Where Logic Meets Love

What is "Normal" Grocery Spending?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

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What is 'Normal' Grocery Spending? | Faith Permeating Life
So here's something interesting.

You know I enter sweepstakes every day, or try to. (I had a couple months' dry spell and then won a $25 Best Buy gift last week!) There are some that I enter daily, and I use a Google calendar to keep them all organized so I have a list every day of the ones still accepting entries. Anyway, among my daily sweeps, I'm currently entering two different sweepstakes for "groceries," in quotes because you actually win money to buy groceries instead of actual groceries.

One is "win a month's worth of groceries!" It's awarded as a $1,000 check.

One is "win a year's worth of groceries!" It's awarded as a $5,000 check.

Now, you don't have to be a mathematician (or a data analyst) to see the discrepancy here. Obviously, how long $1,000 or $5,000 will last you depends on how much you spend on groceries every month. One organization thinks you probably spend $1,000 a month on groceries, another thinks it's more like $400.

So I wondered: How much do people typically spend? How much do we spend?

According to the government, the average household in 2008 spent $3,744 a year on "food at home," or $312 a month, and an additional $2,698, or $224.83 a month, on "food away from home." That's an average of everyone -- single people, couples, families. Mint.com's data for the Chicago area shows people spending $600 a month on all Food & Dining. The USDA's 2003-2004 report showed spending of $112.25 per person per month on groceries. And their "food plans" say a couple like us, being "thrifty," would spend about $341 a month.

Thanks to Mint.com's handy-dandy trend analyzer (have I mentioned enough how much I love Mint.com?), I figured out that in 2010 we spent an average of $252 a month on groceries. What's interesting, looking at the month-to-month patterns, is that there's a lot of fluctuation. For example, we must have stocked up in April -- $374 -- and then not had to buy much in May -- $109. (I think that's partly because that's when I got sick, so we stocked up on all manner of vitamins and fruits and such, and then I never felt like eating.) Things evened out near the end of the year, probably after Mike got used to doing all the shopping and having a budget for it. We have a monthly budget of $280 for groceries, which has worked out pretty well.

There are a few reasons we're able to keep our grocery costs low, despite the fact that we don't eat out much. (We've got a $50/month budget for eating out, plus $10/month personal allowances, for which most of Mike's goes toward food.) One is that we don't buy paper towels or napkins -- we have cloth ones that work just fine. We also don't buy junk food, soda, or sweets, which is beneficial for both our budget and our health. This article hits on a few other reasons -- we don't buy a ton of processed foods, and Mike is really good about throwing together meals out of whatever's in the pantry. Also, I take the exact same thing for lunch everyday, so the amount of food I eat for lunch doesn't fluctuate. Mike usually takes leftovers for his lunch, or spends the aforementioned personal allowance, or stops by my parents' house and mooches off them if he's working a double shift (in which case he often just has that one mid-afternoon meal in place of lunch and dinner).

I mention this for a couple of reasons. One, the sweepstakes piqued my interest and I thought I'd share my research. Two, it's been a while since I talked about our finances, and I like to share what works for us. Three, this makes me feel a little better as I'm projecting toward (and worrying about) the future when we want to have a big family. I also found that the price per person goes down as your family grows (because you're buying and cooking in bulk). And when we have our own house and some land, Mike wants to have chickens and a vegetable garden, which will help as well.

Finally, if you're not tired of links, this article's comments were fascinating to read because of the vast differences in spending -- everywhere from a family of 5 spending $300 a month to a couple spending $900 a month. Some of the main differences seem to be whether you eat meat (more expensive), try to eat only organic or vegan (more expensive), or are an aggressive couponer/bargain hunter (less expensive). We haven't succeeded in getting really into coupons, mostly because they seem to be more for processed/super-packaged stuff than the generic fruit, vegetables, milk, bread, cheese, etc. that we buy. Does anyone know of a site where you can get e-mail alerts only when there are coupons posted for specific items (like Wheat Thins or tea bags)? I would use that.

If anyone's willing to share their grocery budget, I'd be interested. And if you're not currently tracking your spending, well, get thee to Mint.com -- it's awesome.


  1. Gah! I am super jealous of how little you spend!! I track all of our spending (and have a spending/budget post in the works) and could NOT believe how much we spent in the past year.

    Here's the post from November: http://rabbitandturtle.blogspot.com/2010/11/whoa-budget-related.html Including our DISGUSTING $6800 food bill. FOR TWO PEOPLE!!!!

    For 2011, I'm trying to keep us around $400/month. As of today, we're at $1071.25, so it looks like we're right on target. I still feel like that's too high. I do know that prices vary around the country...

  2. Forgot to mention...

    Like you guys, we don't buy a lot of stuff that can be "couponed." We do buy some junk & (diet) soda, even though I know, it's horrible for you, but only when it's on sale. Also, my numbers did not include any non-food items; those I track separately. The hubs is a foodie, which can be expensive! I am a leftovers for lunch lady, or I find random things in the house and take them with me. I hardly go out for lunch, and we do go out for dinner a few times a month, but try to keep the price down.

  3. We tracked our grocery spending last year and averaged $320.90/month for two adults and a 5-year-old. I didn't include non-foods in the totals, but we use paper towels and napkins so rarely that we didn't buy any all last year; we did buy a case of toilet paper. (It's cheaper that way, as well as more convenient because we go a year or so without running out!) I think our main sources of savings are being mostly vegetarian and stocking up on bargains.

  4. @Rabbit and 'Becca
    Thanks for sharing your own spending! It definitely varies by region as well as many other factors. I try to focus less on the specific number and more on whether there are any major ways I'm missing that we could be saving money.

    I should go back through our receipts and see what the numbers look like if I subtract out our non-food purchases. Also, because I got a doctor's letter for vitamins last fall, I can get my vitamins reimbursed from my flex health plan, so I need to get the past few months' worth of receipts sent off this weekend.

    One of Mike's coworkers uses some site ($5/month) where it will generate meal plans around what's on sale at your local grocery store. He's talking about signing up--it's supposed to save you money, so we could use the grocery budget to pay for the subscription. If it turns out to be worthwhile I'll post some more info about it!


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