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?
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