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How Much Should You Really Spend on Groceries?

Shirel Berchowitz Updated: March 11, 2024 • 6 min read
woman at grocery store

Key Points:

  • Finding effective ways to stretch your grocery dollar while maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet is more important than ever.

  • The average cost of groceries per month can vary based on the household size, dietary preferences, geographic location, and shopping habits.

  • Whether you're a single adult, part of a large family, or somewhere in between, this guide is designed to help you navigate your grocery spending confidently and easily.

Navigating the complexities of managing a grocery budget can often feel daunting, especially in today's fluctuating economic climate. With food prices rising and household incomes stretched thin, finding effective ways to stretch your grocery dollar while maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet is more important than ever. Whether you're a single adult, part of a large family, or somewhere in between, this guide is designed to help you navigate your grocery spending confidently and easily.

What Is the Average Cost of Groceries per Month?

The average cost of groceries per month can vary significantly based on several factors, including household size, dietary preferences, geographic location, and shopping habits. Here's a breakdown based on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cost of Food Reports, which provides estimates for monthly grocery costs at four different spending levels as of early 2023:

For a Single Adult

  • Thrifty Plan: Approximately $190 - $250 per month
  • Low-Cost Plan: Approximately $250 - $310 per month
  • Moderate-Cost Plan: Approximately $310 - $390 per month
  • Liberal Plan: Approximately $390 - $470 per month

For a Family of Four (2 Adults, 2 Children)

  • Thrifty Plan: Approximately $600 - $750 per month
  • Low-Cost Plan: Approximately $800 - $1,000 per month
  • Moderate-Cost Plan: Approximately $990 - $1,230 per month
  • Liberal Plan: Approximately $1,230 - $1,500 per month

These figures are meant to serve as a general guide. Actual spending can be lower or higher based on specific circumstances, such as dietary restrictions, organic food preferences, or local prices. It's also important to note that these estimates are for at-home food expenses and do not include dining out.

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What Should My Monthly Grocery Budget Be?

Determining your monthly grocery budget depends on several factors: income, household size, dietary needs, and financial goals. A popular budgeting method is using the 50/30/20 calculator, which can be adapted to help you figure out how much of your income should be allocated to groceries.

The 50/30/20 Rule Explained

  • 50% Needs: Half of your after-tax income should go towards necessities, including housing, utilities, transportation, and groceries.
  • 30% Wants: Thirty percent of your income can be allocated to wants, such as dining out, entertainment, and other non-essential purchases.
  • 20% Savings and Debt Repayment: The remaining twenty percent should be directed towards savings, investments, and paying off debt.

Applying the Rule to Groceries

Given that groceries are necessary, they fall into the 50% category. However, not all of that 50% will go towards groceries alone, as you have other essential expenses. Here's how you can calculate your grocery budget:

  • Calculate Your Monthly After-Tax Income: This is your income after taxes and other deductions.
  • Determine Your Needs Budget (50% of Income): Half of your after-tax income is for your needs.
  • Allocate a Portion to Groceries: Depending on your other necessary expenses, groceries might take up a significant portion of this category. A common recommendation is to spend roughly 10-15% of your after-tax income on groceries, but this can vary based on your specific circumstances and location.


If your monthly after-tax income is $3,000:

  • Needs (50%): $1,500
  • Wants (30%): $900
  • Savings/Debt (20%): $600

If you allocate 10-15% of your total income for groceries, your monthly grocery budget would be between $300 and $450.

50/30/20 calculator

Monthly after-tax income






Savings and Debt Repayment


Adjusting Your Budget

  • Household Size: Larger families will need to allocate more towards groceries, potentially adjusting other areas of spending.
  • High-Cost Areas: Living in a high-cost area may require more of your income for groceries.
  • Dietary Needs: Special dietary needs or preferences for organic foods can also increase grocery spending.

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Tips for Help if You Can’t Afford to Buy Groceries

If you're struggling to afford groceries, several strategies and resources are available to help you access food and manage your budget more effectively. Here are some tips and resources that can assist:

1. Utilize Food Assistance Programs

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provides eligible individuals and families with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that can be used like a debit card to purchase eligible food items.
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): For pregnant women, new mothers, and children under five, WIC provides food assistance and access to nutritious foods.
  • Local Food Banks and Pantries: Many communities have food banks or pantries that offer free groceries to those in need. Feeding America (feedingamerica.org) can help you find a food bank.

2. Apply for Government Assistance Programs

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): TANF provides financial assistance to families with children experiencing financial difficulties.
  • Local Social Services: Your local social services agency may have access to emergency food assistance programs or can direct you to additional resources.

3. Community Resources

  • Community Kitchens and Meals: Some community centers, churches, and non-profits offer free meals or operate community kitchens.
  • Community Gardens: Participating in a community garden can provide access to fresh produce in exchange for some work tending to the garden.

4. Discounted or Free Meal Programs for Children

  • National School Lunch Program: Offers free or reduced-price lunches to children in public and non-profit private schools.
  • Summer Food Service Program: Provides free meals to children during summer months when school is not in session.

5. Make Use of Coupons and Discounts

  • Couponing: Look for coupons in newspapers, store flyers, or online. Websites and mobile apps dedicated to couponing can help you save money on groceries.
  • Store Loyalty Programs: Many grocery stores offer loyalty programs that provide discounts to members.

6. Reduce Food Waste

  • Plan Your Meals: Planning helps ensure you buy only what you need, reducing the amount of food that goes to waste.
  • Learn to Preserve Food: Freezing, canning, or drying surplus food can extend its shelf life and help you save money over time.

7. Seek Community Support

  • Crowdfunding and Community Support: Platforms like GoFundMe can be used in dire situations to seek financial help from the community for basic needs, including groceries.

8. Educational Workshops and Budgeting Help

  • Financial Literacy Programs: Some community organizations offer budgeting and financial planning workshops to help you manage your resources more effectively.

How to Stay Within Your Grocery Budget

Staying within your grocery budget requires a combination of planning, smart shopping, and a bit of creativity. Here are some effective strategies to help you manage your grocery spending and make the most of your budget:

1. Plan Your Meals

  • Meal Planning: Before you shop, plan your meals for the week. This helps you buy only what you need, reducing waste and impulse purchases.
  • Shopping List: Create a detailed list based on your meal plan and stick to it when you're in the store.

2. Shop Smart

  • Compare Prices: Use apps or store flyers to compare prices at different stores. Sometimes, buying certain items at specific stores can save you money.
  • Buy in Bulk: For non-perishable items or items you use frequently, buying in bulk can be cheaper in the long run.
  • Choose Generic Brands: Store or generic brands often offer the same quality as name brands but at a lower price.
  • Use Coupons and Discounts: Look for coupons, use cashback apps, and use store loyalty programs to save money.
  • Buy Seasonal Produce: Fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper when they are in season. Plus, they're at their peak flavor.

3. Reduce Food Waste

  • Use Leftovers: Be creative with leftovers. Many can be repurposed into new meals, reducing waste and the need to buy more food.
  • Understand Food Dates: "Sell by," "use by," and "best before" dates are not expiration dates. Many foods are still safe after these dates, so use your judgment before throwing food away.

4. Cook at Home

  • Cook More, Eat Out Less: Preparing meals at home is generally cheaper than eating out. Cooking also allows you to control portion sizes, potentially increasing the number of meals you can get out of your groceries.
  • Batch Cooking: Prepare and cook meals in large quantities and freeze them. This saves time and ensures you have meals ready, reducing the temptation to eat out.

5. Be Flexible

  • Adapt Your Meal Plan: If you find a good deal or discount, be willing to adjust your meal plan to incorporate those ingredients.
  • Substitute Ingredients: Don't be afraid to substitute recipe ingredients with what you have on hand or what's on sale.

6. Monitor Your Spending

  • Track Your Grocery Spending: Keep receipts and monitor how much you're spending on groceries. This can help you identify areas where you can cut back.

7. Utilize Technology

  • Budgeting Apps: Use budgeting apps to set grocery spending limits and track your real-time progress.
  • Grocery Shopping Apps: Some apps can help you find the best deals, use digital coupons, or earn cash back on purchases.


Ultimately, the key to successful grocery budgeting is finding a balance that suits your circumstances and lifestyle. By applying the tips and strategies outlined in this article, you can navigate the challenges of grocery shopping on a budget, making informed decisions that benefit your wallet and your plate. Whether you're a single adult, part of a large family, or somewhere in between, the journey towards more mindful and efficient grocery spending is a step towards greater financial stability and peace of mind.



How do I calculate my monthly grocery budget?

To calculate your monthly grocery budget, start by determining your monthly after-tax income. Apply the 50/30/20 rule, allocating 50% of your income to needs, which includes groceries. Aim to spend about 10-15% of your total income on groceries, but adjust based on your specific needs and financial goals.

What is the average cost of groceries for one person?

The average cost of groceries for one person varies by dietary preferences and location but typically ranges from $200 to $400 per month in the United States, according to the USDA's cost of food reports.

How can I reduce my grocery bill?

To reduce your grocery bill, consider meal planning, buying in bulk, choosing generic brands over name brands, using coupons and loyalty programs, and limiting impulse purchases. Also, focus on purchasing seasonal produce and comparing prices at different stores.

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