Well, This Is Depressing

The USDA Just Released Average Grocery Budgets For Families In 2023, & The Math Ain’t Mathin’

As one TikTok mom puts it, “Everybody is spending a sh*t ton on groceries.”

Originally Published: 
TikTok mom Sarah Biggers-Stewart vents about the USDA's average grocery costs for October 2023.

Feeling a pinch when planning your budget these days? You’re not alone. Everything is more expensive than it was last year, and some prices seem to increase exponentially with each month that passes. While gas prices in the Midwest are currently down below $3.00 for the first time in ages, grocery prices continue to skyrocket. You may not be aware, but the USDA actually keeps track of how much groceries should cost per person based on age — and, as TikTok mom Sarah Biggers-Stewart highlights in a now-viral video, the newest USDA data is downright shocking.

“The USDA (The U.S. Department of Agriculture) just released their October 2023 averages, their tiered plans, for grocery budgets,” shares Biggers-Stewart. “The USDA releases these multiple times a year, and I always look at them. 1) Because I’m nosey. 2) Because I’m obsessed with optimization, so I like to see if I’m spending way too much or way too little. How can I do better? And because it gives me insight.”

And, welp, if you’re paying anything less than $700 per month for groceries, consider yourself thrifty. Based on the USDA’s October 2023 data, the average family of four spends around $973 monthly on groceries. You might budget week-to-week and never stop to add up your monthly total, but there’s a very good chance this is accurate.

The data is broken into three spending tiers: The “low cost” or thrifty tier, the moderate plan, and the “liberal” plan. It’s important to keep in mind, too, that the averages in the low-cost tier are what the government uses to allocate funds for SNAP or food stamps. Since they look at the Thrifty plan for SNAP determination, that’s where we’ll pull our numbers.

But, remember, even the thrifty plan’s monthly grocery budget is shocking. The USDA’s data reveals that a family of four eating on a low-cost budget will spend just shy of $1,000 ($975.30) on groceries per month.

“These numbers are f*cking crazy,” Biggers-Stewart says. “I’m realizing based on these numbers that unless you’re literally willing to eat ramen, potatoes, and rice for every meal, everybody is spending a sh*t ton on groceries,” she says.

“The median household income in the U.S. is 75 grand. So, after taxes, that’s not that much. People are spending 20-30% of their monthly income on groceries. Financial people will tell you, ‘Try not to spend more than 15%,’ and I just don’t see how that’s possible based on the USDA’s own numbers.”

Her math is spot on. At $75,000 per year, the median household in America is clearing $6,250 a month before taxes. That’s 15.5% for a family making $75,000 a year before taxes. The once well-loved family budget expert, Dave Ramsay, still suggests that groceries should make up 12% of the family budget.

That math ain’t mathing if you’re one of the 12.4% of the American population living at or below the poverty line. The poverty line for a family of four is $30,000. That works out to $2,500 monthly. That makes the “thrifty” grocery budget of $973 take up a whopping 39% of a family’s monthly budget.

By the way? According to RentCafe, the average rent in the U.S. is $1702 (for an apartment less than 900 square feet). Between groceries and rent only, a family on the poverty line is spending $2675 a month, or $175 more than they make. And that’s before keeping the lights on or paying for the internet to help with homework or the car payments and gas to get to and from work, school, and home.

Biggers-Stewart brings it home.

“At this point, yes, people are getting bigger raises than ever before, but they’re not keeping up with the cost of just f*cking staying alive!” she vents. “Having a roof. Having food on your table. Fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins. Those should not be luxuries. But, I think any time you’re looking at a budget for something like that, and it’s close to 30% of your budget for the bare minimum? That’s f&cking crazy.”

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