Housing, Transportation and Food are the biggest budget items for most families. The good news is if you need to cut costs either to pay off debt or to increase your savings you can make big gains by carefully examining your behavior in these areas.
J.D Roth at Get Rich Slowly recently asked his readers how much they spent on food. 326 of his readers commented and their responses were very interesting. This of course was not a scientific survey, the respondents are readers (who comment) of a blog about personal finance – not a random sample of families. I’m sure some included non food items they purchase at the grocery store (cleaning and paper supplies, beer and wine, pet food) while others did not. Some live in expensive urban areas, some overseas, some have gardens that help.
This is a graph of those responses. Of interest is the huge variation within a family size. Families of two reported spending from $200 to over $1000 a month while families of four spent between $400 and $900. One family of five reported a monthly grocery budget of $250!
The USDA tracks monthly food costs across four plans; thrifty, low-cost, moderate and liberal for American families. That data is plotted for comparison purposes for families of 2 and 4 members using the June 2011 report.
The take away here is that food budgets are very elastic. If you make a concentrated effort to control yours, you may find a nice little stack of cash to throw at that debt snowball or your savings.