Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

Additional Information

Low-Cost Food Plan

The USDA creates food plans multiple times per year using current food cost data to calculate the cost of food at home at four different levels. The grocery budget calculator uses the low-cost level for comparison.

Each Cost of Food at Home Plan provides enough food for all meals to be eaten at home or carried out of the home. All plans provide the calories and nutrients recommended by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Thrifty plan, which is the least costly of the four, is the basis for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp program. The Low-Cost and Moderate plans provide appropriate diets for most people. The Liberal plan permits a greater variety, more meat, and a different mix of fruits and vegetables than other plans.

When reading the table, keep in mind that the information is based on nationwide averages. It does not include non-food items purchased at grocery stores or meals purchased at restaurants. Footnotes are provided to assist in adjusting food costs based on different family sizes.

How The Calculator Works

Spend Above

If you spend more on food than the grocery budget calculator estimates, the reasons might be:

  1. You may be buying more convenience foods like ready-to-heat meals, pre-chopped fruits and vegetables, or pre-cooked meats than the USDA Low-Cost Food Plan includes.
  2. You may be buying more expensive meats or more fresh fruits and vegetables than the USDA Low-Cost Food Plan includes.
  3. You may have included the cost of household goods, such as paper products, detergents, and cleaning supplies purchased at the grocery store. These are not part of the food budget and not included in the Low-Cost Plan.

If you want to lower what you are spending at the grocery store, Spend Smart. Eat Smart. can help. If you find that you’re continually exceeding your grocery spending plan, evaluate your menus and shopping list for ways to cut costs. Consider the following:

 

  1. Plan meals and snacks for the week to avoid waste.
  2. Use grocery ads and specials when planning meals to take advantage of low prices.
  3. Make a grocery list based on your meal plan so you only buy what you need.
  4. Only purchase food in bulk if you know you can use it or freeze it before it spoils. If you have to throw food out, the money is wasted.

Spend Below

If you spend less on food than the grocery budget calculator estimates, here are some possibilities:

  1. You are doing a great job making your food dollar stretch. Just make sure that you are eating the recommended amounts from each of the food groups for good health. ChooseMyPlate.gov has a tracker and a meal planner that can help you plan for good nutrition.
  2. You receive some food or vouchers from WIC, SNAP (Supplemental Food Assistance Program), food pantries, friends and relatives, have a garden, or go fishing and hunting. The value of this food is not included in your estimate of what you spend for food.
  3. You are purchasing food at the grocery or quick shop that hasn’t been counted. Or possibly you are eating out more frequently than you recall.

If your spending is less than predicted because you don’t have the money to spend for food, consider Food Assistance Resources.

Spend Equal

Congratulations! Since your spending at the grocery store is pretty close to the Low-Cost Plan, this means that you probably have some skills and knowledge about how to plan, shop, and cook. Just make sure that you are eating the recommended amounts from each of the food groups for good health. ChooseMyPlate.gov has a tracker and a meal planner that can help you plan for good nutrition.

Learn more and sharpen your skills by visiting Iowa State University’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

Calculator Details

Figures for the grocery budget calculator are based on the Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home, Low Cost level for the latest month available.

To calculate overall household grocery costs we:

  1. Adjusted food costs for each person in household.
  2. The Cost of Food at Home table provides an amount for each family member by their age and gender if they ate all their meals at home.
    b. from this amount 1/21 is subtracted for each meal they ate away from home.
    c. an adjustment is made for household size*
  3. Summed the adjusted food costs for each family member to get the cost of food at home for the household. Note: cost of food at restaurants and costs for school meals are not included in the grocery budget calculator.

Adjustments*