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 just blew half a car payment on a steak dinner for two with your spouse. Sure, you can justify the expense by claiming it was a “special” occasion, but is that the truth? The word “special” is defined by Oxford 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.
Eating Out Is An Addictive Behavior
How many times have you eaten a great meal at a restaurant and felt compelled to go back again? That’s perfectly normal, because we all like to eat at places with good food. 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.
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 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. If you’ve never lived that way before, it won’t work now.
Balancing Your Diet With Healthy Foods
If you do the math, ordering take-out five times a week with a $250 monthly budget equates to a $12.50 per meal average. You can buy a sandwich or small pizza in most states with that. You could also opt for a healthier choice and get a salad or a wrap. It won’t change your budget and you’ll be treating your body a whole lot better. Try doing this every other meal to start.
Eating healthy foods will impact your grocery budget for the meals you eat 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 in the United States is $66,000 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 of that for fruits and vegetables. If the annual income is higher, the grocery allotment will obviously rise reciprocally. 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 you’ll need more. 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 falling under the US median income line struggle to afford healthier foods and tend to 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 moderate 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, that brings your food costs 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 out there, 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. 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 is bringing in $66,000 per year, that monthly number is $1060. Add that as entry in your budget.
Keep in mind 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. 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.