I am stuck with the store stuff, but its cheap $2.50 a gallon.

    I find that eating whole foods doesn ‘t have to break the bank. We don’t buy anything in a package! That in its self saves a lot of money.

    I always ask myself this one question when I am shopping.

    I can get the organic poptarts for $3.00 a box or 3lbs of bananas or a dozen pastured eggs. Which in my opinion will feed us more than 6 little pastries, and it will be more nutrition.

    The only convience food I ever buy is corn chips. Organic chips at Target is $2.69 a bag which is actually cheaper than the major brand non organic version.

  19. Interesting discussion. Basically, I see food as an investment, but our budget determines how much I can invest in it. It seems to me that every time I go to the store, prices have gone up. I try very hard but it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference. I do the same things you do- cook from scratch, have a garden, try to shop in season, try to make use of a co-op etc….but in the end it seems our bill just keeps getting higher, and I struggle with having enough energy to figure it all out. We are all very big eaters (even though we are healthy, and only eat what we need) I find that I want to cry over my frustration, especially as I would like to buy even more things organic but cannot. I would love to have some joy when it comes to shopping for my family, but instead I dread each week and more food to buy. I am working on that.

  20. Our situation is slightly different from above, but we also *try* to eat whole/plant based foods and we don’t buy meat (We will eat it if someone serves it, though), which does save a lot.
    We do all of our cooking from scratch except generally a box of crackers per week for our toddler. Haven’t found a great recipe I like for snack crackers yet, (any luck with that?)
    We have a 4 person family(1 nurser) on 1 low income, so we get WIC-which is supplemental food vouchers for mothers & children. That takes care of our eggs, cheese, beans, and cereal (oatmeal) for the month, but we HAVE to spend less than $80/week.
    Since starting a cash only system a few months ago, we have done very well on this and have even gotten our groceries down to about $40-$55/week! We buy organic only when it is on sale, which in the summer is easy, but in the winter, not so much.
    We also only use organic grains, which is probably the bulk of our grocery bill.
    When we are off of teh WIC program, our budget will probably only go up about $10/week for rice milk & 1/2 doz. eggs.
    This is a great post because it DOES save so much money to make things from scratch AND it is healthier. Although we are in a season of “less”, we feel we have learned a rich lesson-to use what you have and use it wisely-it has benefitted us in so many ways!
    Sarah M

  21. I am late to comment but couldn’t help myself from sharing my view. I think firstly we need to get over trying to spend as little as possible on food. In NA we spend around 11% of our income on food. In some developed countries (such as European countries) people part with 30% of their income for good food and of course in the developing world they spend almost all their income on food. If we were prepared to set aside more of our income for food and do with less in other areas many of us would find great pleasure in shopping locally, preparing and eating our food. There are definitely ways to spend wisely and make the most of our budget and Stephanie has posted about many of them ie. using all of a side of beef, buying in bulk, buying in season, gardening, etc. We do need to consider the true cost of food production -especially for the small-scale/non-industrial farmer who is growing GOOD food but we aren’t prepared to pay the true cost. Although I can’t imaginge spending $1000/month (30% of our monthly income) on food, it would be revolutionary personally and for the food industry if I did.

  22. Great Blog!!!! We spend 25% of our income on food. We don’t even eat 100% organic. We have 5 kids. 1/2 of us are vegan. Most of the funds go on fruits and veggies from Costcos. We juice every day. I make our own yogurt, bread and soft drinks. We do raise Chickens and Goats too. Eating healthy is an investment for us though. When we were eating the (SAD) Standard American Diet, we were always sick. We have been eating this way for nearly 1/2 a year now and not one doctor visit. :o)

  23. Hello!
    Just found your blog. I have been wondering what people in other parts of the country are spending on NT foods. We spend quite alot of our income on food. I try to keep the amount to $500 every two weeks (my husband is paid that way), but regularly go over that amount. That’s over 30% of our income. We have a family of 5, with one teenaged daughter (who can eat as much as her father!), and two smaller children plus me and my husband. We live in Massachusetts. I buy chickens from a local farmer for $4.75 per pound, beef from our meat CSA for $6.99 per pound and we buy 1 to 2 gallons of raw milk per week for $7 per gallon plus a $2 delivery charge (we have a buying club. one person picks up the milk and drops it at drop-off spots). I also buy 3 to 5 dozen farm fresh eggs per week for $5 per dozen. I cook most of our food but do buy some things in bulk from UNFI. We cut back in other areas like eating out (very rarely), entertainment (we borrow movies and books from the libraries), home improvements and repairs (we try to do them ourselves) and others (that escape me at the moment). Anyway, I am really enjoying finding all these blogs of women out there trying to feed their families well and stay within a budget. It makes me feel like I am not all alone in this!

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