What Percent of Your Budget Do You Spend on Food?

Update to readers: This poll has now been closed, and I've analyzed the (surprising) food spending results of Casual Kitchen's readers here.
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I wanted to explore further our recent discussion of food costs by taking a quick poll of my readers:

1) What percent of your budget do you spend on food?
2) And what percent of that spending goes to restaurant meals and other food not cooked at home (e.g., takeout meals, bought lunches, Starbucks, etc)?

Be honest now. :)

I'd like to do two things with this information. First, I'd like to run a sanity check on the government data in the chart in my Guess What? We Spend Less Than Ever On Food post, and find out if there's any real anecdotal evidence supporting the assertion that only 10% of disposable income goes toward food.

Second, if I can gather a decent number of responses, there might be some helpful implications that emerge from the data that we can all use to help optimize our food spending.

To clarify one term, assume that "budget" means your monthly household take-home pay, not your gross pay. This is how the government defines disposable income.

If you don't want to respond publicly, feel free to leave an anonymous comment below, or even better, send me an email with your response. I'll also post this question on Twitter.

Fair is fair, so I'll go first. As it turns out, our food spending is almost exactly 10% of our total budget. And interestingly, it's stayed surprisingly close to 10% of our budget, regardless of the level of our household income.

However, the percent of our food spend that goes toward restaurant meals and dinners out fluctuates wildly. When I worked on Wall Street (and was making a lot more money), we simply ate out more often, spending perhaps as much as 50-60% of our food budget on restaurant meals. Now that I have more time to cook at home, our restaurant spending is running well below 25% of our food budget.

Readers, please share your thoughts on these two questions in the comments below!

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27 comments:

Anonymous said...

My housemate and I made a pact to refrain from eating out at restaurants, bars, fast food, etc for the month of August. I used to spend an embarassingly large amount of money on eating out, and about 7% of my budget on groceries. Now, I think my grocery bill will go up to about 12%, but I'm also buying/cooking things that are healthier and more delicious, and saving TONS of money this month.

monogirl said...

I spend 11% on food and that is including my participation in a CSA. I budget eating out separately from groceries and that is only 3% of my disposable income. I cook almost all my meals at home and maybe go out for drinks or dinner once a week.

Sara said...

My personal grocery budget looks to vary from 10%-20% according to my OCD budget spreadsheet - but I'm not sure how strictly I adhere to the term "grocery": I may have put purchased books under that heading once or twice, :) As for dining out, I usually budget less than 5% - I really don't like to eat out very much, and I really like to cook for myself.

Christie said...

I budget 11.6% for groceries, and 2% for "other food-related items" (like eating out, or grabbing a candy bar, stuff like that). Then I also reserve 1% for alcohol/bars, but I don't usually spend that much. We so rarely eat out. Maybe once month, if that?

Kristin said...

I spend about 17 percent on food at the most and 12 percent when I budget really well. This includes splitting a CSA box with my mom once a week (which I'm not doing right now because our CSA is taking a break for the hottest part of the summer). Of that, between 0 and 1 percent is from eating out (mostly because of me going out to eat at work, which happens less than once a week). Now, I probably couldn't tell you how much of that grocery budget is for actual food, and how much is for household/hygiene items that I buy at the same stores where I get my food.

MikeV said...

According to my budget, I should spend 15% on food - 12% on groceries, 3% on eating out.

According to the numbers I just ran for June, we actually spent 21% on food - 16% on groceries, 5% on eating out.

I just found out that having cooking as a hobby can get expensive...

My question, after reading Michael Pollan's depressing article in the New York Times magazine last Sunday: are we representative of the population as a whole? The point of his article seemed to be that nobody cooks any more.
(Article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/magazine/02cooking-t.html)

I cook ALL THE TIME, and my groceries are primarily first order foods.
*This drives my kids nuts. They want the junk food. Oh, well...

I assume everyone reading this blog is in the same category of food nut that I am.

I'm really interested in the results of this survey; I have a feeling that home cooks spend a *higher* percentage due to their interest in more than just feeding themselves. I know that my grocery costs jumped dramatically when I started cooking for myself. I really started to care about the quality of the ingredients I was buying. Of course, the offsetting cost of eating out went down dramatically, so in the end, it's probaby a wash.

In the end, I don't think I'm saving any money by cooking for myself, but I sure am eating much better!

Diane said...

I spend way less than 10% and I cook all from scratch. Currently in a stint of no contract work, it's hard to judge against my current (no) income, but in happier times I spent between 4% and 5% of my gross on food. Add in wine and eating out and it might get up to 10% I guess. But I think food is the best thing you can spend money on - it supports health, helps to create closeness with family and friends (at least if you cook or eat together).

Manderley said...

I keep very accurate records and it is almost exactly 10% of my total disposable income on food. 5% groceries (includes toilet paper and cleaner stuff) and 5% eating out.

Naturally Frugal said...

I think I spend around 7% of my take home income on groceries, we have a set amount that we take out and then use that money for the month. Whatever is left over is put into savings.
Normally I only buy coffee and maybe a dinner or two throughout the month and try to eat in at least 6 days a week. We cook a lot at home and then I bring in leftovers for lunch the next day. Some months vary, but I'd say 10% is a good number.
Don't know what it would be when we make more money, and might go up as I start buying more organic and hormone free food but that number seems about right. Nice post!

Anonymous said...

A little hard to say because we do our budget a categories a little differently than you pose the question. Our family of 4 spends a little less than 10% of our net on groceries - but that includes everything we buy at the grocery store, food, paper goods, cleaning supplies, toothpaste, etc. I tried tracking it separately but it was just too much work.

We budget food eaten out separately, because usually that's discretionary while eating at home isn't - you've to have something to eat after all! Most months we probably spend less than 2% on eating out, which includes buying lunch during work a couple of times a week, picking up coffee, in addition to eating at restaurants. Every couple of months my husband and I get a babysitter and go out to eat, that might up the percentage to 3% or so that month.

Laura said...

4% of my paycheck goes toward food to cook at home
11% of my paycheck goes toward restaurant meals

I'm really working to scale this back in recent times, as it's becoming a major impact on my financial bottom line. The problem is that restaurant meals are my main form of entertainment, particularly on weeknights. A lot of these are organized by friends ("let's go out for dinner and drinks!"), and while I try to compensate with the occasional "let's stay in and cook and play games," it doesn't balance out.

Laura said...

I should also note that if I have a week where I don't go out to eat at all (rare these days, but used to be very frequent), my spending on groceries probably only rises to about 5.5% of my take home pay. It's just SO CHEAP to cook for yourself and SO EXPENSIVE to eat out (especially in New York City)! This is a major reason I'm trying to change my habits as of late.

Anonymous said...

6% total. 5% groceries (food only, sundries not included) 1% dining out.

Ericka said...

Ok I am starting to get worried. We spend close to 20% on food and, out of that, 50% goes to home cooking. The rest is restaurants & fast food. The weird thing is that we eat at home 70% of the times. I'll definitely share this with my husband! I do not like being aat the top of the curve.

Melissa said...

Okay I have to change my numbers just a tad. I got a more accurate estimate - 12%. With nearly 20% of that being food outside the home. I don't like the first number, but I like the second.

Daniel said...

Thanks everyone for the input. These comments, as well as the emails I've received, have been really illuminating. Hopefully there will some good conclusions when I put everything together into a post. Anybody else want to weigh in?

DK

ilikecoffee said...

our budget allows us to spend appx. 9% of our net income on food (7% for groceries; 2% for entertainment - eating out, movies, tivo, etc). whether we stay strictly in that budget is another question....

Nanette said...

For two of us (one vegan, one omnivore) we spend 15% of our income on groceries and eat as much as possible from scratch. 1% of our income is spent on eating out. We are in a year-round CSA and we are trying to eat as much as possible organic - we're about 65% - 75% organic at this point.

I think we could do better if I wasn't addicted to baking bread for stress relief.

oilandgarlic said...

Now I'm depressed. I thought I was doing so well with the food budget until I read these comments.

My husband and I spend about 25% of our disposable income on groceries and dining out. I would say 18% is groceries and 7% is for dining out.

Anonymous said...

During farmers' market months, roughly May to November, I spend about 12% of my take-home pay on food and drink. This includes not even one-fifth of 1% of my take-home pay on restaurant, take-out, and on the go food. During the summer and early fall I’m making investments in meat for the freezer, squashes for the cellar, etc., which I’ll eat over the winter. (I only buy meat directly from farmers who look me in the eye when they say "my cows are 100% grass-fed and organic" or "my pigs haven't had any medications for 17 generations" and it’s pretty expensive.)

During the winter, I'm sure I spend much less, maybe 5%. At that time of the year I'm eating the meat and meat stock from my freezer, along with a lot of vegetarian or near-vegetarian meals based on rice, beans, pasta and such.

All year, a significant portion of my vitamins, if not calories, are free. I put a lot of time and sweat into picking and preserving berries and other wild fruit every summer, and I gather fresh wild greens probably 9 or 10 month of the year.

It might all come to the typical 10% once it’s averaged out.

Anonymous said...

If this is still useful: I'm a late-twenties gal in a big city, and I spend way too much on eating out.

Probably 9% of my total discretionary income goes to groceries, but "dining out" is a different column, and it varies anywhere from 5 to 10%, depending on the weather/quantity of booze consumed.

I'd bet a lot of us don't quite pay attention to our "entertainment" eating...

Kristine said...

We have a large family, and currently, a small income. Since we're living off savings, I'll say we're spending about 23% on groceries. And 1-2% on eating out. If you count only our actual income, that number jumps to 40%. Before dh left his job (he's in school), it was more like 15% on groceries. And we've been cooking a lot from scratch for quite a while now.

bethh said...

The actual numbers vary, but I'm pretty close to hitting the budget/goal numbers. It works out to 15% of my net income, or 9% of my gross, for groceries, food out, and coffee.

My grocery & eating-out budgets are the same amount of money (and are 6.7% of my net income). The eating-out budget covers maybe 10 meals per month, and my grocery budget has to satisfy all the other meals!

Anonymous said...

We eat mostly organic and at home, and spend a whopping 22% of our after tax income on food and drinks (I include alcohol)! We entertain large groups in our home on a weekly basis and have a larger family (2 adults, 3 active teenage boys and 1 daughter). It is hard to be on the top of the curve because we try to keep our costs low; members of a CSA, buying club, ordering in bulk and limiting our consumption of meat and dairy. I wish I could get to the 10% mark without compromising even more.

Anonymous said...

I have you all beat -- in a bad way. We don't keep track of what we actually spent the money on, we use our ATM to keep track of where we spend it. Assuming all spending at the grocery story is food, and all spending at restaurants is food. In July we spent 31% of our net income on food! I couldn't believe it when I saw it. Of that, 31%, 71% was spent at the grocery store and 29% was spent eating out. I am about to go wake my husband up and tell we have to do something about this. Thanks for the website.

Daniel said...

Hi Anon, look on the bright side: you'd be spending a TON more if you went out to dinner with your friends rather than entertaining them at home. It's more work to give dinner parties, but it's also a generous gift to your friends.

Anon (the next one): I'm really glad you took the time to look over your numbers. I want to say, though, that the percentage you spend is up to you--it's not a good or a bad thing to spend more or less than average. Everybody is free to spend as much or as little as they like on food. What's important (to me, at least) is that the spending decision is conscious.

Daniel said...

PS: We'll have the results of this survey and some conclusions in a post that will run on Wednesday, August 26 (2009). Stay tuned!

DK