What we pay for what we eat.

Speaking of government statistics (as I did a short time ago), imagine my surprise on finding a useful chart of current average spending on food. I stumbled on it while doing a new household budget, an excellent procrastination exercise when one has other work to do.

The USDA’s “Food Plans” chart shows the average spending by household and breaks it down into four levels: low-cost, moderate and liberal. (You have to hand it to the brave soul who managed to keep a category labeled “liberal” in play during the last presidential administration.) Alaska and Hawaii share a separate chart. It also separates spenders by age, gender, family size and gives the numbers for weekly and monthly costs.

Photo from Salvation Army.org, no slouches when it comes to feeding the hungry.

That last detail is a small one, but very helpful. Annual-spending statistics are not terribly useful to most of us. I really do not want to know what I spend in a year. It’s too alarming.

Fortunately, my sketchy memory of the x 12 multiplication tables means I don’t automatically multiply the USDA monthly numbers in my head.

Such stats on “typical” behavior always seem so unrealistic. The poverty levels, for example, are ridiculous. But in this case, the info is drawn from the real world.

Families of two, in the age group 19-50, spend on average weekly of $84.50 in the thrifty category; $107.60 in low-cost; $133.40 in moderate; $167.20 in the liberal category. The two-person households of folks 51-70 spend $4 to $14 less.

Now remember, these numbers are for food in the home, not restaurants or other meals outside. And the USDA folks admit that they are assuming healthy diets, which may not be what many of us actually consume. Of course special dietary needs (such as diabetes or potato-chip dependency) would change the totals. Check it out and see where you fall.

–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett






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