January 12, 2011

The USDA Numbers

Just for fun every once in awhile I like to go look at what the government says we should be spending on groceries. It's always good for a chuckle. The first time I ever saw these numbers was in my favorite money saving book ever The Tightwad Gazette.

The USDA puts out these numbers several times a year. The most recent chart is for November 2010. All levels supposedly represent a "nutritious diet". There are four levels: thrifty, low-cost, moderate, and liberal. They break down into both weekly and monthly costs.

If you have a family of four, your numbers are listed right on the chart. If you have a larger family you will have to do a little math to get your numbers. To calculate overall household food costs, adjust food costs for each person in household (see below) and then add these adjusted numbers.
1-person—add 20 percent to individual amount listed
2-person—add 10 percent to individual amount listed
3-person—add 5 percent to individual amount listed
4-person—no adjustment (your cost is listed in chart)
5- or 6-person—subtract 5 percent to individual amount listed
7- (or more) person—subtract 10 percent to individual amount listed

We have a family of 8 so I had to subtract 10 percent from each number in the chart before adding them. The numbers I got for my family were:
Thrifty Plan = $217.10 per week
Liberal Plan = $426.20 per week
I didn't figure out the numbers for the Low-Cost or Moderate plans.

Looking at these numbers it doesn't surprise me at all that we can't balance the national budget! :) My husband and I just reviewed our budget (we like to do that at the beginning of each year) and the actual average amount we spent on groceries for 2010 was $101 per week. That's less than half the "thrifty plan" for our family size. If you want to add in household and personal care items (which we budget separately) it would be $131 per week. I'm sure some of you do even better!!

You can find all the charts on the USDA website here. The chart shown above is a pdf available here. There is a very wide cost range listed on these charts and every family is different, especially if you have any special dietary needs. If you do the math, I'd be curious to know how far off these numbers are for your family. Please leave a comment! Feel free to remain "anonymous" if you want.


TheBargainSleuth said...

Hey, you stole my thunder! I'm working on a blog about those ridiculous numbers after a fan asked me last week what a reasonable budget was.

That and I was incredulous at the amount the state of Wisconsin gave us in Food Stamps when my husband was unemployed. When the social worker told me, I must've sounded shocked. She then started defending the state's numbers and how they got them and cited the USDA's numbers. I had to stop her and tell her that I wasn't arguing for MORE money. I was shocked at the amount allotted to us for groceries was so much--it was probably a 2-month budget for us, not one!

Shelly said...

That is HILARIOUS! Like I said I like to look at the numbers once in awhile to make myself feel better when I get depressed... you know like after watching Extreme Couponing on TLC. :) You should still post it too! It's good info to have out there. I thought I posted about it a couple years ago but now I can't find the post. Maybe it was my personal blog.

I wish I could have seen that social worker's face when you told her it was too much! :) TBS and GBS should be REQUIRED reading for those who think they don't get enough, right?

ericah78 said...

Crazy!!! I just did the math and we should be between $139 and $272 per week! We would be totally broke if we spent that much on food! I'll gladly stick to my $66/week avg. Wow. So, I guess they need to create a new category for us... what's cheaper than thrifty?? ;-)