What Americans Spend on Groceries: Then and Now

You might be surprised by how the times have changed our shopping habits.

grocery store(Photo via Stockbyte)

Americans spend less money on groceries today than they did 30 years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. NPR captured this in a recent article that visually breaks down the amount spent on groceries in 1982 and 2012, as well as the average cost of specific products then and now.

In 1982, Americans spent around 12 percent of their income on groceries, and today that number is less than 9 percent. The amount spent on processed food jumped from 11.6 percent in 1982 to 22.9 percent in 2012. We spend less on dairy now than we did 30 years ago (13.2 percent then versus 10.6 percent now) and less on meat products (31.3 percent then versus 21.5 percent now). However, the decrease in the amount spent on meat is largely due to the decrease in the price of meat, according to NPR. The amount spent on fruits and vegetables, grains, baked goods, and beverages has remained around the same over the 30 years. NPR also showed a visual of the cost decrease some foods like pork chops (down 37.9 percent since 1982) and an increase in other foods like peppers (up 34 percent since 1982).

I’m not an economist, so I can’t say why the prices have changed dramatically for some products and not at all for others. I also can’t say why we spend less on groceries now than we did 30 years ago. But I have to assume that the money not spent in the grocery store is probably spent eating outside of the home — such as in a sit down restaurant or a fast food joint. Combine that with an increase in the amount we spend on processed foods, as demonstrated by the graphs, and the ever-expanding American waistline almost explains itself.

Spending more in the grocery store and preparing more at home will save both your wallet and your waistline. Try to challenge yourself to make dinner at home three nights this week, and if you’ve already reached that number, aim for four or five nights this week. Join an email list like the one on from Fruits and Veggies More Matters for a daily email with recipe ideas. Aim to stock the pantry full of staples like beans and legumes (think garbanzo and black beans), whole grains (like quinoa or bulgur), spices (garlic, thyme, pepper, etc.) and canola or olive oil. Fill your freezer with lean meats, fish, and veggies. I keep the basics on hand so I always have something to whip into a quick and easy meal. Need help getting started? Refer to my recent post on navigating the grocery store while avoiding processed foods and keeping the most nourishing items in tow.