Ally Bank and ‘Good Morning America’ Look at Trends in American Food Spending

Knowing how you spend your money is one of the basic tenets of financial responsibility. This week, we’re partnering with ABC’s “Good Morning America” to look at Americans’ spending on food over the last several decades.

In 2009, Americans spent $1.2 trillion on food. 51.4 percent of this spending was on eating at home, and the other 48.6 percent on eating out. But as surprising as it may seem, we’re spending less on food than we were just a few decades ago.

In the 1950s, Americans spent 32 percent of their household budgets on food – a bigger fraction than they spent on anything else, including housing and medical care. That percentage has steadily declined. By 2007, the typical household spent only 15 percent of its budget on food, compared to 43 percent on housing and 18 percent on transportation.

This trend has a name: Engel’s Law, which states that as income grows, food spending declines proportionately. This decrease is partially due to the popularity of fast food, as well as pricing benefits that come from larger, more cost-effective grocery stores.

A significant shift in food spending patterns came during the period of economic decline between 2007 and 2009, when household incomes dropped and food prices went up. The country’s spending on food went down 5 percent during this time. The reason for much of this decrease: Americans were spending less on dining out.

How do you divide your food budget between dining at home and eating out? How do you spend on food now compared to during the recession?

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  1. 1

    We eat almost all meals at home so we spend about $5-6 per person per day. We eat lots of fruits and vegetables and less meat than most. I shop at a warehouse where the meat and produce are much better than the local grocery. Staples are much cheaper there also.

  2. 2

    I spend probably less than most people on groceries. I make alot of home made soups, stews, casseroles, etc. I try to keep snack foods to a minimum and look for opportunities to stretch food whenever possible. I freeze leftovers and often add them to another meal later on in the week. “Waste not, want not.” is pretty much my motto. Eating out is considered a reward for keeping a rather frugal food budget. And even when I eat out, I use coupons or take advantage of special offers.Lastly, I grow my own vegetables during the late spring and summer. For pennies, I have received back “dollars” worth of produce. And I believe in sharing with neighbors and friends whether it is from my garden, or a few servings from my fresh made pot of soup. I believe that God honors us for sharing from out of our abundance and for using our resources wisely.

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