Food isn’t cheap -- and neither is dining out -- unless the golden arches is your favorite place to splurge. As tempting as a bag of plastic-wrapped noodles is to your wallet, don’t give in. Set up a monthly food budget that includes healthy home-made meals, and opportunities for dining out, and stick to it. Both your waistline and your finances will thank you in the end.
Average Household Food Expenditures
It might surprise you to find out that food is the third largest expenditure for Americans, only surpassed by housing and transportation costs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2009, the average couple spent $531 per month to stay fed -- or roughly 10 percent of their gross income. Couples spent a little more than one-half of that on groceries for the home, and reserved the remainder for dining out.
Start With a Household Budget
The first thing to remember when setting up your household budget is that no two are alike. Variables like the presence of pets or children, hefty student loan obligations, chronic illness or living in an expensive metro area may impact your spending considerably. A typical budget, however, often allocates 30 percent of income towards housing, 15 percent towards food, 10 percent towards transportation, 10 percent towards debts like student loans or credit cards, and 5 percent each to clothing, utility and health care costs. Set aside another 10 percent to cover ongoing expenditures like travel, gifts and entertainment.
Try to set at least 10 percent of your income towards long-term savings. A good rule of thumb is to have enough set aside to cover a minimum of two to three months of living expenses. The FDIC recommends a “pay yourself first” strategy when it comes to savings, even arranging for your employer to transfer a portion of each paycheck to a savings or investment account for you.
Develop Your Food Budget
When setting up your weekly or monthly food budget, include Fido’s dog food in the total cost, as well as any specific nutritional challenges you might face, like diabetes, food allergies or celiac disease. Track your food expenditures for one month, including your morning coffee fix, bottles of water from the local convenience store, and afternoon snacks from the office vending machine. Keeping track of everything you spend on food for a month can help you determine where to cut back, and where to allocate more funds.
The USDA publishes monthly reports on what weekly and monthly food expenditures should be based, using four types of spending plans: thrifty, low-cost, moderate and liberal. During September of 2010, couples following a thrifty food plan spent roughly $347, while those on a low-cost plan spent $443. A moderate food plan saw expenditures of $550, and $688 for a liberal food plan.
Keep Food Costs in Check
The best way to keep your food spending in check is to always have a plan. Do not head to the grocery store without a list, and stick to the items that are on it. Buying on impulse is a great way to blow your budget. Buy in-season produce, stock up on sale items and purchase generic whenever it makes sense.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Consumer Expenditures 2009
- USDA: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels-September, 2010 (PDF)
- Care One Debt Relief Services: How Much is Too Much When Planning Your Budget?
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: Starting Out on Your Own-Personal Finance Tips for Young Adults
After attending Fairfield University, Hannah Wickford spent more than 15 years in market research and marketing in the consumer packaged goods industry. In 2003 she decided to shift careers and now maintains three successful food-related blogs and writes online articles, website copy and newsletters for multiple clients.