- 8 min read
- The percentage of income US families spend on food has dropped steadily since the early 1900s.
- Inflation in 2022 has made food harder to afford for many families.
- Fortunately, it’s possible to save on groceries with smart shopping and budgeting.
In the U.S., the average annual grocery bill for a family of four is $15,021, according to USDA figures for a moderate-cost meal plan.
Inflation is causing most bills to go up. Fighting inflation is difficult, but there are ways to save money on groceries.
Do You Know Your Average Grocery Bill?
If you don’t track your grocery budget, you may have only a vague impression of rising prices. But the statistics are shocking.
From November 2021 to November 2022, “food at home” (not including restaurant meals) prices shot up by 12%. Meanwhile, average hourly earnings increased only 5% over the same period. Many of us are spending more of our pay on food compared to last year.
Here’s how much more you’re paying now compared to a year ago:
- Cereals and bakery products – up 16.4%
- Dairy and related products – up 16.4%
- Meats, poultry, fish, and eggs – up 6.8%
- Fruits and vegetables — up 9.7%
- Other food at home – up 13.9%
Staples - everyday food items - account for most of the food eaten at home. So while cutting back on caviar might be a no brainer, buying less milk, bread, and veggies might not be an option.
Why food prices are rising
Food costs rise for many reasons. Among them:
- Wheat and barley prices rose 31% in 2021 due to bad weather.
- Sunflower seed oil prices rose 63% and rapeseed oil rose 65% because of global supply issues and high demand.
- Energy prices are up 13% in the U.S., caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia limiting natural gas exports.
- Egg prices jumped 49% due to the deadliest outbreak of avian flu in U.S. history.
What Is the Average Annual Grocery Bill?
Keep in mind that there is no published food budget that is meant to be perfect for everyone. Per-person food costs are lower when you buy for more people, compared with shopping for someone who lives alone, so big families spend less per person. Also, people on a tight budget necessarily spend less on groceries than people who can afford to buy any food they want.
That said, we can look at averages and common spending patterns. Each month, the USDA publishes its official food plans. These show the estimated cost of supplying a single person with sufficient nutritious food.
Grocery budgets in the November 2022 USDA food plan detail what it costs to feed individuals in a four-person household. Our examples assume the children are ages 6 and 8 because that’s near the upper range that the USDA lists as children. Here are monthly costs for groceries per person:
|Family member||Low-cost plan||Moderate-cost plan||Liberal plan|
|Monthly household food budget||$1,20.90||$1,251.80||$1,514.90|
|Annual household food budget||$12,250.80||$15,021.60||$18,178.80|
Those figures are based on all foods and snacks prepared at home. The minimum-cost plan is the least you’re likely to pay for a diet that complies with various nutritional studies’ recommendations. The other plans allow for more variety and treats, while still complying with the nutritional guidelines.
How do such numbers stack up against your own grocery budget? If you’re spending more than the national average and feeling the pain of rising prices, you may want to try our tips for lowering your food costs while still providing healthy meals for your family. (If you don’t know how much you spend on food, it’s time to create a budget.)
Ways to Save on Your Grocery Bill
Here are some strategies you might be able to use to drive down your food costs. We know that all of these tips don’t work for everyone (for example, to shop in bulk, you need someplace to store food). Experiment with a few of these ideas and see what results you get.
- Plan your meals around sales and specials. Check out what’s on sale and then bust out your phone to search up a meal you can plan around it. Just don’t buy more perishables than you can eat before they go bad. And don’t buy things you don’t need just because they’re cheap.
- Plan ahead. Make menus for the coming week and shop with a list.
- Switch brands. Shop store brands, or whatever’s on sale.
- Cook from scratch. Avoid ready-meals or processed food. Buy the ingredients and cook each meal from scratch yourself.
- Cook extra. Stretch your budget by cooking an oversize dish and freezing portions for later.
- Look for bargains. Subscribe to your local grocery stores’ promotional emails and read its fliers.
- Shop around. Many people have a favorite grocery store. Other outlets might offer lower prices.
- Use coupons. Check food manufacturers’ websites for money-off online vouchers. And check out the numerous sites that point you to money-saving coupons.
- Use leftovers. Eliminate waste.
- Buy produce when it’s in season. It’s fresher and usually less expensive.
- Stock up. Create extra storage space in your home so you can stock more staple foods when they’re on sale.
Is the National Standards allowable grocery expense realistic?
The IRS lists national standards for food, clothing and other items for calculating repayment of delinquent taxes. Small businesses and self-employed workers are most likely to use them.
Taxpayers are allowed the total National Standards amount for their family size. To claim larger expenses, taxpayers must document the expenses to show they’re necessary living expenses.
The IRS lists monthly food expenses as:
One person: $431
Two persons: $779
Three persons: $903
Four persons: $1,028
Compared to monthly grocery costs from the USDA, the IRS allowance is higher for one person but lower for a family of four.
What is the average grocery bill for a family of 4 per week?
For a family of four, the average weekly grocery bill for a moderate-cost meal plan is $288.80.
How much is the average grocery bill for one person?
For an adult woman between age 19 and 50, the average monthly cost for a moderate-cost food plan is $312.20. For a man of the same age, the monthly cost is $370.
Can the 50/30/20 budget method help you with grocery bills?
The 50/30/20 budget method is a way to manage after-tax income and save money in a way that’s appropriate for your income. Half of your money is spent on needs, 30% on wants and 20% on savings.
The 50/30/20 rule can help you see whether your spending is proportionate. If you find that you are short on funds for food, take a look at how much you are spending on wants and savings and consider reallocating some of that money to groceries.
Budget needs typically include:
Transportation, including maintenance if you have a car
Utilities and other bills that you must pay