Grocery budgets vary for many reasons
By Nikita Wolff
It recently came to my attention that I’m spending more than the average [3rd Decade] Joe on my groceries. I made the mistake of asking my entire team during a meeting what a “reasonable grocery budget” looks like (or at least what we recommend to our participants at their meetings).
That was a question that took me about 10 seconds to regret asking.
We have a diverse team of people, but we all pretty much have one thing in common: frugality. Except for me apparently. At first, I wondered, “How could this be?! I thought I was a skilled budgeter!” Then, I crawled out of my shame puddle & took to the internet to find a “recommended grocery budget for 2 people”.
Turns out, there’s a huge variety from person to person. While some of my coworkers spend ~$200 on a household of 2 for a month, others spend $500, and some (me) spend even a little more than that. You can look up “food budget suggestions”, but even still, there are too many personal factors to find a straightforward answer.
Here are some factors that can affect your food bill:
- Where you live / grocery stores available
- Dietary restrictions/preferences
- Eating meat or not
- Total caloric needs
- The number of people in your household
- Having the ability to buy in bulk & freeze
If you’re interested in knowing U.S. food spending averages, the USDA compiled two documents that outline average spending on groceries for a household of 4 (as of August 2022). In the fine print, they clarify how to adjust these numbers if your household has more or less than 4 people in it. These numbers also assume that all of your food is consumed at home, so they may be slightly different than if you eat out a few times per week.
For a Thrifty Food Plan, a household of 2 people like my own (1 male, age 20-50; 1 female, age 20-50), the average monthly cost would be $589.71 (This includes the recommended added 10% adjustment for a 2-person household)).
For Low, Moderate, and Liberal cost averages, a household of 2 like my own (adjusted up 10%) would be:
- Low cost: $600.71
- Moderate Cost: $745.14
- Liberal Plan: $927.30
There are some circumstances that warrant giving your grocery budget a second look. Some signs that you should consider reducing this line item are:
- You throw away a lot of unused food
- Your “must pay” expenses take up more than 50% of your monthly income (this would include housing, utilities, groceries & transportation).
If you’re wanting to spend less, here are some tips for cost-effective grocery trips:
- Show up with a list (and adhere to it)
- Download the app for the store you shop at (if they have one), and look for digital coupons on items you already buy
- Buy in bulk somewhere like Costco or Sam’s Club for items with long shelf lives (or that are freezable)
- Find a rhythm with a few staples and switch up the items you add in (i.e. crock pot meals that use a grain, a protein & some veggies)
- If you’re the type of person who likes to use recipes, see if you can find ones that are cost-effective.
The moral of the story is:
Grocery budgets are not a one-size-fits-all line item on your budget. What feels like enough to one person might not be enough to another. You get to decide if the amount you’re spending is working (are you able to meet your other financial obligations?). You also get to determine if the trade-off of how else that money could be spent is worth it to you.