Sunday, April 05, 2009

Grocery Budget Thoughts

I recently had a "law school graduate" leave an anonymous comment on my Budget Questions post.  Among other things, he suggested a 'reasonable' grocery budget might start with the 'food stamp allowance' number.  

I googled that, and came across the challenge to "try it, I dare ya!" to shine the light on such dire circumstances.  They claim the per-person weekly average is $21.  Another site, writing about the same thing, refers to a $5.68/person daily limit, which is nearly $40/week.  Michigan apparently has a higher amount - $5.87/person/day, but other factors come into play, such as assets and income, etc.

I was really finding this interesting.  I ended up at where they had a list of national standards for living expenses.  They also had a link to a food stamp calculator...

I filled out the calculator and was informed I was "eligible" for $204/mo in food stamps.  They obviously wouldn't grant me that once they found out we had cell phones, and a netflix subscription (or they shouldn't, anyway).

But line 9 referred to a "Thrifty Food Plan for household size," and had $698 entered.

So I googled "Thrifty Food Plan" and found this publication, from the USDA, that alotted my family $645 for this previous January (the most recent publication month).  That was from the "Thrifty" column, and it also gives columns for 'low-cost,' 'moderate,' and 'liberal'.  Well, I knew I wasn't a moderate or a liberal. :)  (By the way, my 'liberal' cost was $1221.40!)

I found these numbers surprisingly high.  Either that or I'm just not informed when it comes to true grocery budgets.  I'm fairly familiar with what *we* spend in a month for 'food,' but within that category is often anything I'm buying from Costco or Azure - and that might be work pants for Hubby, an otoscope for family use, or any other non-food necessity offered by those places.

That all said, we *do* fall within these parameters, even, I think, adding an extra $100 or two to account for our occasional bulk beef purchase, chickens and their food, garden starts, things like that.

But do we eat "thriftily?"  What a fascinating concept.  In some ways, yes.  We rarely eat out.  We don't buy smaller (and usually more expensive) packages of food.  We don't pay for the "pre-preparing" of many items.

But really?  I'd say we eat well.  Organic wheat, beans and breads and other grains nutritionally-enhanced (mostly, these days) by way of preparation, a variety of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables (organic when reasonable), grass-fed beef, homegrown chicken, turkey and eggs, raw milk, fancy probiotics from yogurt, kefir, kombucha... Even sprouted grains and beans when I'm in the (rare) mood.  Lately we've even been enjoying some treats... peach fruit leather, chocolate graham crackers - homemade, of course. :)

So, while I'd still like to pare down the budget in several areas, I can at least quit feeling like we're terribly out-of-control in the grocery column.  I'm glad to find that, considering how often I tell myself "no!" while shopping.

What do you think?  Where do you fall within all this?  Do you eat out much?  Do you stick to dry beans and rice?


Meghann said...

Those links were very interesting! We too would qualify for $204 help...though with all of our extra expenditures I would hope they wouldn't really give it to us if we'd asked!

I think we do pretty well in the grocery column. Though I'm still working on us getting healthier (using things like kefir, whey, etc.), we still use white sugar and flour occasionally even though I grind my own wheat flour. The cost of the good sugar still gets me so I haven't taken the plunge yet.

We do not eat too many pre-packaged things, except for maybe macaroni since I can find it for $.39 a box! I have been checking everything packaged the past year and if it has hydrogenated oils in it I always put it back...well at least most of the time.

I was thinking of the Duggar's monthly bill and thought of tripling ours to see how much it would be and it came out to just about $1600. But then I remembered I am feeding much younger children who do not eat as much and Noble doesn't count yet. So maybe if we did have a family that big it would be closer to $3000? Though I am including non-food purchases in this total since shopping at Walmart I'm buying a shirt for Ireland, or socks for True etc with the food.

EllaJac said...

Meghann, Good job on the kefir, whey and such. I use whey when I soak beans overnight before cooking, pre-soaking brown rice, and if you look it up at Weston Price (see link on the left sidebar) there are lots of things it helps with. I use the kefir mostly as buttermilk in cooking (pancakes, waffles, even some biscuits) or in smoothies. Yum!

I can get 'evaporated cane juice' through Azure for around $1/lb, which is more expensive than 'cheap' sugar, but not as spendy as the health-food store brand. Too, it helps me keep my big-sugar baking/eating to a minimum. :)

I've also wondered about the Duggar's 'grocery' bill. Does that include soap or shampoo or something? 19 people (some tiny eaters, others not) comes out to about $150/mo/person. Seems a bit steep, if it's just food. Perhaps they feed many guests? Either that or the tater-tots and canned beans can REALLY add up!! :)