Manage Food Spending with Online Calculator

grocery storeYes, grocery prices have gone up.  Do you wonder if you could eat nutritiously and spend less on food for your family?

If so, our online calculator provides the weekly and monthly amount your family needs to spend for nutritious meals on USDA’s Low-cost Plan. To use the calculator you will need the age, gender, and number of meals eaten away from home for each member of your household. You can also get information about the other three USDA food plans: Thrifty, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal.

How does this amount compare with what you spend?  Sometimes it is hard to monitor how much you spend on food each month because we purchase food at numerous places and times throughout the month. Our page about tracking your food expenses can help. This includes some helpful suggestions and questions to ask yourself about your spending habits.

If you decide to you want to spend less on food our website SpendSmart EatSmart is devoted to eating nutritiously on a budget.

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Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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How much do YOU spend on food a week?

Last week I showed a group of nutrition professionals features of the SpendSmart.EatSmart web page including the Cost of Food at Home calculator. You put in the number, age, and gender of your family members and the number of meals eaten away from home.  The calculator then tells you how much your family would spend at the grocery store according to the low-cost food plan.

I commented that while people know what they spend for their rent or house payment, car payment, etc. most people don’t know how much they spend on food.  This is because we buy food at many different places and times during the month.  Plus the more people in a family, the more places and more times we buy.    In the discussion that followed, many in the group agreed with me that they did not know what they spent on food….they just bought what they needed.  However, there were 2 or 3 who said that they did know what they spent.   These 2 or 3 had young families and indicated that they were trying to stretch their money for many different priorities.  This confirms my belief that when money is tight we pay attention to what and where we are spending so we can make a plan to reduce expenses.

The discussion prompted me to explore my own food costs.  Since I track my expenses on a computer and I use a debit card for almost all my food buying and eating out I have a pretty good tracking system.  From February 1-May 31 (4 months) I ate meals out 59 times at different restaurants for a total of $334*. I spent $759 on groceries so my food total was $1104.

Figuring I eat out between 3 and 4 times a week, the computer tells me the cost of food at the grocery store should be between$744 and $788.  My cost of $759 means that what I am spending at the grocery store is right in line with the low-cost plan.

We all know that eating out costs more than eating at home.  After all, we are paying for someone else to select, prepare, serve and clean up. My records show this is true for me.  If I would have eaten all my food at home the Cost of Food at Home calculator tells me that I could have purchased all the food I need for good health for $230 per month or $924 for the 4 months.  I spent $180 more than that ($1104-$924 = $180).   That $180 is money I could spend somewhere else if I wanted to give up eating out.

The first step in cutting food costs is to know how much and where you are spending your money now.  Learn how to track your spending on the SpendSmart.EatSmart web site in the Planning section under What you Spend Now.

*this does not count the times I paid for guest’s meals or work meals that were reimbursed

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