Skip to Content
 COVID-19 Information from ACCC

Gary, Michelle, and the Milkshake Dilemma




September 25, 2018 | By Wichita Falls Times Record News  

The president of my firm, Michelle Kuehner, recently blogged about grocery spending at    Gary Silverman, founder of Personal Financial Planning LLC in Wichita Falls, Texas

One question she posed to her audience: Are you spending too much on food? I sat down with her (easy to do as her office is across the hall from mine) and asked her to elaborate: 

Gary: Pretend we just met at a networking event, and I found out what you do for a living. Tell me how much money I should spend at the grocery store this week. 

Michelle: It’s not that easy, Gary. 

Gary: Why not? 

M: Because groceries are just one part of your overall budget. I would have to know more about your other expenses and your income before I could begin to give you an answer. 

G: Okay, I know my income. What other expenses would I need track as part of my budget? 

M: Housing, transportation, debt, and savings... The American Consumer Credit Counseling provides guidelines for each of these categories. They recommend that 35% of your spending go toward housing, 20% toward transportation, 20% into savings, and 5% toward debt repayment.  

G: I’m good at math…This means I can spend 20% of my income on groceries! That’s great. I like to eat a lot. 

M: Don’t fill up your cart just yet, Gary; that 20% includes all “other expenses,” including insurance, health costs, clothing AND food. 

G: Oh. Since I know my income, I know what 20% of that is…How much of that 20% can I use on milkshakes—er, I mean, food? 

M: Again, not a simple answer, although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) broke down the costs based on dietary guidelines and number of people in the household. For example, in the USDA Food Plan example, a family of two people in their 50s should pay between $474.10 and $712.10 a month for food. But, this only looks at meals and snacks made at home. That includes milkshakes, but I know for a fact you’ve purchased from many places other than your own kitchen. 

G: Well, at least that gives me an idea about most of my food…but I do dine out. Any guidelines on that? 

M: It would depend on your own budget, of course, but the USDA says that Americans spend 5% of their income dining out, on average. You would have to decide on your own if all of that should go toward milkshakes. Your doctor may want you to add some vegetables. And remember, that’s the doctor you will also be paying from the 20% of your income that includes all your food (whether you dine out or not) and more. 

G: Well, then, I’m really not sure exactly how much I should spend at the grocery store this week, or how much I should spend the next time I go out to dinner. 

Michelle: I have a few ways that will help you narrow this down. But Tina is waving her arms at me and saying we have enough for this column, so I’ll have to tell you about it next time. 

G: I’m not sure if I can handle the suspense.


 American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) provides non-profit credit counseling, financial education, debt relief consolidation and debt reduction services for consumers nationwide. We offer free credit counseling to help individuals and families learn how to pay down credit card debt and how to eliminate debt altogether. As an alternative to expensive unsecured debt consolidation programs for settling credit card debt, our debt management programs help consumers pay off debts and manage credit card debt more quickly by consolidating payments. We also offer debt negotiation services to help reduce finance charges and interest rates. And our financial education services show consumer how to manage money more effectively and how to get rid of credit card debt more quickly – usually in five years or less.

American Consumer Credit Counseling - Consolidate Debts - Better Business Bureau American Consumer Credit Counseling - Consolidate Debts - Mass Housing Approved National Industry Standards for Homeownership Education and Counseling American Consumer Credit Counseling - Consolidate Debts  - Council on Accreditation American Consumer Credit Counseling - Consolidate Debts  - NFCC Member