Spending money on food is non-negotiable; we have to eat. And you’ve likely gotten more used to buying groceries and eating at home since the pandemic struck.
However, if you don’t budget for groceries and instead just buy what you need — and want — at intervals throughout the month, you could be overspending. To help you sort it all out, here are the facts about the average cost of groceries each month in the U.S. and ways to determine how much you should be spending.
The Average Cost of Groceries Per Month
What does the average U.S. household spend on groceries per month? According to 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average spending on food at home is $4,643 annually or about $386.92 per month for U.S. households. But that figure will vary depending on the type of food each household buys, the amount consumed, the prices for groceries where you shop and whether you use one of the grocery delivery services that charge additional fees.
Higher Income Earners Spend More on Groceries
How much you make will also determine how much you spend each month on groceries.
Unsurprisingly, a higher income rolls out a smorgasbord of options. For example, people with higher income can afford to pay more for organic produce, prepared foods and gourmet items.
Low income, however, not only comes with a need to make every penny count to stretch the food budget, but it can also influence overall choices. According to a 2019 study about food shopping, lower-income households purchase fewer fruits and vegetables than those households with a higher income.
How Much Should I Be Spending on Groceries Per Month?
While around $387 per month is the average amount U.S. households spend on food, that doesn’t mean that’s how much you should budget for your own grocery bill each month. Instead, consider the food plans created by the United States Department of Agriculture, which detail monthly at-home food costs for May 2021, depending on four spending levels of thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal.
You can use these plans to help you estimate a monthly grocery budget based on whether you’re single or have other people in your household and what type of budget you’re working with.
Spending Plan for Each Family Member
Below, you’ll find the breakdown for a single person, a family of two and a family of four. If you have a different size family, you’ll need to make some adjustments to the numbers. Add 20% for one additional person, 10% for two additional people and 5% for three additional people.
If your family is larger than seven people, however, you’ll either leave the budget as is or subtract a percentage. For example, four additional people added to a plan requires zero adjustments, and for 5 or 6 additional people, you’ll subtract 5%. And when adding seven or more additional people to a food plan, you’ll subtract 10%.
Here’s a look at the USDA food plan spending for a single person, a family of two and a family of four:
USDA Food Plan Spending for a Single Person
For a single female, age 19-50, here’s the breakdown of monthly costs for each type of food plan:
- Thrifty: $175.60
- Low-cost: $222.60
- Moderate-cost: $272.20
- Liberal: $348.80
For a single male, age 19-50, here’s the breakdown of monthly costs for each type of food plan:
- Thrifty: $197.70
- Low-cost: $256.10
- Moderate-cost: $320.70
- Liberal: $392.70
USDA Food Plan Spending for a Family of Two
For a family of two, age 19-50, here’s the breakdown of monthly costs for each type of food plan:
- Thrifty: $410.60
- Low-cost: $526.50
- Moderate-cost: $652.10
- Liberal: $815.60
USDA Food Plan Spending for a Family of Four
For a family of four, with two adults, ages 19-50, and two children between ages 2 and 5, here’s the breakdown of monthly costs for each type of food plan:
- Thrifty: $599
- Low-cost: $766.40
- Moderate-cost: $944.50
- Liberal: $1,169.00
For a family of four, with two adults, ages 19-50, and two children between ages 6 and 11, here’s the breakdown of monthly costs for each type of food plan:
- Thrifty: $687.40
- Low-cost: $907.20
- Moderate-cost: $1128.20
- Liberal: $1370.10
Work Out a Budget for Groceries
Not having a budget for groceries is dangerous and leaves you open to temptation when you visit or order from the grocery store. Without knowing how much you should be spending each month, you run the risk of overspending, spending too much on the wrong items and even wasting foods due to throwing out perishable items, such as meat, dairy, baked goods and produce that you buy and don’t use.
Budgeting Tip: 50/30/20
One budget that may appeal to you is the 50/30/20 budget. Within this budget, you spend 50% of your monthly net income on needs, which is where your grocery budget would fall, along with other needs like mortgage or rent, insurance and car payments. Things you want — but don’t have to have — comprise 30% of this budget and 20% goes to savings and debts.
To create a budget for your groceries, subtract 50% from your net income and then subtract needs, other than groceries, from that number to see what you have left to spend on groceries. If it’s not enough, adjust your spending in the wants category to compensate.
How To Stretch Your Grocery Budget
Planning a careful grocery shopping strategy can save you hundreds of dollars on your annual grocery tab. Meal planning apps like eMeals take the guesswork out of menu planning by prepping an entire week’s worth of meals for a monthly price of $5 to $10. And if you choose carefully, you can make easy, budget-friendly dinners that will last you all week.
Print off a custom grocery list to shop for ingredients, or send the list to Walmart, Kroger or other participating stores to pick up your ingredients and avoid impulse shopping. Menus are designed for your eating style with plan options ranging from kid-friendly to Paleo. As a free alternative, the What’s for Dinner website lets you browse recipes and create your own custom shopping list.
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Jodi Thornton-O’Connell contributed to the reporting for this article.