How much do you spend on food?

February 9, 2012 — 15 Comments

How much do we spend on food - based on household income

Do you know how much you spend on food? As a follow up to why we use a cash budget, I’ll take a deeper look into how much we spend on food each month. Food is obviously a necessarily expense, but we don’t all spend the same amount.

The graph above represents the total amount we spend on food and compares the amounts across income brackets. The BLS does a good job of not revealing the exact amounts for each income ‘quintile’, but I did find the top tier is a pretax income greater than or equal to $93,358. From that, I’ll guess the following for the other tiers:

Lowest 20 percent = less than $24,000

Second 20 percent = $24,000 – $46,000

Third 20 percent = $46,000 – $70,000

Fourth 20 percent = $70,000 – $93,358

Highest 20 percent = $93,358+

You can see the wide discrepancy in spending on food between the lowest and highest income brackets in the chart above ($7,200 annually). That’s a pretty amazing difference. What we don’t know is if it’s at all a product of family size, as this isn’t included in the data. However, I would assume family size isn’t that big of a variable.

My initial guess was the major difference in the amount spent by income bracket would be attributed to food eaten ‘away from home’. This would easily support the assumption that rich people are always eating at fancy restaurants.

Instead, it appears the amount spent at home vs away from home stays proportionately the same throughout the brackets, but it does rise slightly more at the top. For example, the 2nd tier spends about $500 more on eating out than the first tier; they also spend around $500 more on food at home. It just shows that we do eat more expensive food at home and at restaurants as we make more money. When you compare food costs at Wal-Mart with that of Whole Foods, you can quickly see how this is possible.

So how much should you spend on food?

If I look at how much we actually spend on food, our total is probably around $700 per month. However, our monthly food budget is around $900 ($500 for groceries, $400 for going out to eat) because groceries includes all home goods. If we look at the total amount just on food, we’re probably around $8,400 per year, and that’s without kids!

If we needed to cut our budget down we could. Since we are able to, we do try to buy organic meat and fruits/vegetables. We could also cut out our going out to eat budget , but there are just so many great places to eat in New Orleans!! The entertainment amount includes alcohol as well… an often forgotten budget killer.

As I discussed in the cash budget section, you should track how much you currently spend, and then start tracking the actual amounts each month. Most people can easily cut out their ‘going out to eat’ fund if they really need to tighten up their spending. Also, you can get creative with coupons and read about additional ways to save.

Another interesting chart is how much we spend on meals away from home. The chart below reviews where the money is spent by income bracket per week; breaking it into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. It’s pretty amazing the first tier spend on average $60 less per week on food away from home than the top tier.

There you have it, our food expenses are mostly a product of our income, and if we need to get serious and cut expenses, it should definitely be possible. Are you surprised how much the average household spend on food? How much do you spend on food? Make sure you check out the detailed breakdown of food expenses as well.

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15 responses to How much do you spend on food?

  1. We spend more than we should, but not as much as we could .

    Part of the reason is that we live in Bangkok and anything from the West costs triple what it should. There are also so many great restaurants, but again if they aren’t Thai restaurants they are pretty expensive by Thailand standards.

    We currently spend between $700-800 a month (family of 3), but if we tried I think we could get that down to $400-500 a month by eating strictly Thai.

  2. It’s funny, I have been putting a spreadsheet together regarding all our expenses. The not so big surprise was the amount of money we spend eating out. It just gets down to where our priorities are; cooking and cleaning up versus someone else doing it. Staying home and cooking versus going our to eat takes about the same amount of time. So time isn’t a factor. So to conclude: we’re lazy and just can’t bring ourselves to make that meal at home more often then not. How sad.

  3. So, it’s my wife and I, our two kids, and my mother n law who live in this house. My wife and I were just going through our budget on tonight (looove that site btw). I asked her how much we’ve spent so far this month on food… “$600” was the response. My knees nearly buckled. We’re not even half way thru February! And come to find out, we spent $900 last month. I mean seriously, were the box of Macadamian nuts and the box of pre-pealed unsalted organic sunflower seeds really necessary??

    We rarely ever eat out, so our monthly cost on food is pretty much groceries. The average is ~$900 and I have got to get our spending on food in the $700/month range. (Up until now we have shopped at Whole Foods pretty much exclusively)

    Our friends told us about a site: where we can order organic food/produce online cheaper than Whole Foods. Stuff like organic eggs, apples, bananas, potatoes, etc. cost a fortune if you eat them like we do. So, we’re going to try this azure standard (first shipment comes in a week or two) and see if it gets us anywhere. The prices are definitely cheaper, but the quality has to be there too, so we’ll see. If it works out, Whole Foods would just be a place where we buy specific products we don’t feel offer the right quality or value online.

    Will definitely let you know how it goes!


    • I think you should consult do a little more research on what should be organic and what can be ‘regular’. The dirty dozen list comes to mind as items that, if important to you, should be purchased as organic. I dont have it memorized, but strawberries, potatoes and grapes are the ones I remember. Then there’s the ‘most clean’ list of items you can buy non-organic and not do yourselves any harm. Again I dont have the list memorized, but bananas, onions and avocados are some items I remember.

      Also, consider if you really need organic cheez puffs. 🙂 Not saying that you buy those, but they crack me up as a purchase in general. Personally I love a regular cheeto so i’m not throwing a stone.

      Main-line grocery stores have a larger selection of organic products these days at a lower cost than WF. Yes, it will take a little longer to stop at two stores, split the list etc. Or you could alternate weeks on shopping at the main-line grocery and Whole Foods.

      That requires planning out a menu two weeks in advance so you take advantage of your bi-weekly shopping trips. Consider planning that tender veggies are eaten first, and heartier veggies later in the two week cycle; carrots, cauliflower, broccoli etc.

      Where I live we also have a store called Sprouts that offers lots of produce at much more reasonable prices than WF.

    • Percy – I definitely hear that! We used to be fine with Wal-Mart food, but the more we (my wife) learns about nutrition and the crap that’s in that food, the more we turn to organic/healthy options. We probably spend 50% more on bacon now just to avoid the nitrates!

      We used to keep the weekly grocery total under $115 for the two of us, but we’re more around the $160 amount now since all of our fruits and meats are from Whole Foods. For now, we’re ok with that because we can fit it in the budget, and we eat much healthier.

      Now, when our total equals five people like yours, I can see that amount quickly swelling! The good part is that there are more competitors now in that space as the consumer learns more and more about the harmful side effects of BPA, high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, etc. However, food prices are also increasing so it’s probably a wash.

      Some options I can think of now – hopefully others will add their input as well!

      – buy in bulk and freeze when applicable
      – cook more from scrap
      – grow vegetables in your own garden

      I’m interested in hearing the results of Azure Standard; definitely keep us updated!

  4. Our income puts us in the 3rd 20% but our grocery spending is closer to the 4th (we don’t separate paper products from food in the budget so it’s hard to tell) and our eating out is below the average of the lowest 20%! We rarely eat out as part of our normal routine so a big chunk of that spending occurs when we travel.

    I’m not totally sure why our grocery spending is high for our income. We don’t buy organic or otherwise marked-up foods (although we do have a CSA subscription). I suppose we do buy a lot of meat and vegetables in comparison with others, and we need a bit more in groceries because we don’t eat out much.

    • Emily – we also combine the food/goods products so it increases our totals as well… I’m sure the BLS study is pretty much only food, so anytime you start adding in cleaning products, paper products, etc it will skew the numbers higher. Thanks for the comment!

  5. This is something I’ve been struggling with to lower recently. I will be blogging more and more about it in the future. Currently though, all of our consumables are lumped into our groceries category so I think I will need to separate this a bit better to get a more accurate picture. We have cut down drastically on meals out so this has helped a lot- though it is less fun. 🙂

    • Marianne – thanks for stopping by! I’m not sure why, but my wife and I have really gotten in to cooking at home. She uses the Epicurious smart phone app to get good ideas, and it’s a challenge to see if we can make them… most of the time we like the food we make better than what we can buy at restaurants!

  6. I was thinking our spending for food was a little high for our income, but now I see I was wrong. We are in the 3rd 20% for income but our spending for food and out to eat is more like the lowest 20%. We do eat some organic food, I co-op buy a few items because we have to go dairy-free for lots of things at our house. I am a coupon shopper and buy most of my produce at a closeout store so that seems to be keeping our expense down. I always wait for a good sale on meat. I also shop at trader joes for some speciality things we need as it tends to be less expensive than other natural food stores. Thanks for posting this information.

    • Shelly – I wish we had a Trader Joe’s in New Orleans, but we don’t. Good tip to wait on a sale for meat… I assume you buy in bulk and then freeze it? Also, what are the closeout stores that you shop at? I didn’t realize they had those for food.

  7. I aim to spend $110 per week at the grocery store including household goods with two adults and two 3 year olds. Most of the time we make it. We eat at home almost exclusively, using our leftovers carefully. We buy tons of fresh fruits and veggies, very little convenience foods. It is possible!!

    • Very impressive! I think the most important part of your plan is when you said “I aim to”. Most people don’t go in with a plan, and when that happens they pay the price. I’d love to hear some more of your tips!

  8. I get paid for a food allowance, and I just realized that I’ve been using that to justify eating out for lunch everyday I’m at work. I could easily just make my own lunch at home and probably save a bundle! Unfortunately for me I don’t track my spending very well, so I couldn’t tell you what I spend a week on food, but that is about to change!

    • I have a friend in New Orleans who switched to the ‘cash budget’ system for lunch; he basically limits himself to $10/day – when before he just spent whatever. This might be an easy way to start with to get an idea of how much you are spending! Good luck

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