The savory, char-broiled steak is still sizzling when the waitress places it in front of you. Served with creamy mashed potatoes, farm-fresh corn on the cob, and a lobster tail with hot melted butter, it might be the best meal you’ve ever had. You wonder, “Is this heaven?” You’re not thinking about the bill as you slice off your first bite. That comes later.
Maybe it was worth it. You blew half a car payment on a steak dinner for two with your spouse. You can justify the expense by claiming it was a “special” occasion, but is that the truth? Oxford defines “special” as “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.” In other words, if you do it all the time, it’s not that special.
Also, you may end up spending an entire food budget on a single meal. However, you can save money if you go on a monthly grocery budget. But note that the monthly food budget goes beyond creating a grocery shopping list.
It involves knowing what to spend on groceries to reduce the number of zeros on your grocery bill and save money. This article shares food spending tips to help you reduce your monthly food bill. But first, do you know that eating out is addictive?
Eating Out Is an Addictive Behavior
How often have you eaten a great meal at a restaurant and felt compelled to return again? That’s perfectly normal because we all like to eat at places with good food. However, the compulsion kicks in when we order the same meal every time. This is known as an “addictive behavior,” and it is not healthy. Break the cycle. Order something different or stay home; your monthly income will thank you for it.
The average American eats out four to five times per week and spends nearly $250 per month on commercially prepared food. Your steak dinner for two consumed half of that. You can get away with that once in a while if you make enough money, but your carefully planned grocery spending budget will go upside down quickly if you allow eating out to become a habit.
Budget $250 a month for take-out. If there’s enough left at the end of the month, take someone you like out to a sit-down dinner. Budget experts recommend this as an incentive to stick to your plan. Do not try to change your lifestyle and switch to strictly home cooking. It won’t work if you’ve never lived that way before.
Balancing Your Diet With Healthy Foods
If you do the math, ordering take-out five times a week with a $250 monthly budget equals $12.50 per meal on average. You can buy a sandwich or small pizza in most states with that. You could also choose healthier and get a salad or a wrap. It won’t change your current food budget, and you’ll treat your body a lot better. Try doing this every other meal to start.
Eating healthy foods will impact your grocery budget for your meals at home each month. HealthyPeople.gov, a website sponsored by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), recently published a study that showed lower-income families tend to buy fewer healthy food products. This is mainly due to cost.
According to the USDA, Americans spend 7.6% of their weekly grocery funds on fruits and 7.7% on vegetables. J.T. Quillen, VP of Retail Banking at Northwest Bank, says the average consumer should spend 10-11% of their weekly income on groceries. The median household income for the average family in the United States is $66,000 a year.
The math looks like this:
- $66,000 per year / 52 weeks = $1269
- $1269 x 11% = $140 per week for groceries
- $140 x 7.6% = $11 per week on fruit
- $140 x 7.7% = $11 per week on vegetables
To summarize, a household bringing in an income of $66,000 per year should spend $140 a week on groceries, with $22 for fruits and vegetables. The grocery allotment will rise reciprocally if the annual income is higher. This is merely a guideline.
How Much Should I Spend on Food Each Month: Dependents
If you think $140 a week is enough to feed a family, you have never had children. You can get by on that if you’re single or a part of a couple. Add kids to the mix, and your average grocery bill goes up, and you’ll end up not saving money.
According to Investopedia, the food costs for a one-year-old child range from $93.60 to $173.20 per month, based on a USDA system with the following four levels:
- Low Cost “Thrifty Plan”
- Low-Cost Plan
- Moderate Cost Plan
- Liberal Plan
Families are falling under the US median income line struggle to afford healthier foods and buy cheaper, easy to prepare items when they go to the grocery store. Try to avoid this if you can. The frozen food section is not your friend. Frozen foods are high in sodium and usually have limited nutritional value. Low-cost plans leave you only $25 per week. Shop creatively.
The USDA sensible plan runs about $140 a month. Take the $140 weekly budget you’ve already established for yourself and add $35 per child. For a family of four earning the median income, your food costs are up from 11% to 16%. That’s higher but manageable.
Create a Budget To Know How Much to Spend on Food
With tons of personal finance tools, you may already have a budget for things like rent or car payments. Now let’s see what you should budget for food each month. First, let’s recap and put the numbers together. Your take-out budget is $250 per month.
Groceries will cost you $810 per month if you have two children. How much should you spend on food each month? Based on these calculations, if your household brings in $66,000 per year, that monthly number is $1060. Add that as an entry in your budget.
Remember that this number is based on a sliding scale determined by your annual income. The US Census Bureau listed the average poverty line in 2019 at $25,750 for a family of four. You can work the numbers yourself. These families are trying to make it on grocery budgets of less than $100 a month. Take-out and dine-in restaurants are not on their radar.
Since most of our readers are at or above the median income line, we would like to ask all of you to add one more line item to your budget. Call it “food charities” and make it a sub-category of your grocery budget. Then, use it to put aside a small portion of your income to help feed others. Organizations like Feeding America and local food banks always need donations.
General Tips on How to Manage Your Food Spending Habits
So far, we’ve considered the average monthly grocery bill for the average American family. Now, we will share general tips on managing your monthly costs for food.
Before preparing your grocery list, take an inventory of what you have at home. This way, you avoid food waste and only get what you need. Also, consider your family size before you buy food, and before heading to grocery stores, eat a light snack to avoid impulse buying.
Check the grocery store ad to see what store brands are conducting sales. Using digital coupons when buying groceries will help you maintain your average spending goal and save more money.
Create a Healthy Meal Plan
Whether you live as one adult male or in a four-person household, you will save more money and stay within the average costs of groceries by making healthy choices. As mentioned earlier, incorporate veggies into your monthly food plan. Mix frozen vegetables, frozen fruits, and fresh produce.
Also, consider organic produce when buying food or creating food plans. You can get organic produce for low prices at Walmart than at grocery stores like Whole Foods. Note that if you earn a higher income, you can conduct your grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Finally, add food items that are gluten-free and vegan to monthly shopping lists.
Buy Store Brands
Store brand items are usually cheaper than generic items, and the quality is fair. Most stores ensure that their products have almost the same quality as major brands. However, compare prices between stores before settling on any item.
Conclusion: How Much Should You Spend on Food Monthly?
This article looked at the average cost of groceries for the average household and ways you can avoid spending a significant amount of your income on food. Remember to stick to basic groceries, buying what you need and within your food budget.
Do you want to find more information on how to save money on food? Read our article on how much you should spend on groceries to learn how to save when you food shop.