Grocery shopping can be stressful for some, especially knowing how quickly the prices can add up and what to buy to give you the most bang for your buck. Being aware of what to spend on groceries and how to budget your food money can lead to major savings down the line and a decrease in food waste because you’re only buying what you need. To make sure you aren’t breaking the bank next time you walk down the aisles, you can utilize a budget, grocery lists, weekly ads, and couponing.
How Much Should I Spend on Groceries a Month?
How much you spend on groceries in a month depends on how big your household is and what you eat. According to the USDA, the average cost of groceries for an adult in the U.S. is between $229 and $419 per month.
What Factors Impact Food Prices?
There are many contributing factors that impact what we pay at the grocery store. Some of the biggest right now are:
- Labor shortages
- High demand
- Supply chain disruptions
These factors have become even more noticeable in the last few years, especially due to the pandemic. Being aware of what current prices are may help when planning your next trip to the grocery store.
COVID 19’s Impact on Food Prices
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Association declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This impacted people globally in many ways, including at the grocery store. In many places around the world, seasonal laborers, many of which are coming from different countries, plant and harvest food. When the pandemic began, borders closed making accessing these jobs impossible, leading to a reduction in laborers.
Labor Shortages and Demand Increases
With the harvesting and planting disrupted due to foreign seasonal workers being unable to enter countries, we can see how this trickles down into the prices we’re now paying at the grocery stores. Produce was left unpicked, becoming a driving force that influenced demand. In the United States—and globally—we saw less produce available with the demand staying the same as it was prior to the pandemic.
What People Spend on Groceries on Average
According to the USDA’s Food Plan Cost Guide, the average cost of groceries for an adult living in the United States is between $229 and $419 per month. There are some factors that impact these numbers like gender and age. For example, males, on average, spend more on groceries than women.
Monitoring Food Prices
The USDA’s Consumer Price Index, or CPI measures average price changes in groceries throughout the United States. The CPI even has data collection sheets that are updated every month that show food price indexes and percentage changes going back to 1974.
According to CPI Reports, the cost of groceries and eating at home has gone up over 10 percent in the last 12 months (April 2021 to April 2022). Meanwhile, in that same date range, the price of food away from home—take out or eating at a restaurant—went up over seven percent.
Grocery Shopping on a Budget
To help families and individuals plan their budget, the USDA puts out monthly food costs reports to help advise you on your next shopping trip. The USDA also has the Thrifty Food Plan that outlines what one should spend on groceries on average.
USDA Food Cost Recommendations
According to the Thrifty Food Plan, both males and females in the age range of 20 to 50 spend more than those in the age range of 51 to 70. The Thrifty Food Plan also breaks down costs for males, females, and children of varying ages. According to the USDA, males aged 20 to 50 should spend $63.40 on groceries weekly, while their female counterparts should spend $50.90. That is a $12.50 difference between the two sexes this is due to males typically being larger than females, requiring more calories and thus needing more food.
The Thrifty Food Plan states that children from ages one to 11 cost between $23 to $48.60 depending on their age. The older the child, the more it will cost to feed them.
Additioanlly, the Thrifty Food plan outlines costs for a family of four. This reference family is made up of a male and female aged between 20 to 50 and two children, ages 6 to 8 and 9 to11. According to the plan, weekly groceries costs, on average, are $204.90 and monthly grocery expenses are $887.80.
Creating a Budget and a Plan
Having a plan and making a budget is a great way to stay on track financially while grocery shopping. While looking at the Thrifty Food Plan can give you an idea about how much you should be spending, it is important to know that this is the average amount that people spend. There can be a lot of factors that contribute to the total. Factors that could change the average spent on groceries could be where you live, your lifestyle, and other health factors like diabetes, food allergies, or sensitivities.
Using coupons or other in-store deals is a great way to stay on budget. However, there are times when you need to make sure that you are spending your money wisely. It may seem that if you are saving money, you are spending wisely, but if the food you purchase isn’t eaten or goes bad, you’ve actually wasted money. Determining if the deal at the store is worth it or not is crucial to staying on budget.
Many times stores will have percentages off on certain items. To see what you could be saving, try out our Percentage Calculator.
Saving Money While Family Shopping
As mentioned, the USDA indicates that an average family of four spends close to 900 dollars a month on groceries. There are many different ways to reduce the cost of groceries—like couponing or meal prepping. Buying groceries at discount food stores can help offset some of your expenses, too.
Experts suggest that being an informed customer is key when grocery shopping. Buying produce when it is in season, shopping for non-perishables online, and not being tempted by the ready-made food section—as these areas tend to be more expensive—helps to be a savvy shopper.
Grocery Shopping Tips
To reduce the amount of money that you are spending on groceries, creating a budget and going into the store with a plan is a great way to keep your spending where you want it to be and having enough food to last you for the time period that was planned for.
- Plan your meals in advance
- Make a shopping list
- Checking weekly ads for discounts
- Stock up on pantry items
- They have a longer shelf life
- Grocery shop on a full stomach
- Use a Discount Calculator to help check the costs
- Utilize coupons
When to Go Grocery Shopping
Before you head to the grocery store, it is also important to have a snack. Research shows that going grocery shopping on an empty stomach can lead to impulse buying and buying foods higher in calories.
The same research study conducted by Cornell University also indicated that there are better times to go grocery shopping than others. Shopping between 1 and 4 pm is the optimal time to complete grocery shopping as the stores are not typically as crowded and you are likely to be fuller from lunch.
Managing Your Grocery Store Spending
What you spend on groceries may be different than the average American, but knowing how much to actually spend on groceries each month could save you money down the road. Utilizing tools like coupons and financial calculators could be a big help the next time you’re walking down the grocery aisle.
Emily is a freelance writer and teacher. Originally from New York, Emily now lives and works in Europe.