A closer look at grocery costs

In my last post I discussed the average American “consumer unit’s” yearly spending on (among other things) groceries.

According to the survey data, Americans spent about $125 per person per month on groceries. So the average 2.5 person unit spent $312 per month.

On the other hand, the USDA keeps detailed monthly statistics on how much it costs to buy a pre-selected list of groceries, enough to feed the average child, teen, adult, senior, etc.

When I looked at the most recent data available, I noticed that something didn’t add up. That $312 per month from the spending survey is lower than even the thrifty “family of 2” plan provided by the USDA, which allocates $374 for a couple with no children. There’s no way the average American unit can beat a “thrifty” shopping plan. It looks like a case of “Lake Wobegon syndrome,” where every family is above average. And I was feeling pretty good about our family’s slightly-above-average grocery spending, so maybe it’s too early to toot my own horn.

I sent an email to Mark Lino, Economist at the USDA to see what gives. Since it’s a holiday weekend, I doubt he’ll get back to me right away. I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, you can see a nifty spreadsheet I made to add up what a family of our size, with our age ranges, should be spending according to the USDA. You can make a similar one by replacing our age/gender groups with the ones for your family. Here’s a screenshot:

Here’s a link to a Google Spreadsheet so you can copy it and play around with the data:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Am8qaK8Qf80edGF3V2tFdTlRczFQMkJtdGFoNVN4WGc

The USDA updates the chart every month, as food prices change. I’ll update the spreadsheet each month when I do my Your Money Or Your Life activities.

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