Daily Life | Food Spending

It’s no secret that I’ve lamented about our spending on food here in California. Everything feels so very expensive (even more so recently with the inflation. I feel like I am adjusting our price sheet every other week). Even if we go to the store for “just a few things”, we always end up spending so much money! I’ve always been curious to hear about other people’s food spending, habits, priorities, and preferences.

My friend Lisa recently shared a glimpse into her family’s food habits and it was such an eye-opener. Not necessarily in the sense that her blog post “totally surprised” me, but if I have realized one thing over time, it’s that food spending depends on a lot of factors. More factors than I previously realized. 

I thought it would be interesting to some of you (maybe) to share a similar breakdown. Most of you will know that we’re a childless, 2-person household which consists of my husband Jon and myself. I’ll say upfront that we’re both good eaters (from what I’ve gathered). 

I don’t include dining out in our food budget, the expenses I talk about are strictly grocery items. I also don’t include any household or personal items in our spending. That’s a separate category. 

Dining Out

We’ve significantly cut back on dining out during the pandemic. We have eaten at a restaurant (outdoors only) maybe three times during the pandemic (during a time when things were looking up!), but haven’t been inside a restaurant in about 2 years (except for my birthday recently, but I doubt we’ll go again any time soon). We’ve gotten take-out maybe 3-4 times/month during the pandemic, and we’ve mostly frequented a restaurant in our neighborhood that we wanted to support (and because it was conveniently located for contactless pick-up). 

Grocery Shopping

I do all the grocery shopping and since the pandemic started, I have adopted a bi-weekly shopping schedule to avoid having to go to the store any more often than necessary.

On my bi-weekly grocery runs, I usually stop at three stores – Target, Trader Joe’s, and Safeway (our local grocery chain) – to get the best deals. I’d say that we do 80% of our grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. Recently, we have delayed a couple of purchases and have done a separate run to the store in the off-week, just to get some fresh produce for the second week. 
On my last bi-weekly grocery trip, I spent $30 at Target, $240 at Trader Joe’s, and $98 at Safeway, which comes to $370 for two weeks, plus another $80 for the stop at the store in-between. This seems just about right, as we averaged $900/month last year. 

I’ve previously blogged about this topic and referenced the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Food Plans (thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal) that give a suggested grocery budget based on guidelines for a nutritious diet on different levels of income. I find this research highly fascinating but also: which regular person has time to break down their food budget like that?

These USDA food budgets also do not take into account your location and the specific food prices where you live. I wonder how carefully one really has to shop to meet the dietary requirements on a thrifty budget. For a family of 2 (one male, one female in our age group) the food budget should be around $530 for thrifty,  $538 for low-cost, $679 for moderate-cost, and $850 for liberal spending (January 2022). So, as you can see, our spending is considered “liberal”, but we also live in a high-cost of living area.

(If you’re curious about inflation, here’s the numbers for September 2015: $390 for thrifty, $499 for low-cost, $621 for moderate-cost and $776 for liberal spending.)

Maybe you think we buy a lot of excess food, but no, we eat everything we buy. We haven’t produced any real food waste (except for scraps and the occasional tomato gone-bad) in years. We meal plan our meals every other week and I usually stick strictly to my shopping list and everything I buy will be eaten. (Yes, of course, we also have a few pantry staples, but it’s not like I build a huge stockpile that will spoil before we can eat it.)

Now, I will say that we don’t necessarily plan our meals around sales, but I do check stores, shop at three different grocers, and use (multiple) coupons and sales apps to get the best price. I’ve tracked all our grocery items last year and definitely made some interesting discoveries, e.g. which items went up in price over the course of the year (hint: meat and dairy), and another thing I noticed is that it really makes a difference where you shop. For example, Target will sometimes sell the exact same (brand!) item as Safeway for a fraction of the price. How? I don’t know, other than that I suspect that certain items get “subsidized” at each store and others do not. 

To my great disappointment, we don’t have a discounter like Aldi or Lidl here in Northern California. Having grown up in Germany with an Aldi literally around the corner, it pains me to not have the option to shop there anymore. I know people rave about the prices. 

But I digress. Let’s talk about our eating habits during the week.


Breakfast: I usually have overnight oats with frozen berries or apples, granola with yogurt and fruit, or a slice of bread with jam or cheese. Jon usually doesn’t eat breakfast. 

Lunch: Jon usually has a sandwich and an apple, I don’t usually plan my lunches. Sometimes I have a slice of bread, sometimes I just have fruit and yogurt, sometimes I make a scrambled egg with extra veggies. When I still went to the office, I’d usually pack some lunch or kept some canned soup at my workplace as a quick lunch option. Now that I work from home, I’ll eat up whatever is around the house that needs to be eaten.  I also usually have some snacks on hand which can “pose” as my lunch (fruit, nuts, nut butter, granola). Our biggest meal of the day is definitely dinner.

Dinner: We usually plan for 5-6 meals/week. I tend to cook 4 nights (and I don’t mind it at all) and two nights we’ll have German bread and cold cuts/cheeses (and yes, I got my husband to agree to that arrangement), because I bake a big loaf of sourdough rye bread every week, like the good German that I am. That loaf also yields a couple of breakfast or lunch servings for me. 

We also plan for 1x takeout meal each week, although this is more for flexibility’s sake. Sometimes the takeout doesn’t happen if we’re not particularly hungry or have random things to eat up. Generally, we’re not a leftover house. Not because we don’t like leftovers (in fact, Jon loves them), but because we usually always finish what we cook. I am not sure if we’re just big eaters (I suspect we are – Jon definitely is, and I suspect that I eat more than the regular person as well?), but even if I make a big pot of soup (we’re talking a “large 6-qt Dutch oven”), it rarely yields enough servings for another dinner. Sometimes, there is a little bit left over and I will have that for lunch the next day, but most of the time Jon eats up the “leftovers” before they can become leftovers (making up for skipping breakfast, I guess.)

I suspect this fact alone is probably why our grocery runs are “bigger” than other people’s. We do like to make simple (as in, 30-minute cooking time or less), but semi-elaborate meals and our servings are probably bigger than yours.  

We generally don’t mind eating the same things. Often our meal plan repeats for a couple of cycles and then we switch out a couple of meals, but since we’re on a two-week cycle, it does feel like we’re eating a variety of meals. I also tend to focus on making meals from scratch (as much as possible, within reason, of course) and we usually add some sort of protein (lean meat) and lots of veggies – so meals that could probably get away with one vegetable, usually have at least three or more thrown in for variety. We do have a couple of vegetarian meals as well, but generally Jon likes to have the extra protein.
I have completely switched to non-dairy milk (for my coffee) a couple of years ago, but we still eat quite a bit of dairy (yogurt, cheese). Overall, we do place value on organic produce (maybe half of what we buy) and meat (mostly poultry) and Jon definitely eats a lot of lunch meat with his sandwiches. I realize that all these things add up and I am not sure that we’d be willing to compromise much. I’ve also learned that I need to be okay with spending more on food, unless I am willing to make significant cuts somewhere.

So there you have it. Now it’s your turn to tell me how your family eats. Do you have similar habits and preferences? Totally different? Are groceries expensive where you live? Do you like to cook or do you keep things simple at home?

(I am especially curious to hear from other child-free households because kids, I am sure, throw a whole other layer of consideration into the mix, but everybody please chime in!)

  1. I find posts like this really fascinating. I think the difference between our spending must be driven by portions, our ability to shop at Aldi, and the cost of living difference between Minneapolis and Sacramento? We end up eating a lot of leftovers and it’s rare for a meal to not generate leftovers. But Phil probably eats less than the average male since he weighs about 150. So our caloric intake is probably pretty similar. A pot of soup will often yield 4-6 additional servings! Lately we’ve had so many leftovers now that I’m in the office 3 days/week that I’ve pushed back meal plans so we can eat through our inventory.

    So based on the USDA meal plans, we are extremely cheap and yet I feel like we eat really well. I do think that Aldi makes a HUGE difference in our grocery spending. We are astonished by how cheap things are there! But the estimated expenses for our 1 and 4 year old seem astonishingly high!! But they eat most of their meals at school, so maybe that food plan assumes all meals are eaten at home? They eat breakfast, lunch and snack at school M-F, so we just have to cover dinners and weekend meals, which is just not that much overall. And their appetites vary by an insane amount, especially Will’s at 16 month. Sometimes he barely eats anything and then other nights he’ll eat significantly more than Paul! It’s wild.

    1. I definitely think that portions, shopping options, and COL make a big difference in food spending. And I think Phil is an anomaly, haha, because I think most men eat a lot more. I know Jon is definitely a big eater and if I would only shop for myself, I could make a lot of cuts!

  2. Our grocery spending is slightly lower than yours, but not much. I’d say we spend about $140-$170/week. We also rarely throw out food, so food waste isn’t really an issue. I also think we buy a lot of non-food things at the grocery store because we really only go to one store a week (it’s a local superstore called Woodman’s) and Costco once a month and I don’t bother to disambiguate the paper products, personal care supplies, and other miscellaneous items. We meal plan, so our grocery list is pretty exact and we rarely add more than one or two impulse purchases because we don’t wander around browsing – grocery trips are mission driven. We are not in a particularly HCOL area, but my husband does have strict dietary needs. We eat vegetarian and the only meat we buy is chicken for the dog. So with all those caveats…

    Breakfast: He has yogurt and granola, I have the same, along with fresh fruit.
    Lunch: He has cheese, almonds, hummus, and a Pepsi. I have a plate of crunchy vegetables, guacamole and pretzels, almonds, and occasionally cheese. Most days I drink a Fresca, as well.
    Dinner: We cook 3-4 nights a week and eat leftovers for the rest. If we cook something that says it serves 6, chances are pretty good it will get each of us three servings.

    And that’s it. We do have some staple pantry items, but we really don’t keep snack food around. My husband will occasionally have a smoothie or kefir after a workout. And somehow that adds up to a “liberal” grocery budget. There are places we could cut (Pepsi, Fresca, cheese), but this works for us. I can’t even imagine how people with children afford to feed them!

    1. Thanks for the insights – this was interesting as you’re also a two-person household and it sounds like in some ways we have similar shopping/eating habits, even though we do eat meat and you shop according to dietary needs.

  3. I LOVE these sort of posts. I find them absolutely fascinating.

    In 2021 we averaged a little over $700/month (for 2 adults with big appetites + 2 kids with big appetites). This includes all lunchboxes for the kids (which we pack at home), but doesn’t include our “Meals and Entertainment” which came in around $170/month (this includes things like our Disney+ subscription and Spotify, but probably about $100/month is restaurants, again for 4 people).
    In January and February of this year we have averaged $627 in groceries but this also includes things like toilet paper, laundry detergent etc (as does that $700 figure above).
    I think we eat very well, but do not buy organic, and that makes a BIG difference in cost!
    We don’t have any “discount” stores like Aldi, but we a) shop sales b) make almost everything from scratch and c) buy quite a bit of reduced produce. This last option, which I blogged about before, makes a HUGE difference because these items are almost all 50%. I buy bananas for muffins this way, peppers that have a blemish for soups etc. If I buy 10 items at the store, anywhere from 2-5 will be reduced by 50%. We also shop some local farm markets which have fresh, local produce with some great sales. We also have very low food waste – tomatoes and avocadoes and spinach and cucumbers would be the top culprits, but even that is negligible.

    Did I mention I LOVE these posts so, so much.

    1. Oh yes, you mentioned the “reduced produce” section. I am not sure our store has that or I would totally take advantage. I’ve gotten good deals on “ugly produce” at the Farmers Market before. I watched a food documentary and they said that a huge percentage (I forget the exact number) of produce doesn’t even make it to the stores because it doesn’t fit into “size/shape” norms. WTH??

  4. I spent $2500 on groceries in the month of March, which is a bit higher than usual, but not much. Generally I am around $2000-2200, or thereabouts, for four people, two of whom are teen boys. The boys buy lunch once a week, and my husband buys lunch a couple times a week when he’s in the office – I’d say it’s about $150-$180 for the three of them for a month – but other than that, that is breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for all of us. We eat out or get takeout so rarely that I don’t even count it; it is more like a “special occasion” expenditure, which happens once a quarter at best.

    The majority of our grocery bills are produce. I am extremely price-inelastic when it comes to produce. I don’t know what would keep me from buying fresh produce, other than it being unavailable. I make dinners every single day and a couple of times a week that yields leftovers for lunches for my husband and maybe one of my sons, depending on the meal.

    1. Nicole! I hate that you spend so much money on food, but it does make me feel a little better TBH. :) It sounds like you have some big eaters in your house and you also like to cook fresh daily!

  5. I love this kind of thing so very much. Food prices are definitely increasing around here.

    Our average grocery bill — weekly — is around $125-$200. We have three people in our household. My daughter eats breakfast and dinner at home, but gets lunch at school five days a week. My husband packs a breakfast and lunch for work, while I eat both meals at home, and we eat dinner together. I would say we get takeout or eat out once per week.

    Like you, I would say that he and I eat bigger portions than most people. If a pot of soup makes 6 servings, we might have enough for two or three bowls to save. Also like you, I feel like I tend to make meals that are complex and require lots of ingredients. My daughter almost always eats an entirely separate meal than what my husband and I eat, which I am sure adds to the cost.

    So fun to think about!

    1. This made me feel so much better. When you say, if a pot makes 6 servings, you might have 2-3 bowls to save…. what is your serving size? Because I’ll easily eat two bowls of soup at dinner, which would be two servings, I guess LOL

  6. Fascinating post! I think food/eating habits are so different for each family, so it’s really interesting to catch a glimpse of what others do. :)

    We do eat on out pretty regularly, but we also eat plenty at home, too. So I always feel like our grocery bill should be lower, because we aren’t eating 100% at home…. But that never seems to happen, either! Lol! We are not super overly frugal when it comes to grocery shopping either though- I do not really “coupon” or anything like that. Mostly because grocery shopping is my least favorite household task. I find it just such a drag! The prepping/cleaning out the fridge, making the list, all the time actually shopping, then the put away/clean up… ugh! Takes a long time. I wish we had little shops right on our street, like near my husband’s family’s house in Mexico, where you could just run in each day and grab what you need for one meal. They have a little shop a few doors down they can just walk to and it’s so nice! They can pick up fresh meat, tomatoes, whatever they need. I despise the big 1 hour plus long shopping trip with the overflowing cart thing, but our store isn’t “quite” close enough to really justify going multiple times per week. It’s big and just feels like a hassle too.

  7. I love posts like these! This was really fascinating to read. I know I spend a lot more on food than the average person but it’s something I’ve stopped feeling bad about. I need to eat and if this is what I choose to spend a lot of money on, so be it. As it stands, I budget around $600 for all food (this includes eating out, which I do a LOT) per month, and I’m usually going over that number by about $50 on a bad month. I haven’t adjusted the number for inflation, although my grocery bills have been about $20+ higher each time I go.

    I do one grocery store trip per week, and always at my nearby Publix. We have an Aldi and Trader Joe’s but both are about 20 minutes away, and I just never feel like making the trek. I also eat out at least a few times a week, and especially on the weekends.

  8. I love this kind of post to learn about other families eating habits. I do miss working from home when eating at the convenient time and what I crave is possible. Working in a office setting makes it less flexible and not always get to eat fresh food. We also have a formal dinner at home but I don’t feel so good after eating full dinner and go to sleep right away, so still trying to figure out what’s the optimal.

  9. Great post. We’re trying to cut down our grocery bill- my husband thinks we spend way too much, but reading your post and the comments, I realize we’re about average. There are the two of us and our 13-year-old daughter at home, and my son is away at college. Not having him at home makes a HUGE difference in our food bills, as you can imagine.
    We’re trying to cut our weekly grocery spending from $200-$250 down to about $160 (can’t remember how we came up with that, but there was a reason.) It’s making me more aware of foods that really go a long way, like lentils, rice, and oats, as opposed to things like packaged vegan cheeses and faux-meats. Produce is hard- I probably buy about 50% organic and 50% non-organic. My daughter isn’t a big vegetable eater (sigh- we’re working on it!) but she eats a lot of fruit. That requires at least two trips to the store per week, as fruit goes bad quickly. She also prefers the expensive fruits like berries. Yes- trying to feed kids definitely will ruin your budget! We’re trying though.

  10. This is so informative – as are the comments. It’s so interesting to see how different individuals and families obtain food, and how much they pay. We are all so different!

    While I don’t (yet) track my spending in different grocery categories, I do have a good idea of how much I spend each week as it’s pretty consistent and comes from 2 places: the grocery store across the street, and Target, next to that store. The reason my spending is at those 2 places is obviously convenience. It takes 2 minutes to drive (I have to given the amount of stuff and the fact that the “street” is 6 lanes and pretty busy… :>).

    On average, I spend about $65 at the grocery store/week, and about $55 of my spending at Target, weekly, is for groceries. So, a grand total of $120/week, or about $480 a month. I also order some things in bulk from Amazon (e.g., tea, granola bars)

    With that said, here are some caveats:
    * I don’t eat out regularly. I haven’t ordered out since… September?
    * I don’t throw out much food beyond maybe a few tablespoons/week. Most frequently it’s veggies that are cooked but starting to go a bit, well, sideways.
    * I eat a very specific diet, the same thing every day, and mostly veggies (roasted, from fresh and frozen) at lunch and dinner.
    * I don’t eat meat or meat products.
    * Ice cream is non-negotiable. ;)
    * I am a “grazer”, because I need to get a certain amount of calories in, but get full very quickly. So I eat *something* every few hours during the day.

    So that’s me. Very different from how you and Jon eat, I think? Your meals sound bigger but you also don’t graze like me!

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