What Would You Give Up For Food?

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Infographic Rumbling Tummies

I’ve written about keeping a grocery budget low before, which is part of the reason why this infographic stood out to me as one worth sharing. If you look at the bottom of the infographic, it asks the question “What would you give up” specifically in relation to food. What I liked about this infographic is that it gives a table representing four different categories regarding feeding your family from a spendy plan to a very thrifty plan. Looking at the numbers I was encouraged to see that the Frugal Rules household is quite nicely below the thrifty plan. To be fair, our youngest are three and one years-old, and I know that once both the boys hit their teenage years we’ll need a few cows and chickens in the backyard to be able to keep their stomachs satisfied…but I was encouraged none the less. It listed an “average” family of four spending anywhere from $611 to $1,217 (ouch) per month to feed themselves. We have a family of five and our grocery budget is $475 per month and we allocate $100 for eating out and we normally have money leftover at the end of the month.

What all of this got me thinking was, ‘what food items are average families spending so much of their hard earned money on?’ It did not take long for me to see what some of the main culprits are – lack of planning a meal menu, buying boxed and prepared foods, and not sticking to a grocery budget. I am sure there is more, but that is what came to my mind at first. We’re commonly asked how we keep our grocery spending so low and it’s really simple – it comes down to making choices. Sure, we’d love to shop at Whole Paycheck, but we choose to budget differently. That said, we avoid things like boxed meals, soda is a luxury and we make a lot of meals from scratch. We also grow a vegetable garden so we can get what we want and have it be organic. Going back to the question they ask, I wonder what we would give up if food costs doubled overnight. It would certainly mean that we would have to make some tough choices in relation to how we allocate our budget and limit ourselves when it comes to the grocery store.

Ok, so I turn it over to you now…what would you give up for food? What stood out to you in this infographic?

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.


  • pauline says:

    40% for housing sounds like a lot, I’d rather have a smaller house and a healthy diet. If you eat healthy you can probably afford to have a cheaper health insurance as well. And I would rather have good food than new clothes, than junk food or take away, and vegetables than ready cooked meal. If you cook from scratch even the thrifty plan sounds doable.

    • John says:

      I agree Pauline. What’s even more striking is that it’s for the lowest 20% in terms of household income so they likely feel it more.

    • Tara says:

      for some folks though, their limited income means that regardless of how cheap of housing they get to rent, it still takes out a significant chunk of their take home income. But yes, if the option for cheaper rent is available and doesn’t make the work commute torture, I for one would always want to go for the more affordable rent!

  • Honestly, what stands out to me is that their thrifty plan is $611. Come on. You can cut that budget in half with a little extra effort.

  • Well, before having to make choices like food vs. housing, I would make sure that I am only eating essential foods (and inexpensive ones at that). Cutting out things like soda, as you mentioned, would be the absolutely first thing that would have to be done.

    • John says:

      I agree DC. It can be done, you just have to make some decisions and determine what’s important to you…needs or wants.

  • When my wife’s wages started getting garnished, our monthly food budget was reduced to $20. On that budget, we had mostly ramen and peanut butter. Luckily, Thanksgiving wasa few weeks later and we wound up with two free thanksgiving baskets. That kept us in food until Christmas.

    • John says:

      I can remember those days myself when I had very little and just ate what I could afford. That’s awesome you were able to get something like that to carry you for a number of weeks.

  • cashrebel says:

    Of food prices doubled tomorrow id probably just become a vegetarian. I already don’t eat much meat and I like the challenge and variety of cooking more with spices and less with meat.

  • Michelle says:

    We really need to work on our food spending. We are doing better than we were before, but need to work on it! But according to this list, we are doing good 🙂

  • Matt Becker says:

    With our current family size, we’re probably closer to the low-cost than the thrifty threshold. This is something that we’re looking at in more detail now though to see how we can do better. I feel very fortunate to not have to spend 30% of our income on food.

    • John says:

      The great thing Matt is that with some easy changes you really can be more efficient with your grocery spending. If we can do it then anyone can.

  • Well, you already know our take. We spend very little on food compared to most people. I think it’s quite possible to eat really really healthy and still spend very little money. I do it every week.

    • John says:

      I agree Jacob. It just takes making some simple choices and realizing what your priority is. If we can do it then anyone can.

    • Prudence Debtfree says:

      I’m interested to hear you say that because we have found that healthy food is expensive. For instance, coconut oil is a lot more expensive than margarine. Nuts are more expensive than chips. Lean cuts of meat are more expensive than regular cuts. Our grocery budget went up when my husband made an effort to eliminate fat from his diet. Perhaps we’re missing something, but my experience tells me it costs to eat healthy.

  • Debt Blag says:

    The constant cost of food is why I always cringe a little when the annual parade of news outlets bemoaning that we still have federal assistance programs when the poor have so many luxuries.

    Sure, they might have been able to swing the $400 one-time cost of a refrigerator, but they’ll have to repay $400 every couple months to keep it stocked with food.

    An important post. Thank you

  • If we weren’t allowed to grow our own and food costs doubled overnight, I think I’d go vegetarian and eat copious amounts of pasta! It’s so easy to waste money on food and I have to admit I find myself doing it, something to work on.

    • John says:

      I don’t think I’d go vegetarian Adam, but we definitely would be adding more pasta into our diet. It really is easy to waste money on food. Some is ok, but you really do have to watch it.

  • AverageJoe says:

    Cool infographic! You’re right on about costs changing when kids become teens. My kids (17) eat from the adult menu (obviously) at restaurants and can eat their fair share at home. My son is a swimmer, so he burns calories like an energy plant. He eats nearly a full meal the moment he gets home BEFORE eating a full dinner. Two-a-day practices are killing my budget.

    • John says:

      Lol! I am sure we’ll be there as our two boys get older. They both have so much energy that I think we could power the house off of it. I shudder to think of what our bills will be.

      • I’m with Joe…I think the key here is that they’ve got a boy on the cusp of teenagehood! Also, I think before we judge that budget as being too high we should keep in mind that in different regions of the country, food costs are different. I’m assuming this is a general average, or possibly even set at the highest bar as it’s the highest amount they will allow people for SNAP benefits. $600 in Iowa is much different than $600 in California. I’ve even noticed that within my own region food prices are slightly cheaper in some suburbs than they are in the city.

        • John says:

          That’s a great point and thank you for pointing that out. I had left that out in the post and should not have. We have seen some slight variations in our city based off of where we buy, so I know that it does happen.

  • Jake Erickson says:

    I think it’s crazy that a household at the poverty level spends more than 30% of their income on food. Granted my wife and I don’t have kids yet, but we only spend around 7% of our net income on food.

    • John says:

      I agree Jake, it is crazy and I think much of it is on food that is of little nutritional value. I find it interesting that so many of the fast food restaurants are located in poorer neighborhoods as opposed to those that are more well off.

  • Food and shelter are arguably interchangeably important, although the former does usurp the latter at great psychological cost.

  • anna says:

    Including our going out meals, we probably average $500/month. We’d be on track for a family thrifty plan, but I’d still like to lean out our grocery budget. Your family does great, and that must be awesome getting fresh produce from your garden!

    • John says:

      It is awesome Anna. There’s nothing like going out to our backyard and essentially being able to get what we need for our salad that night.

  • Mackenzie says:

    Interesting infographic, John. When it’s broken down like this, how much is spent on food is quite eye-opening…

  • Great question! We’d immediately give up all the little extras we currently enjoy – going out to eat, occasional Starbucks, etc. Cut back on meat, alcohol and convenience food. I do cook a lot from scratch, but we do like Whole Paychecks (so true!) and sadly that might have to go too. 🙂 It’s always interesting to see what things you would drop in an instant and the items you would cling to.

    • John says:

      I agree Shannon, it is interesting to see what would go if things go south. For us we have learned to just stretch the things we do enjoy which helps us appreciate it without spending more than we should on it.

  • The Happy Homeowner says:

    I think all of these expenses can be reduced! It’s crazy to think that the bare bones budget for food would be $611/month–I’m sure it can be slashed with creative shopping and coupons and still be healthy! I also don’t see why housing should eat up 40% of the budget–no way, Jose 🙂

  • If food doubled tomorrow, then we would strike out meat. We only have one meal a week with meat in it, but that is what it would be. We would probably go shopping at our local farmers market for all of our produce to reduce costs.

  • krantcents says:

    I think I would cut out the convenience items and snacks first. Then, I would replace some of the main meat items with less expensive cuts or choices. and finally replace with vegetables. We have done some of those things to keep our food budget reasonable.

  • LOL at teenage boys eating SO MUCH food 😛 J and I currenly spend around $400 a month on our food budget including eating out but there’s always room for cuts here and there. I find it sad, but not that hard to believe that families living below the poverty line spend over 30% of their income on food.

    • John says:

      It’s sad but true GMD. 🙂 I don’t think $400 is bad at all, especially when you include eating out. I am sure there are some things you could cut, but I think you’re likely doing well. I agree, it is sad to see that and I am sure they feel it much more since they do not have as much to play with.

  • I personally think a lot of families may waste a lot of money on food that aren’t needed. The eating out is one thing but its that amount of times people go out to eat, the food they buy at the office, and all the other little snacks here and there. Movies and other things could get cut if needed for food.

    • John says:

      That’s a great point Thomas and I would agree with that. A little bit of that is one thing and is ok within reason. However, when it’s making up a big chunk of your spending then changes need to be made.

  • Jim says:

    Good post John, I am assuming that when you say Whole Paycheck, you are referring to Whole Foods, LOL! Anyway, your keeping a budget of $475 a month and having some left over is fabulous. Everyone should budget or at least keep track of their spending, it’s an eye-opener where your dough goes!

    • John says:

      Thanks Jim & yes it is referring to Whole Foods. 😉 The budgeting is a great point and we started out with that and now really do not have to watch it much as it has become a discipline for us.

  • Sicorra says:

    Great post and infographic John!
    I would love to get away with only spending $475 a month on groceries but the city we live in is super expensive and the grocery chains know that they can charge as much as they want because they have little competition. Many times we walk out with 2 bags and have paid $100 for what is in them. Sad, but true. On the flip side we rarely dine out anymore. By that I mean maybe 4 times a year.

    • John says:

      Thanks Sicorra! Sorry to hear of that high cost and I know that there are others than run into that same very issue. I bet that has caused you to be creative in watching your spending.

  • I guess if it really came down to it, there’s little I wouldn’t give up for food. My Internet connection would probably be the last thing to go! Cable would be the first!

  • That’s great you only spend that much per month on food for your entire family. I nearly spend that much on just myself. There is something seriously odd about that. And yes I do go to whole paycheck for stuff like gluten free bread. I go back and forth so much on really, really healthy or just really healthy, and because I’m the worst cook (and don’t like it), and really don’t grow my own veggies it makes it challenging. The one thing I DO get right though is I don’t eat out very much at all. One thing I decided to give up is drinking eboost every morning. It’s healthy but expensive, and should save me $30/month.

    • John says:

      I do think a lot of it is the perspective though Tonya. We love shopping at Whole Foods but would rather allocate our budget a little differently so we can do other things. That and I am sure our grocery costs are probably lower (in general) being in the Midwest.

  • Living Debt Free Rocks! says:

    If we had to cut back the first things to go would be the premium teas and our jaunts to Starbucks, Second Cup and Tim Hortons’s. Although I am happy to say that we already don’t spend a large amount on bills in general and groceries since we buy very little packaged/processed goods and prepare most of our food at home.

    • John says:

      I think it would be that way for a lot of people K.K. We avoid the large majority of prepared foods as well so that helps us too.

  • Extrapolating out for our family of six, we would be on the low cost plan for a monthly food bill (with maybe a few months bumping up slightly to moderate). If I had to give something up now it would probably be the expense of the dogs (that would be sad).

    • John says:

      I shudder to think what we’d spend if we had another child. Seeing the way our kids eat I think I’d need an extra job. 😉 We might have to do the same thing with our cat if food prices did go up drastically. It’s sad, but probably true.

  • When I was paying off my debt the first things to go in our food budget were alcohol (OK technically not food, I guess), steak (I don’t eat red meat so I didn’t miss this one-sorry bf), and eating out. Cutting back on expensive and gourmet type items was worth the sacrifice to be debt free. Now we’re adding those luxuries back into the budget and we appreciate them a lot more.

    • John says:

      I did a lot of the same things when I was working my way out of debt and slowly introduced most of them back. We have become more frugal in enjoying many of them though so as to keep our grocery spending in check.

  • We would give up all beverages except water and maybe milk for the kiddo. I think $611 could be improved with some planning, learning base prices vs sale prices, and coupons. I will never forget one committee meeting I attended when I did my low income clinic. We were discussing food assistance, and a lady from the Salvation Army had a request for food help from a lady who had 7 kids BUT got $1500 in food assistance per month. She sat her down and asked about her meal plan and what kinds of foods she was buying, etc. The mom bought things like frozen lasagna and packaged meals. When it was explained to her that she could buy lots of ingredients and cook many meals for that amount, she replied that she didn’t know how to cook. Maybe some sort of mandatory class needs to accompany administration of food assistance programs? I’m not sure how hard it is to cook rice and beans, and I’m sure her kids like having their favorite foods, but this is a waste of funds and is not healthy. I’ll shut up now. Your posts can certainly get me going sometimes.

    • John says:

      Lol! I hope that is a good thing Kim! 😉

      You bring up a good point and I do think a certain extent of it may go back to either of lack of knowledge in regards to cooking or plain laziness. I think the class idea is a great one, as long as it can be administered well enough and see a measurable change for the better.

  • We fit mostly in the low cost plan. I spend less than the amount for the woman, but J makes up for it (more than) in his costs. He eats a LOT. I don’t eat a lot of boxed food and I cook a lot, so that helps.

  • Funancials says:

    What would I give up for food? Is my virginity an appropriate answer? If I love food and love sex, it seems like a win-win.

  • Catherine says:

    We spend too much on food. We probably spend $500/month on food. BUT if we were eating out as much as we used to it would be a LOT more. I know this seems high, and it is, but we have to consider local food costs too. 1gallon of milk is almost $9, 1 lb of bacon=$6, loaf of bread on sale $2.50….food prices are out of control!

    • John says:

      Wow, $9/gallon for milk is crazy, now ours does not seem so bad. 😉 You’re totally right, local variances do play a big role as well.

  • You probably know that this one is right up my alley, being on the same page as you guys with food spending. If we were forced to double our food costs right now, we’d still be only spending in the 10k-11k range on food, which is in between the low and the moderate cost range. That is a scary thought, though, as our budget is as tight as it is now. Sounds like some of the Canadian families already have ridiculous prices!! We don’t have much that we could give up now in the way of spending, but if we had to, we’d move to a less expensive hobby farm. Eye-opening post here, John. WOW.

    • John says:

      I agree Laurie, I about fell out of chair when I saw some of the Canadian prices which is just proof of the regional differences. It would be difficult for us, but I think we could make it.

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