NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Food Dollars

Food Dollars

            How much are you spending on food for your family?  How much do you feel you should be spending?  While there is no single best answer to the question of the family food budget, there are guides to help you estimate what you should spend to give your family nutritious meals they enjoy eating.

            Most families should spend about one half their total food money on meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk. For nutrition’s sake, one-fifth of the money should go for fruits and vegetables. Divide the rest almost equally for grain products, fats, oils, sugar and sweets and miscellaneous spices and beverages with grain products’ share being larger than the other items.  Unfortunately, today, many families spend a disproportionate amount of money on soda which not only lacks nutrition but can knock a big hole in a food budget.

            The U.S. Department of Agriculture food and nutrition staff have figured the cost of four food plans - Thrifty, Low-cost, Moderate cost, and Liberal - to help families estimate how much they might reasonably expect to spend on food.  The USDA refigures the dollar amounts for each plan monthly, using current food prices. As of December, 2009, the monthly cost of a Thrifty plan for a family of four was $603.30; $639.20 for the same family on a Low-cost plan; $791.60 for a Moderate-cost plan and $980. 60 for a Liberal plan. How does your food budget compare? 

When selecting a target spending level for your family, consider::

- Do you place a lot of emphasis on food?

- Do you eat out often?

- Do you entertain frequently?

- Do you plan to spend only a small amount of time cooking?

            If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, your family may be spending more than a reasonable amount of the family income on food. Eating out inflates your food budget. Using convenience foods to cut time spent cooking adds more dollars spent for the food budget.  

            If your goal is to reduce the size of your food budget, start with planning.  Plan family meals before you shop. Write down the food you intend to prepare and serve each day for that shopping period.  Don't forget to make use of foods you have on hand. Check food ads to buy specials and foods in season. Then prepare your shopping list before you go to the store. Grocery stores depend on impulse buying to add to their profit line – bright, shiny displays of new products; enticing end caps and candy by the check-out counters are all aimed at your food budget.  Hint:  A good way to head-off impulse buying is to never buy groceries when hungry.  When we’re hungry, everything looks good and we end up buying more. Good luck with your food budget!


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