Sunday, May 24, 2009

I'm a beyond-thrifty grocery shopper!

I may think the grocery budget needs further trimming, but I'm beyond frugal by government standards. This isn't the beginnings of a rant on wasteful spending and federal bailouts, though that does seem like the obvious direction for this post to take. This is about official numbers on the food budget of the average American family, but - what the heck - let's make a brief side trip to the rant.

The federal government does entirely too much snooping and mucking about in the daily details of our shopping lives. In addition to being meddlesome, government agencies are constantly gathering data. Not that this is all bad. Data about population and crime statistics fall squarely into planning for the government to do it's main job - protecting life, liberty and property. But then there's all those other little details of our lives. Like that census question everyone likes to use to point out the ridiculous - about how many flush toilets are in a house.

In this case, the data has been collected by the US Dept. of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, and is related to weekly grocery spending. It's broken down by sex and age, and has been conveniently categorized as Thrift, Low, Moderate, and Liberal. It's updated monthy. As unhappy as I am to find my tax dollars used to snoop in grocery baskets, the data is current, answers a question I had about how our food bills compare to others, and was easy to find. I'll swallow my grumbling and use it. After all, I paid for the @#!* stuff.

My question: How does our average weekly grocery spending of $142.89 compare to the national average?

According to the January 2009 data (link to PDF):

Family of four, with children in the 6-8 and 9-11 range:

Great, but I also have a teenaged boy. The recommendation is to reduce the weekly amount for the age/sex by 7% when adding to an existing family group. I used 10%, to avoid needing a calculator.

Male child, age 14-18 (less 10%):

Add the two sets together, and here are the USDA amounts for the weekly food spending of a family of five, with children aged eight, nine and fifteen:


The average weekly spending for my family is $30 less than the Thrift level of spending. Many weeks come in below the Thrift level for a family of four. Even my big stock-up weeks, with gourmet cheeses and fancy coffee, come in between the Low and Moderate levels.

I have lost just about all sympathy for anyone who says it's too tough and too expensive to buy healthy food. For people with access to only the inner city convenience markets that may be true. But for everyone else... Really?!

I do most of our shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joes, both considered to be at the high end of pricing. Buy organic when I can, especially if it's an item where we'll be eating the skin. Free range chicken. Grass fed beef. Eggs from birds with hormone free, vegetarian diets.

Sure, I could do more to lower the bill. Using only bulk dry beans, rather than purchasing canned, is a big one, given how many days they're mixed into our meals. If I were to make the drive out to the Super Walmart and Farmers Market each week, I could probably drop the bill even further. The only reason I don't is one of time and effort. I get far more enjoyment out of the ride to the store on the bike than I would from driving around the suburbs. It's worth an extra $10-15 each week to stay within a 3 mile radius of home. (Actually, if you figure in gas, it's probably more like $5-10 each week I'd save.)

I get that it's a convenience and personal preference thing. I bake oat muffins for breakfasts, and always make extra waffles during weekend breakfasts, to keep in the freezer for another day. Our granola is homemade. (Not cheap, once I add all the nuts & fruits, but still less than if I were to purchase the premium packaged stuff at the store.) Lunches are made with homemade sandwiches, not pre-packaged lunchmeat & cheese combos. Meat, poultry and fish are parts of our dinners, but rarely the main part.

I'm not saying everyone should do what I do. What works for us is far more difficult for someone who works full time. Heck, I read several Mom & Food bloggers who do far more from-scratch cooking than I do, plus gardening and food preserving. There are families out there who eat diets far healthier and greener than ours. In comparing the numbers here though, I have a pretty good idea that those families' grocery bills might not be much, if any, higher than mine.


Slamdunk said...

I had no clue that USDA collected this information--interesting stuff and I'll have to check exactly where we are on the list.

carla said...

What works for us is far more difficult for someone who works full time.
I know that for me, when I say that sentence in regards to something it is because this workathome full time mama doesnt WANNA (yet.)

Love what you do and really need to find something like the muffins I can make ahead that the toddler will eat.