How Much Should a Family of Four Budget for Groceries?

The price of melons fluctuates with the season.

Creating a grocery budget for a family of four can seem like a daunting task. Unlike fixed expenses, like a car loan or mortgage, groceries fluctuate constantly, and it can be a challenge to create the right budget. It's also difficult to determine how much you should budget, as that amount largely depends on your income.

USDA Plans

The United States Department of Agriculture or USDA created four main food plans to give families a nutritional guide to budgeting their income for food. The thrifty food plan is the cheapest plan, followed by the low-cost plan, the moderate-cost plan and the liberal plan. The cost of each plan is based on the amount of food purchased. The type of food suggested for each plan rounds out a typical nutritional diet for a family.

A family of four with children ages two- to three- and four- to five-years old should spend about $511.60 per month on a thrifty food plan, $650.60 on a low-cost food plan, $803.90 on a moderate-cost food plan and $996.20 on a liberal plan. The cost for each plan increases as the children age. For example, the cost of a thrifty plan for children ages six- to eight- and nine- to 11-years old is $587.40. All data is according to the USDA and as of December 2010. You can read the guidelines for all four USDA food plans online.

How Much Should You Spend?

If you're confused as to which food plan to follow, look at your finances for more answers. Create a budget and add your total expenses and leftover money. If you have very little money – or none at all - left over, then look at your grocery budget. You should try to keep your grocery budget lower than 15 percent of your total income, if possible. Obviously that percentage is difficult to adhere to if you have a lower income with four people.

Coupons and Sales

One way to better budget your groceries for your entire family is to cut out coupons and buy products that are on sale. Many stores offer buy one get one free deals, which are especially useful for a family of four. According to msnbc.msn.com, Gary Foreman, of the Dollar Stretcher website, suggests that people can cut their budget by 15 percent by simply buying groceries that are on sale.

SNAP

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP is a federal assistance program for those who cannot afford a healthy lifestyle due to income restrictions. If you're having difficulty budgeting for groceries and paying your bills, you may qualify for SNAP. SNAP is the former Food Stamp Program. If you have a gross monthly income of $2,389 or less and a net monthly income of $1,838, you probably qualify for SNAP. If you qualify for SNAP, you will receive a SNAP card that you can use to purchase groceries. You will receive money each month on the card; the amount is determined by your monthly income.

references & resources