Eating properly is essential to good health. Eating healthy foods can be more expensive than other, quicker options. For these reasons among others, I have never been a fan of balancing your budget by cutting back on food costs. That being said, how much is too much? How do you know if your food spending is out of control?
One area to look at is how many leftovers are you throwing out. Why are you throwing out so many? It could be you are buying and cooking food in portions too large for your needs. If so you are far from alone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 30-40% of the U.S. Food Supply ends up spoiled or wasted. If this is you, it may be time to adjust your recipes to meet your reality. You also need to be careful about buying ingredients you will only use once. Try looking for smaller containers, or other less expensive options.
It may sound simple, but one good way is to compare what you are spending compared to others. 15-20% of their income on groceries. Add eating out and food expenditures account for over 9% of income. Are your food expenses in the neighborhood of these two figures? If not it may be time to take a serious look at your food budget. Another comparison you can make come from the USDA’s Average Monthly Food Costs Report. This report provides average food costs for various household sizes, at four cost levels. Those four levels are Thrifty, Low Cost, Moderate Cost, and Liberal Plan.
According to the report’s February 2020 edition the average family of four at the Moderate Cost level spent $898-$1072 a month on groceries depending on the age of the two children. At the Liberal Plan level that same family of four spent between $1110-$1300 dollars a month.
Like the percentages above these numbers only include groceries. Depending on how much/often you eat out you may want to evaluate those costs as well. Of course the nature of an average tells us that some people spent more and some people spent less. But if your expenses are significantly above these numbers you may be spending too much, and want to take a close look at how you are spending your food dollar.
There is something else to consider. There are legitimate reasons, beyond your control that your family’s food costs are higher than average. If you live in a high cost location like Boston, or San Francisco, this alone can increase your food costs by about 30% over the national average. Or needing to eat better due to a health condition such as diabetes or heart issues can increase your monthly food costs.
Chopping away at your food budget to balance your monthly budget may be tempting. It can also be an unhealthy thing to do and cost you more money in the long run. At the same time, it is entirely possible you are spending too much to eat each month. Hopefully these guidelines will help you craft a better healthier food budget.