How much do you spend on food & household items each month?

I’ve been asked a number of times what the “average” frum family is spending on food. It seems like a question that is almost impossible to answer because there are a million variables – location, family size, food allergies, food preferences, etc.

I have, nonetheless, been trying to narrow it down by doing some research. The most useful data I found came from the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which estimates that the average cost of a moderate meal plan for a family of four with children under the age of five is $771.10.

For families with older kids (between five and 11), the cost jumps up to $916.30. The USDA also has a frugal plan, which is in the $600 – $700 range, and a “liberal” food plan, which comes in between $950 and $1,100.

Of course, none of these plans account for the increased cost of kosher meat and cheese (not to mention the added costs faced by those who keep chalav yisrael, pas yisrael, etc.).

But based on this data, if I had to guess, I would say that the average kosher-keeping family in America is probably spending somewhere between $1,000 and $1,250.

But, hey, I don’t have to guess anymore! Because I just figured out how to create a poll for my blog. See it over there >> in the right-hand column?

I would very much appreciate it if you would answer that poll about how much your family spends on food and household items. Please don’t count food eaten at restaurants or take-out.

While our results won’t be exactly “scientific”, I do think we will all learn a lot from your honest responses! If you have comments about your answer, please come back and leave them on this post.

Thanks — and please spread the word about the poll to friends and family. The wider the sampling, the more accurate the results!

Clarification: Household items includes toiletries, cleaning supplies, diapers (if you need), etc. Basically the stuff you’d buy at Target or the drug stores.

Comments

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Comments

  1. Just to comment on the amount we spend for week, please note that we regularly host meals for about 20 extra guests per week, but we have learned ways of entertainning in a fancy yet frugal way. Thanks Mara for doing this, I have always wondered how much other people spend on groceries per month. Also, due to the volume of people eating in our house, we are perpetually using throw away dishes, silverware, napkins, etc, which obviously is a big but inevitable expense.

    • We also struggle with the “chad pa’ami” stuff and we don’t entertain at nearly the scale that you do. It’s so convenient, but $$ and not all that great for the environment either. It’s a trade-off for sure and if you’ve mastered fancy-but-frugal, I think you’re doing great!

  2. Statistical analysis of our spending over the last 12 months:
    Average $894
    Max $1,337 (in Aug, not sure why?)
    Min $591
    It has been $600 – $700 the last three months, which corresponds to the time I started couponing… hmmmm :)

    • So that’s pretty cool – looks like you’ve shaved $200 – almost $300 a month. That’s about $3,000 a year — or as I like to say “real money”!

  3. We are two adults (one gluten-free), both kosher, with a 10 year old and a toddler… They are our foster children and have been with us less than 6 months so we are new to budgeting for a family with kids. I am doing an awful job of budgeting and sticking to a budget right now, it’s pretty horrendous. So it’s interesting to read this. As a couple, before the kids came, we had a $500 per month grocery budget. That includes whatever non-grocery items we get at the grocery store. Now that we have diapers and wipes and immense amounts of milk and cereal to contend with because of the kids, we are for sure about $750… but I still doubt we’re about $1000, partly because we don’t eat much meat (due to cost, environmental reasons, health reasons, etc) and partly because we eat minimally processed foods when possible and tend get all our fruits and veggies at a discount year-round farmers’ market type of place except when our JCC’s Hazon-sponsored CSA (community supported agriculture) is in season. Then again, if I tallied up my receipts or started trying to stick to a budget again (which we intend to start doing again next month) I might be surprised to find we are much over 1000. I am so embarrassed to admit how badly we’ve been managing to budget since the kids came.

    • @Tovah – Thanks for weighing in… even if you’re not 100% sure of the total, do go ahead and vote in the poll as well (if you didn’t already). Sounds to me like you guys are doing great — and you are just going to need some fine-tuning. Clearly, you’ve had other things to focus on, but once you get back on track, I bet you’ll have your spending under control in no time!

  4. Leah Sarah says:

    I didn’t vote in the poll because I don’t think I am the targeted demographic. I’m one single mid 20′s girl, and I only spend about $100 a month on food and household supplies(which are also split in half because I have a roommate). I also, of course, keep kosher, and my budget does include the fact that I do buy meat. However, I am lucky enough to be able to buy my meat in Queens, where glatt kosher chicken costs $1.50/lb for chicken cut-ups! I also participate in http://www.suburbanorganics.com which is a bit of a splurge — once a month for $25 I receive a “little” box of organic produce, but this amount can last me several weeks since it’s just me!

    • Wow, $1.50/lb. That’s pretty amazing! I just paid $4.99 for chicken breasts and thought that was good. Location, location, location!

  5. Mine came in just over $1000 average over the last 6 months, but that includes money for coin-operated laundry machines ($1.50/wash+dry). Taking out quarters, I get just under $1000. We’ve got 2 boys under 5, and I’m a *carnivore. I’ll made myself a steak with mushroom red wine reduction for lunch on a Tuesday. ;)

  6. I voted, too, even though I don’t think I’m in the target demographic–single in early thirties…although meals with fiance have increased the budget a bit. Including restaurants (as every food budget should, or it is not honest), I would say that I shoot for $200-250 a month for food. I am usually on the higher end.

    In terms of finances in general, we have started watching two TV shows that have been very helpful in opening up discussions on how we each spend and save. We are fans of the Suze Orman Show and Til Debt Do Us Part; both talk about responsible budgeting and savings, call people out on their mistakes, and provide real solutions.

    • B’sha’ah Tovah on your upcoming wedding!

      We don’t count eating out, as we see that as part of our entertainment budget. Plus, we don’t really have any kosher options in town, so it’s pretty easy to budget for 0!

      But if you’re eating out on $200/month, that sounds pretty reasonable to me :)

  7. Our grocery-store budget is $75/week, plus another $50/month budgeted for meat. Diapers and formula budget is $60/month. Toiletries is $20/month (we get most of our stuff free with deals.)
    Grand total = $430 for groceries and household.

    We are gazelle-intense saving to rebuild our emergency fund, so we almost never entertain.

    A typical weeknight dinner costs between $4-$7 to prepare and Erev Shabbat dinners and Shabbat lunches typically cost us between $8-$15 apiece. Our children are 3, 2, and 7 months, so they don’t eat that much.

    We eat vegetarian during the week, that means a lot of beans, rice, and whole grain pasta.

    Even with all those restrictions, it’s a struggle to keep it at $75 a week, but we are never more than $10 over.

  8. Oh! I should add that we are a kosher-by-ingredient household; kosher meat but not hechsher on everything. We also are not cholov or pas Yisrael.

    • You know I SO don’t mean this as a dig, but I think that must make a difference in your budget (which I think is impressively low!). Sometimes I find myself looking almost longingly at those bags of Kraft shredded cheese, free after the coupon ;-)

  9. I sadly also just guessed, I am not yet keeping close track of all of our spending, and it’s split between grocery store, Trader Joes, Costco, the local kosher store, and target (all but the grocery store I stock up on certain things once every few weeks). I am shopping for 2 adults and an almost 8, almost 5, 3, and 2 m.o. (diapers for two, formula for supplementing for one!) We typically do a lot of entertaining, although have not yet quite gotten into the swing of things since this baby. Also, I find that I know how to make pretty frugal dinners, what kills me is supplies for school lunch. My kids are split between having allergies and being picky, and buying healthy crackers\pretzels\breads\fruit leathers adds up so fast, and I can’t make it all from scratch, and the kids want the same kind of stuff in their lunches as everyone else. And then so much of it goes straight in the garbage!
    Anyway, sorry to go off on a tangent!!! Am curious to see how everyone else does..

    • I’m impressed that you’re cooking at all, let alone entertaining the idea of entertaining!

      As for lunches, I hear you. I think you were around for the Recipe Exchange about frugal lunch ideas. Some good ideas in there. I also find that buying a big bag of pretzels and dividing them up into ziploc bags is more economical. I read somewhere — maybe Life as Mom — about a family that divides up all the “snack food” for the week on Sunday night in labeled baggies. Then it’s convenient and ready to grab.

  10. My family consists of me, my hubby and my 2 year old. I used to spend $200 a week on groceries (not including toiletries and random stuff from Target). My husband challenged me to try and only spend $150 and so far I have been able to do it. It means that we entertain a half as much on Shabbos but I am ok with that. We do use disposables but I am trying to cut back on those. We do eat chicken and meat during the week and we keep a strictly kosher home. I know we could cut back on spending if we ate more vegetarian meals and only used real dishes and utensils but I am a really bad housekeeper so things would get messy quickly if we used real items.

    • I like your honesty! And good job on cutting out $200 a month from your spending! What you wrote about paper goods reminds me: We used to use cloth diapers with our older two and my husband keeps pushing me to get back to it with our daughter (we used them until about 6 months with her). While I much prefer them for a whole number of reasons, I feel like we’re always behind on laundry as it is. Another 2-3 loads a week might be more than we can handle right now. All of which is to say that giving up paper would be a money-saver, but ultimately, I think we have to work with what we can reasonably change first.

  11. We spend about $400 a month on food and household stuff (not including coin laundry)-the bad part; it’s only me and hubby right now. That’ll change in about six months, so I’m hoping that I can keep the budget the same, even as family size grows. We do use real dishes at (almost) all times-I wasn’t hauling real dishes to the sukkah at shul and we don’t have stuff for Passover yet. We also use cloth napkins, mainly because my husband is hopelessly old fashioned and likes them better, but it does mean I’m not spending the money on paper. Although we do eat mostly vegetarian (meat on Shabbat/special occasions), if it’s available (meaning we can get it at the store where we normally shop) we keep cholov israel, and we go through a lot of cheese, so I’m not sure if we’re actually saving anything.

    • It sounds like you have a lot of detailed information about what and how you’re spending — which means you are far ahead of the game by most standards!

      We have had to seriously curtail our cheese consumption (and by “we” I really mean “me”, as I’m the cheese lover!), as it is really costly. Other forms of vegetarian protein are much less expensive — and probably better for me.

  12. Family of 6: Since we started trying harder to save we have spent $560 in Oct and $623 in Nov. This is MUCH lower than we expected it to be, but we have not placed a co-op order in a little bit. What surprised me though (which I did not include) was our coffee habit at Starbucks. I looked at it quarterly on my ccard statement and must say I was shocked how fast $4 adds up.

    • You guys are doing great, Dana! And I know that you eat WELL at your house, so I’m doubly impressed.

      You’re very right about the Starbucks habit. That’s a slow leak that can add up quickly!

  13. just getting into the frugal, tracking thing now. I know that I am on the high side. family of 7, (mom, dad, 20 y.o. daughter, 14 y.o. boy/girl twins, 9 y.o. daughter and 23 y.o. son in yeshiva, comes home occasionally). Our expenses? School lunch snacks, as noted above. Also hair care products and toiletries (teenagers! curly hair and acne, everyone with their own preference as to what works/what does not work) Did I mention growing athletic teenagers (kids play basketball and participate in swim team, bottomless pits, constantly eating). Add mom/dad/older daughter who are working/college and out of the house a good part of the day/crazy schedules and we are spending A LOT on paper goods and some convenience items. Even with tracking spending, shopping for most of the staple items and toiletries at low cost at a Super Wal-Mart (5 doz eggs for 7.96 last week, up from $6.50 for same 12 months ago) and paper goods at wholesale warehouse store, it all adds up. Does not help that we are living in an expensive East Coast (not NY) major Jewish population center with a large kosher market. We also shop some of the other supermarkets as well, looking for the best deals on things we use frequently. With all the shopping (yes, I use a price book for comparison on the staple items), menu planning, lunch planning, couponing for toiletries, etc. we are still spending A LOT per month (about $1000 to $1200/month). More for company (don’t get me started on Chanuka…major budget buster) and chagim.

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