The Average Household Cost of Food in America

You probably spend a LOT more on food than you realize. Here's how much...

Eggs will run you $2 - $3 per dozen, depending on where you live. A loaf of bread averages $2.35 and chicken comes in at just under $4 per pound. The costs of food add up.

And if you're like most people you probably haven't noticed it.

Americans spend more on food than on almost any other line-item in the household budget. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationally we spend more than $7,700 per year on groceries and going out. For rural and suburban consumers it's their third-highest expense after housing and transportation. Urban residents spend more on food than anything aside from housing.

Yet it's easy to miss. Unlike rent checks and car payments, consumers don't buy food in one lump sum. This expense leaks out $20 and $30 at a time. Only people who pay close attention to their finances will notice just how fast those quick trips to the grocery store do add up.

So, whether you already keep an eye on this or have decided to start, here's about what the average household spends on food per month.

What Is the Average Household Cost of Food?

First, there is an answer for the entire country. The average American household spends on food:

• In raw outlays, $7,729 per year,

• As a proportion, 12.8% of after-tax income (ATI) per year, and

• As a proportion, 10.5% of pre-tax income (PTI) per year.

Americans spend a little more on food than they have in recent years. Over the mid-2010s, spending on food ticked up by about 1% of total income and more than $500 per year.

However, in the big picture, American spending on food has declined dramatically.

Historical Spending on Food

When it comes to food and costs of living Americans today live much better than their grandparents or even parents did.

Like everything else, the average per-item cost of food has soared over the past century. A loaf of bread in 1913 cost just over 5 cents. Eggs set consumers back 37 cents a dozen.

Prices are… a little different these days.

But while the average price of food has climbed (in some cases skyrocketed) over the past 100 years, as a portion of income Americans spend far less on groceries than they used to. Where the average American household spends 10.5% of their income on food today, in 1900 most households spent nearly half their annual budget on dinner.

The cause? Inflation and prosperity. Over much of the 20th-century inflation tended to impact food less than most other categories of consumer spending. At the same time, incomes steadily rose for Americans across the board. This led to food prices to rise more slowly than consumer spending power, and Americans could steadily afford better meals.

How Much Should You Spend on Food?

Average household spending on food is useful information for macroeconomists and trivia enthusiasts. It's a good headline number. But let's be honest, headline numbers don't help much for figuring out your finances.

So here are a few more useful metrics for figuring out whether you spend too much, or maybe have more room in the budget than you thought.

Groceries vs. Entertainment

The average household spends most of its food budget on groceries ($4,363 / 5.9% PTI), but it also spends a decent amount of money going out to eat ($3,365 / 4.5% PTI). The takeaway for most households? You might spend more money going out to eat than you realize because on average Americans spend almost half their food budget at restaurants.

Rural vs. Urban

Consumption changes based on where you live. City dwellers spend more on everything but as a percentage of income less on groceries ($4,392 / 5.8% PTI) and more eating out ($3,437 / 4.6% PTI). Their rural counterparts buy groceries somewhat cheaper ($4,058 / 7.4% PTI) and eat out less ($2,596 / 4.7% PTI).

As with inflation over the 20th century, the numbers here are skewed by income. Urban consumers spend more on food than their rural counterparts, but less as a proportion of income because they tend to make considerably more. (Of course, rural residents spend almost 40% less on housing than their urban counterparts.)

By Household Size

It should come as no surprise that larger households spend more money on food than smaller ones. A one-member household spends the least but also earns the least, making food a significant line-item ($4,425 / 12.3% PTI). Two members households spend more, but also see huge per-income savings over the singles ($7,865 / 9.6% PTI). (Sharing a salt shaker, it seems, is a big money-saver.)

A traditional four-member family spends the most on food out of any group measured ($10,995 / 10.4% PTI).

Food Spending by Income Level

This last category is so important that we broke it out into its category. This is how much people tend to spend on food by their level of income.

Lowest 20% of Earners

  • Mean Income of $11,394

The less money you have, the more each dollar means. People in the bottom quintile spend an average of $2,582 on groceries every year or almost 23% of their pre-tax income. They spend an average of $1,488 on eating away from home or almost 13% of their pre-tax income.

All told the poorest Americans to spend $4,070, or 36% of their pre-tax income, feeding themselves and their families.

And as to the rumors about poor families stuffing themselves full of sodas and sweets? Members of the bottom quintile emphasize fruits and vegetables more than any other income group. They dedicate almost 2% of their budget to that section of the food pyramid compared to the wealthy's 1.1%.

Second 20% of Earners

  • Mean Income of $29,821

The second-lowest tier of workers includes many retail, service and government employees. They spend $3,622, or 12% of their pre-tax income on groceries. They spend another average of $2,049 or 6.8% of pre-tax income on eating away from home.

In total, the second poorest families spend $5,671 per year on food or 19% of their total income.

Third 20% of Earners

  • Mean Income of $52,431

This group spends $4,038 on groceries or about 7.7% of each household's pre-tax income. They spend another $3,023 on going out to eat or 5.7% of PTI.

All told the third-quintile spends $7,061 per year on food or 13.4% of its pre-tax income.

The middle-income earners are also the first income group that doesn't rely on public assistance, as both the lowest and the second quintiles spend more than they earn to survive each year.

Fourth 20% of Earners

  • Mean Income of $86,363

This quintile is approaching high-income status, and many members have already achieved it. They spend an average of $4,893 per year on groceries or 5.6% of their pre-tax income. This quintile spends another $3,863 going out to eat, or 4.4% of pre-tax income.

In total, the upper-middle-class spends $8,757 per year on food or 10.1% of its income.

Top 20% of Earners

  • Mean Income of $188,103

The wealthy make several large jumps in their spending habits.

First, the middle-tiers of income spend within $1,000 of each other on groceries, reflecting the common needs of those households regardless of income differences. The top tier earners, however, spend significantly more, at $6,677 per year, or 3.5% of pre-tax income.

This is also the only demographic that's as likely to eat out as eat-in, spending $6,402 or 3.4% of pre-tax income on restaurants.

In total, the top quintile of earners spends $13,079 per year on food or 6.9% of their pre-tax income.

How Much Should You Spend on Food?

Helpfully, the USDA publishes a recommended monthly budget. While strict budget-watchers should make sure to download the latest data to keep on top of inflation, the agency recommends that young adult men should expect to spend about $298 per month for a moderate diet. A young woman should budget around $206.

A two-person household looking for a moderate budget should plan to spend about $607 per month. If they have two children that family of four should set aside $1,000 every month.

You can read more details here, and happy budgeting.