Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The cost of food

Its no wonder I think I spend so much on groceries. For some reason, that’s something I’ve been fretting over for a while. If I run the numbers at the end of the month, I’m shocked by how much food we ate. We eat enough to purchase another house.

Gone are the days when we ate in restaurants 3-4 times a week. Long gone. But our family does like to eat, and we try to eat yummy food that’s relatively healthy. And, because I’m a cheapskate who’s terrified by the monthly grocery bill, I try to cook a lot from scratch and not rely so much on mixes and kits and pre-prepared foods.

Also, I went grocery shopping last night, and I have a lot of prices fresh in my mind. So just now, I thought I’d do a little exercise in figuring how much I’m spending on food for today. I’m estimating on some things, as I don’t have all of the packages and prices in front of me

Today’s menu:
Oatmeal with brown sugar and cinnamon - 20cents (Note I buy the generic brand oatmeal in the large canisters, not packets. And most of the cost estimated here is the brown sugar)
Cranberry juice – 50cents (100% juice cranberry/pomegranate blend. I’m picky.)
Breakfast Total 70 cents

microwave dinner – $1.25 (these were on sale 8/$10)
grapefruit – $1 (it’s a huge white grapefruit, and I’m going to eat the whole thing)
cookies – 50cents – This is one of my massively estimated numbers. They’re homemade, and my price estimate might actually be high.
Soda – 25cents. It would be higher if bought from the grocery store, but we picked up some at Sams recently
Lunch total $3

Dinner (chili)
1 lb ground beef $3 (another estimate, I buy it on sale and freeze, but this is in the ballpark)
1 28oz can chili beans $1.50
1 28oz can diced tomatoes $1 (I think it might have been cheaper, but close enough)
1 bell pepper $1.50
1 onion 10cents (the bags were $10/10 before Thanksgiving)
Chili powder .25 (another big estimate. I pay by the ounce from Penzeys, and have no idea how much it costs per pot)
Tortilla chips $1.33 (we’ll eat about 1/3 of a bag or so, maybe)
Shredded cheese 50cents (estimating 1 / 4 of a bag at 3/$5)
Water (free)
Dinner total: $9.18. I’m not eating the entire pot myself. My share comes to approximately $2.30

Total for the day = $6

If all 4 of us in the family at the same cost in food, every day of the year, then we would spend:
$6/person/day * 4 people * 7 days in a week * 52 weeks in a year = $8736/year = $728/month.

No wonder I’m freaked about the cost of food. Today’s menu is pretty cheap. No steak, no fancy ingredients. I don’t drink much milk, but the kids do, which would change the cost of today’s meals.

There are a few places I could cut back here: pb&j instead of the tv dinner, a less expensive piece of fruit, make a larger pot of chili using dried beans instead of canned (and use leftovers for future lunches), etc.

There are also easy places to spend more money: boxed cereal instead of oatmeal, add a cup of yogurt (which I frequently do), actually account for the cup of tea and few squares of chocolate I have stashed in my desk :)


Bethany said...

Wow, I never thought about the numbers when figuring cost of food for families. Even if you could cut down the cost to $5/day per person, you're still looking at at least $600/month.

I guess you could try growing some of your own food, although your back yard isn't exactly the best garden material.. In Boston I have a share in Victory Gardens, a community garden established during WWI. Of course that requires time...

In New Mexico I was a part of a CSA. I got a bushel of vegetables for $25/week and supplemented the food with legumes, occasional meet, etc., but even then I was spending about $200/month for myself.

Something I always wanted to try was a dinner swap. Usually 4 families or so make one meal, enough portions for each family, then swap. Cooking in bulk can save costs, and also time.

Obviously with only me (and now Gerd) I don't need as much as a family of four would, but I do make lunches in bulk on Sunday. I put portions in tupperware and pull out a meal each day.

Gerd, on the other hand goes out to lunch every single day, which I estimate must cost $500/month for him alone.

It sounds like maybe you should just increase your budget and stop worrying about it, if you can afford to that is. Why aren't we rich yet? Life would be so much easier with more money.

Anyway good luck! And remember, there's always Ramen!

Kristi said...

I do try to grow stuff in the garden, but have limited success. Usually when i start getting a good crop in, neighborhood bunnies treate it like an all-you-can-eat-salad-bar. Maybe I need a cat.

I have great luck with cilantro. In fact, I last planted it 5 years ago, and it keeps coming back.

The main problem with growing your own is that, if successful, you get like 10 heads of lettuce to eat in one week. And two months later, you get a bushel of tomatoes. And then a dozen bell peppers. Canning/freezing works for some things (not lettuce) :) There is a community garden here, but its a good 10 minute drive away, which translates into 30 minutes each way once you bundle supplies and kids into the car. Not convenient enough when we're pressed for time.

But all that and the gardening take time. As does cooking in bulk. It's difficult to find a 2+ hour block of time, even on a weekend, to spend doing nothing but cooking. That should get better as kids get older and more independent (and finally dislodge themselves from my legs), but its still a factor.

And I'm waiting anxiously for a promised Walmart Supercenter to open nearby (plans that are reportedly now uncertain because the developer is selling the property)--our current grocery store options are a mid-priced local chain (Schnucks), a different Schnucks, or the "convenient food mart" places.

I appear to live in a grocery store vacuum. And, though I'm a fan of Walmart/Target/Meijer type supercenters (from growing up in Fishers, the grocery mecca), there are none for at least a 25-minute highway drive. They're in the far-out burbs. Apparently those of us in the close-in burbs don't need shopping options.

Our budget does handle our food expenses, but I flinch every time I see the totals. And when I try to find places to cut back so that we could spend money in other, more fun places, I always see this huge number next to food and think that we're spending too much.

It does help to do the math, and realize just what we get for the money. I try to avoid calculating the costs for eating-out. Those meals typically get filtered through a (points-yielding) credit card first and paid right off, so the amount we spend on that is easy to ignore. 0:)

Incidentally, the pot of chili yielded two extra lunch-sized servings for later, which helps :)

Bethany said...

I really want one of those time things from Hermoine in the Harry Potter series. I once calculated the time I could spend on each student grading papers. 150 students, one hour prep = 60 min * 5 days/week = 300 min x 2 (because I would work at least one hour more than required) = 600 min/150 students = 4 minutes per child per week.

You're right, doing the calculations did make me feel a little bit better about my overloaded in box. And yes, I did find ways to give students more time and grade more effectively.

But anyway, I didn't mean to sound like I thought you weren't doing a great job. Really, you make homemade food, I think that's amazing.

I do have a good cookbook for you. Now, I say good, but I'm guessing kids won't like several of the recipes from it, but it is interesting. I don't know if you've ever read it, but it's Simply in Season. My friend Krissy gave it to me when I didn't know what to do with all my monthly veggies. Recipes are divided into seasons so you can use fresh vegetables when you cook.

Winter main dishes include: Sweet Potato Quesadillas, Wild Rice Vegetable Bake, and Hutspot among others. Other seasons are a bit better, it's just that in winter hardly anything grows, and what does grow is generally icky.

Anyway, sorry about the multiple postings, all I have to do is write a stupid research paper and it's driving me crazy. Talk to you later.

Amanda said...

You have a cup of tea in your desk?