Food: The Connection Between Your Money and Your Mouth

Last Updated May 12, 2010 12:40 PM EDT

The average U.S. household spends $6,514 on food -- almost half eating out and the other half on groceries. But how much you spend on food and how you spend it gives a glimpse into your economic health and what's hot in your city, according to Bundle.com, which has compiled an exhaustive database of food facts.

"Americans spend between 15% and 20% of their discretionary budget on food," says Janet Paskin, managing editor at Bundle.com.

People don't bulk up on increasing quantities of food when they're flush, Paskin explains. They just buy things that are more expensive. "When people have more money, they go out more, spend more on organics and on better cuts of meat."

If food is the guide, the wealthiest city in America is Austin, Texas, where $12,447 of the average household's income is spent on eating. Austinites spend $6,301 of that eating out and $6,146 on groceries, according to Bundle.

(People who live in New York's Manhattan area spend more -- $13,079 to be precise -- but when you add in all the other districts of the city, New York's food spending is just a touch over the national average. New Yorkers spend some $6,847 annually, or $570 a month, while the average U.S. household spends $543 per month, or $6,514 per year.)

That's in sharp contrast to food spending in Detroit, where the average household spends just $871 eating out and $1,375 on groceries each year. Bundle notes that five Detroit households could eat on what just one Austin family is spending.

The one caveat with the Bundle data: The site doesn't track how much you spend on a mortgage or rent, so people living in cities with high real estate prices might spend a little less on food, even when they're wealthy, because they're spending more to keep a roof over their heads.

In fact, the cities where people spend the most and least on food loosely conform with the cities where your job prospects are the best and worst.
Washington and San Jose, the two best cities to get work, are also two of the cities where people spend the most on food, for example. Food spending in Riverside, Sacramento and Jacksonville, where finding a job is tough, is considerably below the national average.

Food spending and employment prospects might conform more closely if the job data, which reports on just 50 major cities, drilled down to get more specifics on a larger number of communities like the Bundle data. Bundle, which compiles anonymous Citibank credit card spending data with government figures, can actually tell you how much people spend by zip code and point out the most popular restaurants in your neighborhood.

For instance, where the average Los Angeles household is forking out $837 per month on dining, the numbers are vastly different for those who reside in 90210 -- that's Beverly Hills for those who don't recognize the zip code from the title of the television show. The Beverly Hills food budget is an astounding $2,008 per month -- that's $24,096 per year.

How does your food spending compare with your neighbors? Plug your zip code into Bundle's Everybody's Money search engine and find out.

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