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How much should you budget for food?

Every now and then I get asked during webinars about the “grocery” category. People who are new to budgeting aren’t sure how much they should be spending on groceries – food specifically – and are looking for some type of a guideline.

Of course, every household is different. If you are a single person, your grocery budget will vary considerably from that of someone who is married with four children. Further, everyone has different tastes and likes different things.

When I first started budgeting, this was one of the most difficult areas for me because I really had no idea what to do, and I also had no idea what I had been spending.

I’d like to share a site that may give you a little direction. I don’t consider this to be the end-all, but you may find it helpful.

The USDA has this site which calculates the cost of food at home at four different levels:

USDA – Cost of Food at Home

They offer a Thrifty, Low Cost, Moderate and Liberal Plan. The following is taken directly from their July 2010 Report:

The Food Plans represent a nutritious diet at four different cost levels. The nutritional bases of the Food Plans are the 1997-2005 Dietary Reference Intakes, 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and 2005 MyPyramid food intake recommendations. In addition to cost, differences among plans are in specific foods and quantities of foods. Another basis of the Food Plans is that all meals and snacks are prepared at home.

You can download a report for each month going back to 1994. They show the numbers either weekly or monthly, so make sure you know which column you are looking at.

What I found helpful was being able to look at how much I spent each month on food and how that lined up with their plans. It just gave me a barometer of sorts – a starting point for analyzing my spending.

So again, I offer this in the hopes that some of you may find it helpful as a reference tool. Keep in mind though, food budgets do vary greatly between households and ultimately you should set your own goals based on what you think is right for your family.

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How much should you budget for food?