31 Weeks to a Better Grocery Budget Video Series: The Importance of a Grocery Budget

Note: Excuse the muffled nasal-y voice. I came down with a nasty head cold last night. :(

Related: Yes, You Need a Budget

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  1. says

    Great video, Crystal!

    I definetely agree that everyone needs a budget and that you shouldn’t low-ball the amount you need. It takes time to lower that budget, but the important thing is to just START budgeting.

  2. Kelly says

    Hello! Question about the grocery budget – is that strictly groceries or do I include other household items/personal care items in the budget? Is there a separate budget for laundry soap and shampoo? Thanks for your help and advice!

    • says

      If you’re just starting out, I’d say to keep that $20 per person per week figure for groceries only. However, as you improve, you should very likely be able to fit hygiene products in, as well — especially since you can often get these for free or pennies on the dollar once you become more adept at strategic shopping, stockpiling and the Drugstore Game.

    • says

      I was going to ask this same question, and I was wondering what additional amount I should budget for the additional non food items? I haven’t used a formal “budget” before.

  3. says

    I like watching the videos! Thanks for having these. One thing I have trouble getting my head around is that I have 5 kids and 4 are older. So I am basically feeding 6 adults (3 are over 6’2″) 3 times a day somedays. The only little is my 5 year old. Many of the shopping sites and meal planners have 2-3 small children. In our case, it is hard to even consider $20 per person a week. My boys would starve or eat just beans!

    • says

      I think $20 per person per week *can* be realistic for a family of hungry teenagers (much of what I learned about saving money on groceries I learned while shopping/cooking for our family of nine when I was living at home!), but it depends upon where you live, the time you want to commit to strategic shopping/cooking and your family’s food preferences.

      If that number seems completely overwhelming to you, I’d say to start more around $30 per week per person and then see if you can find creative ways to slowly lower that. I just threw the number out there to give people some sort of ballpark idea; it’s going to be different for every family and, as I always say, don’t worry about what works for other people, do what works for you and your family! :)

      Have you seen Mary Ostyn’s book, Feed Your Family for $75 Per Week? I think you might find that encouraging — especially since she has teenagers and shares specifically how she pulls off a low grocery budget with lots of children who have big appetites.

      • Stacey says

        Crystal, I think it is really important to remember that it is different for different locations. I know you mentioned that, but I think it is often overlooked. Where you grew up has a *much* lower cost of living than where some of your readers live. I’ve lived in many parts of the US and travel extensively, and I know that costs vary from place to place. The last time I travelled to the east coast I just about had sticker shock when I visited a couple of stores. I feel badly for people who don’t have the deals that some of us have on a regular basis. So what you think “*can* be realistic for a family of teenagers” might be realistic in your neck of the woods, but not everywhere.

        • says

          I absolutely agree that prices vary in different parts of the country, however, I have shopped in a number of different locations across the U.S. when visiting friends and have also have friends all over the country (many in high cost of living areas), so I’m basing it upon the information I’ve gathered from prices across the U.S., not just upon deals in our area. Almost every area has it’s pros and cons when it comes to stores and deals available.

          It’s so important to remember to not get hung up on numbers. I shared the amount I did only as a base point for people who are brand-new to work from, not to discourage people. We all have different situations and it’s important for us to do what works for our own individual families. :)

  4. Lisa says

    I am just starting off, and am one of the people who has never had a budget, but now needs to make it happen. Your website has been a huge resource to me, and the blogs are terrific. THANK YOU!

  5. Diana says

    Crystal, were you including paper products and cleaning items in the $20/week/person suggestion? Just curious :) Thanks so much for your encouragement through these videos!

    • says

      If you are doing the Drugstore Game/Strategic Shopping, you should be able to get most of those items for free by working them into your scenarios.

      You could also consider using rags instead of paper towels (we’ve done this for years) and using baking soda and basic H for most of your cleaning.

  6. Sandy says

    Thanks for the latest video. I’m not sure I could do $20 a week per person but, I think $30 is doable for my family. It should be an interesting challenge for me! Well wishes to you Crystal!

  7. Jill says

    What do you suggest for someone who needs to drastically lower their food budget immediately? For example, loss of income or some other unexpected but necessary expense?

    • susan says

      I would say to make sure all other non-necessity expenses are cut out of the household budget first. Then use the $20 per person per month to set your food budget. Menu plan by what is on sale and what the best deals are with sale/coupon match ups for each week.

    • Wendy says

      Jill, I had this same problem last summer. I am a child care provider and lost the child I cared for last June. There went my grocery money. My husband gave me what he could out of his pay check (which is not much since he is in ministry) but I had to immediately learn how to get by on little money. My advice is to look at what is on sale each week at your grocery stores. Pair up sales with coupons when ever possible. I also began to really look at prices and I immediately know if something is a good deal; if it is, I stock up. I have learned that most stores run the same items on sale about every 4-6 weeks, so I would buy enough of an item to get me through until the next time it is on sale. See how you can stretch items, like meat into 2 meals. Such as a pack of chicken breasts on sale could go into home-made chicken noodle soup one day and maybe chicken & dumplings the next day. I get 2 meals out of 5 chicken breasts (and I feed 2 teen boys.) I also try to plan meatless meals at least once a week to cut down on meat expenses. I make lots of things from scratch whenever possible esp. baked goods. Dollar Tree is also good for certain items. All of these things are basically what Crystal tells us, but I learned that they really do work. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you begin to learn as you go along. Most importantly, pray that God will give you wisdom to use the money He’s given you, wisely. He knows your needs and loves & cares for you very much. God provided for us. Now I’ve found another child, but I learned so much during that time in our lives. I’ll still be applying the things I leaned even though we will have more money now.

  8. says

    I love this video series. It is great to see a person explaining things instead of just reading about it.
    Hope you feel better soon.

  9. says

    I second Diana’s question about paper goods (towels, toilet paper, etc) and cleaning/detergent supplies. We stock up at Sam’s about once every 3 months and I’m not sure how to fit that into our budget.

    • Meredith says

      I used to stock up at Costco every few months. Then, I realized that I could get most if those things free through couponing and shopping at different locations. Our last trip to Costco the only thing I got were the free samples. However, when I did go, I created a different budget for it and then saved accordingly. So if I spent 30 a trip, I would save an extra ten dollars a month, in cash, and then when it was time to go, I had the money. Even right now, I have a grocery budget and a separate couponing budget. It look a few months but now I can fit everything into the grocery budget.

      • Kerry D. says

        I find some items at Costco are great–I buy 50 pound bags of flour at around $10, 25 pound bags of rice, and large bags of sugar as well as dog food. What we completely avoid is the prepared frozen food since it would break my budget.

        I’m running about $175 a week for a family of five, all three are teenagers and two German Shepherds. That’s including paper goods (which I try to avoid mostly and use cloth) toiletries and dog food. This is down about $300 a month from before I started learning from this and other blogs! We also have a great stockpile now while before the cupboards were bare between shops.

  10. jennifer says

    I’m in the same boat as Heather, who already commented — we have a large family and several of them are teenagers. We buy bulk fruit/veggies, coupon diligently (a HUGE savings!), and have meatless lunches and dinners several times a week. $20 per person per week would be a dream goal for me, not a starting place. Ours is almost $30 per person a week and I’m content, not that there’s not room to grow and change. :) Just for info, I’m including paper products, toiletries, etc. (basically everything) in that total.

    • Stacey says

      Jennifer, I think you’re doing terrific at $30 per week with teenagers and including everything in that total. I know Crystal gave the amount of $20 per week as a goal, and clarified that that might not work for everyone, but sometimes that is hard for me and others to remember. Some of us live in areas that are NOT coupon friendly (no one here ever doubles coupons). Some of us live where the price of living is just higher. I know that many commenters on other posts have mentioned that. I’ve lived all around the US. It is much, much cheaper to live in the midwest. Southern CA is also much cheaper than central CA. Yes, there are deals to be had everywhere, but not all as good as what some folks can get. So, again, kudos to you for the good job you’re doing!

      • De says

        I, too live in an area where there are no double coupons (Northwest). It makes it very difficult if not impossible to get the kind of deals that are in the Midwest (where I previously lived). So I agree with Stacey that $30/person/week is great!

  11. Christy says

    Were you including toiletries in your $20/week? Do you even ever buy shampoo? I remember when you bought lots of toothpaste, but in your weekly grocery rundown, I never see TP or shampoo or anything like that. How do you work all of that in?

    • Rae says

      She probably just uses what you can get free from CVS or Walgreens for shampoo and for stuff like toilet paper uses overage :) I know that I never pay for the majority of toiletries except male razors (because my husband is military and goes through more than the “almost free” amounts I can get) and his shampoo because he needs the anti dandruff shampoo (that I will pay up to $.50/bottle).

  12. jennifer says

    i am really enjoying these videos! it’s fun to see the face and the voice and the personality behind MSM. Thanks!! :)

  13. Amanda says

    I really like this series but it is very hard to hear her when she speaks even with my volume up all the way…Could you speak a little louder in the series please?

  14. Amanda says

    This was a great video! We came up with a budget a couple of months ago thanks to this site and it has saved us so much in wasteful spending. I was able to see where we were spending money and where we could cut back. This is one of my favorite sites and I this series is great. A series on homeschooling would be great too :)

    • says

      Thanks for your kind encouragement!

      I’d do a series on homeschooling, but I’m afraid I need to wait about ten more years before doing that since I have very little experience so far. :)

      • says

        I second the homeschooling series :) Or maybe just a post every now and then with what you have learned or tried or are doing. I was first introduced to MFW by you and I love it! I was scared to death to homeschool, but now I actually really enjoy it, especially watching my daughter learn to read! I understand you wanting to keep some stuff private though. Thank you for all you do and for opening yourself up to others. You were actually the first person I had heard mention PPD only a few months before I had my second daughter and was knocked completely over by it. I don’t think I would have known what was happening to me and reached out for help if I hadn’t read your post those months before. Thank you!

        • says

          I’m planning to do a series at the end of this school year with our favorite first grade resources — like I did last year with kindergarten. I’ll share some of the sites/books/curriculum we’ve used and loved this past year.

          So happy to hear you’re enjoying MFW! And isn’t it exciting to watch them learn how to read?!

          I’m also so thankful you were able to realize you had PPD and to reach out for help. I’m so sorry you had to go through it, though. :( I hope you are doing leaps and bounds better now!

  15. Marie says

    I also have a hard time hearing the video and I’ve tried everything on my computer to be able to hear it but just can’t. But am able to hear things on other sites so i’m not sure what the problem is.

    I say having a budget is key. We are a family of 4 with a baby due in 3 days. We have always had a $200 a month budget for food and $40 for household/household personal. For the most part there has only been a few times we’ve gone over and it’s usually when I’ve stocked up on meat or something else. We are looking for ways to put extra in the budget so we can stock up on meat deals. But now with saving I find that I always have extra from the $40 envelope each month. I also should mention that we don’t buy alot of processed in a box type foods. I have found couponing and watching deals and shopping at places like Aldi’s have made all the difference in our grocery budget.

  16. JennyP says

    Just made the transition from a working mom to a stay at home mom of three (ages 6, 4, & 1 month) and am new to “sticking” to my budget. I always had a budget before but with 2 incomes it was easier to allow myself to go over. I love your video series and your website is one of my favorites. Thank you!

  17. Lisa says

    Another good book is Eat Healthy For $50 A Week by Rhonda Barfield (or Eat Well for $50 A Week) My mother used these all our growing up years and they were a big help!
    Another way to cut costs in the grocery budget is to plant a garden! (raised bed, pot or regular) We’ve done this for years and froze/canned a bunch for winter. It saves tons of money and is much healthier!

  18. Amanda says

    Hi Crystal,
    Not sure if you were able to read my comment on your first video, but I was wondering if you would be able to print a transcript for each of the videos? I am deaf, and obviously can’t understand videos without closed captioning. This would be a big help! Thanks so much…

  19. Anna says

    Love the video and you! I am a single mom with 4 kiddos. I budget probably about $25-$30 per person in my family but that included food, personal items, household items, and everything to run the home. I use cash or GCs. I just try to stick to my budget but I would like to lower my household spending but I think I will work on the grocery budget and planning as your series indicates.

    My question is: Is it easier to be more specific in budget by dividing grocery budget money from personal care budget money from household budget money? I use one envelop for all my grocery and house hold budget because I want to keep it a little simpler for money management. Right now I am not sure but maybe being more specific and only have a budget for groceries would be useful.

    • Anna says

      I mean keep the grocery money/cash seperate from the other household needs/budget. Hope this makes sense??? :)

      • Rae says

        I have all “grocery” in the same budget so basically anything you could find in a regular grocery store… food, beverages, paper/plastic, toiletries, otc medicine, diapers/wipes, etc.. A lot of times I will buy some toiletry items at Kroger when buying food because I can get free toothpaste or deodorant. But at the same time, I sometimes buy food/beverages at CVS because they’ll have a great deal. So to me it is easier to keep it all on the same budget.

    • says

      I think you could try both ways for at least six weeks each and see which one works better for you. We personally have always just included almost all household items in our grocery budget. Once you get good at strategic shopping, you’ll likely find that you can stock up on many household items at pennies on the dollar.

      I’ll be talking more about how cash budgeting works for us next week.

      • Anna says

        Thank you, that is good advice. I’ll try dividing into a little smaller categories. Sometimes why I go over budget is because I spend on non-food items and don’t have enough for food items. Maybe being more specific will be useful.

        • Anna says

          I just want to say again that I really enjoyed the video. I went back and watched the first 2 and enjoyed them too. I like the “simple” theme of the videos. I work full time but I try to do the things that I think a SAMH or any mom like to do for their family and keeping it simple works best in my budget and time factors. My kids enjoy the “SAMH” efforts I put in to our home and many of those efforts have come from reading your blog.

          Thanks for everything. I look forward to more videos!

    • Heather says

      I like keeping diapers, Desitin, and nursing pads in a separate category. Then my grocery budget doesn’t seem so high! But I do include toiletries and cleaning stuff in with the food. Just easier for record keeping. Also, I feel like it relates. For example, I save money by packing my kids lunches, but then we do use more ziplocs, so it makes sense to me that the ziploc cost should be included with the food.
      I also keep OTC meds separate. Overall, I like having a lot of separate categories. Helps me see more precisely how I’m spending my money.

      • Kristen Trappett says

        Have you ever tried washable nursing pads. I absolutely love the nursing pads made by fuzzi buns. They are amazing and wash up great and stay so soft!! Just a thought, a one time purchase!! I found them for 3 pair for just under 10.00.

  20. amanda says

    I just wanted to share a funny story. I was in the process of printing some of the doctor/nurse activities from homeschool creations. While these things were printing I decided to sit down and watch this weeks grocery budget video. My 3 yo is very excitedly “catching” the pages from the printer when a page with a medicine bottle pops out. He says “mommy she needs some medicine”….referring to Crystal.
    LOL

  21. says

    Good video! We’re getting back to using a budget and one of our first steps is to use cash as much as possible. My grocery budget for a family of 5 (3 small kids) is $500/month. That includes everything! It used to be a lot lower, but has been slowing creeping up. I’m feeling inspired to get back to couponing more and lower that number. :)

  22. says

    Great advice. I have a family of eight, including one in-law living with us and $20/week/person is a manageable number for us, even though we live in the land of no-double-coupons and I have a special needs son that is on a GFCF & 100% organic diet!

    Our goal this year is to cut at least $20 per week from our grocery budget and save it to buy a side of grass fed beef, which will allow us to have better quality meat! I decided to do this after reading the responses in your post here: http://moneysavingmom.com/2010/09/ask-the-readers-do-you-think-its-a-good-deal-to-purchase-half-a-cow.html
    Lots of great advice from experienced beef buyers and farmers!

  23. Debra says

    That $20 a week doesn’t include paper goods, cleaning and packaging like foil does it? It also can’t include organic foods, right? We eat cereal for breakfast and I have to make two healthy meals a day which can not include, even remotely; dairy (animals proteins like goat or cow), nuts, egg or oats due to food allergies. The most nutritious milk alternative there is for us is hemp milk (vitamins, fortified to be almost as nutritious as skim milk) which on discount is 4.50 a qt. and lasts about a day verses $1.50 for a half gallon of cows milk, which last longer. Our sunflower butter (peanut butter alternative) is twice as much as is peanut butter. Package goods are almost always out of the question, because of allergies. I already spend well over an hour in the store reading labels and have met several times with the store dietitian for advice. What budget advice would you give people such as myself?

    • says

      If you’re first starting out with strategic shopping, then you might need an extra $5 per person per week for household supplies. However, as you get better at strategic shopping, in most cases, you can pay pennies on the dollar for household products — thus significantly lowering your total grocery expenses.

      Like I said in the video, if you have special health needs, you’re definitely going to want to take that into consideration when deciding on a workable grocery budget. Not all the tips and tricks I’ll share in this series will work for everyone, but many of them will — or you can tweak them to fit your family’s dietary needs.

  24. says

    Hi again:) I appreciate the book suggestion–I will look into that! Actually, we also eat only organic, so that has affected my ability to save with coupons–although I’m so happy to see many more organic coupons this year than last. Also, I’m a “suburban” organic–which to me, means I am not on a farm or leading a more rural life where I produce more of my own food. We are looking into CSA’s for the upcoming spring. At first my husband was very sad to see our food budget go up when we began organic–now, he is thinner and healthier and so are the kids–but it is a process–some of the groceries I used to get for free, I would not even have in my home this year. It is truly all balance and I know I can do better! PS: Costco offers some organic options that help us alot. I just have to cook more:)

    • says

      If you live in an area with great CSAs, that can be a fabulous option. Or, you can make friends with people who grow big gardens and barter with them for produce. :)

      I’ve heard Costco has great prices on organic. So wish we had a Costco here so I could try it out!

  25. Wendi says

    For those that need to drastically reduce their grocery budget QUICKLY due to lay off, or any other reason; I have 2 suggestions:

    1- order groceries from your LOCAL http://www.angelfoodministries.com/
    put in your zip code to find a pick up spot near you, typically at a local church. You can get about 1 weeks worth of groceries for $30. You can also use this service if you just don’t have the “time” to shop frugally. No income requirements, anyone can use this service.

    2- read the book Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy (be sure you get the updated version, 2009. You can order it here http://www.miserlymoms.com/jonnisbooks_updated.html or on amazon or you can check it out for FREE at your local library. She has tons of tips for getting the best deals at the grocery store and also how to save money in other areas as well. This book saved my family a ton of $ when we switched from two incomes to only one income.

  26. Amber says

    I have a question regarding groceries and budgeting in general. We are very new to all of this, but our situation is a little odd at the moment so any suggestions are welcome. My husband took a job in Chicago in Dec. My kids and I are still in SC. We are staying until the end of the school year. How do I budget for us and him, especially since I’m not there to control the money he is spending? He’s staying with family so we don’t have that cost, but he does have gas now, that we didn’t have before and other things he needs as they come up. Ideas would be helpful! Thanks so much!

    • Rae says

      I am in a similar situation. My husband was transferred to California and we are staying here until the end of the school year. While he was here, I was spending around $35/week for our family of 4 (including food, toiletries, household, pet, diapers, etc… basically everything except gifts, clothes, electronics, and services). The reason my amount is so low is because I am a stay at home mom and kind of look at couponing and frugality as my job. With him being on his own, our amount has gone up because a) he does not coupon out there and b) doesn’t have the means to cook real meals for himself (which shouldn’t be a problem with your husband since he’s staying with family). What might help you if you have the time to do it is to look at all of the sale flyers on line for him (my husband won’t do it) for ALL of the stores in the area even the ones that may seem more expensive because who knows they might have a great sale that week. I then figure out which 2 stores have the best deals that week on things that he would eat (my husband eats a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, sandwiches, cereal, etc since he can’t cook besides in the microwave) and I make him a list. I also encourage him to do what we do in general… work with what you have and stuff that is on sale. And if there is a store like Aldis, that doesn’t require coupons. As far as toiletries go, I sent packed his trunk full of them when he left so that he won’t have to buy those until well after I get there. Also, if you have some simple recipes that use generally cheap ingredients, you could pass them along to him.

  27. Jenna O says

    I can barely hear you in these :( I’ve got my volume turned all the way up and the volume on the video all the way up too?

  28. Rebekah says

    Oh my gosh. You are adorable! Great job on the video. I’m forwarding it on to my friends. Get better!

  29. Melanie says

    Thank you for this series. It has been an encouragement especially in the new year. One of my goals for this year has been to get our budget under control. Your $20/person/week blew me away, not because it was too little though. I thought I was not doing well because we have 4 kiddos (one is a toddler) and I’m spending that on groceries, but then I saw that you didn’t mean to include toiletries and household products and I thought wow! I include diapers, paper products, and toiletries in our grocery budget! I’m so encouraged!!

    It was great reading the other posts. Especially from those with teenagers. Gives me hope that we won’t go broke feeding these kiddos as they grow.

    Thank you so much for all you do!!

  30. Renee says

    I hope you get over your cold soon. I don’t know why,but I had to turn my volume all the way up and could still barely hear your video.

      • Renee says

        Yep..it was up all the way. I read another comment that said she also couldn’t hear you well.

        • says

          Good to know. Someone emailed in saying that the volume wasn’t automatically turned up on YouTube for my videos.

          We’ve been trying to determine what the issues are on the sound. Some people said that if you use headphones, it’s easier to hear. I’m going to try and talk louder on the videos from here on out and we’ll see if that fixes it. :)

  31. Denise C. says

    Thanks for another great video! Sorry about your head cold. :( Grocery budgeting is something, I’ve been wanting to buckle down with for awhile now. My family is 4 people. 2 adults 2 munchkins. My ultimate goal is to have a budget of $400 per month (including the rare times we eat out, frequent trips to get milk, bread etc.) As always you are an inspiration!
    ;) Feel better soon!

  32. says

    I’d love to hear more about Basic H cleaner- you mentioned it in an above comment. I looked at the website and it sounds great. How long has the bottle lasted you and does it really clean that well?!

    Love your videos!

  33. P.Lynn says

    Hi Crystal. I’m very thankful for this video series. I’m an auditory learner for one. Secondly, I was in the process of trying to set a budget. Since both my spouse and I are pick up people (pick up stuff from the store daily) I had no idea what a realistic starting point was for groceries. Turns out, none of my friends know what they spend either! I got $20/person for groceries. I haven’t seen a starting point for house/personal care items. Would you also recommend $20/person for beginners?

    • says

      I’d say around $5 to $10 per person, though I personally usually include it *in* my grocery budget category. If you play the Drugstore Game, you can get where you pay pennies (or even *get paid* to buy household items!). If you don’t live where there are drugstores or you don’t have time to shop at the drugstores, than I’d say to adjust your grocery budget accordingly. But I’ve found that hygiene and personal items are one of the easiest areas to really save by using coupons.

      We’ll be talking more about playing the Drugstore Game in a video in the not-too-distant future!

  34. says

    Is your make-up included in your grocery budget? I love that you gave a ballpark figure, and really, it seems about perfect for our family right now. Just watched the first three videos, and as much as I hate to admit it, I really needed the first one :)

    • says

      If you have drugstores in your area, you can typically get enough makeup for free at them that you won’t have to pay for it ever again (and you might be begging your friends to take some of the extra free makeup off your hands!).

      I save a lot of money on makeup by just having the same face routine for every single day. That might be terribly boring to some people, but sticking with a basic, simple same routine makes it quick, easy and keeps costs way down.

      • says

        What?! Make-up for free??!!! I love CoverGirl, and just pick it up (full price) at Kroger when I’m grocery shopping. We have a couple of drug stores about five minutes from our house. Now I REALLY can’t wait for the videos about drug store games. THANK YOU!!! (And I know being a brand snob is a huge no-no, so I will be open minded about trying other brands, especially if they’re free!)

        • says

          If you usually buy CG at Kroger, I’ll tell you a simple way to easily pay half-price for it. Save the $1/1 CoverGirl coupons which come in just about every P&G insert in the Sunday newspaper (usually the first week of each month) and then wait and use this when Kroger puts the CG line on sale for 40% off (they seem to do this at least every 2-3 months). And there you’ll easily get makeup for 50% off, with very little effort.

          But once you learn how to shop at the drug stores, 50% off will likely seem really high. :)

      • says

        Oh, and I also have the same face routine every day (with the exception of I may wear brown eyeshadow instead of pink), so I am feeling very hopeful about this makeup issue! Your makeup looks great by the way and I’d assumed you purchased expensive brands.