How to Know When It’s Time to Adjust Your Grocery Budget

At the beginning of every new year, I take a long and detailed look at our grocery budget. We actually adjust our whole budget every year after we file our taxes, so the grocery budget is a natural part of that. Since we filed our taxes last week, I’ve been pouring over all the categories in our budget.

I spent the most time wondering if it was time to adjust our grocery budget again. 

My grocery budget is low. I know that. We are now a family of five – my husband and myself, a 5 year old boy, a 3 year old girl and a 1 year old.

My grocery budget covers food, diapers, toiletries, laundry detergent and paper products. I shop at several stores, watch the sales closely and use several coupon apps to help keep our budget as low as I can. Since we live on my husband’s teacher income, keeping our grocery budget low is one way that we stretch our pennies. 

However, grocery budgets are not meant to stay the same forever. No area of our budget is! Life changes. Your family changes. As life changes, your budget needs to change too. 

Spending more or less on groceries isn't an easy decision. This has some great ways to know for how to know when it is time to adjust your grocery budget. #savingmoney

After spending a couple hours pondering this topic and crunching numbers, here is the process I used to know if it is time to adjust your grocery budget. Also, please note that while adjusting usually means raising your budget, sometimes it means lowering your budget. These 6 steps will help you either way.

How to Know When It Is Time to Adjust Your Grocery Budget:

1. Do a grocery audit. This is extremely enlightening. Done properly, this will give you a honest picture of your grocery habits. I explain exactly how to do a grocery audit here. 

2. Look at the grocery prices in your area. Are prices increasing or staying the same? Our Aldi recently raised prices across the store quite substantially on many products which changes where I will be shopping for some things. Thankfully, we live in the Fort Wayne area where we have amazingly low dairy prices. My budget is going to be lower than someone who lives in the big city of New York with higher grocery prices across the store, or someone who lives in a rural area with access to only one grocery store. We have to make our budget reflect where we live.

3. Be realistic about your family’s eating habits. Be honest with yourself. If you have food allergies in your family, your budget is going to be higher. If you work outside the home and rely on precooked meals sometimes, make your budget reflect that. If you want to buy organic products, make room in your budget. If you have 3 teenagers, your budget is going to be higher than mine with 3 toddlers. If you are packing school lunches or bake a lot, work those items in. We have to take all these eating habits into account.

4. Go back over recent grocery receipts. Save your grocery receipts for a month to see how much you spend. Or take a look at an average shopping trip and multiply that times the number of weeks in a month. Either of these will give you a ballpark number. If these numbers are consistently above your grocery budget, then it is time to raise your budget to a number that gives you a bit more spending room.

5. Look at your overall budget. Can you make the new numbers work with your household budget? Do you have more money you can spend on groceries? You may have to tweak some categories, but that is okay. Just make sure the numbers work before you raise your budget. If your budget is already very tight, then maybe you need to try to make the numbers work. One of the reasons I have kept our budget intentionally low is that it allows me to put money into other areas of our budget. Reducing your grocery budget is a very practical way to save money – and you quickly see the results.

6. Remember this important truth. Having a grocery budget is important but no one can or should have the exact same grocery budget. Your grocery budget shouldn’t be the same as mine. We all need different grocery budgets and we all need to stop comparing grocery budgets to save ourselves money. (Read more on why we need to stop comparing grocery budgets here because I have more to say on this very important subject!)

How to Start Looking at Your Grocery Budget: 

Before you start looking at your own budget, take a look at the USDA food chart. It is a chart that shares recommendations for grocery spending as broken down by age and family size. It is very interesting. According to the 2019 USDA food chart, my family (on the thrifty plan) should be spending $659.10 a month on groceries. I still think that’s high. Although, certainly not as high as the liberal plan which says we should be spending $1280.60 on groceries each month! I encourage you to take a look at the USDA chart and see where your family falls. I find it a fascinating chart to view for a comparison.

Our Grocery Budget Over the Past 9 Years:

I am sharing this detailed account of our grocery budget to provide an honest and (I hope) encouraging view of how grocery budgets evolve. If you want more details, click on the year links I provided for ever more details with month to month comparisons for the whole year. Side note: Being the grocery geek that I am, this is one of the only areas where I keep this detailed of records! 🙂

2011 was the first year I kept a public record of my grocery shopping. It was just my husband and I at this point. Our 2011 budget was $160. I spent $1825.25 over the course of the year, which broke down to $152.13 a month.

In 2012, I kept our budget at $160. That year, I spent $1985.55 or an average of $165.46 a month. Prices began creeping up so I decided to raise my budget for the next year.

In 2013, I raised our grocery budget to $180 a month. In 2013, I spent $1848.31 for the year, or an average of $154.03 a month.  It’s interesting that I actually spent less this year than the previous year, even with a higher budget.

In 2014, our budget stayed at $180 a month. I spent a total of $2150.49 in 2014 for an average of $179.21 a month. Nathan was born in 2014 so we now had 2 adults and a baby in diapers. Thanks to my diaper stockpile, diapers weren’t a huge expense his first year.

In 2015, I increased our budget to $200 a month. I ended up spending a total of $2470.38 in 2015, for a monthly average of $205.87 a month.

In 2016, I raised our budget to $240 a month. In 2016, I spent $3016.21 on groceries, which averages out to $251.35 a month. Emma was born in 2016, so we now had 2 children and 2 adults – and 2 in diapers for part of this year.

In 2017, I raised our budget to $260 a month. We sold our house and moved in July 2017 and began 13 months of living with my in-laws. (We bought their house and they lived with us while they built a new one.) For the 5 months I did track our groceries in our own house, we spent an average of $255.90 a month. I didn’t do a great job of tracking our budget once we transitioned to sharing a house. We shared grocery expenses and I didn’t stress about the budget too much while we lived together. I simply tried to shop frugally and didn’t worry about the final numbers as much.

In 2018, I had a big jump to $350 a month for groceries and started trying to track groceries again. My in-laws were still living with us for the first 8 months of the year, and I did most of the shopping with some money given to me by my-laws. When Lily was born in March, I handed shopping over to my mother-in-law for a bit and did not track anything for March or April. For some reason, I didn’t track my totals in July either. For the 9 months I did track groceries, we spent $3453.40 which averaged to $383.70 a month of our grocery money.

Now it is 2019. We have 2 adults and 3 children – ages 5, 3 and 1. The year saw us starting the year with a Whole 30 which has me thinking a lot about food. I am interested in cutting some of the processed foods we eat and cooking (even more) from scratch. I am still a frugal shopper but things continue to change with 3 children who love to eat. My grocery budget still covers toiletries, paper products, laundry detergent and diapers, in addition to food. For that reason, I am raising our 2019 grocery budget to $400 a month. 

It’s a little scary for me to look back over the numbers and see how much our budget has increased. On the flip side, our family has increased and merits the increase! We have grown in number and I know my children will only continue to eat more as they grow older. Plus, as I look at buying more whole foods and baking more from scratch, I need to have the room in my budget to do so.

Want to know more about shopping on a grocery budget? Here are some tips to help you.

I’d love to hear what your grocery budget is currently for your family this year.  Have you raised it recently? Let’s encourage each other in the comments so we can see how we’re all saving even as we spend at different amounts!

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2 Comments

  1. I found this really interesting. I’ve been keeping track for 3 years, and I’m on the opposite spectrum, as I have kids leaving! My oldest is away at college and I have an 17 yo boy at home, plus my husband and I. My goal has always been 600, but that includes all cleaning, pet, and health and beauty. Have been spending about 520 the last 3 months, ans think I need to lower my 600….

    1. Excellent point, Michele! Our budgets continue to change as our families grow and change. I agree. It seems like you might be ready to challenge yourself with a lower budget. Even going down to $550 will save you $600 this year!

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