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 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average spending on food at home is $5,259 annually, or about $438 per month for U.S. households.
But that figure varies 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 study about food shopping, lower-income households purchase fewer fruits and vegetables than households with a higher income.
Low-income households also pay more for the food they buy. A tighter budget puts money-saving bulk purchases out of reach, for example. Those households also shop online less frequently, and they have less access to large grocery stores with competitive pricing, according to Progressive Grocer.
How Much Should I Be Spending on Groceries Per Month?
While around $438 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 November 2022, depending on four spending levels: thrifty, low cost, moderate cost and liberal.
These plans can help you estimate a monthly grocery budget based on the size of 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. The figures are based on a four-person household and adjusted according to USDA guidelines for other household sizes. Larger families generally pay less per person due to economies of scale.
If your household size isn’t listed below, you’ll need to make similar adjustments using costs for a family of four as the baseline for your chosen plan:
- Three-person household: Add 5%
- Five- or six-person household: Subtract 5%
- Seven people or more: 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
Here’s the breakdown of monthly costs for each type of food plan for a single female. Whereas the thrifty plan bases costs on the 20-50 age group, the other plans use a 19-50 age group.
- Thrifty: $240.20
- Low-cost: $255.40
- Moderate-cost: $312.20
- Liberal: $399.20
Here’s the breakdown of monthly costs for each type of food plan for a single male. As with the single female, the thrifty plan for males bases costs on the 20-50 age group, but the other plans use a 19-50 age group.
- Thrifty: $299.80
- Low-cost: $294.50
- Moderate-cost: $370
- Liberal: $449.70
USDA Food Plan Spending for a Family of Two
For a family of two, with one male and one female age 19-50 — 20-50 for the thrifty plan — here’s the breakdown of monthly costs for each type of food plan:
- Thrifty: $594
- Low-cost: $604.89
- Moderate-cost: $750.42
- Liberal: $933.79
These amounts were calculated by adding the costs for one male and one female from the respective single plans and adding 10%.
USDA Food Plan Spending for a Family of Four
For a family of four, with one male and one female adult age 19-50 — 20-50 for the thrifty plan — one child age 6-8 and one child age 9-11, here’s the breakdown of monthly costs for each type of food plan:
- Thrifty: $966.60
- Low-cost: $1,037.80
- Moderate-cost: $1,295.20
- Liberal: $1,563.20
Costs for your family will differ from the examples because of variations based on age and gender.
Work Out a Budget for Groceries
Not having a budget for groceries is dangerous because it 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 necessities 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. Apps like eMeals take the guesswork out of meal planning with weekly menus, complete with recipes and shopping lists, for a monthly price of $5 to $12. 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.
Information is accurate as of Dec. 22, 2022.