Budgeting is nobody’s idea of a really good time. But, it is the best way to get your family’s finances under control and—dare I say it—it is actually an absolute necessity to do so! Making a budget is making the decisions as to what you can spend in each category of your household expenses. Besides trying to figure out how you’re going to make your income spread out and cover all your bases, you might wonder where you stack up compared to other folks in the U.S. Today, I am going to provide you with the numbers of what Americans spend on their food budget, and then reveal what my wife Suzanne and I have been spending on average every month on food…for the past nine years!
The number one thing that we all have to spend money on is…food. Since I’m a retiree, I am on the proverbial “fixed income” so it’s become even more important to my wife and I than ever. So let’s take a look at that and run some of the numbers.
What Do Other Americans Spend on Food?
When you look at the numbers, please keep in mind that the average grocery budget depends on a variety of factors like where you live, how you shop, what you buy, and how often you go out to eat. Unfortunately, living here in central NJ is like being a batter in baseball and coming up to the plate (home plate that is and not the dinner plate!) with two strikes already against me. A high cost-of-living area is not an easy spot to begin your grocery shopping from.
If you’re not sure where to start with budgeting for groceries, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does provide some average numbers you can use.
The Family National Food Spending Averages
Each month, the USDA publishes the average cost of food at home for different family sizes and shopping styles. In January 2019, the latest average monthly shopping bill for a family of two (aged 19 to 50) ranged from $384 on a thrifty spending plan to $764 on the most liberal spending plan. For an older family of 2 for ages 51-70, it’s slightly less overall. Suzanne and I come in at an average of $367 a month for the period of the last 9 years, remarkably right at the current low government spending number!
For a family of four, the expenses range from a thrifty plan family aged 19-50 with small children of spending $565 per month to a liberal plan spending of $1,103 per month. Older families can spend as much as $1,293 on average according to the USDA.
These numbers all are strictly just for your grocery bills. We lump our other household “supermarket items” like paper goods and cleaning supplies in there too so we are pretty sure that we are way below the government averages when that is considered.
Here’s the latest chart with complete details for all age groups. See where you fall.
Your Grocery Budget
It’s also very important to look at your grocery budget as a percentage of your overall budget. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2016, married couples allocated 11.8% of their annual income spending on food. We come in at just around that number ourselves. What kind of percentage are you allocating and spending on your food?
After you look at the averages, if your grocery spending seems out of line then you may want and need to make changes to help stay on track. So stay tuned! I’m getting to them.
How Should You Determine Your Grocery Budget
There are a couple of ways to determine how much you should budget for groceries. The easiest option is to look at all of your past spending dollars and calculate them. Are they consistent and necessary?
My wife and I are so obsessive and dedicated to tracking our expenses that we enter everything manually into a program so we can see every detail of what we spend by category at any time we choose. Would you believe I look at our numbers every day? I do.
But even if you don’t go to that kind of extreme (but you really should, shouldn’t you?), you can review your grocery store receipts or bank statements from the past few months and come up with your average spending per month. If you’re looking at the past three months, for example, add up the total from every trip to the grocery store and divide by three. This will determine your average monthly spending.
You should also look at your spending habits. Keep track of how much you spend and how often you go to the grocery store. Add up the total each month. After two to three months, you’ll have a clear picture of how much and how often you’re spending. Are you making weekly trips or are you shopping in bits and pieces several times a week? That kind of thing can actually make a difference and cause you to spend more.
How to Save Money at the Grocery Store
If you’re spending more than you want or can afford to at the grocery store, there are a few ways you can save money:
First, there is meal planning. For example, you can save time and money in the long run when you plan ahead for your meals. You can use recipes that build on each other and work on and from your inventory rather than shop without knowing what you really need and have on hand!
One good example of how you might save is that you can bake a chicken one night and then use the leftovers for sandwiches or soup the next day. Meal planning helps you build a shopping list, which results in better shopping habits and saves you money.
Another way to save is to buy and store up things you regularly use when the sale prices are really sharp. Then, instead of buying just when you are going to use an item, shop from your very own pantry and you’ll be getting the very best deals! Just don’t do that with perishable items which can spoil quickly and become trash.
The Challenges We Face as a Family of Two
As a family of two, it can be a challenge not to overbuy. Buy too much produce, for example, and it can spoil quickly. Consider splitting larger purchases with family or friends. We sometimes buy and then divide the bargains with my mother-in-law who actually is shopping just for herself, a sometimes even greater challenge.
This is especially helpful if you like to shop at warehouse stores like Costco or BJ’s. I don’t have a membership to either one, but BJ’s often offers a free membership for 90 days several times a year and as of yet they haven’t caught on to the fact that I get one at least twice a year and use it to buy the bargains I really want. You can buy those bulk packages to get the savings, but share them so everything gets used and limits spoilage and waste.
Here’s Our Actual Track Record for the Past Nine Years
Here’s our annual grocery spending (in thousands of dollars) since 2010! These numbers also include the other household expense lumped into groceries (such as paper goods and cleaning supplies) and an additional amount we spend on takeout and restaurants too (which of course affects how much we spend on groceries).
While we could have spent less on food (many families do), this is what works for us and our budget.
I don’t have to tell you how I feel about saving money at the grocery store other than just saying that’s exactly how Super Saving Tips was born almost 5 years ago!
Using coupons, loyalty cards, and shopping by “cherry picking” the store sales, well, I sort of live by that code. That’s the best way I know of to save at the grocery store. You can find coupons and store flyers online, in newspapers, magazines, and in the good old U.S. mail delivered right to your front door too. I want to remind you that you don’t have to be an extreme couponer or go way out of the norm when using coupons. I don’t. But even just paying some attention to the details will pay off in some great savings!
To maximize savings, I wait and use my coupons when the items I want are actually on sale. And don’t miss out on the fact that most stores today also double or triple coupons and on some days even offer special discounts for seniors too! As I have explained to anyone who will listen, they wouldn’t make these offers if they didn’t want all of us to use them.
For almost everyone, food shopping is a must and is always one of the biggest monthly expenses you have, usually coming in right below your rent or mortgage payment and your transportation! Just a little planning and review can and will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year, so what are you waiting for?
What do you spend every week on your groceries? Do you have a real plan and budget or are you “winging it” and wasting too much of your hard-earned money? What advice can you give about saving on your groceries every week?