What is an Appropriate Food Budget?

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Elise from Kelowna, British Columbia writes:

Hi Tawra and Jill,

My husband and I are saving hard for a mortgage down-payment and we are trying to stick to a budget, but I don’t know what is an appropriate amount of money to allot for food per month. I try to get everything on sale and in bulk, as well as utilizing free sources of fruit and vegetables. (Here in the Okanagan they are all over!) Could you give me some advice about this? It is just the two of us — we have no children yet.

Thank you for the help, and also thank you for this inspiring website. I always read your articles and they boost my resolve to be as frugal as I can while still living life richly.

Thanks again, Elise


Hi Elise! Well, first let me tell you that we’re jealous that we don’t live in the Okanagan. From what we’ve seen of it, it’s beautiful country up there!

The answer to your question depends on a lot of factors. I can’t really give you a dollar amount because the price of food varies from state to state and from the US to Canada. When Mike and I were living alone we spent $125 a month on groceries (US dollars). My best advice is each day or week think about where you can cut a little more from your bill. No matter how much you cut, there is only so far you can go. Eventually you will get to an average point and the will be a steady bill for you. Then focus on how you can save in other areas.

Generally, if you cut out the convenience foods and go to restaurants as little as possible you will be well on the way. Since you are saving extra hard right now, I would cut out all of the restaurant trips except maybe on your anniversary and try for no expensive convenience foods. Then, when you have saved what you want to save, ease up on those things a little if you like. Also, keep in mind that it may be worth it at times to use convenience foods if you have an opportunity to make more money with the time you save. For example, if you and your husband can work some overtime this week and it pays well, but it eliminates the time you have to prepare meals for the week, it might be worth buying some TV dinners. Still, whenever possible, I’d prepare some freezer meals ahead of time when things are slow to make up for the time you may not have later.

It sounds like you are well on your way to getting it as low as you can. I hope you get your down payment quickly!



photo by: Masahiro


  1. says

    Here are a few suggestions on cutting down on grocery bills. They will probably take a couple of weekends doing research but will pay off.
    look at what you cook. Then try and find recipes that give you those things with less expensive ingredients.
    ex: you bbq each weekend with Tbone or Sirloin steaks. Try a bbq with blade steak that you marinate for an hour before hand. Still tender and still BBQ’d but a fraction of the cost.

    If you entertain friends as a group plan pot lucks lots of fun and you can exchange ideas and recipes of the things that are new.

    Talk with your family and friends your parents probably have lots of the food ideas that they used while you were growing up and they did it without the fast food choices. They are usually cheaper and healthier.

    Do not change your entire diet over night. It will not be accepted well. Instead change it over time. Don’t suddenly turn up with the main part of the meal being lentils if you have never cooked with them. instead make it a side dish just in case you both hate them.

    When I was growing up in southern ont. corn came into season and we for about a week had corn on the cob tomatoes cucumbers and any sort of vegetable that grew along with bread for supper.
    The first time I cooked corn on the cob after we were married I did that same meal. My husband asked where was the meat. I was stumped but quickly cooked him a couple hot dogs. I did not know most people ate meat when they had corn.
    That is what I mean about changing something too quickly.

    Sit down with your normal list and your research results and write a new list. add things take others off in exchange.
    Look at fliers and find out what gives you the best results for your dollar.
    If you buy certain vegetables or fruit each time by the bag full but end up throwing out a couple because they have gone bad maybe buying them by the lb instead would be the way to go. bags are usually cheaper but if you toss some out you might not be saving in the long run.
    When you have done this for a couple shopping trips you will be able to set your food budget much better for your family.
    Each family will have a different budget even for the same number of people.

  2. Sandra says

    I cook most things from scratch and it is not only much cheaper it really is not much more time consuming if you learn to sit down for just a few minutes at the beginning of the week and plan your menu for the week. Then you can combine cooking, for instance I might plan to to have stir fry with rice for sunday supper. I will cook enough rice so that I can make chicken and rice casserole monday while I have the oven going will bake a big pan of rice pudding for tuesday. When I cook the chicken for the casserole in the pressure cooker, I throw in a few extra pieces so that I have plenty for a big crockpot full of camp stew for Wed. with lots of chicken broth left over for freezing for soup or dressing later. On days that you know you are going to be working late plan you meals to use a crockpot and you will have supper hot and waiting for you when you get home. Planning your meals in advance is the key, With a little practice you will find it takes you about 20 minutes to plan a week full of menus, then you also have a ready made shopping list of what you are going to need during the week. Take advantage of what you have on hand and what is on sale that week, if hamburger is this weeks special then plan meat loaf, country fried steaks, chili, and hamburgers.

  3. says

    I have some suggestions for lowering your food bill. First, decide on about two weeks worth of meals that you consistently enjoy. Serve those for the first two weeks of the month and then repeat for the last two weeks. Try to make meals that utilize similar ingredients. This will cut down on too much inventory that is not used often enough.
    I also believe in cooking from scratch and I invested time on the computer researching items that can be made without a mix. For example, you can make your own cake mixes, seasoning mixes, gravy mixes, jello, etc….and this saves a TON of money!!! You will find that shopping for basic staples will allow you to make the most of these recipes.
    Now until the end of the year is the time to stock up on baking/cooking ingredients as we are getting into the holiday season. Invest in cookbooks using 4-5 ingredients or search for those kind of recipes on the internet.
    Always take a list with you shopping. I prefer to shop alone as my husband likes to add things as we go along.
    I cannot stress enough the importance of having an emergency stockpile of basic ingredients/canned goods etc.. just in case of job layoffs or illness. It is very comforting to know that your family will get by for several weeks if something catastrophic happens. This stockpile also includes a good 6 month supply of pet food and of course BASIC cleaning supplies and toiletries.
    Purchasing a good freezer helps with your inventory as you will want to stockpile food or items you have made ahead.
    Continuing to check in daily with websites like Jill and Tawra’s keeps you up to speed and motivated. Good luck with your challenge on getting that food bill lower….you will see a big difference in coming months. As you purchase less prepared food and purchase baking/cooking/cleaning supplies in bulk and on sale your monthly food bill will continue to go down. It takes a good 6 months to see a major difference.

    • says

      Didn’t know if you have a copy of Dining on a Dime or not Janice but for any one who needs them we have recipes for lots and lots of homemade seasoning mixes, cake and cookies mixes, cleaning supplies, toiletries and many recipes which use simple basic ingredients besides what is on the web site.

  4. says

    Jill, I did order Dining on a Dime and am VERY pleased with it. It has become a “game” or I guess kind of a hobby to see how many things I can make on my own! My husband and I both have mild digestive issues and watch our salt intake so making things from scratch really helps control what is in our food! I use ricemilk or soymilk powder instead of dry nonfat milk with my baking mixes and they turn out great!
    I learned a great tip about macaroni and cheese mixes: separate the cheese packets and store separately to use when making a cheese sauce and the macaroni shells work really well in pasta salads since they are small. I stock up on them when they are on sale. I keep the cheese sauce packets in a container in the freezer and just add some to a basic white sauce to make it “cheesy”. Tastes great!

    • says

      Great idea about the cheese packets Janice. Makes me sick because about a year ago I was given a bunch of cheese packets alone and was brain dead about what to do with them. Wish I had had your tip then but now I will know. Thanks.

    • says

      That is one thing everyone needs to keep in mind. The point isn’t so much how much you should spend for say a family of five but to try and get your spending pared down as much as you can for your own personal family. I always say there are so many variables involved for each family. You may have a family of 5 with 3 pre schoolers and living in a city compared to another family with 3 teenage boys and living in a small town where prices are sometimes higher. Now that being said that doesn’t mean you can use that as an excuse to keep spending like crazy and not trying.

  5. Monica says

    I love your website. You all have some really great ideas. In this tough economy we can all NOW USE A LITTLE HELP to get thru this. I will definately pass this information on to my teenagers and use them. Thank you!! I will contribute as well. Thanks much. :) God Bless.

  6. Irene says

    Heather – that’s a good chart from the USDA… helps me compare my costs for a family of 4 to the national average.

  7. barb~ says

    I also believe in buying an extra freezer-even a small one is a great advantage for long term savings. Today my grocery store had a 12 hr. sale. 16 oz. frozen veggies were 50 cents a bag. Chicken breasts were 77 cents a lb. Sherbet was 69 cents for a half gallon. With my small chest freezer I was able to stock up on these and other items today, and I smiled all the way home!
    BTW-I bought a used freezer off of Craigslist this summer. I paid $50 for it and it’s like new. Freezers can be had for a bargain, too!


    • says

      Personally unless you have a super large family or something I really think a smaller freezer works best if for no other reason you don’t lose things as much in them and forget you have them.

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