Grocery spending varies so much so it’s little surprise we’re left wondering how much to spend on groceries. The USDA estimates Americans spend about 10% of their income on food. That includes groceries and eating out.
I’ve invited Robbie, a personal finance blogger from EAT Money, to dive into the question “how much should I spend on groceries?” and give you an inside look into how much his family of 4 spends on their groceries.
See what Robbie has to say about how much to budget for groceries:
The grocery spending in my house is oftentimes a point of contention. It just seems to get out of control so easily! Sure eating a lot of fruits, veggies, and high quality meat are all important but it adds up so quickly when you’re feeding a family of four.
Groceries tend to be one of the largest expenses in my household (I would know as I’ve been tracking every expense for 6+ years) and the one that seems to rise the fastest if you take your eye off of it.
Today I’ll walk you through my thoughts on grocery spending, some government guidelines on spending on groceries, as well as my own personal data from 6+ years of tracking.
How much you spend on groceries depends on so many factors
Of all the numbers on my spending I feel that spending on groceries may be the most personal. It’s the most personal because it’s based not only on the size of your family but also the quality of food you want your family to consume.
Everyone’s decision is different and whatever you decide for your family is the right decision. My wife and I have prioritized the quality of food since we got married. We are fortunate we have the ability to do so because it certainly comes with a price..
Not everyone does that, and that’s ok. Remember this is a very personal decision. I know of a family that has the same number of people, all about the same age as the members of my family, that spends 30% less than we do at the grocery store.
It’s important to understand your situation and the accompanying decisions. Spending money on groceries is not a bad thing because it’s your thing!
These factors affect how much you should spend on food/groceries per month:
- How many people you are feeding. Don’t compare your groceries for 5 people to a couple’s grocery bill.
- Age and gender of each person. Teen and adult males tend to eat more than females and teens tend to eat more than grown adults. Depending on their age or growth stage, kids and toddlers eating varies a lot.
- What kind of food you eat. Are you eating food from mostly the perimeter of the grocery store (veggies, fruits, meat, dairy) or mostly from the centre isles (packaged and processed foods)? Often the fresher foods are more expensive, but there are lots of budget friendly pantry staples in the centre isles to balance it out.
- Your cooking style. Are you cooking everything from scratch or using mostly premade foods? Generally cooking from scratch is more affordable.
- Dietary restrictions. Certain dietary restrictions can add on to your grocery bill. While that’s outside of our control, it’s important to be aware of when comparing how much to spend on groceries.
- Where you live. This is a huge factor in determining how much you should be spending on food. Rural vs urban vs suburban, neighborhood, State or Country all play huge factors into what’s considered “normal” grocery spending.
- Where you shop. Even different stores within the same city have greatly variable food prices!
- What you all include in your grocery spending budget. Do you include only food bought at grocery stores, or do you include cleaning supplies and paper products too? Do you include eating out in your food budget or no? Do you include alcohol?
- Your income. If you take home less money, you will be spending a higher percentage of your income on food than someone who makes more. So if you’re calculating how much to spend on groceries based on a % of income, definitely take that into consideration!
As you can see, these variables can have huge impacts on how much you “should” spend on groceries. When it comes to grocery spending there is no right or wrong number, there is only your number!
A key variable, and one that I grossly underestimated for quite a while, at the grocery store is how health conscious you are. Do you get most of your groceries from the center of the store or the outside edge?
The more time you spend on the outside edge the higher your grocery bill may be.
When trying to determine how much you should spend on groceries, try to find examples that are as similar to your situation as possible in order to compare apples to apples.
If you’re looking to spend less on groceries, check out the workbook, Simple Money-Saving Meal Ideas.
How much should I spend on food vs how much should I spend on groceries?
These two questions are kind of similar, but the main difference is what’s included in your total food budget vs your grocery budget.
Obviously they would both include food, but generally I would say the food budget should also include eating out, as over all, that is just another place you’re buying food. The food budget can also include beverages too, including coffee, tea, soda & alcohol, but some people choose to keep those in a separate category.
Groceries usually just includes food bought at grocery stores, but many people include household supplies like paper products, pet food, and cleaning supplies since they buy it all at the same place.
The risk of including anything you buy at the store in your grocery spending number is that you can literally buy anything you need at a Walmart. If you are watching your grocery budget like a hawk it’s important to stay consistent.
One important variable is to ensure you define “food” or “grocery” spending the same as the person or the data you’re comparing yourself to.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Does our food budget include anything I buy at the store or just food?
- Does it include eating out?
- Does it include alcohol?
- Does it include paper products and cleaning supplies?
In reality, you just need to choose a definition for food spending for your household and your budget. Whichever way you refer to it, make sure you’re using the same measures when figuring out how much to spend on groceries.
Now we’re going to go into some examples of grocery spending including the USDA average grocery spending, Canadian grocery spending recommendations, and some examples of how much real families spend on groceries.
USDA guidelines for grocery spending
Whenever it comes to a spending decision or amount I always try to find something to compare to. Now based on the questions we just asked ourselves it would require a family of the same size, dietary restrictions AND they’d have to be willing to share their grocery spending.
What are the odds that this is happening? ZERO.
Oh sure I catch people discussing how much they spend on food every once in a while. It’s usually a random number here or there with no context.
Fortunately, the USDA puts out rough spending guidelines for various family sizes and spending levels. No these numbers aren’t perfect comparisons but, at the very least, will give you some numbers to compare to.
The plot below shows a quick illustration for a family of four. If you want the rest of the data you can check out this chart. Whether you are a family of 1 or 6 it will be able to provide some guidelines for you.
When I’ve compared my household grocery spending to these figures I’m not looking down to the dollar. I’m just looking to see if I’m in the same general ballpark.
Essentially, if I were double what the government said I should be spending on food, I’d start to question my level of spending.
Read tips on saving money on groceries:
65+ Ideas to Spend Less on Groceries
12 Things We Don’t Buy to Save Money on Groceries
Dietitian Approved Master Grocery List
Minimalist Grocery Shopping List
Canadian Recommendations of how much to spend on groceries
Here is a great infographic summarizing some information from StatsCanada on how much Canadians spend on Groceries (source)
Grocery spending for a family of 4 in the midwest
If you can’t tell I’m the ultimate personal finance nerd. I’m not sure I’ve ever even admitted this on my own blog but I’ve been tracking every expense for over 6 years (2014-2020).
I know, I know. Don’t even say it. Anyways, I thought you may be able to benefit from seeing my grocering spending data. A few quick pieces of information that will be helpful:
- Had my first child in middle of 2015
- Had my second child at the end of 2017
- Any big spikes are probably from events or parties we had at our house!
- I live in a reasonably sized city (100,000+ people) in the midwest
- There aren’t any dietary restrictions for anyone in my household
- This does not include eating out
- It mostly doesn’t include cleaning supplies or paper products, except for near the end when it may be included sometimes
From the plot you can see a steady rise in how much we spent on groceries. As a married couple we were right at about $550 a month and has steadily gone up from there.
You might be wondering about some of the bigger fluctuations, specifically a couple low points in mid 2016 and early 2019. My family was on vacation around both of those times. So those dips in spending are my family cleaning out the fridge the week before we left and then not buying groceries while we were away.
You’ll also notice that the month after those dips tends to be above average. That would be us restocking the fridge!
I must admit that I don’t budget how much we spend on groceries, though I do track it.
There is a distinct difference in tracking your groceries vs budgeting your groceries. Essentially, I’m aware of our spending but there isn’t a hard limit on what we spend as there would be when sticking to a budget.
The intent of my grocery spending number is to just be actual food. I try not to include paper products, cleaning products or other miscellaneous stuff.
A likely reason why the amount we spend on groceries has been on the upswing is because I’ve been doing a poor job of pulling out all the “non-food” expenses.
When you have two kids in the house you can’t do everything!
Grocery spending for a couple in Toronto, Canada
Bri and her partner don’t track their spending in detail, but on average they spend just over $400 CAD (about $300 USD) per month. This includes all food and household supplies bought at grocery stores, but doesn’t include dining out or alcohol.
- Food for 1 adult male and 1 adult female
- Cooking mostly at home
- Don’t have any major dietary restrictions
- Try to use reusables instead of paper products
- Try to use home made cleaners instead of boughten chemical cleaners
- Eating a lot of fresh produce
- Shopping at a local produce market & pay $0.50-$2/lb CAD ($0.35-$1.45/lb USD) for most fruit & veg which helps a lot!
What’s your actual grocery spending number?
I hoped this information helped you understand your grocery spending a bit more. As you can tell, my household grocery spending is something that seems to fluctuate so much. Compare your number to mine or the USDA and see how you stack up!
It was great sharing some information with you. I had never plotted out how much I spend on groceries before, which was a real eye opener for me. I hope was helpful to you!
Utilizing the principles I write about I’ve been able to grow my net worth nearly 400k since I graduated college in 2011. Personal finance is truly a passion of mine and I hope I can help you with yours!
Best of luck in figuring out how much to spend on groceries per month!
I’m curious, how much do you spend on food a month? Let me know in the comments below!
Author Bio: Robbie is a personal finance blogger over at EAT Money. His site focuses on growing your income, tracking your expenses and growing the gap between the two. He helps readers answer questions like “is an MBA worth it for engineers?” or “how do I set up my first budget?”
If you’re interested in reading more about growing your income, tracking your expenses, or utilizing the gap to grow your net worth head over to his site or reach out on Twitter @eatmoneyblog.
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