Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wanna Know My Weekly Grocery Budget?

I probably went grocery shopping every week with my mother until I was 12 or so. I have always loved grocery shopping. A store full of food is like a blank canvas of possible meals. An endless array of choices that combined can create family harmony and culinary art. Oh and uh, there are treats there and sometimes samples. I always really loved the samples and getting my mom an itty bitty cup of coffee with two packets of non dairy creamer when I was a little kid. As a young adult I was too poor to go shopping for clothes so the grocery store became my marketplace outlet. If I couldn't get my fix on pretty shoes I could delight in buying a nice cheese.

I have always shopped with a budget in mind. My mother always did. In the eighties my mother fed a family of four on $80-$100 a week. During the years when my mother stayed home that covered all our breakfasts, lunches (except for my school age brother) and dinners, seven days a week. I am fairly sure that my brother got school lunch, but I think my dad brown bagged it. I don't recall eating out that often. And by not that often I mean a couple times a year. Restaurants were more for vacations and roadtrips. Even fast food was only very occasional. By the time I went to school my mother was back at work though our budget didn't change that drastically. The budget still covered the breakfasts and dinners, but my brother and I were both eating lunch at school. When my mom returned to the workforce, she did not pack a lunch every day, she really loved Taco Bell. Like really loved Taco Bell.

Fast forward to today and my food budget covers a similar amount of meals, well sort of. My food budget covers breakfasts, lunches and dinners for me and the kids seven days a week. I eat both a home packed breakfast and a home packed lunch at work every day. I only buy myself a lunch once every other week maybe. DH eats breakfast and lunch at his office Monday through Friday. Food (and I use that term loosely) is provided to him for free. We all eat the same dinner every night and of course DH eats his daytime meals at home on the weekends. And every week I try to keep to a budget of....oh Jeez...$200. I am a little embarrassed to admit that. It seems like so much money.

That $200 covers all food and drink. It sometimes includes paper products, tin foil, plastic baggies and the like. It sometimes covers soap. I say sometimes because I buy all that stuff at my grocery store, Fairway, and sometimes our bill is right on and sometimes it runs over. I don't like to include it in the number, but truthfully it isn't like I have a separate budget. The $200 does not cover booze. Ha! That'd be a travesty, we'd starve.

I split the weekly budget into two parts. I take out $100 in cash and use that at the farmer's market and the other $100 or so I spend at Fairway. At the farmer's market I faithfully spend every week about $28 on our amazing whole milk for 2 gallons, $10 on a big pound and a half turkey sausage, $9 on two dozen free range eggs and $15 on apples and other seasonal fruit. Beyond that it is whatever is in season and whatever I need in the house, honey, broccoli, cream, etc. At Fairway it is much more open to whatever we need that week, sprouted bread, nitrate free ham or salami for the boys, Organic Valley Raw cheese that our boys flip over, wild caught fish, hummus or olives, and of course a weekly bag of coffee beans. What we buy at the grocery store varies week to week. I feel really good about what we buy and eat at this point. I am finally happy in all our products and I feel like we have found some good quality brands. I am happy with how our food dollar is spent.

But, that isn't really everything. I also participate in our neighborhood CSA. That costs us about $500 a year for 22 weeks of vegetables and 10 weeks of fruit. And in addition to that I spend $60-$100 a month on grass fed meat which I order online once a month and pick up frozen. I could buy meat week to week, but I have found that the local grass fed beef that is sold at the farmer's market is slightly more expensive that my CSA connection. I love the quality that Lewis-Waite Farm offers so I continue to shop for them for virtually all our meat. So there you have it, all told I spend slightly over $12,000 a year on food that we prepare at home. That doesn't include any take out that we might order, or lunches that I buy out or going out to dinner with friends. I classify those dollars under "entertainment" because that is what that is for me. To admit to all of that here, publicly, it seems like an awful lot of money.

Over a year ago when Thing 2 was still nursing and eating baby food and Thing 1 wasn't eating much of anything and DH and I were eating passable junk we spent about $150 a week. We bought alot of organic items, but we sought out cheaper options and didn't ask a lot of questions of our food. We certainly didn't look for raw and unprocessed or other buzz words. If I was looking for organic peanut butter I looked for the CHEAPEST organic peanut butter I could find. I wasn't worried about the little yucky additives or added sugar that might be hiding amongst other wholesome ingredients.

So what are we spending an additional 33% of our original budget on? First off, local foods My local milk costs TWICE as much as Fairway's milk. Fairway offers grass fed organic milk, but it is a standard pasteurization method and it is homogenized. And that is fine, but my local milk is low temp pasteurized and non homogenized. I like that. Fairway makes fine milk, I just happen to like Milk Thistle's better. But it isn't just milk. Local meat and eggs and produce all cost 20-50% more expensive when I purchase them at the farmer's market. But when I buy local products my food dollar goes upstate to reinforce my state's local economy. I think that is pretty damn important. So as long as I can afford it, I am going to buy local.

The second thing that has been costing us more money, fat. Choosing to eat more healthful fats definitely has increased our grocery bill. Choosing organic oils has added some considerable expense just as buying pastured or cultured butter has. Coconut Oil is a pricey new staple in our house. But also eating more of these fats just means that we need to buy more of them and that also raises our costs. I am reevaluating that thought process. I am not sure that I really need to eat MORE fat than I used to. I think now that I have gotten the kinds of fat right MORE fat in my diet is just being stored as well, fat. It isn't like I sucked down fat free everything or that I used to be afraid of fat.

And lastly, buying organic has cost us more money. Where I used to buy organic items haphazardly, now I truly search them out. I try to buy organic everything from oils and fat to dried beans to spices. But that has raised the price of our grocery bill considerably. I am still torn on whether I am getting my money's worth buying everything organic. Even the EWG has a guide to what produce you should buy organic and what isn't necessary. But their guide is for pesticide exposure. I am concerned for more than just pesticide exposure. I am concerned about what fertilizers do to the quality of the soil and the quality of the produce's nutrition. I am concerned about farm workers exposure to chemical sprays. I am concerned about the larger environmental impact. While I appreciate the EWG for coming up with an easy guide to avoiding pesticides, it doesn't really cover the whole issue.

So, that is what I spend in a nutshell. It is a lot of money but we really waste very little and there are virtually no treats in the budget. I have gotten pretty good about freezing foods and actually eating them later. The kids do well with leftovers. And while I would love to spend less I worry about trading out the foods that we love, that we believe will keep us strong and healthy with cheaper less nutritious items like grains. And I keep thinking back to my mother's budget. That was 25 years ago and there are still families spending less than $100 a week!! Houses are 4-5 times what they were 25 years ago, even a can of coke costs twice as much. Why haven't people's budgets changed? Well, they haven't because average personal wealth hasn't changed. With the cost of everything else going up while wages remain the same, guess what gets cut? I really don't know how families are spending less than $100 a week on food? And don't say Extreme Couponing. That show is crazy. I don't know why anyone should have 56 bottles of barbecue sauce just because they only cost 15 cents each. That sounds like wasted money to me!

Mortgages payments and rent are the same every month. Phone bills are generally the same too. So are cable bills and car payments. Food is adjustable. And in this age of monthly contracts and payments for everything from Netflix to bank service, food is one of the last things that can fluctuate, that you CAN spend less on in a month when your paycheck is a little short. Yet food is so important. Foodies get flak for suggesting that people spend more on food. They have been lambasted as elitist and out of touch. But I don't think that is what they mean. I think they mean stop buying crazy amounts of crappy food and instead buy less, just buy better food. Maybe the average Joe could spend the SAME amount then but just eat a little less and be a little more healthy. Why doesn't anyone stand up and offer that as a solution?

This post is shared with Real Food Wednesdays, Healthy2Day Wednesday and Simple Lives Thursday and Fight Back Fridays and Traditional Tuesdays


  1. Maybe I'm reading that wrong but you spend $28 a week on milk?

  2. Hahaha! You read that right! I spend $28 a week on milk. $35 on the weeks that I add a pint of cream!!!! But, it is sooooooooo good. And since my youngest only eats turkey sausage, fruit, bread and milk I want to make sure that it is the best source of nutrition available.

  3. I feel your pain about grocery prices and also think even though it’s really expensive it’s worth it for the quality of life it gives you. To live healthy and be free of so many diseases that plague those who find it difficult or maybe aren’t willing to spend that much. I think I do have it a little easier though living in Columbus Ohio. My grocery bill is also about $200 a week and that does mostly include the money we spend on wine. We love wine. I think I have it a little easier though because my relatives hunt so I get free venison. I butcher it myself so it costs nothing and that really helps with the bill. I also grow a very large garden every year and put a lot of produce away for the winter. I think if you have any space growing some of your own food is a real help. You can even get an urban farmer to grow it for you on your land if you will share a portion of either the land or produce with them. There is also a lot of foraging to be done in Ohio. We get wild berries, wild grapes, hickory nuts, mushroom (morels) , wild onions and purslane to name a few. I think there are more ways to reduce your grocery bill so you can afford to eat healthier. Also things like using reusable napkins, and kitchen towels instead of paper towels and napkins. Use reusable containers instead of zip lock bags and plastic wraps. Try baking soda and vinegar instead of a hundred different kinds of cleaner. You would be amazed, it really works!

  4. Wow! OP here: that seems like a ton of money? We do a raw milk coop and pay $4.50 a gallon and do about a gallon and half a week; so $7 a week and we're in NYC! Maybe I'm missing something? Gallons are $14 a piece?

  5. I like Julie's added suggestions of making your own homemade cleaners (amazing all the things plain vinegar can do!) and using reusable containers. has a bunch of recipes for homemade everything.

    I cringe when I think about our grocery bill. I spend at least $200 a week as well--it is our largest single expense, more than our mortgage. We have two adult-sized teenagers in the house too (and our son is a competitive swimmer and eats a LOT). I shop sales and deals as much as I can, and yet I just can't bring myself to go back to empty calorie, processed, cheap junk--and junk truly is cheap. I get weekly veggies at our CSA and organic meat ($5.50/#) and eggs ($3.50/doz.), which isn't bad comparably. I make our own kombucha instead of buying beverages (which is super inexpensive to make). We have found we all feel so much better when we don't eat wheat and go easy on other grains, but meat, veggies, and quality fats (organic as much as possible to boot) are much more expensive and you have to replace those starch calories with something!

    Still, our grocery bill is huge. It's nice to hear I'm not the only one! Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing wrong and feel guilty not stretching our money further, especially when my husband works so hard! Thank you for sharing your experience with this issue!

  6. To a certain extent you would think that food that is less processed should be less expensive...but then i remember that processed food isn't naturally inexpensive - it's subsidize and also grown, harvested and prepared on the backs of underpaid (mostly) imigrant workers. When you shop locally, you are paying living wages to those qualified and hard working Americans to bring you a quality product. If you want them to be able to keep providing their products, they ahve to be able to make a living at it - and that means paying more. One thing I think people don't think about is that even if we do manage to revive manufacturing in this country and bring jobs back to the USA - prices will go up. That has to be ok. If we all want to have good paying jobs - we have to be willing to pay the appropriate prices for the goods and services in order to allow employers to pay living wages. It's what you might call a positive feed back loop...

  7. I'm a single mother of a a very hungry four year old boy lol. I spend $45.00 a week. I cannot afford to go over that amount. I shop exclusively at Aldi and buy as healthfully as I can. We drink only tap water and do not eat red meat due to cost. Yet, we have a very balanced and nutritious diet. It can be done on much lower amounts of money!

  8. Anonymous August 18th 10:23, could you let me know what are some sample meals that you eat? I am really curious. I hear about lots of people who spend less than me, but I don't hear alot about WHAT they are doing. I would be excited to learn!

  9. Wow, raw milk costs $14 a gallon there! I pay about $7.50 a gallon. Normally it is $8.25 but the more shares you buy the more of a discout you get and I get five gallons a week for my brood (ten kids).

  10. Where on earth are you guys buying all this inexpensive milk? My milk is pasteurized, but low temp. But it is certified organic. I wonder if that is the difference? Can someone clue me in??

  11. I spend about $150-200/week on groceries, including dairy, veggies and meat (and some non-food items from the grocery store, like baggies, etc.) for a family of four. Most of the time, this also includes alcohol. I can buy certified organic local milk for about $7-8/gallon, but I don't buy it any more because my kids actually don't like the taste. We buy it from a local distributor of local foods. I think you can push the dollar signs down and still do healthy if you cut more meat out of your diet and do more beans/rice or other healthy vegetarian combos. I've bought organic dried beans in bulk and cooked large portions in the crockpot. You can then freeze them in batches to use later for black bean soup, burritos, etc. I also make my own stocks with leftover chicken bones (from roasted chickens) and scraps of veggies from other meals. There are lots of ways to save, but it takes time and energy (which I have to admit, I don't always have). Often, if you can buy in bulk and preserve in some way, you can save a ton of money. I know that the local butcher will give me a 10% discount on meat if I buy in bulk--ask your farmers/distributors if they'd give you a discount on a larger amount of food than just the week's worth.

  12. I agree that it's worth more money to eat better food, but I'm amazed that you spend so much! I tracked my family's grocery spending in 2010, and for two adults and a 5-year-old we spent less than $4,000. There's a lot of detail in my article about what we do and don't buy.

    I will admit, we could do better on milk. We've been paying $6-7/gallon for organic milk that is ultra-pasteurized. It's very convenient to have the milk still fresh when we get back from a weekend trip, but it seems kind of creepy, too! We use milk mainly on cereal and in coffee, not as a beverage, so we don't use a whole lot. This fall we plan to join a CSA for local, organic dairy; the milk is $8/gallon, and we think it's worth more to get local and in a returnable glass bottle. We can subscribe for 1/2 gallon a week and get the other milk if we need additional, and that will be an improvement at least.

    I'm impressed that as an employed-outside-home parent you're willing to put a lot of time and effort into a better diet for your family. I am, too, but it seems to be rare--most of the healthy eating blogs I see are at-home moms, and many employed moms tell me they "have to" compromise a lot on healthy eating because they "just don't have time" to cook, etc. I make time because it's important!

  13. We're only feeding two people, and we're not too far off from your totals. I'm happy to hear I' not the only one spending a lot at the Farmers' Market - I usually drop between $65-$80 a week. But I would gladly pay more to local farmers. But we have a two-income software engineer family. I agree with the issues for people who have to budget a lot more than we do.

  14. We're feeding six (us and two seven yr old and two four yr old boys) and our yearly food bill is about the same as yours. We get our Raw Milk @ $6.50 a gallon, raw cream @ $5 pint. Pastured bacon @ 4.50 lb. (we eat alot of bacon) We do almost all organic/locally grown where and when we can get it. We do splerge on our meat though. We prefer buffalo to beef, and eat meat most every meal. We cut out processed foods, with the exception of a few things like organic/sprouted cereal, pasta and breads. What grains/beans/legumes we eat are sprouted, soaked or whole wheat. We have our own hens, so eat alot of pastured organic eggs. We've switched to coconut oil, bacon drippings and butter for fats. I could go on and on.... We are eating healthier than we ever did before. I've lost over 70 lbs of "baby fat" that I couldn't get rid of even while eating all those "healthy low calorie/low fat diet foods". bleh. We think the extra expense where real food is concerned is well worth it and happily do with out the other stuff "the Jones' " have. Have a good day!