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how much should i spend on food a month

How Much Should I Spend On Food A Month: Budgeting 101

by Gloria Louden

When the money is tight, every penny counts. That’s why budgeting is vital for any household. And with the cost of food going up every day, it’s perfectly normal to wonder How much should I spend on food a month?

A lot of people struggle with budgeting. However, the sooner you figure out all your expenses and separate budgets, the sooner you can stop worrying about money. Of course, asking yourself How much should I spend on food a month is completely normal because there is no one right answer.

It’s not like there’s a specific amount that everyone should spend on food every month. Your food budget depends on a lot of things. Namely:

• Your income
• The size of your household
• Your location
• Your age

In other words, two college roommates won’t have the same food budget as a family of four. However, at the same time, two different families of four might have two completely different budgets, depending on where they live. The one from San Francisco will have to set aside more money for food than the one from a small town in, say, Louisiana.

Let’s examine these factors a bit more closely, shall we?

How Much Should I Spend on Food a Month Depending on My Income?

The good news is that the food budget has decreased over the last century. Not that long ago, families were spending anywhere between 40 and 50% of their entire income on food. In the fifties, that number dropped to 30% while today people spend only around 10% of what they earn on food.

But is that really correct? Take a look at your own income. Do you really spend only 10% on food? Of course not, you spend much more.

Does the Average Matter?

In the US, the average income is a little over 33 thousand dollars. That means that the average household of two working people earns around 66 thousand dollars.

The average monthly food budget is around $7,700, with more than half of that money being spent on groceries and the other, smaller portion spent on eating out.

Now, why should the average budget matter to you? Because it’s a good starting point. Clearly, if you’re making significantly less (or more) than the average earnings, you need to adjust your budget (for everything, not just food).

The 10% figure is also arbitrary. Here’s why — while you can budget and save money on a lot of things, you and your family have to eat every day. Therefore, there’s only so much penny-pinching you can do with a food budget. That’s why low-income households spend around 16% of their earnings on food, while high-income ones spend 10% or even less than that.

On average, adults need around $250 for food per month, while children need about $150. If you do the math, you’ll need around $800 to feed a family of four every month.

This is a good starting point. However, other factors that I mentioned also influence the monthly food budget. Not to mention, the starting point isn’t the same for everyone.

Monthly Budget Plans Based on Income

Depending on your income, you might have to make one of four monthly budgets for food:

• A frugal budget is the smallest amount of money you can spend on food per month, as per the USDA. The frugal budget is $587.40 for families with small children and $673.60 for families with bigger kids.

• A modest budget is a food budget that allows healthy meals for everyone in the household while still being cost-conscious. It’s anywhere between $750.30 for penny-pinchers to $886 for those who are a bit more liberal (but still looking to save some money).

• Moderate budget — the standard budget that’s affordable and health-conscious- is between $926.30 and $1,106.40 (depending on other factors such as location and age).

• Leisurely budget — anything between $1,100 and $1,400 is a generous budget. Meanwhile, anything above $1,400 per month is a leisurely and even luxurious food budget that allows room for fine dining, expensive food items, frequent eating out, etc.

How Much Should I Spend on Food a Month Depending on the Size of My Household?

Now, the numbers I just went over might sound extremely high to you. But, consider this — how many people are you feeding per month? If the answer is Just me, then it’s no wonder the numbers we went over scared you.

Since it’s most likely that the question How much should I spend on food a month will come from a college student (or a young person who’s just now starting a life on their own), let’s go over the food budget for one person first.

One-person Households

The magic number for single people (at least when it comes to food) is around $400. In 2017, an average single-person household spent a bit over $4,400 on food per year. That’s a little under $370.

But, since you’re a youngster (probably a student) who probably has no significant skills in the kitchen, let’s say that “a bit under $370’ won’t cut it for you. You still don’t know where the cheapest produce is, how to use it in its entirety, and how to save money by cooking. Don’t worry, you’ll learn quickly.

Of course, you also probably don’t have time to cook every day. So, for now, let’s say that $400 is your monthly food budget.

Two-People Households

Couples and housemates that combine their budgets can allot between $500 and $600 per month on food. With two people, the problems I mentioned in the previous chapter diminish. There’s always time for cooking, and your combined skill set will surely help you cut the budget.

Although you should spend most of the budget on groceries, there’s still some wiggle room there for a nice date night or two in a (reasonably) fancy restaurant.

Three and More-People Households

More people mean more food. It doesn’t matter if your newest member of the household is tiny (say, a baby) or a full-grown adult. As I mentioned, feeding a child costs around $150 per month. That number holds true if you budget and are conscious about spending. If you spend your money willy-nilly, then it will probably be higher.

So, if we take the budget we set for couples (between $500 and $600 a month) we can just add $150 per each child and have a monthly food budget for a family. As mentioned, the magic number is around $800.

How Much Should I Spend on Food a Month Depending on My Location?

Since the US is so vast and the standards aren’t the same everywhere, your monthly food budget depends greatly on your location. Those on the West Coast and certain cities on the East Coast will spend the most on food, while those in the South (especially ones living in smaller towns) will spend the least.

Overall, people in big cities spend more on food per month than those in rural areas. In 2017, people in big cities spent $7,844 on food while their rural counterparts spent only $7,212.

How Much Should I Spend on Food a Month Depending on My Age?

We already mentioned that college students don’t spend as much money as adults on food. However, there’s a big discrepancy when it comes to food budgets and age that goes beyond the college level.

People under 25 years old spend the least amount of money on food, probably because they earn the least. They are followed by people who are older than 65 years, while people in two other age brackets (those in their late thirties, forties, and fifties) spend a lot more on food.

However, the youngsters spend half of their budget on groceries and half on eating out. The elderly, on the other hand, spend the least amount of money on eating out.

On average, 25 to 35-year-olds spend $400-$500 on food per month; 35 to 40-year-olds spend $800, while the 65-year-olds spend between $500 and $650.

How to Save Money and Lower Your Food Budget

Now, no matter what age you are and how many people you have in your household, unless you’re really well-off, these numbers probably seem high to you. And they are. Food is expensive, especially if you’re trying to eat healthily and stay away from cheap, processed foods.

The thing is, you’re probably spending much more money on food each month without even realizing it. You’re essentially wasting money. Sure, everyone has to eat, but they don’t have to throw their money around.

So, how can you save some money on food without actually starving? Easy! Here are my best tips.

Auditing Helps

Auditing your monthly food expenses and setting a firm food budget is the number one tip on penny-pinching. You need to know where your money is going. More importantly, you need to know how much wiggle room you have in the grocery store.

So, check your grocery list and cross all unnecessary items from it. All those fancy food items that you throw into your shopping cart are essentially a waste of money.

Furthermore, make sure you’re sticking to your budget. Don’t go shopping without a grocery list, and don’t allow yourself more than a few items that aren’t on said list. You’ll be amazed at how much that will lower your spending.

Meal Prep Is Your Friend

I understand that eating out is more convenient and easier. However, if you don’t have the budget for it, you simply can’t afford it. So, instead of heading to the nearest restaurant for your lunch break, try meal prep.

With meal prep, you can plan your meals for the entire week by looking at your weekly food budget, buying groceries that fit it, and then creating delicious meals that will feed you for a week.

By the way, people who first plan their meals and then go grocery shopping are doing it in the wrong order. That’s how you end up wasting money or going over your budget. Work with what you have, people!

Freeze Food (Don’t Waste It)

Suppose you found a store that offers cheaper produce or has a sale. Don’t waste the opportunity — stock up on some things! Don’t buy groceries for the week, buy them for the whole month and then chop and freeze the perishables. By freezing food, you’re extending its shelf-life, and you’re saving money!

Hunt for Coupons and Sales

I’m not saying you have to go all crazy and become an extreme couponer, but looking for coupons will help you cut your food expenses. And, if you’re imagining yourself spending evenings cutting coupons out of newspapers, stop.

We live in the modern age of the internet; everything (including coupons and information on sales) is online. So, get Googling so you can save some money!

A Few Parting Words

Many people think they can’t save money by cutting their food expenses, but they are wrong. Food is essential, but it doesn’t have to ruin you financially. With the right plan, anything is possible.

If you’re asking yourself, How much should I spend on food a month, you’re on the right track when it comes to saving money. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how much money they are spending (and essentially wasting) on money, which is why they end up a few dollars short each month. Budgeting is extremely important, no matter how high your income might be.

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