4 Real Household Grocery Budgets, Revealed

Christine Ryan Jyoti

couplegroceryshopGrocery shopping sometimes feels like you’re buying a car: Either you marvel at the great deal you got—or get sticker shock after all the costs are added up.

Complicating matters is that no two grocery budgets are alike. Your spending depends on how big your family is, how willing you are to search for those deep discounts, and where you live. How many times have you been traveling, visited the local grocery store and declared, “They pay what for that here?”

So we asked four real families across the country if we could take a peek into their weekly grocery bills to see how much they spend, where they save and what they splurge on. They also shared their grocery game plan with us, telling us how they tackle the weekly chore as a team.

marissadavidWho: Marissa Vicario, 35, a health coach, and fiancé David McFarland, 42, a sales director. They spend about $180 a week on groceries.

Location: New York City

Our must-haves: David loves purely elizabeth granola, and I love tempeh. We make our own salad dressing, so we also invest in good quality coconut and olive oil. We also love leafy greens, ginger and lemons.

We try to buy mostly organic, especially for produce with edible leaves or skin that isn’t covered by a rind or peel.

How we save: I grab the store circular to see what’s on sale. If something is a two-for-one special, we actually avoid temptation unless it’s something we know we’ll use.

I love using coupons for items we already buy. David used to think couponing was crazy, but once we saved $10 off our total bill—now he gets it.

The bulk aisles are great for nuts, grains and dried beans. We also buy our fruit and vegetables in season. Certain things, like bananas, we get a lot of, so we choose non-organic to trim a few dollars off our bill.

We’re fortunate to have plenty of space in our kitchen, so we don’t feel constrained. That said, we buy only what we need—if anything, we’re a little conservative.

To make our food last longer, we use our freezer for fruits and vegetables and fresh seafood and chicken, as long as they weren’t previously frozen. If we have a lot of leftovers, we’ll freeze them to be eaten the following week, or we’ll eat them for lunch or dinner the next day.

We rarely throw food out. It’s one of my pet peeves!

How we shop: David and I usually shop together on Sunday and sometimes on weekday afternoons, when it’s less crowded. I’ve tried grocery shopping online, but can’t get into it.

Weekday meals are kept simple. We’ll meal plan when we’re organized, but frequently, we just wing it. While we use a shopping list, we don’t always stick to it—it really depends on what looks good, what’s on sale and what’s in season.

David and I shop at our neighborhood Whole Foods in TriBeCa, which is within walking distance. We invested in a wheeled tote, which has paid for itself in all the delivery fees we’ve avoided!

We’ve got our routine down to a science. We tend to follow the same path: We shop the outside aisles, starting together in the produce section, and then split up. I’ll go to the bulk aisle and David goes to the meat counter.

We also love farmers markets. We belonged to a CSA for a couple of years, but found we couldn’t use all the produce before it went bad. If we did it again, we’d share it with another couple. In the meantime, my dream is to have my own vegetable garden!

RELATED: 8 Easy Ways to Get More From Your Food Budget

  • Guest

    I loved this peek into other people’s fridges! I have stopped couponing because coupons are generally only for packaged, processed foods. Look at the second family, the one that uses coupons to eat practically for free. They are all overweight! Yes, they are saving a ton on food but at what cost?

    • mostlywentzel

      I know what you mean – coupons can be for bad foods, but not always. If you look, you can find coupons online for fresh foods and organics. Also, try some apps like ibotta and Checkout 51. You can get cash back on lots of different foods. Plus, I do a lot of couponing on non-food items like pet food, paper products, personal care, etc. Every little bit helps!

    • A.S.

      Wow, rude.

    • budgetdrama

      Gotta agree with you. The second family’s bill had no whole foods- fresh fruits? veggies? lettuces? meat???

    • Guest

      While I usually don’t comment, I felt it necessary to point out the fact that the reason they a didn’t spend a ton on the type of food you deem necessary is because it was mentioned they grow veggies and fruits and often go to their local farmer’s market. This was one example of one trip to the grocery, not a definitive representation of everything they eat.

    • me

      There is an extra cost, but sometimes there is no other choice. See how far you can go for a week with a tiny grocery budget…which is what some people HAVE to do to get by.

  • runner1975

    I always wonder about what other people spend on groceries. I feel like an outlier though… I live in a medium-sized midwestern city, have 3 small children, and we cook almost every meal from scratch. We spend about $250/week (this includes beer/wine but not household supplies like paper towels, cleaning products, etc). We buy a lot of organics, free-range/wild caught/cruelty-free (i.e., non-CAFO) meat, and belong to a CSA. We decided once we had kids that it was ok to spend more on the food we prepare at home since we are not able to go out nearly as much to restaurants. Anyways, just thought I’d add another family’s perspective.

  • Ellenk

    I would like to have seen a grocery budget for one person since that’s a completely different situation. These were interesting and helpful but many of us exist and it seems to be hard to plan, shop, and cook in a healthy manner without waste.

    • Marissa_WhereINeedtoBe

      A lot of the way I shop now as part of a couple (I was the first family in the above article) is similar to the way I shopped when I was only one person. To cut back on waste, you can buy frozen vegetables (frozen is just as good, if not better than fresh), cook once and eat 2-3 times or if that bores you, freeze your leftovers. If you have a friend who is also concerned about it, you can even split the grocery bill then get together and pre-prepre a lot of your meals for the week on a Sunday afternoon and pack them in individual containers for the week. Hope this helps!

    • JoDa

      I invested about $250 in single-serving size Pyrex dishes, to make single shopping/cooking more tolerable. Most of the best dishes I make result in 4-8 servings, and making them smaller is either a hassle or nearly impossible. So, I just make the full-size dish then freeze individual portions. The Pyrex can go straight from the freezer to the oven, and in 30 minutes dinner is on the table. I leave the Pyrex cool on the stove overnight and then toss it in the dishwasher before I leave for work in the morning (I know as long as it doesn’t touch water/a cold surface, it won’t shatter, but it feels safer to me to let it cool). I usually pack a salad for lunch (I pack it while my dinner bakes), but you could also toss these into a lunch bag and microwave at work. They’re kind of heavy if you have a long public transit commute, but for my >30 minute walk/ride, they’re tolerable.

      I like to eat a lot of fish, and that doesn’t cook and freeze well, but it *does* cook well directly from frozen, and also in about a half hour. For that, I wrap it in a fold-top sandwich bag in individual portions and then put those into a freezer bag to avoid freezer burn. I have a handful of Pyrex loaf pans that are the perfect size to bake a single serving of fish in.

      I was shocked to see how low the NYC bill was. I spend over $100/week just myself, including only 2 alcohol selections (6-pack or lower-end bottle of wine), and no household supplies (I budget for those separately, and don’t use paper towels and napkins – I have rags and cloth napkins instead).

  • Kathy

    I spend roughly 150.00 weekly for groceries — that’s for a family of 6 and very little coupon use. Shopping at the “bag it yourself” stores saves a ton. There’s not near as much variety to tempt you into overspending. However, for those strictly into organic, it’s not for you.

  • Mina

    I think all these families all have great ideas. For Family 1, consider buying a filter for tap water. I used to drink bottled water, but after learning how wasteful, polluting, and toxic those plastic bottles are, I started drinking tap water. Tastes great, and no lugging heavy liquids back from the store and no storing the recyclables. :)