Grocery Budget for a Family of Four – Does Meal Planning Really Save Money?

Does meal planning really save money? The short answer is: Yes! A meal plan is the foundation for our grocery budget for a family of four.

benefits of grocery budget and meal planning

It’s 5 o’clock in the evening and, once again, you’re standing in front of the refrigerator trying to decide what to cook for dinner. There’s food in there, but you’re too tired to decide what to make. Instead, you order takeout. Next thing you know, half of the groceries you purchased for the week are expired. And you’ve spent way more on food for the week than you intended.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone! Because this is me too. And many other parents and working adults that I know. Deciding what to cook for dinner after making decisions all day is stressful. Going to the grocery store for dinner ingredients after work is also very stressful. And stressful situations often lead to unwise eating and spending choices.

But, what if I told you that meal planning each week would help alleviate your evening stress? AND help your family save money? The foundation of any grocery budget is being prepared. In order to do that, you need to have a plan for what to buy every week. A simple meal plan puts your evenings on auto-pilot and helps save money!

Creating a Grocery Budget for A Family of Four Using Meal Planning

The Benefits of Meal Planning

There are many benefits to creating a weekly meal plan. The two most important being saving money and time each week. Grocery trips are faster because you know exactly what you need. Dinner prep goes quicker because you know exactly what you’re cooking every evening. And you save money by not ordering take-out as often, making impulse purchases, or throwing out groceries.

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Alleviate Evening Stress

The evenings are often the most stressful time of day for families. Everyone spent the day working or going to school and now everyone is tired and hungry. The last thing you want to do is decide what’s for dinner. A meal plan takes that decision off your plate! Every week you look at your calendar and plan what’s for dinner. Then, make a grocery list!

Grocery lists are key for meal planning and grocery budgets. A list tells you exactly what you need. This reduces the temptation of impulse buys. Then, set aside a specific time each week to go to the grocery store. Frequent grocery trips after work are stressful and often result in poor choices. Try grocery pickup to alleviate even more stress! Do the shopping online and simply pick them up.

Take your schedule into consideration. If there are evening activities on Wednesdays, then make that Take-Out Night. When decisions are already made in advance, it’s much easier to create a routine. Routines allow our minds to rest from the stresses of decision-making.

Reduce Waste

Grocery stores are full of food. It’s simple to browse the aisles and put things into our carts without thinking. Then we end up with refrigerators full of food that doesn’t get eaten. Like that bag of Spring Mix you swore you were going to eat. By establishing a meal plan with a grocery list, less food goes to waste each week. The only food purchased is the food that is on the meal plan.

Save Money

Less stress and less waste directly translate into more money saved. By only buying food that you need each week, your grocery spending will significantly decrease. So will the money spent on impulse take-out orders. This results in more money to spend on other purchases. Creating a meal plan and grocery budget for our family saves us an average of $50 per week.

Creating a Meal Plan

Now that we’ve talked about the benefits of meal planning, let’s talk about making an actual meal plan! Some people plan meals for an entire month. Others, like Miranda of Live Free Creative, establish seven dinners that they rotate through each week. On Sunday afternoons I take a look at the calendar and make a plan for the week. We have a standing homemade Pizza Night every Friday. And on Mondays, we always have salmon and rice. Our busiest days are usually reserved for takeout. And we limit takeout to twice a week. That only leaves 3 days to decide what to make for dinner. We typically have chicken for two of those meals and then some sort of red meat dish. I also plan our breakfasts and lunches each week. Those are typically unchanging from week to week.

Our Weekly Meal Plan

  • Monday:
    • Breakfast: Oatmeal, Eggs, Toast
    • Lunch: Sandwiches/Leftovers
    • Dinner: Lemon Dill Salmon Sheet Pan w. Rice
  • Tuesday:
    • Breakfast: Oatmeal, Eggs, Toast
    • Lunch: PB&J, carrots
    • Dinner: Takeout Tacos
  • Wednesday:
    • Breakfast: Waffles, Fruit, Eggs
    • Lunch: PB&J, fruit
    • Dinner: Baked Chicken and veggies
  • Thursday:
    • Breakfast: Oatmeal, Eggs, Toast
    • Lunch: Sandwiches
    • Dinner: Chicken Teryaki
  • Friday:
    • Breakfast: French Toast
    • Lunch: Sandwiches
    • Dinner: Pizza
  • Saturday:
    • Breakfast: Pancakes
    • Lunch: Chic-fil-A
    • Dinner: Takeout
  • Sunday:
    • Breakfast: Cereal
    • Lunch: Sandwiches/Leftovers
    • Dinner: Burgers and Mac and Cheese

Once I’ve created our meal plan I go through the pantry and refrigerator to check for ingredients. We buy items like peanut butter, eggs, snacks, salmon, and frozen vegetables in bulk at Costco every month. Everything else comes from the grocery store. I have the items that we buy every week saved to a premade grocery list in the Kroger app. All I do is press a button to add them all to my cart automatically. Then I add anything else that we may need manually. I pick up the groceries after school drop-off every Monday morning. Obviously, the prices of items fluctuate weekly so I don’t spend the exact same every week. But our grocery bill is typically between $125-$180 each week.

benefits of a grocery budget

Benefits of a Grocery Budget

Grocery budgets are difficult to establish, but they can have a huge impact on families financially. The first step to creating a grocery budget is to establish an overall budget. I have a full tutorial for creating a simple household budget here on the blog. Budgets help families establish financial freedom and save money for purchases that actually matter. By cutting back on wasteful grocery spending, your family could save money for new furniture, trips, or fun activities.

When my husband and I were first married we decided that we wanted to aggressively save our money to buy a house. We both had entry-level jobs and mountains of student loan debt, so money was tight. The weekly grocery budget we decided on was $35 per week. Keep in mind this was 2011, so grocery prices were less than they are now. But it still wasn’t a ton of money! We ate a lot of soups, pasta, and cereal. I clipped coupons and we shopped around for deals. But we did it! Within a year we saved enough money to buy our first home.

As our finances grew via raises and promotions, we increased our grocery budget to allow for more variety and higher quality food. But we always stuck to a budget. Our budgeting has helped us pay off our student loans, purchase cars, and go on vacations. We are always saving for something. That goal keeps our eye on the prize and makes sticking with a food budget easier.

Creating a Grocery Budget for a Family of Four

Our grocery budget for our family is much less strict than it was when it was just my husband and me. The kids need more diversity in their meals. Plus, they go through growth spurts where they eat more than usual. Or periods of being extremely picky. We also have to buy snacks for school and running errands. Now we fluctuate within a budgetary range. By following a weekly meal plan we’ve determined that our family of four spends between $125 – $180 each week on groceries. We also budget about $75 a week for takeout. If our grocery bill exceeds $180, then we usually cut back on takeout to stay within our budgetary range.

The staples of our grocery list every week remain the same. We always need items like oatmeal, bread, milk, Goldfish, bananas, and coffee. Then we add fresh produce for dinners and snacks. Next is meat. And then other random things like spices, syrup, or lemon juice. Some weeks the random things add up. Which results in a higher bill. Other weeks we only need the basics. I take advantage of basic weeks to add fun items like popsicles or snacky things.

Here’s an example of our weekly grocery spending:

grocery budget for a family of four example

Once you’ve established a basic meal plan and know what you need each week, creating a grocery budget for a family of four is simple. Take a look at how much your base needs cost. Then allow a little wiggle room for price fluctuation. Compare this grocery cost to your overall budget. Then make some decisions. Would you rather spend more money on groceries or take-out? Do you have enough money to increase the budget and allow more “fun” food spending? A grocery budget should not feel like a punishment. It’s about the freedom to make decisions that help you live the life you want.

Start with this post for the complete 4 post guide to creating a budget. Also, check out my tips for sticking to a budget and which money-saving apps I use regularly.

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