Americans spend an average of about 10 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food. The more money a family earns, the less it spends on food, with households in the lowest incomes spending 35 percent of their income on food, compared to 8 percent for the highest earners, according to the Agriculture Department.
The amount spent on food is almost the same for groceries to make meals at home and eating away from home at restaurants. Disposable income is how much money is left after taxes and other mandatory withholdings are deducted from paychecks.
While both low- and high-income families could benefit from budgeting for their food expenses, higher income households could see a bigger savings because their food expenses typically grow, but become a smaller overall amount of their general budget.
Eating out less is the main way to cut a food budget. But some of that money will go toward groceries, so the cost isn’t totally eliminated.
When setting a food budget for groceries, a good place to start is a report by the USDA that provides a weekly and monthly guideline that is updated every month to help show families if they’re overspending at the grocery store. It lists average food costs for a nutritious diet of meals and snacks prepared at home.
Costs are broken down into four spending levels: thrifty, low-cost, moderate and liberal spending plans.
A family of four with two children between ages six and 11, for example, would spend $150 per week under the thrifty plan, $197 in the low-cost plan, $246 in the moderate plan, and $299 in the liberal plan.
These USDA guidelines can help a family understand if their expenditures on food are out of line. If you’re buying organic, artisan food, then your food budget will likely be high. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, then your food budget may be low.
To start a food budget, check your last bank statement to see how much you spent at the grocery store the previous month. If it’s more than what the USDA average is for your family size, chances are you can find areas to cut.
This doesn’t mean going hungry, though. Start by trying to cut your weekly grocery bill by $25. Buy generic brands, for instance, buy in bulk and shop at different grocery stores with lower prices. Making a meal plan every week can help you avoid impulse purchases.
It may take a few months, but with help from everyone in the family, a food budget should be easy to pare down.