Thursday, February 24, 2011

Groceries Pt. 2: What the Government Thinks You Spend?

So, an interesting thing happened while we were researching Groceries Pt. 1: How Much Do You Spend?

We wanted to know how much the average American spends on groceries each year. We googled and googled and googled and came across some interesting things.

Like this Census doc that breaks down the Average Annual Expenditures of All Consumer Units by Region and Size (translation -- how much people in various size families in various parts of the country spent on groceries).

It confirms something our friend Bunny...

said on Facebook. Bunny, by the way, is single and lives in New York City.

"This is horrifying. I spend way more than $200 on groceries a week. And then there's wine and special treats and all the other non-grocery drug-store stuff that, were I to live someplace normal, I could actually get at a real market. Can I blame New York? Tropicana OJ got six bucks at my local!"

So, yes Bunny! The Census agrees you can blame NYC. Move back to the south and your food bill should drop precipitously. (Though given your killer cooking instincts, your bill will likely be higher than the Average Joe no matter where you live. Seriously, folks... check our her blog!)

Here's another interesting tidbit. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the amount of money spent on food at home goes up as your income goes up, but the percent of income spent on food at home is highest among lower-income earners. Families with an income of $10,000 to $14,999 spent 37% of their income on food ($413/month), while families making $70,000+ a year spent just 9% of their income on food ($870/month).

We were curious: how much do families on food assistance (formerly called Food Stamps, now called SNAP -- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) receive each month for food?

Turns out the allotment varies according to household size and net income. But here are the Maximum Monthly Allotments:

1 person -- $200 or $46/week per person
2 people -- $368 or $42/week pp
3 people -- $526 or $40/week pp
4 people -- $668 or $39/week pp
5 people -- $793 or $37/week pp
6 people -- $952 or $37/week pp
7 people -- $1052 or $35/week pp
8 people -- $1202 or $35/week pp
(each additional person $150)

The amounts are higher for people living in Alaska and Hawaii.

What's interesting is how these numbers stack up against our informal (a.k.a. highly unscientific poll) of our Facebook and Twitter friends. They reported spending, on average, $41/week per person. And if you take out the family that spent $125/week per person (what do they buy?!?), the average drops to $37/week per person. And we asked our respondents to include food, alcohol, toiletries, cleaning supplies and dog food. SNAP money can only be spent on food, non-alcoholic beverages and food-producing seeds or plants. It does not cover heated (prepared) foods, pet food, toiletries, cleaning supplies or other non-food items.

Sounds like there may be an interesting follow-up story there!

Next in our Grocery Series, we'll share some ideas for saving money at the store... starting with a Plan!


  1. social explorer has some really good data here, too. but did you know in new york you can use food stamps/ebt at greenmarkets?

  2. I'm sure your investigations will lead you to the world of couponing. A skill, that over time, can be perfected by anyone who has both free time and organizational machismo. Self-control is required, as you become a defeatist with impulsive purchases...LOL. It is much harder than I thought it would be.

  3. Thanks Raleigh - can't wait to dig into the social explorer stuff. I think Pepper Place farmers market now takes SNAP too... or maybe it's WIC. I know there's a trend towards that.

    Of course the other trend is towards dollar stores and gas stations taking WIC/SNAP. I talked to a food researcher last year (her specialty is food deserts) and she lamented that some of the places now approved to take assistance EBT's don't really offer much healthy food and certainly not a decent selection of fresh fruits and veggies. It's a topic I plan to explore in a radio story.

  4. @Mon - you're right, couponing can really help and definitely takes time! I used to be a big couponer and still have/know the skills/tricks (in fact, I'm be writing about that in a couple days). MY problem these last few years has been time.

    You're also right that to do it full force you have to be very organized (which I am) and have free time -- which I don't seem to have much of these days ;-)

    Would love for you to share some of your couponing tips!