We've been trying to live within a strict grocery budget for something like...our entire marriage! I jest...a little.
For whatever reason, I have this idea that we can feed a family of six for $400/month. It seems possible, doesn't it? I consider ourselves to be pretty frugal when it comes to spending and we practice many ways of eating on the cheap.
We don't eat out except on a rare occasion and the only "prepared" foods we buy are cereal (Cheerios and Corn Flakes) and crackers (Ritz and Graham). We make most things from scratch (although I'm still trying to stay on the homemade bread wagon...I seem to fall off pretty quickly each round). We limit meals with meat to a couple times per week, buy dry beans and rice, buy in bulk when that saves money, and throw away very (and I do mean very) little food - the kids don't say that Daddies eat all the leftovers without due cause.
We also do not have any dietary restrictions that require us to pay more for our groceries. No allergies. No sensitivities. No chronic illness. It makes life easy. Praise the Lord!
Not to mention the bazillion blogs and websites I read each month trying to glean frugal insights from others (I'll say here that I'm getting the point where everything I read is old news...and most of it we already put into practice).
$400/month seems like an attainable goal, right?
And yet we haven't met that goal in months. In fact, it's probably been even more than a year or two since we've managed it. I was blaming the increased prices on many grocery items (like beef and dairy) or even our own overspending.
But tonight I had an eye-opening experience.
According to the most recent FDA report (May 2013), the average cost of feeding our family (from the most frugal plan, based on ages of all individuals) should be more like this:
$719.60 / Month
According to this article, I could reduce this amount by 5% to have a more accurate estimate. That in mind, our food bill should be more like this:
$683.62 / Month
That is a HUGE difference from what I perceived as being achievable. Of course, I do consider that we may actually eat for less than this amount even when we're exceeding by a long shot our very limited budget. So, I did a little number crunching (I must be a nerd because this was actually an enjoyable way to spend my Sunday evening). Here's what I calculated:
FDA Model (Thrifty Plan, Family of 6, with 5% Reduction)Daily Meals (Per Individual)
Snacks (2/day): $1.00 ($0.50/snack)
Daily Meals (Whole Family)
Snacks (2/day): $6.00 ($3.00/snack)
Daily Total: $24.00
Weekly Total: $168.00
Chew Crew Actual Spending (Typical Weekday Meal Plan)
I did take in to account the differences in how much each person in our family eats. Each meal was itemized by ingredient and amount of that ingredient. For simplicity I added and averaged. So, while Claude will definitely eat more than Jeremiah, the numbers resemble the amount of food (based on the prices we usually pay) our family actually eats.
The menu I used used reflects what we normally eat. Because Claude packs his lunch and I do not always eat the same thing as the kids, there is quite a long list on some meals. The cost was calculated based on the number of people and the amount per serving of each food item.
Also, the dinner I chose to calculate runs a little higher than most meals that we prepare. However, it seems to average out throughout the month depending on what we choose to eat for lunch and dinner (the two most variable meals) and what we eat on the weekends. Weekend meals range a bit more from the week because we are all at home and Claude is not packing his lunch.
Daily Meals (Per Individual)
(toast, cereal, yogurt, fruit)
Snacks (2/day): $0.69 ($0.35/snack)
(apple, cottage cheese, peanut butter, other fruit, crackers, cheese slices)
(pasta salad, lentil soup, salad, PBJ, carrots, fruit)
(beef tacos, beans, rice)
Daily Meals (Whole Family)
Snacks (2/day): $4.16 ($2.08/snack)
Daily Total: $22.34
Weekly Total: $156.38
This puts our average monthly grocery bill (and it is within a few dollars of what we actually spent in June 2013) at:
$625.52 / Month
My evaluation of this little exercise goes something like this:
1. I'm not going crazy! Groceries really do cost more. We're not overspending and being unwise with the resources we have. What we're spending every month is in line with national averages for a family our size. In fact, our monthly spending is 13% less than the unadjusted average according to the FDA. Definitely NOT crazy.
2. I'm obviously crazy! I am expecting, week after week, month after month, that we can pay a certain amount for groceries. No matter how many times this number is proven unattainable, I still go back to the store (well-planned and even calculated to the penny) list in hand with the same unrealistic goal in mind. What's the definition of insanity??? Yep...crazy.
So, there you have it, folks. A reality check that is both freeing and frightening.
So, how much do you *try* to spend on groceries for yourself or your family each month? How do you come out - over or under budget?