The Family Food Budget as Compared to the USDA Food Plan


Many of us who are frugal have budgets for all aspects of our money.  The food budget is one which I focus on the most not only in this blog but also in my everyday actions.   If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you know that I think the food budget can be altered drastically in order to accommodate other financial needs in your home.  Remember how I did a pantry challenge for one month and saved enough money to purchase a brand new washing machine with the money we saved?

Yup, I think food budgets can be “tampered” with through couponing, smart shopping, stockpiling and home cooking.  These 4 elements can lower your monthly budget dramatically.  But have you ever wondered if the budget you have created is too liberal or too thrifty?  I often wonder how our household budget compares to other families.  So when I came across this data from the US Department of Agriculture, I spent some time studying the information and comparing it to what our family spends.

I thought this would be an interesting tool for anyone who is concerned and conscious about their budget to see so I have shared it with you this week.

As you are comparing, keep in mind this budget is ONLY for food.  Do not count in your non-grocery items, such as paper goods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals , etc. or any money which is spent on eating out.  This is ONLY consumable food.

Find your family size based on ages of members.  There is a little math involved if you are bigger than a family of four.  The directions are in the footnotes at the bottom.


Now, once you have determined your family size check out the four different levels and see where your household budget falls into the data.   The four levels are just a suggested guideline based on studies the USDA did over a course of time.  These levels were established using the food pyramids and standards of healthy eating.

Were you surprised by the level you fell into?   Honestly, I was surprised at the range of each level.  On the Liberal Plan for my family of 5, it suggests I should be spending almost $2000 a month.   That is a lot of money…$400 per person per month.   I was even surprised at how high the thrifty plan was set at.  But this data doesn’t adjust for coupons, smart shopping, bulk purchases, etc.  It simply is a guide and a tool for how to budget for healthy, balanced eating.  Our household budget fell well below the suggested Thrifty Level.

If you buy a lot of organic food or name brands, then your costs will be slightly higher.  If you grow some of your own food which supplements your weekly grocery trip then you’ll spend a little less than their suggestions.  And if you combine all the frugal tips out there; couponing, smart shopping, stockpiling, home cooking and growing your own food, then you’ll find yourself significantly lower than even their suggested “Thrifty” bracket.

Nevertheless, I found this table interesting and informative.  It always helps to have guidelines and ranges.  It either gives you confidence that what you are doing is correct or it gives you something to shoot for if you don’t like the range you fall into.   And a word to the wise…if you’re looking at this chart and you have NO idea how much money you spend each month on food then I highly suggest that you begin tracking your receipts to see how much you do spend and then establishing a budget!  That is the first step in your frugal food planning.  Once you do that, then come back to this table to compare your working budget to the suggested data from the USDA.

We would love to hear what you think of this table and what level it suggested for your household.


 Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, sticking to a budget, and living sustainably in her blog archive.


Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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