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Thread: Percentage of Income Spent on Food

  1. #1
    Senior Member pcooley's Avatar
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    Percentage of Income Spent on Food

    A recent Times magazine article -- I don't know if it's online, I was reading it in the library -- stated that these days, the average American spends 9% of his or her income on food. I ran the numbers on our software for the past quarter. Groceries weighed in as our biggest expense at 33% and eating out was 5%. Granted, that's just percentage of our expenses and does not take into account what we put into savings and retirement and so on, but still, nearly 40% of what we spend is spent on food. Who are these people who spend only 9%? I count myself as fairly frugal, and we eat largely vegetarian, homemade meals. As anyone who has followed my sparse posting might remember, I agonize over what I spend on food: organic or no? from the farmer's market or from Albertsons? Do I buy a milk goat? Do I shop at the local coop and bring my own bags for bulk items or do I go to Vitamin Cottage where it's cheaper, but the bulk items are prepackaged? I put a fair amount of thought into my food purchasing. I can't imagine the average spendthrift only paying 9%. What is the average amount for these boards for a family of four, and how does this 9% figure come about?

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    Depends on how you run the numbers, pcooley, whether it's gross or net, etc. Our food expenditures every month (for a family of 2) are roughly:
    7.5% of our gross income, or
    11.2% of our net income, or
    18.7% of our expenses.

    We eat mostly organic stuff, and local when we can get it. We buy bulk from a local company that sells bulk flours, grains, legumes, nuts, dried fruit.....shop sales....loss leaders.....cook from scratch a ton.......and eat very, very well. If I have to spend my money on something, I'd rather it be amazing, healthy meals. I'll cut corners in almost any other area to preserve our food budget. It also reduces our going-out-to-eat budget.

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    yes, we are far more than 9%

  4. #4
    Senior Member RosieTR's Avatar
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    Ours is around 10-12% of expenditures, but we are a family of 2. That figure includes all alcohol, beer brewing supplies (DH brews), eating out, organic/local, regular grocery store, etc. but does not include most food spent on trips because I categorize trips separately. It also does not include pet food, though does include pet treats. I would imagine that figure would be higher if we had kids, especially kids older than about 5, when they really start to eat a lot and have major preferences. On a side note, someone has written a book about what to cook from scratch vs buy called Bake the Bread, Buy the Butter. You might see if you can check it out or even possibly buy it if it would be a good reference. I believe she was pretty anti-milk goats in terms of cost/benefit analysis. Many people think growing or making their own is cheaper, when in fact it may not be. OTOH, some stuff is just so much better from home (home-baked bread, home grown tomatoes) that even if it's not cheaper it may be well worth it. She does an analysis and also has recipes, I believe. I heard an interview but haven't had a chance to see the book.

  5. #5
    Senior Member lhamo's Avatar
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    We spend what I feel is a fair amount of our income/net spending on food, but in percentage terms it isn't that high. Largely because we have very high proportional spending in our two other main outgo categories -- "vacation" (which also includes visits to both sides of our family, so not strictly "vacation" but also relationships, etc), which is running at 23% of our spending so far this year, and housing, which is currently at around 21% of spending. Food comes in next at about 15.5% of spending this year -- that's up significantly from last year due to different food choices (more organic, more local, higher quality stuff in general, huge reduction in carbs and increase in protein sources) as well as significant local inflation. That also includes us having paid ahead on the kids school lunches for the entire 2011-12 school year, which was a substantial increase in outflow in 2011. In terms of breakdown within that category, we have spent about 8.4% of our net spending so far this year on food eaten at home, 3.82% on the kids school lunches, and 3.31% on other food eaten outside the home. That is up from 5.56%, 1.07% and 2.01% in the corresponding categories in 2010. Food prices really have been going up dramatically, and imports (which we eat a fair amount of, especially with me on a low carb diet and craving cheese) have been hit doubly hard due to the depreciation of the dollar.

    If you changed those figures to reflect percentages of income rather than spending, the figures would drop a huge amount because we save as much as we legally can in our retirement accounts, contribute to the kids college funds, and also manage to save a fair bit on top of that. We live on a little bit less than half of our income, or basically on one of our decent "mid-level manager in solid non-profit organizations" salaries. Our situation is unique, as we live in Beijing and buy most of our food here, but a study someone did comparing grocery prices in Boston and another city in China that has a lower cost of living than Beijing showed that an average "grocery basket" purchasing the same items would be more expensive in CHina than in the US. Now, you can quibble with some of those choices, and things like vegtables and some staples are definitely cheaper here, but things like meat, dairy and eggs are comparable if not more expensive. So I think our spending would probably close to these percentages if we were in the US, too. We are a family of four with two kids, ages 10 (boy, huge eater) and 6 (girl, picky eater).

    Obviously it makes a huge difference if you are a food lover or more conscious shopper with a comparatively low income, especially in an expensive place. I think it is really comparing apples with oranges -- or in your case more like comparing apples with dragonfruit or papaya. Comparing yourself with the "average American" just isn't appropriate, because you don't have an average American income, nor are you living the average American lifestyle. Is it helpful to make this comparison? Are you going to stop eating the food you love and know is the best, healthiest choice for you and your family just to meet some "average" target? Your income is lower than many here and your choices -- which are important to you and matching your values -- are more expensive. We've talked about your budget before and I think the general consensus is that the real issue is not so much your spending but rather your low income. I know you are working to address that, and the homeschooling factor complicates it (in a good way -- this investment of time and energy in your kids will certainly pay off in the long run), but I thought it worth mentioning. Don't try to be average, Paul. Try to figure out how you can turn your unique skillset and worldview into a job, projects, or other things that can boost your income.

    lhamo
    "Seek out habits that help you overcome fear or inertia. Destroy those that do the opposite." Seth Godin

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    Senior Member razz's Avatar
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    Paul, not to ciriticize in any way but my choices in expenditures on food are quite different than yours might be. I can buy eggs at a local farm for $3 per 21/2 doz but in a store they are $2.55/doz. I rarely buy steak or cold meats or organic meats but local butcher's ground pork, chicken parts like breast or legs. Almost no prepared foods but supplies are stockpiled when on sale. Am I being careful enough in my choices?

    There is a line in the sand for me on simple diet and a simple budget of apx $300-350 for two including dog food and simple house cleaning materials. When we have guests for dinner where I feel I have to think differently, I really struggle in choosing items that conflict with the line in the sand. Afterwards, I think about it and realize that I felt that I had to change my diet for others and it was not really that important to the other party after all so am working through this issue. Good thread!
    "What your heart thinks great is great. The soul's response is always right," said Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  7. #7
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    We used to be at $250 or so a month for the two of us, with dog/cat/chicken expense on top of that. No eating out, no convenience foods, etc. - I'm pretty frugal and we ate well. Now DS#1 is here for an extended visit. He's vegetarian, but prefers organic. The monthly budget is out the window while he's here.

    Since our income is a lot lower than it used to be, plus our son, we're closer to the 13% each month...maybe more.
    Marianne
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    Eco Friendly Tightwaddery and the Fine Art of Substitution

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    Just did the math and our food expense is around 12% of gross income. I did not add in pet food. We buy organic for the dirty dozen produce items (when in season) and conventional for the rest unless on sale. Lots of bulk - oatmeal, beans, rice etc. We do have lots of shopping choices though with chain, regional and food co-ops close by. Also many farmer's markets. I spend about three hours a week procuring food including travel time.

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    For 2 of us, we spend 7% of our monthly budgeted household expense money on food (budgeted household expense money does not include savings or farm income/expenses). It is about 3.7% of our gross monthly income from employment and pension, again minus farm income. I've tracked our expenses since 1997 and food in many cases has risen 300%.

  10. #10
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    About 10% of take home after taxes. Are taxes high? Yes taxes are high . I buy organic, I basically buy whatever I want for food (I don't however eat out that often). I earn what is a decent income in California and what in most parts of the country would be considered a very good income. And food does NOT cost more here than elsewhere (rent, oh well yes, rent is another matter ... rent and other stuff can certainly push what I spend on necessities to 50% of take home for sure). So yea high income basically explains why a large PERCENTAGE is not spent on food, it's just math

    My actual philosophy on food is I try to eat healthy and I don't think I have the willpower for both extreme food penny pinching and trying hard to avoid unhealthy food (which of course is EVERYWHERE, often free unhealthy food at work, etc., it's a mine field). So bring on the organic rasberries! (only in season though. I use this example because even in season those things are pricey).
    Last edited by ApatheticNoMore; 11-4-11 at 10:23am.
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