What is a normal food budget?



A few months ago, I found this simple calculator on Mother Jones. It compares your food spending budget to what others in your city or in your age group are spending. It also shows you how the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) categorizes your spending.

I entered my numbers and here’s what I learned:

  • See graph below: I spend less than half of the national average ($543/month) and about a third of what a person in Boston spends on food ($722/month). I spend about $236/month (on average, it’s usually less but I rounded up because I’ve been traveling and eating out more recently).

*Note: I’m assuming this data applies to per person but I’m not sure. They definitely should have made that more clear. It comes from Bundle. I just heard of them. I guess they track credit card data and rate where people are spending their money within cities.

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.01.50 AM

  • Households with higher incomes spend more on food. Why? These higher income households may support more people. Or this is evidence of lifestyle inflation.

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 3.16.59 AM

  • I spend way less on food than what this data says the average 25-34 year old spends ($458/month). Then again, I’m assuming this data is for a single person, but it doesn’t specify so I can’t be sure. Some of these people may be buying food for multiple people with their credit cards. It’s still interesting to see how the age groups compare.

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  • Single females spend the least on food ($374/month) compared to all other household types. But I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to include this chart in the post. Here’s why: how come it’s showing that a married couple eats only a little more than a single male in this data set? That looks odd to me. The “single with kids” still spends less than a single male. But this doesn’t surprise me since over 70% of single parents in the U.S. are female. This chart made me realize that SNAP (government food assistance) probably isn’t included in this data.

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  • I thought I was thrifty — but the USDA thinks I am moderate to liberal in my spending habits. This is based on a four point scale from thrifty, low-cost, moderate to liberal. Here it’s clear that the data is based on per person spending. See the actual data here: USDA website. “Thrifty” means that you spend about $159/month and all of the styles assume you never eat out. I could probably be “thrifty” if I only ate out twice a month, stopped buying organic food, and bought more in bulk. Organic food for most things isn’t something I’d give up. So buying in bulk and eating out less it is. I also wonder if these numbers actually inform policy and how the USDA calculates SNAP benefits. I hope not because the cost of food greatly varies depending on location (see the first chart above).

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Here’s what I learned: There is no “normal” food budget. Pay attention to where numbers are coming from in infographics like these and take the numbers with a grain of salt.

Even though I’m pretty confident in my spending, it’s fun to compare how you’re spending with others because money is still such a taboo topic. And it’s motivating me to cut my food budget even more.

Enter your numbers and see how you compare.



  1. This is fascinating as we are tracking our grocery spending to see what we are spending on average a month.

    We’ve only been at it for about 2 months so the data isn’t completely conclusive or accurate yet. The spending has been high the first 2 months because we have been starting from scratch and stocking up on some essentials.

    But it’ll be interesting to see what the coming months average to once grocery spending normalizes.

    Great links, ill be sure to use them to compare even though we aren’t in America 😀

    1. So great that you have a partner who tracks stuff with you. Budgets don’t work for me — tracking everything I spend keeps me accountable to myself.

      Sounds like you just moved to a new place and are stocking up – congrats 🙂 Keep me updated on how you do!

      Also, your comment made me think that it would be interesting to see average spending on food around the world.

      1. That would be very interesting to know what different major urban areas spend on average on groceries.

        I’ll definitely keep you updated. I might even make an excel sheet on grocery tracking and post it!

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