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Old 07-22-2010, 06:42 PM   #1
kijip
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How do you calculate your food budget?

Or maybe how do you spend so little on food?

I see a lot of people saying they spend $xx on groceries with amounts averaging out to $1 or $2 a person per day. The USDA says it costs about $5 per adult woman on a thrifty plan. $500ish on the thrifty plan for a family of 4 with younger children. I feel like by buying in bulk, shopping sales and cooking from scratch we eat like kings for between the low-cost and moderate band. More like $6-7 dollars per day per person for an avg total of $700 or so per month for 4 people, more now because it's 5 people a lot of the time (my father is living with us, but he does buy some food). We eat meat, but not daily. We also grow food, have chickens and don't buy many processed items. We stockpile. Having grown up poor, I know what a severely small food budget looks and feels like. I have no interest in cutting our food budget because I think we are doing ok food wise and because we don't have any economic need or pressure to do so.

I wonder what it is that accounts for *most* people I see online listing very small food budgets relative to the national stats and to what I see people (including myself) spend IRL? The explanation seems to center on things we do and then some- menu plan, no junk, few processed foods, cook from scratch etc. We have been eating in this manner for 3-5 years (it was a gradual process of stockpiling and 6+ years ago we would not have been able to buy a 1/2 side of beef at a time for the whole year because we would not have had the cash). Previously, we ate well but spent more on food and did not always do organics etc.

I will admit I don't really believe it is possible to do $1 a day per person type diets for years on end in the vast majority of cases. I think people are either spending more than they think or the nutritional level is not really ideal.

USDA grid:

http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publication...fFoodMay10.pdf

Are people counting or factoring in:

-Do you have a special diet or limit caloric intake? No meat? No dairy? (Certainly our vegan dinners are cheaper than the ones with fish or sausage).

-Do you live in a LCOL or a HCOL area?

-The cost of stuff they have in their pantries? If I spend $70 on groceries that week, that does not mean my family's meals cost $70. It means I bought $70 in food. But if I left $25 worth of that $70 in the pantry and ate $50 worth of older purchases (like meat from the freezer) I really spent $95. Not $70. For stockpiling this is especially true- I am using meat from April and beans from last year etc.

-Are you guesstimating the number or do you add up each and every receipt? I have worked at times helping people set up budgets and the degree to which people underestimate variable expenses is typically very large.

-How many servings of non-starchy vegetables (corn and potatoes don't count) is your family eating per day and per week? Some thrifty sites meal plans I see include none to a few per month.

-How long has your food budget been at a certain level? I could need money and spend very little for weeks or months but once my pantry was depleted, I would have to go up on the dollar amounts.

-Do you get meals from other places that reduce your budget?

-Do you eat 5-7+ servings of fruit and non-starchy veggies per day per person?

-How much food is eaten at home? 3 meals a day for all family members?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Last edited by kijip; 07-22-2010 at 08:28 PM.
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Old 07-22-2010, 07:34 PM   #2
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Re: How do you calculate your food budget?

We are a family of 5: 2 adults, 3 kids ages 7, 4 & 2, and our budget is $300/mo and I shop 2xs a month.

No spcial diets. We are not vegetarian, & have no allergies.

I live in Southern California so things are fairly expensive.

I don't really understand what you are asking, I just spend 150 every 2 weeks, I do not calculate what we use per meal. I will use meat from the freezer and I dont add that to our costs since I already bought it.

I only shop once. If we don't have it, we do without. Anything leftover from the budget I save for the farmers market for the second week. I meal plan so I usually never run out of something we need.

Dinner always includes a vegetable. Lunch always includes a fruit and veggie of some sort. I wont cut the budget in this area also I dont believe corn & potatoes are a vegetable, so if our meal includes either, another vegetable is served as well. Plus the kids have fruit as snacks.

My budget is always 150. I dont like to fluctuate with it, buying less for weeks then having to restock up. Some people like to clear the pantry, but I like to have food on hand in case of an emergency.

once or twice a month we'll eat at my moms house, but its not done intentionally to reduce our budget.

On vacation, yes, but when the kids are at school, I don't think they eat 5-7 servings of fruit and veggies a day, I do pack a lunch for them with both a fruit and veggie, but I would think its more like 4-6 servings a day. My husband and myself do not eat 5-7, more like 1-3.

3 meals a day for everyone, when the kids are in school I pack them a lunch, that they eat at school. We dont do school lunches. Yuck.
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Old 07-22-2010, 07:34 PM   #3
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Re: How do you calculate your food budget?

Well, we have a family of four. We stockpile when we can. Our budget is $300 with stockpiling/storage etc. There are a couple times a year we might do a $300+ Costco trip, typically only 2x per year though. I use Gnu Cash for our accounting and categorize everything purchased at Costco, Safeway, and Winco as groceries. Our average per month from our expense report is: $322.45 We only go out to eat about 1-2 times a month. I make most of our bread and do some freezer meals. 1/2 our food budget goes to fresh produce. We don't grow anything sadly, I just have never been a gardener. We shop organic when we can. There are times I could do so much better budget wise. We also don't just live on rice and beans, we have steak, lamb, etc about once a month with meat most days.
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Old 07-22-2010, 07:53 PM   #4
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Re: How do you calculate your food budget?

I meal plan. I buy in season, I buy frozen veggies when they are buy 11 for 10 and use coupons, I make from scratch (even bread)

The main thing is I cut out alot of the junk we were eating...fruit instead of chips (seasonal, watermellon now, apples in fall ect), Both my kids have milk sensitivieties, so my big expense is Almond milk (at 2.99 for 32 oz) and soy pediasure for DS. All "dairy" items are a little more pricey for us due to that...BUT since they are little it is not a huge deal (they split a lot of meals since I always add fruits and veggies)

We eat veggies twice a day--fresh or frozen, carrots peas, they love them all.

The big thing was cutting all the crap and looking for sales. When meat is on sale, I buy a ton (chicken BOGO, I get 6 packages, get home and separate them into portions I need)--this is all counted into my budget...I also buy my meat locally from a butcher. Kind of old school, but I get the best cuts and it is cheaper than the store
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Old 07-22-2010, 08:04 PM   #5
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Re: How do you calculate your food budget?

Are people counting or factoring in:

-Do you have a special diet or limit caloric intake? No meat? No dairy? (Certainly our vegan dinners are cheaper than the ones with fish or sausage). No special diets here. We consume both meat and dairy.

-Do you live in a LCOL or a HCOL area? I would say that ours is mid-range. Way cheaper than CA, but more expensive than others I've seen posted.

-The cost of stuff they have in their pantries? If I spend $70 on groceries that week, that does not mean my family's meals cost $70. It means I bought $70 in food. But if I left $25 worth of that $70 in the pantry and ate $50 worth of older purchases (like meat from the freezer) I really spent $95. Not $70. For stockpiling this is especially true- I am using meat from April and beans from last year etc. I do not count my stockpile in my weekly amount as I purchase more each week to add to the stockpile. There was a period of time in the very beginning that my budget was a little higher for stockpile building purposes-about $15-$25/week for a month or so.

-Are you guesstimating the number or do you add up each and every receipt? I have worked at times helping people set up budgets and the degree to which people underestimate variable expenses is typically very large. I add every receipt from the week. I usually do my shopping on Saturday or Sunday afternoon for the next week. I always make sure to have food for Sunday in case I wait until then to go.

-How many servings of non-starchy vegetables (corn and potatoes don't count) is your family eating per day and per week? Some thrifty sites meal plans I see include none to a few per month. 4-6 per day and oftentimes our serving size is probably big enough to count for 2 servings-especially with salads. I also try to serve as many fresh veggies as possible, then frozen or dried. I do not purchase canned veggies (other than tomatoes right now, but I plan on canning my own this summer).

-How long has your food budget been at a certain level? I could need money and spend very little for weeks or months but once my pantry was depleted, I would have to go up on the dollar amounts. I spend $100-$125/week. Each week, approximately $40-$50 of that money is spent on stockpiling, $30-$40 is spent on produce and the remainder is spent on dairy ($12 for 4 gallons of milk) and whatever misc. items I need to complete my meals (spices, chocolate chips, etc.)

-Do you get meals from other places that reduce your budget?
Last winter I got a produce box from Angel Food ministries, but I don't think I'll do it again-as long as I can continue to get fresh produce for a reasonable amount of money.
-Do you eat 5-7+ servings of fruit and non-starchy veggies per day per person? Answered above.

-How much food is eaten at home? 3 meals a day for all family members? I serve breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and occasionally a bedtime snack-depends on how late we ate dinner. Once school starts again, I will feed 1 adult and 7 kids. Morning snack is 7 kids. Lunch is 2 adults and 9 kids (DH and the girls take lunch from home). Afternoon snack feeds 10 kids. And our dinner is 2 adults and 3 kids. DH always eats something after dinner and occasionally the kids do too. I run a daycare and have kids that come in after breakfast (which is why I serve a morning snack) and then I get after school kids, plus my own.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.[/QUOTE]
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Old 07-22-2010, 08:55 PM   #6
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Re: How do you calculate your food budget?

I understand what you asking, the fact that there are such small budgets you are wondering how the diets are truely healthy or not.

1. I think in our area food is cheaper (Missouri)

2. We receive WIC, which drops at least $150 off our bill a month

3. we have a garden and so does my MIL that shares with us

4. I make most from scratch

5. We don't HAVE to have meat in our family so this helps a TON

6. i believe we rae gettign all our servings of fruits and veggies, though some days are more fruit only!

7. NEVER throwing out food or wasting in our home

8. WE DON'T go out to eat.

9. Some people get budgets REALLY low, I think they are doign the coupon game where they get LOTS for free. But most of those items we wouldn't eat. Scratch that, we would cause it tastes good, but we don't cause I know it isn't healthy no matter how little I paid for it and I feel guilty feeding it to my kids. Though I am eating a HUGE bowl of ice cream or half the bread from the maker on my own frequently(thats another topic of unresolved issues )

10. I think our $350/mo oop is good for our family considering you add in the $150/mo in WIC which gives us an average of $500/mo.. Though that is an average, some months it is lower and as you stated some months we are stocking back up on flour sugar and basics for the pantry from Costco. But AVERAGE is $350 oop.....

11. i also think that chart that you refer to, adds in the costs of average people eating commercialized cereals/pop/chips ect. Non filling junk food plus healthy foods. The junk food doesn't fill you so you are likely to buy more food to fill up better.
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Old 07-22-2010, 09:02 PM   #7
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Re: How do you calculate your food budget?

In reality we average $400/mo but that includes diapers and HB, cleaning and paper products. Ideally I shoot for $300 but like you said I cant do this for long without seriously compromising nutrition. I will not use more fillers to stretch meat and we try to keep lots of snacking fruit and such always cut and ready. I also buy alot of nuts because my DD is picky and will barely eat meat and doesnt like beans.
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Old 07-22-2010, 09:18 PM   #8
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Re: How do you calculate your food budget?

Quote:
Originally Posted by ctj101502 View Post
2. We receive WIC, which drops at least $150 off our bill a month
I would tend to include food assistance in my budget. We got WIC briefly (twice) when I was laid off from a job almost 5 years ago. Since it was 1 child, for us is was like $60ish in food value.
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Old 07-22-2010, 09:21 PM   #9
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Re: How do you calculate your food budget?

Quote:
Originally Posted by ctj101502 View Post
I understand what you asking, the fact that there are such small budgets you are wondering how the diets are truely healthy or not.
Also, I wonder the degree to which underestimation is playing in here. One specific example, my brother thought he spent $300 for 4 people. He added it up closely and realized it was much higher.
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Old 07-22-2010, 09:25 PM   #10
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Re: How do you calculate your food budget?

well. I live in a low COL area, we get WIC, I can cook from scratch, and we eat a LOT of starchy things like pasta, potatoes corn quick breads etc. Plain and simple, they are cheap, and we are poor.
We also have a garden and put away a lot of green beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, you know, midwestern fair.
I also take advantage of free stuff. Leftovers at a party no one else wants? Mine. Box of XXX in the back of my mom's pantry? Mine. Berry/apple/mushroom/rhubarb/cattail on the bike path? Mine. I'm one of those "you going to eat that" people who will put half a roll in the doggy bag.
For 2 adults and a 15 month old, we spend about $150 a month, plus WIC. We could eat less processed foods, I won't lie, but if coupons make Betty Crocker potatoes free, guess what's for dinner.

I've thought about it a little more, and I think I see what you are saying about super low budgets and not so healthy.
However,
I know like in my family's case, we eat more processed than I'd like, because I can get it for free or close to it. We just don't have the money to spend more. If I spent $50 more a month on produce, or meats (we rarely have meat) then the electric bill wouldn't get paid. Or maybe we could cut netflix, and only $40 of the electric bill wouldn't get paid Since we won't be watching TV because our electric would be off. But then I wouldn't make any money because I work from home.

Wait, then we would have half the income and would qualify for food stamps and could eat like organic vegetarian kings!

What a world we live in.
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