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How Much Do You Spend a Month on Food?

I recently was talking to someone who raised an eyebrow at our grocery bill.  I’ll confess it right here:  about $1,000 a month, at least.  Should I feel embarrassed of this?  We cook and eat at home quite a lot (really a lot), not to mention that I’ve got three guys in the house and we live in the greater NYC area.  To be honest, I’m not even sure if my $1,000 number is a completely accurate assessment--might it be more, like 1100?  If it is I don’t want to know it.  Let’s just say $1,000 a month.

I started looking into the cost of food just to see if this was so outrageous and if we were all a bunch of slothful greedy overeaters.  I was surprised to discover

how little data seems to be available about what Americans actually spend on what they eat. Yet this is one area where the variance is enormous.

Instead of actual numbers, I found a prescriptive chart from the U.S.D.A. chart which offers guidelines for food costs ranging from “thrifty” and “low cost” to “moderate” and “liberal.” (Turns out my family is moderate, uh, mostly.)

Of course, the food evangelists’ big complaint about Americans is that they should spend more for better food, investing in fresh fruit and vegetables.  I don’t think they’d be happy with the menu items for the U.S.D.A.’s fictional $575-a-month “thrifty” family, which is the government’s baseline for minimally adequate nutrition.  For the same size family, a “liberal” food budget is $1140.  But consider why people chose (or must) save on food.  Food is the one area where people have some control.  Mortgage, car payments, etc. are fixed.  But food has a huge range in cost depending on where you shop, what you buy, and how much or how little you decide to invest in it. The thrifty family spends $565 less per month than the liberal one, and that adds up to a $33,000 difference over five years.  Wow. 

If you want to see where your food budget falls in the scheme of things.  Take a look here at the USDA food plans for November 2009.  Meanwhile, I’d like to find out what was in that $575 menu.

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