THE COST OF FOOD

As the days get longer our grocery bill gets shorter as our plates are full with more and more homegrown produce (which is certainly a blessing!)

BTW, for those interested in our Grow for 10K Challenge, our total tally from Jan-May stands at 1,614 pounds.

This week will be harvesting “heavy weight crops” – potatoes and turnips (that should help boost the poundage up a bit!)

Last weeks’ trip to the grocer ended totaling $60 for four people (milk, pasta, cheese, salt and a few “indulgence items” chocolate and ice cream for a Sabbath treat) for a whole week’s worth of food.

Of course, there’s the monthly co-op to consider and that tallies in at about $100 a month ( organic flour, organic rice, raw cheese, raw sugar). So that’s now about $400 per month for our family. Which I think is pretty darn good considering we purchase organic (local as best we can) and we live in LA where family farms are scarcer then hens teeth.

Curious to how we compare to the average American, I did a bit of online search and found

Rebecca’s Blood in San Fransisco who’s Thrifty Food Budget is budget: 74.00/week or 320.80/month, the USDA “Thrifty” standard for a family of 2 adults, aged 20-50 years.

The site Eat Local Challenge had these stats:

1 person in the family, one wage earner: $68 a week
2+ persons in the family, one wage earner: $121 a week
2+ persons in the family, 2 wage earners: $144 a week
2+ persons in the family, 3+ wage earners: $184 a week

Ok, so we know how much we are spending (and how much we are earning from our 1/10 acre plot)- that’s easy! What would be interesting (and I am not sure how to do this just yet) is to figure out how much we are saving not having to buy eggs, fruits, vegetables, herbs so much honey and hopefully one day dairy!

Suggestions? One possibility is to go through our weekly menu posting, see what items come directly from the urban homestead, guesstimate the poundage or dozen used, find what’s a compatible price and then tally the figure per week. Whew!

Then the food shortage situation and seeing if we can adjust our diet accordingly. Perhaps cut back on certain “traditional staples.”

Are you beginning to see signs of food shortages in your neck of the wood? Care to share your thoughts on the subject and your plans?

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  1. mary says:

    We are a family of six – only one wage earner -in Oklahoma. We currently spend about $200/week for staples and some local meat and cheese. Not sure how that stacks up to the “USDA thrifty standard” 🙂 We have about 400sf in garden beds and that is helping us stretch our food dollars tremendously. We have made choices to change our diet to fit what is available locally – whether grown at home or purchased from the farmer’s market. I would love to find a co-op to purchase organic grains in bulk – nothing like that here yet – and I have even thought of starting it myself! As for noticing food shortages – nothing comes to mind. Although I have noticed that the market down the street from us has eliminated most of the organic [higher cost] brands that they were carrying a year ago. We have changed the way we shop considerably over the last year and are more in the pantry principle mode than just the weekly menu plan ‘list and purchase’ mode.

  2. Fiona says:

    you entry really is “food for thought”. I try and keep our food budget down as much as possible but when you live with an extremely picky adult that was raised on and is now used to over processed food its scary for me to even try and sit down and figure it all out. I thank my mom for my diversity in the foods I will eat.

    I think for the rest of the month I will try and my husbands food purchases separate for mine and from what we eat together so I can get a clearer picture for myself and to show him.

    I typically eat a lot of vegetables, whole grains, fruits,eggs, and most of my meat that I eat is poultry with occasions of beef. I try and buy local eggs when we can fit it our budget as my husband is the earner at the moment while I wait to start school in the Fall.

    We do have three local farmers markets in our city and I will start stopping by those and seeing what I can purchase that we’ll both eat. I’m all about eating local as much as possible:)

  3. Di says:

    One of the biggest savings I’ve found is menu planning. Little goes to waste when you plan ahead!

    We went to costco at the weekend and saw the signs that rice was limited. Well yeah it was, they only had ONE choice! White basmati. We passed, as we only eat brown, wholegrain and I got the organic one instead from trader joes. Rice has definitely increased in price though!!! Haven;t have to buy flour yet but I’m sure its the same.
    I will say that our food costs have gone down due to me learning to cook from scratch. I don’t cook a lot of things but I’d say 8/10 meals is prepared from scratch and that saves $$.

    Being vegetarian helps in this respect too. but again that ties into cooking from scratch. Lots of processed foods have hidden meats in them so we steer clear of those in general, though occassionally we buy premade veggie dishes.

    I’m actually doing a food ‘experiment’ here of my own, seeing how much I can save by cooking from scratch, menu planning and eventually my own veggie patch (when the veggies come up, late starting the whole grow your own thing, but better late than never!)

    I’ve saved receipts starting 30th May, so I’ll be tallying up month to month. I started at the beginning of May (but forget to save the reciepts) and so far groceries that previously lasted a week now last up to 10 days, just by menu planning!!! I’m sold on it all, green, frugal, veggie and doing my part to save the planet!

  4. Rebecca Blood says:

    It’s worth noting that many people feel the Thrifty food budget is not enough. We lived on it easily, but it would be harder for meat-eaters. Couples with 2 jobs would have to cook ahead on the weekends, and we couldn’t eat out at all.

    To know what she was spending on food, Amy Dacyczyn, author of the Tightwad Gazette added up what she spent on food and farming supplies (seeds, fertilizer), preserving supplies (sugar, canning jars and the like), and food bought. She also averaged it over the month and year, since her actual expenditure varied widely from week to week, depending on what was on sale, etc. So that should give you a true figure of your food costs.

    Then to compare with store costs, I think you’d have to list your harvest/preserves as you accumulated them, and compare them to the equivalent store item that same week (to account for seasonal fluctuations in price). A lot of work.

    Just keeping track of the first set of items over the course of a year would probably be enough to give you a yearly food cost that you could compare with the average.

    If you want to compare your entire lifestyle to the average, keep track of all hours worked producing food as well. Then you can truly compare inputs and outputs of each system.

  5. Anne says:

    We are a family of six (one wage earner) in Ky, and our food budget is $273/month (approx $54/week). This money is used for fruit, organic grains and beans from the coop, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and toiletries. Our monthly food budget does not include animal feed or seeds. We have chickens for eggs, two goats for milk, cheese and yogurt, and bees for honey. We grow as many vegetables as possible each summer and dry, can, freeze, and “cold room store” as much as possible for use throughout the winter. We grow greens in a small, homemade greenhouse during the winter for salad. We do not go out to eat nor do we buy processed, packaged food.

  6. Chicago Mike says:

    My wife and I started talking this winter and decided that we were going to garden and start trying to raise some of our own food in our small suburban back yard. I started planning and budgeting and we started. Because we both work our time is limited, but this is something we really want to do for our small children. This, and other sites have helped keep us inspired and we have set our goals high and long.

    So far, two apple trees (cross pollinators), two cherry trees (cp), tomatos, peppers, three kinds of beans (trellised on the fence after checking with the neighbors, they get to keep whats on their side!), strawberry bed, and various herbs. Grapes and berries will have to wait til fall.

    Anyways, this site and the Complete Idiots Guide to Gardening are keeping us at it.

    With Best Regards.

  7. Marci says:

    We are a family of 3. Our son is 24. We raise most of own meats. Then we raise a bit more to sell, to make our meat free. This has helped us tremendously. We raise, lamb, beef, pork, turkey and chicken. We would love to find more ways to keep the meat instead of freezing. We would be in a pickle if we lost power for an extended period of time. We also have layers and a milk cow. I have tried making the raw milk cheddar. Sometimes it comes out WONDERFUL, and other times it is not good. I can’t figure out what I do different. We are just getting our garden in for the year. I also run a co-op and do the unloading and sorting. They pay me 10% of their totals to do this. That helps pay for my co-op bill.

  8. Nuno says:

    Mary and Di make a really important point on something that is rarely included in the energy and water spiel of green behaviour: food waste because of bad planning either over shopping or over cooking.

    I personally only realized how much I wasted until I started cooking everyday for our family and making most of the shopping- I work closely with municipal waste management and I can tell you that most of what comes in after recycling picked up is organic- mostly thrown away cooked meals. We are now turning it into the best low-cost organic compost that I know of.

    In terms of homesteading I’m more like Mike and his family: I plant as an hobby and for food production (around 30% of what I eat), encouraged by this site and others. I think this is really picking up and will be more than a trend as I know totally different people getting into it agriculture is just essential knowledge!
    But I sort of feel the urge to take the plunge but it’s such a departure on what I’ve been building up that I hesitate…

    Rebecca really raises an important point and it’s I’ve been meaning to ask PtF: how many work hours and resources are in each pound of produce on average?
    The track that Rebecca mentions would be extremely interesting and a good comparative study would be a valuable piece of information in an economical and planning point of view.
    It’s the type of solid information that could really make a difference in spreading your ideas and I know you’re methodical enough to pull it off!

  9. Chicago Mike says:

    Food waste, etc, has become an issue here as well. I really want to compost intensely, but the wife is concerned by our proximity to neighbors. I know that someone experience could pull it off, but I am not sure yet.

    I am concerned about varmints as well.

  10. Nuno says:

    Hey Mike
    Composting does not imply smells or vermins at all (except for worms that actually help).
    First of all you musn’t add dairy products, meat or fish to the pile as they attract mice, cats and other animals.
    Secondly you can have a compost heap inside a special composting bin that you can by in garden centers or through the city hall, if they have them. These bins are closed on top, small and discrete and prevent any neighbour complaints although in my experience they tend to be slower and less effcicient than other solutions.
    If you have a garden they’re very easy to keep and really reduce the amount of garbage while fertilizing your soil. There’s a great and quick guide on the principals
    of composting here:

    http://www.milkwood.net/index.php?option=com_blipvideos&episode=473292

  11. Manny says:

    When I moved into this house, which is an older track home, two years ago I started putting in gardens just for vegetables. I took the receipts from the grocery store and marked down what this 2 person household was spending so that I could see what amount it would go down on specific vegetables as I began to harvest.
    I quickly learned that it is hard to figure out a total savings. For example, if I was buying two eggplants per month I harvested much more than that each month when the plants were growing. I did find ways to use it all, but trying to calculate what I really saved is more than the cost of the two eggplants I bought from the store because of the cost of the other vegetables that I didn’t buy because of all of the eggplants I had.
    The same is true with tomatoes. If I have them I don’t buy them, but last year I froze some, so when making soups or spaghetti you would have to consider the cost of the canned tomatoes that I did not need to buy.
    For me I have two goals this year. One is to be able to go out in the garden and pick fresh tomatoes for dinner 365 days a year. Living in Southern California it is doable. I picked my last tomatoes February 15 and it looks like I will start picking again about June 15 for this year.
    Also for this year since I use a lot of green onions I need to plant them every couple of weeks so I can stop buying them also.

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