updated February, 2013
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I am just learning how to be frugal. Our grocery bill is outrageous! I am desperate to cut it in half to $600 to $700 a month or even less. We have a family of 6 (children - all boys - ages 8 mo., 2, 6, 8). I would like to know how much everyone else spends for their size family and what they do to keep their grocery bills down.
Good question, Debbie! If you're spending $1,200 to $1,400 each month in groceries, you have definitely found an area where you can save some money. Let's look at this as two separate questions. First, what do other families spend. And then, in our next column, we'll take a look at ways to reduce that bill.
To get a handle on what families spend for food, we went to the U.S. Statistical Abstract for 2012. The information is a couple of years old, but it will give us a good idea of what's going on.
According to them, the average family of five or more people spent $10,034 on food in 2009. That included $6,324 for food at home and $3,710 for food away from home. If you've wondered why there seems to be a fast food place or restraunt on every corner that explains it. We spend 37% of our food budgets away from home.
Let's look at some of the areas where we spend our grocery money. Mom always told you to have a good breakfast. On average we spend $335 on cereals and cereal products. That might seem like a lot until you figure how many boxes of 'Toasted, Frosted, Sugared Whatsit' that you can buy for $335. It adds up fast!.
Some of us like baked goods for breakfast. I'm a bagel or muffin person. The average family spends $602 on bakery products. Let's hope that most of that is for breads rather than cakes and cookies!
As you might have expected 'meats, poultry, fish and eggs' make up the largest category at $1,457. Beef weighs in with $383, pork with $303 and the others with smaller amounts.
We're also big consumers of dairy products. $689 goes to cover our daily bills each year. About 40% is spend for milk / cream and balance for all other dairy products.
We must be getting some balance in our meals. Fruits and vegetables account for $1,048 in a year for our large family. Mom would be proud.
Finally, we spend about $538 each year for non-alcoholic beverages. Just in case you were wondering, we also spend $336 on alcoholic beverages.
At this point, I'll bet that some of you are wondering if it makes a difference where in the country you live. And the answer is yes. There are some differences. The average family (of all sizes) spends $6,372 for food. If you live in the South, you'll average less. About $5,944. The Midwest is next least expensive at $6,031. The West and Northeast are most expensive at $6,903 and $6,975 respectively.
But how frugal you are makes an even bigger difference. Look at the stats on food prepared at home vs. food prepared outside the home. Debbie should compare how much of her food budget goes to the local grocer and how much goes to restraurants. She can significantly reduce her bill by preparing food at home.
She can also reduce her bill by changing what she buys at the grocery store. Prepared and packaged foods are more expensive. Teaching her kids to help as they grow up (by peeling potatoes, etc) will allow to make more meals from scratch. She'll spend quality time with her kids and they'll learn valuable skills.
Before we leave the subject, there are probably some of you who have families of different sizes. Let's take a quick look at what their range was. For instance, a family of two spent between $6,308. A one or two year old adds between $1,350 per year in a middle income household. A teenager is a whopping $2,470!
Next time we'll take a look at what some experts suggest to help you reduce those food bills. We'll see if we can't help Debbie get closer to that frugal goal of cutting her grocery bill in half.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report and he's a regular contributor to US News Money and CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+.
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