I am a frequent user of Mint.com. I don’t use a strict budget, but I do have a general idea of how much we spend on each category monthly and if I see things are trending in the wrong direction, Lauren and I will discuss whether it’s temporary or permanent. I don’t hate the idea of lifestyle inflation and I know our expenses will increase over time, but I do like to keep them in check whenever possible.
I Think We Spend Too Much Money on Food
One of the things I always keep an eye on is our grocery budget. While we enjoy the occasional meal out, the majority of our food is prepared in our home. We have $100 set aside in our budget for restaurants, and it’s not uncommon for us to not have used all of that.
Still, every month, I am surprised at how much we spend on food. I don’t think we are preparing extravagant meals. Most of our meals contain chicken or fish, and we try and have a salad nearly every day. We bring our lunches to school/work, and these range from sandwiches to salads, to some sort of pasta dish. 3-4 times a month, we’ll invite friends over for lunch or dinner, and each of these can run us $75-$100 (similarly, we get invited out 3-4 times a month). There’s always leftovers from these meals that last us another 1-2 meals, but this is undoubtedly why I think our monthly grocery expenditures are so high.
So how much do we spend? About $593 a month on groceries. That number just sounds so high to me, I think $500 would be more reasonable, but there’s no specific area that I think we need to cut back on, so it’s hard for me to complain about where we’re shopping or the types of foods we buy. Since I don’t think we can really change much, I did some investigating to find out how we compare to others, hoping to make myself feel better about our high grocery bill.
Comparing Our Spend
I started with the USDA Cost of Food at Home report for July 2014, which shows the average cost of food at home at four levels (thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal). It shows that for a family of two, ages 19-50, under the thrifty plan, the average is $389.90, the low-cost plan is $496.90, the moderate-cost plan is $618.60, and the liberal plan is $774.20. Our spending is above average, but still below the liberal plan. We consider ourselves to be generally frugal people who do not buy especially expensive foods, but I guess we’re buying a lot of it? Still, it’s a relief that we’re not completely off the charts!
Next, I took a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Consumer Expenditures for the Los Angeles Area for 2011-2012, which was released at the beginning of 2014. This shows the average annual expenditures for households for all categories, but right now, I’m focusing only on the food category.
How We Stack Up Against U.S. and L.A. Averages
According to the report, the average U.S. household spent $3,880 on food at home, while the average L.A. household spent $4,337 on that category. The average U.S. household spent $2,649 per year on food away from home, while L.A. households came in at $3,166 per year. Totaling these two categories, the average U.S. household spent $6,529 on food, while the average L.A. household spent $7,504 on food.
Food Away from Home
According to my mint.com account, over the last 12 months, we spent $816 at restaurants, $199 on snacks and coffee shops. So we spend just 38% of what the average U.S. household spends on food out of the home, and 32% of what L.A. households spend, on average. Not surprising considering how infrequently we eat out.
Food at Home
We spent $7,120 on groceries in the past twelve months, which is a whopping 83% more than what the average U.S. household spends, and 64% more than what the average L.A. household spends. This is also not surprising, I knew we were spending a ton!
Overall Food Spending
In total (inside and outside the home), we spent $8,135 on food over the past 12 months. That’s 24% higher than the average U.S. household and just 8% higher than the average L.A. household. That’s not nearly as high as I was expecting.
Takeaways from Average Food Budgets
After looking at these two sources of information and comparing our spending to national and local averages, I’m no longer concerned about our spending. Our lack of outside-the-home spending makes up for most of our grocery spending, and we really value those group meals with friends. We certainly are not going to cut back if it means fewer of those.
We can probably be a bit more conscious of where we buy our food to save a few dollars here and there. My new job is very close to both Target and Trader Joes, so we’ll likely spend a bit less if we take advantage of those two stores we like so much.
How much do you spend on food each month? How do you stack up?