How Does Your Food Budget Measure Up To The Average American?

food budget

Is Your Food Budget Out Of Control?

How do you think your budget lines up with what the average American spends on food? A Gallup poll in 2012 found that the average weekly bill was $151 per person – and in 5 years, you know that number has only gone up!

When was the last time you went into your bank statements and really examined how much you spent, from groceries to take-out to your morning coffee.

Here are a few indicators that you might be overspending on food.

food budget

You spend more on food away from home than on groceries

According to the BLS data mentioned previously, the average American household spends about $3,008 per year (or $250 per month) on food away from home. This includes lunches from the food truck outside your office, the bagel you pick up on your commute, delivery orders, and dinners out with friends and family.

Though spending on food away from home dipped during the tightest economic years of the Great Recession, that trend is a distant memory. In 2015, Bloomberg reported that spending on food away from home overtook spending on groceries for the first time in history.

Of course, that’s not the story for everyone. But in most cases, meals are more expensive and less nutritious in a restaurant than in your kitchen. Portion sizes are larger, as are the fat content and sodium levels in most dishes. Regardless, the percentage of food dollars spent on dining out has increased from 34% in 1974 to 50% in 2014, according to one Forbes article. If you’re compensating with a much lower grocery bill that’s one thing, but in most cases the bottom line for your food spending simply grows, too.

You throw out half your food

Are you constantly throwing away limp lettuce, weeks-old leftovers, and boxes of stale crackers? Food waste is a serious problem in the U.S., with the average family tossing $640 worth of food in the trash every year.

While the jumbo bag of lettuce might be a better price per pound than the smaller size, you’ll still end up wasting money if your family can’t eat it all before it goes bad. This is especially important for perishable foods like produce or dairy items, but apply common sense in every aisle of the grocery store. If you’re spending just $5 on 10 cans of soup, but they’ll languish in your pantry for the next year, don’t bother.

You always opt for delivery instead of takeout

When the weather is cold or you just don’t feel like facing another person after work, delivery can seem like a godsend. However, you’re paying a hefty tab every time you opt to have someone else show up at your door instead of getting off the couch and driving to pick up that pizza yourself.

According to most etiquette experts, you don’t have to tip much (if at all) if you’re ordering takeout. However, you should plan on an average 20% tip for delivery orders — a 10% minimum at the very least — as well as whatever delivery charges the restaurant already charges.

If you’re ordering through a delivery service like Postmates, that delivery cost can be much, much higher than going to pick up the food yourself. And more than one user of the now-popular service have complained that they ended up paying $30 or more above the estimated price. Some convenience just isn’t worth it.
– via The Cheat Sheet

Cheaper Doesn’t Have To Mean Unhealthy!

So you want to bring down your food budget down – does that mean the quality of your food has to go down, too?

Certainly not! There are ways to eat healthy, eat well, and be happy with your menus, even when you’re on a limited budget.

Stick with staple ingredients.

Usually, buying components of an item is substantially cheaper than buying the prepared item. Stick with the items in the produce aisle and the fresh meats aisle and you’ll usually be just fine.

Buy healthy versions of those staple ingredients.

However, I don’t encourage people to buy the least expensive version of the staple ingredients. This is a personal decision you’ll have to make up your own mind about – I’m not going to advise you whether a free range chicken is a better choice than a regular chicken, or grass-fed beef is the right choice for you. On most ingredients, my family tends to pay a premium for ingredients with fewer hormonal, herbicidal, and pesticidal treatments, but we’re lucky to be in a situation where this is a choice we can consider on merit rather than be pushed into by our pocketbook. Do your own research on this topic and make up your own mind.

Check your grocery store circular and print online coupons

Planning your meals according to what is on sale that week is an effective way to save money and get creative with your meal planning. Figure out which grocery stores have the best prices and download their weekly flyer. Make note of which items are truly a deal that will save you money and satisfy your family. Also, don’t forget to check online for manufacturer’s coupons on grocery items. The Simple Dollar Coupon Finder has hundreds of updated coupons and coupon codes–simply search for what you’re looking for and print. Some weeks will be more successful but overall, you can save a significant amount of money by putting in a little bit of search effort. The important thing to remember here is to only use coupons that will actually save your family money, not purchase useless items just because they are on sale.

Grow some of your own.

Gardens not only produce very inexpensive produce, they give you a very cheap hobby to fill your time, too. It’s not as difficult as you might think, either, and you can grow whatever your heart desires in your own garden.

Look at a CSA.

If you’re committed to buying healthy produce, look for a local community-supported agriculture group. Most CSAs are strongly committed to sustainable and healthy practices (meaning very healthy food), but it’s produced locally, meaning almost no transportation costs. Many CSAs require you to buy shares up front, which entitle you to regular allotments of food over the growing season – and the quantity of food you get is usually a solid bargain. The only catch? Finding a group with an open slot and paying the cost up front for that share.
– via The Simple Dollar

How does your food budget measure up? Do you need to bring it down?

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