Budgeting will do many things for your family’s finances. It’ll help you plan your spending and hold you accountable to meet your plan. However, there is one major problem with budgeting; it doesn’t tell you if your plans are frugal or lavish. It also doesn’t tell you if your plans are reasonable. After all, there is a minimal amount of spending needed to not die.
That is why “How much should I budget for food” is a common theme when you read about personal finances. Food is a large expense for families. According to national averages, it’s the third largest expense for the average American and the third largest cost of having children. Given the food and shopping choices in America, it is also one of the few expenses we can exercise a great deal of control over, which probably explains extreme couponing.
As a result, the question “How much I budget for food” will receive a wide range of answers depending on who you ask. Smart Family Finance is powered, in part, with economics degree power and money nerdiness. So, I thought I’d consult government statics to see if there was an answer for how much to budget.
The USDA publishes a number of food plans for official use. These plans are calculated based on average food costs and government nutritional standards to help determine the costs of a healthy grocery bill at different levels of income. They publish four plans:
- The thrifty plan – essentially the minimum cost of a healthy food budget
- The low-cost plan – the one is used for determining food stamp allotments and is a little higher than the thrifty plan. Think, this is what the government thinks is fair to give low income families.
- The moderate-cost plan – moderate by definition is sort of middle of the road
- The liberal plan – or to paraphrase the political labeling, the high-cost plan
- These are averages, which means, you may fall above or below these numbers based on your area’s unique cost of living.
- These plans reflect the food costs of eating out, not just your grocery bill. So if you are going to compare apples to apples, make sure you add in your costs of eating out.
The statistics are broken down by age and gender, so I decided to simply provide what the food plans say about what my family should spend. I suspect it will be similar to most readers.
Child age 1-11
- Thrifty – $120/month
- Low-cost – $157.90/month
- Moderate-cost – $195.30/month
- Liberal – $230.60/month
Male age 19-50
- Thrifty – $176/month
- Low-cost – $226.80
- Moderate-cost – $283.30
- Liberal – $347.70
Female age 19-50
- Thrifty – $156.70
- Low-cost – $196.90
- Moderate-cost – $242.40
- Liberal – $311
For my entire family:
- Thrifty – $452.70/month or $15.09/day
- Low-cost – $581.60/month or $19.39/day
- Moderate-cost – $721/month or $24/day
- Liberal – $889.30/month or $29.64/day
How do you compare?
According to national averages for food expenditures, the average family spends $531/month or somewhere in-between the thrifty and low-cost plan. Personally, it would have been a wake-up call for me a few months ago when I added up the food spending, because my family would have come very close to the liberal food plan. We currently budget at about the average; right in between the thrifty and low-cost plans.
If you want to see where your own family is, please see the USDA chart or ask in the comments section.
How does your family’s budget for food compare?