Grasping Groceries

Figuring out how much to spend on groceries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average US household spends an average of $4,643 per year on groceries. That’s about $387 per month. If you’re spending more than that (particularly if you have a smaller-than-average family size) you might want to cut back. Here’s how to know how much you should be spending on groceries.

One of the best places to check when deciding how much you should spend on groceries is the USDA’s food budget page. As US News notes, each month, the USDA publishes a grocery estimate for individuals and families (with kids between 2 and 11). The site breaks out the grocery budgets into four tiers — thrifty, low-cost, moderate and liberal. The USDA’s May grocery budget breakdown lists a thrifty monthly cost at $676.80, while a liberal cost comes to $1349.80. As you’ll notice if you take a look, the USDA doesn’t give info for families with teenagers. That’s likely because teens can eat a ton and can throw everything out of whack. However, the USDA does offer a breakdown for individual kids. For example, using a low-cost plan, the USDA allocates $255.50 per month on groceries for a male teen between 14 and 18. If you have girl teens, you’re in luck. The same plan says the average monthly grocery bill for a girl between 14 and 18 is just $215.40.

The USDA’s estimates are helpful, but ultimately just ballpark numbers. Everyone has their own needs, wants and habits when it comes to groceries. If you’re looking to cut back on what you spend, be sure to plan out your meals each week. Create meals using as many items that you already have on hand. Use store coupons and customer rewards programs. Shop with a list. And the end of each month, review how your grocery spending is trending, and make adjustments. Just paying attention to what you spend will likely help keep the costs down.

Chris O'Shea

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