Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why your budget might not work in my kitchen...

Pin It

Have you ever had a moment when you do Google search for ideas on how to lower your grocery budget only to end up biting your nails in frustration when you read how some people feed their families on like $30 a week, and others spend only $200 a month on food for a family of six? Do you second-guess yourself wondering why, no matter how hard you try, you just can't achieve numbers as low as some other frugality ninjas?

 photo money-1_zps104ff3ff.jpg

The truth is, you cannot use somebody else's finances towards your own family, and it applies to your groceries too. There are many reasons for it. I want to talk about a few today:

 Location, location, location. Food is expensive! But in some areas of the country it's even more bank-breaking than in others. The amount of money you spend on food varies from location to location going from a few cents to a very significant amount. For example, the average price of 1qt of whole milk in NY (according to Expatistan) is $2.97. For this price, I can buy a whole gallon and throw in a pint of cream too if I find both on sale. I can definitely stretch my hard-earned dollar much further (Granted, my salary cannot compare to the average income in NY either. But that's a whole other topic...). Proximity to the stores also plays a huge role in creating a budget. Businesses tend to have a competition to lure the most clients in, and if you have plenty of stores close by, you can use it to your advantage by shopping only for loss items. But if your closest store is about 20 minute drive, it will be much harder to find the same nice deals and sales. Again, it all comes back to the location.

 Your preferences and needs. Your diet plays a huge role in how you calculate your monthly expenses. One of the best ways to cut on groceries is go meatless a few times a week. With that said, being vegetarian or vegan doesn't always mean that you will spend significantly less. The most important part of our nourishment is to have nutritional balance. If you replace animal products with expensive processed vegan food, you, probably will spend the same if not more. No matter what our preferences are, it's important to have nutrients, carbs, vitamins and minerals in our diet in a good, healthy proportion. Hence, the best way to cut on expenses is to eat whole foods on sale like seasonal fruit and vegetables, dried beans instead of canned, real meat opposed to over processed hot dogs or chicken nuggets. Eating organic will also bump the price ticket but with using less, buying local and cooking at home you can definitely lower that number. Not even mentioning the health benefits...

Another important thing to remember are your needs. I'm talking mostly about health needs. For example, if you have food allergies or intolerances, no matter how hard you try, some things are just going to be more expensive then the others.  Again, shopping sales can help some but, more than likely, your budget will be higher than for most people who don't have to face the same issues you do.

Size, gender and age of the family members. I can just see some of you, mothers of teenagers, chuckling out there. We all know that teenage girls usually eat slightly more than a duckling, and boys are just bottomless pits. The size, gender and age of your family's members play a huge roll on how you calculate your expenses. The level of activity can also be a determining factor. A few years ago I read an article about a Polynesian family who had two high-school age sons who played for their local football teams and were drafted by some prestigious colleges. Among other things their Mom mentioned that they go through at least 4 gallons of milk every week trying to keep up with boys' needs and necessary calorie intake. I remember giving an extra long look at my baby boy I was cradling  in my arms back then, mentally calculating how many part-time jobs I would need to land by the time he hits high school.

Your own resources and circumstances. One of my most favorite parts of our back yard is our garden. I spend countless hours in there happily digging through piles of dirt and spreading beautiful manure everywhere while constantly working on creative plans on how to lower the amount of weeds that tend to grow overnight and are not scared of anything. But even though it really helps with our expenses over summer, gardening takes time and space that many of us don't have. We can definitely take advantage of buying from farmers or trading help for produce with friends but if you live somewhere in the middle of Manhattan, even these options are very limited. Knowing what is available to you will really help to make the right estimation of what you might need and how much it would cost you monthly. Other circumstances like working long hours can also be a determining factor. I do believe that even if you have to work like crazy, there are many ways to avoid going for fast food (like cooking in bulk once a week or using a slow cooker, to name a few). The previous generations did not have the luxury of food prepared for them, and they were healthier than we are right now. There is something we can learn from them, that's for sure :)

In the end, the most important thing to remember is that even though the quote "much to learn you still have" (in the words of ever-inspiring Yoda)applies to most of us, we need to find what works and stick to it. You and your family is what really matters, and there is no reason to be upset that you cannot go as low as some others if you do your personal best (the last phrase might or might not have been inspired by me braking a promise to myself not to watch too much Olympics :)

What are your thoughts?


  1. I totally agree - my food budget is slowly creeping up as my kids get older, but I have two boys and one girl. The eldest has just turned 13 and eats twice as much as me! X

  2. Well said. Comparison always gets you in trouble.

  3. All of what you say it true Lena. My grocery bill has gone down since MIchael left as I don't have to buy much meat.And for the month Kazi was away I barely shopped at all - just feeding ME is SO CHEAP! A big pot of soup lasts me a whole week! Plus I don't mind using up leftovers or the bits and bobs in the freezer and pantry in order to NOT have to shop! It's all relative and you just have to do what's best for you and your family.

  4. Totally agree... I think our grocery bills are fairly low, but when I compare to some of the prices in the US (meat prices, milk prices, etc..) there is NO way I could go as low as many of my american friends. So i'm quite happy with our budget is now and that i'm able to (most times) stay under it. Just gotta do the best you can do and improve on yourself as you can!

  5. I completely agree. And I always tell people, my food budget sucks because it's too low, but I don't eat much so it doesn't bother me. Here's a link to what the gov't thinks we should be spending a week. I am not very behind their "thrifty" plan (I spend $30/wk, they recommend $37/wk), which makes me wonder how they really expect people to live a healthy lifestyle with such a tiny budget and everything going up in prices...

  6. Excellent post! I do forget geography makes such a huge difference. Milk is $4.50 a gallon here which is over a dollar more than 45 minutes away. I'm totally with you on gardening. It saves so much money.

  7. All good points! Where you live and what you eat really impact your grocery bill!

  8. I don't think these food budgets are meant for us to follow to the cent. The way I look at them is they are inspiration. Most people can spend less. Notice I said "most." Some magazine articles try to whip us into a frenzy or shame us. (Okay, not so much magazines now, but internet)

    There is another element that people forget. I have the time. I live in a small town where the farthest store I shop is four miles away yet I can price-match stores in a 60 mile radius, stores in large cities with great sales. My daughter cannot go to RA, CVS, and Walgreens in 45 minutes and shop and be home in an hour. She is in NYC, drives around a child, and has other things to do.

    I don't have a child and all that entails. I am retired. I live in a small town. I don't cook every day. Right now, I am eating from a turkey and have the rest frozen. Yes, prices are lower. Coupons help with the frugal buying. I am willing to finagle a deal, using coupons, sales, and can wait, wait, wait for the time to come when something is cheapest for me.

    When I was in hs, I weighed < 100 lbs. up to 110 when I graduated and was 5' 7.5". . Mama remarked one day that I ate more than my father who worked manual labor. I was a little girl who ate heartily.

    My grocery bill was about $140, but around $30 of that was food I will not eat this month. The only thing I will buy in the next 7 days is milk and maybe bananas.

    If I could garden much or pick in fields, my grocery bill would be under $100/month. I can, dehydrate, freeze for winter.

  9. You are absolutely right, Lena, on all of your points. There are certain foods that my husband cannot eat and of course there are certain foods the kids (no matter how hard I try) will not eat. Everyone has their own way of shopping- I think we can all just do the best we can to save money with the resources we have. One of the ways we cut back is that we are blessed enough to have some grocery outlets to shop at. Not many people are on board with shopping discount stores due to expirations dates being too close or boxes being crushed, etc. I am very particular about what I buy in these stores but that is usually where I start our grocery shopping and only go in regular grocery stores for whatever else is needed that could not be purchased at the discount grocery outlet. One particular outlet we go to is somewhere around a 45 minute drive from our home (each way) so we make it a point to only go there once every few months- we stock up on the items that we get there so we don't have to make the trip often and use too much gas. But in the end it is worth it to us. I know there are places where farm stands and grocery outlets are not options and resources are more limited. With the prices of groceries always on the rise if anyone has any tips to save more money on groceries I would love to know. That is why I appreciate your blog and blogs like yours, Lena. It helps me to stay in line with my budget and be more creative with what I have. :)

  10. You also have to realize that some of these people who brag about feeding a family for $200 a month eat oatmeal and powdered milk every morning. Beans and rice 4 times a week. They really limit their variety and the amount they allow people to eat. Don't take it too much to heart. Some people hunt and don't buy meat except for the venison they shoot. Others have huge huge gardens and are able to barter goods between others. When you are buying all your groceries and vary your menu it will be a lot more expensive.

  11. You are so right about location. My budget is doing so much better now that I can shop at the Aldi just a few minutes from my home.
    I also think many people are kind of snobs both ways about grocery budgets, especially the ones that say they have to spend a lot to eat fresh and healthy. I think cooking from scratch and buying basic low cost real ingredients, like bags of potatoes, carrots, apples, oranges, flour. And cooking unprocessed meat like a while chicken or a roast and making multiple meals from them will help anyone lower their food bill if they will plan ahead and do the work.
    I hope I am not sounding like a snob :)

  12. Very well said. It's like comparing apples to oranges to judge your own food spending against someone else's.
    I post my food spending every month....not to make someone else feel bad or superior to me, but mainly to keep myself accountable to ME and if I help someone in some way with their spending(to try something new or see what they do through new eyes), it's all good. 8-)

  13. Great post!

    I have 2 kids. A 14 year old daughter who eats a normal amount for her age. My son is 10, built like a string bean and eats like a line backer. I call him the bottomless pit. I image when he is a teen he will be eating double what he is now. Eeekkk!

    I also think every family has their own "must have" items. Items which you are willing to pay a bit more to have. One of ours is apples since my kids (especially my 10 year old) loves them. And I am happy to provide a healthy snack, even if its not always a bargain.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...