Saturday, March 3, 2012

Food costs

Back in August 2009, when there was just me and a 9-year-old boy in the house, I wrote to my husband,
When I went to the doctor's office, I saw a magazine that advertised, “feed your family for $99 a week!”, and I wondered why people would want to pay that much. (I skimmed through that article, and saw that the $99 was for recipes for dinner only, which makes it even more of an expensive article). I mentioned it to Dad, who told me that, the year I went to college and we had an exchange student in our home, he had calculated the cost of groceries at $5 per day per person. That was my frugal Dad two decades ago, so his $140/week for a 4-person family makes the magazine’s $99/week seem low. But I’m quite sure I’m spending less than $45/week for me and N-son. I think I’m going to keep track more carefully.
By the end of September I wrote,
I’ve been keeping track of how much I spend on groceries because of that article I read a while ago with the title, “Spend $99 a week on groceries!” It’s not entirely fair, since N-son and I have been attending a bunch of dinners at the college, but nonetheless, we spent exactly $40 on groceries in September. That doesn’t count “unhealthy” things like coffee or whiskey, but neither did that article. One drawback of this lifestyle is that I have completely run out of brown paper bags for the newspapers. We have lots of plastic bags left from before you went away, so at least we’re still okay for cat litter.
That year was a superb year for scrounging food, not at all typical for me.  Still, my own impressions of how much it costs to feed a family on an intensely frugal lifestyle are closer to (but not quite as low) as what Barbara Kingsolver describes in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.   She says that in a year of eating locally, her family averaged a cost of 50¢ per person per meal (for four people, that translates to $42/week).

You can compare this with the broader populations.  The USDA maintains statistics on what they think it costs a family to feed itself:  check out  According to their data, a "thrifty" family of four spent about $145/week in January 2012.

So how much do I spend on food now?  The short answer :  I dunno.  With the return of my husband (who loves to shop), fewer scrounging opportunities, and with the addition of both a second voracious 13-year old and new not-so-voracious daughter, the grocery bill has certainly gone up, but it hasn't been easy to track.

Nonetheless, people keep asking me about what I spend on food, and shrugging the shoulders doesn't satisfy.  We just paid our annual CSA fee.  Tracking begins now.  First public disclosure of our food bills (and the total will be a doozie!) comes Monday.  


  1. Looking at my grocery list page I am typically spending $250 to $400 a month for a family of 5. This includes paper products like toilet paper, pet foods and personal like shampoo, laundry detrergent and such.

    February I went way and above what I usually spend but I am hoping that by the end of the year I average it all out to around $300 a month.

    Considering the national average, I don't think this is too bad considering one is a 14 year old boy!

    1. Yes, I admire how you manage to do a lot with a little! It will be interesting to compare notes (um, once I have notes to compare!) Did you notice we've *both* made reuben sandwiches recently? -MM

    2. Thanks and yes it would be fun to compare notes! Of course that may challenge me to see if I can even get to a lower monthly amount...............LOL

  2. This is only fair since you know in agonizing detail how much I spend on groceries. I'm really looking forward to seeing your notes.

  3. I just began a new budget and for my family of 6 I've budgeted $200... That includes GF foods & organic meats. Food costs are sky high, if you want any kind of nutrition, you have to spend a bit more unfortunately.