If you find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck or wondering where all the cash in your wallet went, it is time to set up a household budget. Expect food to be one of your top expenses along with housing and transportation. It may take time to figure out the right food budget for you, but once you do, stick to it.
Average Family Spend
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Food is undoubtedly one of the most important items in your budget, and one of the most expensive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure survey averages spending across families, individuals and couples. The 2009 survey reported that the average food spend accounted for nearly 13 percent of income. Food eaten at home accounted slightly more than one-half, with food eaten away from home making up the remainder. (see Ref 1) These numbers may vary for you depending on several factors, including whether or not you have any children or pets, how expensive or inexpensive food is in your region and whether you have any special dietary restrictions due to allergies or medical conditions. Don’t worry if you spend a little more than average, as some credit counselors like Care One recommend allocating up to 15 or 20 percent of your income to food expenses.
Healthy Food Planning
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As you calculate your food budget, keep health and nutrition in mind. The U.S. Department of Agriculture used recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid.gov to develop four tiers of food plans to demonstrate that you can follow a nutritious diet despite a small food budget. Their food plans, called Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate and Liberal, cost families of two as low of $347 per month and as high of $688 per month. These plans, however, were developed for at-home meals, and you will need to adjust them for any dining out or on-the-go snacks you grab on a regular basis.
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Credit counselors BCS Alliance states that people who do not track their food expenditures are much more likely to be in heavy debt than those who keep tabs on their spending. Even if you think you know how much you spend each month on food, making a diligent effort to track your food spending for one to two months might surprise you. Make sure you track all expenditures including grocery store items, restaurant meals, grab-and-go snacks, your morning coffee and even vending machine purchases. The results of this exercise will help you to determine whether you need to cut back and what you can cut back on.
Keeping Food Costs Low
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If you find that you are spending too much on food, cutting back doesn’t mean that restaurant meals are the first things to go. Start by clipping coupons, buy in bulk when your brands go on sale, purchase generic for certain items and avoid prepackaged meals, frozen meals and pre-cut meats and poultry. Never shop without a list and don’t deviate from it while in the store. Cut down on food expenses away from home by brown bagging it at work instead of hitting the local deli and bringing snacks and beverages with you when you leave home to help you avoid the high cost of vending machines and convenience stores. (see Ref 4) Visit your local library or bookstore to find books on quick and easy cooking and shopping for two that won't break the bank.
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.