How Much You Should Really Spend on Groceries, Plus 5 Ways to Save Money at the Supermarket

You have to eat, and it doesn’t always come cheap. Americans spend about 12% to 13% of their income on food, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That works about to $7,729 a year, including $4,363 on food that’s eaten at home.

In other words, American households spend just under $373 a month on groceries. But that’s just an average – it includes everyone from families splurging on expensive organic food to the single mom who’s struggling to stock her pantry.

To get a better sense of how much it should really cost to feed your family, we need to turn to the USDA.

This is what the government thinks you should spend on groceries

Woman on cashier counter

Paying for groceries at the supermarket | GeorgeRudy/Getty Images

Every month, the USDA releases four different food budgets for families of varying sizes. The budgets show how much you should expect to spend on nutritious food whether you’re following a thrifty, low-cost, moderate, or liberal food budget.

The variation in suggested spending is wide. If a family of four (with two adults and two children) was following the thrifty plan, they’d spend $563 and $645 per month on groceries, depending on the age of the kids. Under the liberal plan, spending increases to between $1,100 and $1,288 per month.

USDA Food Budgets

USDA Food Plans, August 2018 | USDA

A single man between the ages of 19 and 50 on the thrifty plan would spend $43 a week, while a single woman would spend even less — $38 a week. That’s about half of what you’d spend on a liberal food plan.

Each food budget assumes you’re eating all your meals at home – no vending machines snacks at work, pizza delivery on Friday, or runs to Starbucks.

How to cut your food spending


Save money by switching to a cheaper grocery store like Aldi. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The USDA clearly thinks its possible to feed yourself for less than $50 a week. But if you’re accustomed to racking up big totals at the grocery store, you might be skeptical.

However, with smart shopping, it’s possible to make a strict budget work, provided you’re willing to forgo some food luxuries. You’ll also need access to a well-stocked grocery store and the time to cook meals from scratch, two things that not everyone has. (More than 23 million Americans live in low-income neighborhoods that are more than a mile from the nearest grocery store, research has found.)

Here are five tips to save money at the grocery store:

  • Shop store brands: You can trim 25% from your grocery bill by switching from name-brand products to store brands, according to Consumer Reports.
  • Choose a cheaper store: Switch from a high-priced grocery store to a cheaper one. Chains like Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Market Basket, and WinCo, and Woodman’s are generally cheaper than competitors like Whole Foods, Jewel, Harris Teeter, and Giant Eagle.
  • Plan your meals: If you find yourself regularly tossing food in the trash that’s gone bad, it’s time to start meal planning. Figure out what meals you plan to make for the week before you head to the store. Then, buy only what you need. This cuts down on impulse purchases and food waste.
  • Shop your pantry: This goes hand-in-hand with meal planning. If you’ve overspent on food on the past, you probably have a pantry stocked with staples. Use these ingredients to create a delicious meal, supplementing with fresh ingredients as necessary.
  • Read the grocery ads: As part of your meal planning, spend a few minutes scanning the week’s grocery ads. If asparagus is on sale that week, choose that as one of your sides rather than the more expensive broccoli

Find out more secrets to saving money at the grocery store here.

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