Are You Spending Too Much On Food?
By Gary Silverman, CFP®
The president of my firm, Michelle Kuehner, recently blogged about grocery spending at FixOurBudget.com. One question she posed to her audience: Are you spending too much on food? I sat down with her (easy to do as her office is across the hall from mine) and asked her to elaborate:
Gary: Pretend we just met at a networking event, and I found out what you do for a living. Tell me how much money I should spend at the grocery store this week.
Michelle: It’s not that easy, Gary.
Gary: Why not?
M: Because groceries are just one part of your overall budget. I would have to know more about your other expenses and your income before I could begin to give you an answer.
G: Okay, I know my income. What other expenses would I need track as part of my budget?
M: Housing, transportation, debt, and savings... The American Consumer Credit Counseling provides guidelines for each of these categories. They recommend that 35% of your spending go toward housing, 20% toward transportation, 20% into savings, and 5% toward debt repayment.
G: I’m good at math…This means I can spend 20% of my income on groceries! That’s great. I like to eat a lot.
M: Don’t fill up your cart just yet, Gary; that 20% includes all “other expenses,” including insurance, health costs, clothing AND food.
G: Oh. Since I know my income, I know what 20% of that is…How much of that 20% can I use on milkshakes—er, I mean, food?
M: Again, not a simple answer, although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) broke down the costs based on dietary guidelines and number of people in the household. For example, in the USDA Food Plan example, a family of two people in their 50s should pay between $474.10 and $712.10 a month for food. But, this only looks at meals and snacks made at home. That includes milkshakes, but I know for a fact you’ve purchased from many places other than your own kitchen.
G: Well, at least that gives me an idea about most of my food…but I do dine out. Any guidelines on that?
M: It would depend on your own budget, of course, but the USDA says that Americans spend 5% of their income dining out, on average. You would have to decide on your own if all of that should go toward milkshakes. Your doctor may want you to add some vegetables. And remember, that’s the doctor you will also be paying from the 20% of your income that includes all your food (whether you dine out or not) and more.
G: Well, then, I’m really not sure exactly how much I should spend at the grocery store this week, or how much I should spend the next time I go out to dinner.
Michelle: I have a few ways that will help you narrow this down. But Tina is waving her arms at me and saying we have enough for this column, so I’ll have to tell you about it next time.
G: I’m not sure if I can handle the suspense.
Gary Silverman, CFP® is the founder of Personal Money Planning, LLC, a Wichita Falls retirement planning and investment management firm and author of Real World Investing