Grocery shopping is a family affair. Whether you go on the weekend or after work, by yourself or with your kids in tow, the trip is all about supplying the people that you love with the foods that they love. According to a recent poll from the Food Industry Association, more Americans are enjoying family meals together, and regular shopping trips are essential to making that happen.
Important though the outing may be, food itself isn’t cheap. Indeed, in 2019, food was the average U.S. adult’s third-largest expense, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Spending on food and beverages rose more than 3% compared to the previous year, a significant uptick from the 0.8% increase in 2018 from 2017.
Even if you don’t have kids, are single or live with your spouse or partner, grocery shopping can easily cost in the hundreds of dollars. Whatever the amount, you’re likely spending more than you would prefer.
How thrifty should you be?
But it raises an interesting question: How much is too much? Put another way, what price is the right food price for you and your family?
Of course, you are truly the one who gets to make that decision; you know your budget and ongoing nutrition needs better than anyone. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers some general guidelines through an appropriately titled program called “Food Plans.”
Updated regularly with new pricing, the program is grouped into categories, each with a name that aligns to your grocery budget goal and in ascending order, meaning most affordable to least affordable. They include “Thrifty,” “Low-Cost,” “Moderate-Cost” and “Liberal.”
Take Thrifty as an example. USDA defines this category as spending between $166 and $187 per month on groceries for those who are single, while the average family of four — meaning two adults and two children — roughly $568 to $651.
Here is a breakdown of the three remaining categories and what USDA recommends spending on groceries each month:
Family of Four: $726-$855
Family of Four: $894-$1,068
Family of Four: $1,106-$1,296
Whatever category you fall into—or perhaps would like to be in—the amount is probably less than what you’re paying now, at least if you’re anything like the average individual living in the U.S. Again, taking from the consumer expenditure report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent $4,643 on food at home in 2019 and $3,526 away from it, such as at a restaurant, ballpark or fair. That equals out to nearly $8,200 on food alone.
Only you can determine how much is too much and what amount is just right for food and beverages. Because the cost of consumables is in a near-constant state of flux—largely due to supply and demand as well as a few other economic variables—maintaining the same level of spending can be difficult.
While food may be most Americans’ third-costliest expenditure, here’s some good news: People spend less on food today than they did way back when—much, much less. In the 1900s, for instance, most households spent almost 50% of their annual budget on the cost of food, according to the Street. Today, it’s around 10.5%.
In the end, it’s all relative. A tenth of your income may be perfectly within your limits, whereas for others, that percentage may be spreading you just a bit too thin.
Here are a few tips to be mindful of moving forward so you can continue to purchase all the foods that are both nutritious and delicious without breaking the bank:
Whether you find them in your weekly circulars, online or stuck to boxes of cereal, “$1 Off” and 10% discounts may not seem like all that much, but they can truly add up over time. In your spare time, take a look through those newspaper inserts; you’re bound to find notices and BOGO offers on items that are always or frequently included on your food shopping list.
You may also want to check out mobile apps before you reach the checkout counter with your crossed-off list in hand. Apps like Groupon and Honey perform searches for you that can seamlessly discover discounts that you weren’t aware of. You may be surprised just how much you can save by putting in some extra leg work in this regard.
Make a plan and stick to it
Plan out meals five days to a week in advance to ensure you have all the ingredients needed — nothing more, nothing less. Make a list of the meals and what ingredients are needed for each; oftentimes, certain dishes have shared ingredients which can help you save on your bill and make meal preparation simpler.
Speaking of lists, try to make one out prior to shopping so you can have an action plan before you begin adding items to your cart. Grocers place items in strategic areas of the facility that are designed to persuade into buying them. But a list can help you to better focus and prioritize so you only purchase items that you know you need — and nothing more.
Buy frozen over fresh
Thank goodness for fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re nutritious, delicious and chock full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Generally speaking, though, fresh is more expensive than frozen. It’s odd that this is the case, though, because several studies show that frozen items are every bit as good for you as those that are in the produce section. That’s because fruits like strawberries, green beans and blueberries are flash frozen, locking in their nutritive value so it’s more efficiently preserved.
Not only that, frozen doesn’t spoil as quickly, resulting in less waste. According to research conducted by the American Frozen Food Institute, 60% of consumers buy frozen foods because they have a longer lifespan, meaning shelf-life. Not only that frozen food accounts for 47% less food waste compared to foods kept refrigerated or at room temperature.
Steer clear of name brands
Be it Kellogg’s, Kraft, Nabisco or Nature’s Way, name brands are great because of their consistency and quality; you know what you’re getting when you open the box, wrapper or container. However, you may want to consider getting the generic alternative. Your local grocer likely has the same cereal, pasta, crackers or granola bars. The only difference is they’re the ones producing it. These items typically cost less and taste, if not identical, very similar to the real thing.
Even if you’re a foodie, it truly does pay to be frugal. Being more deliberate in your grocery shopping will help your savings add up for you to enjoy.
The information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice. You should consult with a financial professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs.