Save: How much do you spend on groceries?

July 17, 2012 · 12 comments

Two weeks from today, I am moving. While I’m not moving far, just a mile, I am not moving into my new apartment until September 1st. I’m going to be a nomad for a month living at mother’s cape house, renting in Nantucket for a week and crashing it on a couch or two in the city. I am not one to waste food. Rarely does my produce go bad. If it is close, I’ll freeze it if I can. The next 14 days are going to require some serious creativity to figure out how to use up the foods in my freezer.

TJ Chicken Burger

Yesterday’s lunch was asparagus with a chicken patty from Trader Joe’s, avocado and a little ketchup. It was surprisingly really good. I was in a rush however and about 2 hours later in the dentist’s chair my stomach was grumbling. I wish I had included a handful of almonds. Instead, I went to Whole Foods afterwards to pick a few items for the week to supplement our freezer.

SummerSalad

Instead, I was lured in by the salad bar. I got a side of hearts of palm salad which came with asparagus and grape tomatoes in addition to grilled portabello mushrooms. I pan fried some chicken and weighed out 4 oz. I topped a bed of baby spinach with the hearts of palm salad, mushrooms and chicken with a drizzle of Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze.

Summer Salad

Despite not using the ingredients in my freezer, I still felt creative and didn’t spent a fortune like usual creating my entire salad at Whole Foods. Speaking of WH, there was an interesting article on Boston.com yesterday that compared all the local supermarket prices and found that WH actually had the cheapest milk available. Their eggs were the most expensive however. The article concluded though, that WH really isn’t that much more expensive when it comes to staple items and often is cheaper. Yesterday I bought a box of oatmeal for $2.49 at WH for Roomie. There are 5 servings. I usually buy his at TJ’s for $2.99 for 6 servings but still, as long as you’re not hoarding kale chips (which cost $5.99 for like 1-2 servings), you can escape using your whole paycheck for groceries.

Three Sisters Oatmeal

Last side note to mention, we spend much less of our total budget on food today than we did 100 years ago. According to a Forbes.com article, we spent 50% of our budget on food in 1901 compared to 8-12% now.

The more Americans make, the less they spend on groceries. The bottom fifth of earners spend a whopping 12% of their yearly budget on food at home, compared to 9% for the middle fifth, and 6% for the top fifth.

In the past, feeding our families took a much bigger bite out of American budgets –and it hardly ever included dining out. In 1901, according to a 1997 Bureau of Labor Statistics study, the average family spent almost half of their budget on food. Just 3% of that went to meals away from home. Today, we only spend an average 13.3% of our budgets on food–but 42% of that money is spent in restaurants. [Source]

While this story is from almost 6 years ago, the numbers still hold true. We spend less than any other country on our food as a percentage of income. Not sure how much your budget should be? Check out this nifty calculator from Iowa State University that does not factor in your income. If you do factor income into the mix, it is suggested that we spend between 9 and 14%. Take that number and divide by 12 to figure out your monthly allowance. I do not budget my groceries but know I should. I’m curious just how many people have and attempt to follow a grocery budget?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Trisha July 18, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Omg. I spend WAY to much on food!! I love tryin new recipes all the time .. And I make and pack food everyday for work. I tend to be a “buy in twos” shopper. Weird and annoying habit… I have to buy canned and non perishables in 2’s…little rich of OCD perhaps. I am a slight food hoarder .. As is my mother. Lol. My cabinets and fridge are always full. Funny bc I don’t waste much. Makes me crazy. Ha. I follow no list or budget. Although I should. Also.. I live within 3 miles of a whole foods, trader joes and a stop n shop , so it’s not a if I can’t just run to the store should I NEED soMething. Ha ha ha. Maybe I should look into this issue. Lol.

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2 Erica @ In and Around Town July 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I love the Whole Foods Salad Bar! I saw a news report discussing and comparing their prices and was surprised (happy) to see it wasn’t much for expensive, if at all!

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3 Marion Taylor July 18, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Great post Sarah! I think it’s always fascinating to look at things in a historical context, it makes you think about what’s happened over the last 100+ years to cause such changes.

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4 Kristy Doyle July 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I always thought I spent too much on groceries, but according to that calculator, I am within the 9-14% range. Good to know! I think of groceries as a very important expense, it’s the one thing I don’t skimp on too much. I do try to use coupons when I can, though.

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5 Jamie July 18, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Those statistics are so loaded (and unsurprising). We spend so much less than we used to because food has become cheaper (I think due to things like refrigeration, transportation, big agriculture, food processing). And of course wealthier people tend to spend a smaller percentage of their income on food. It should cost about the same to feed wealthy and poor families.

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6 Sarah July 18, 2012 at 6:32 pm

That’s a really good point however, people use the excuse “I can’t eat healthy because it’s too expensive” as to why the can’t lose weight… and really, people should be spending more on their health.

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7 Jamie July 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I agree that many people should be spending more money on their health (though it isn’t really counter to the points I made). I’m not optimistic about large-scale change. It seems to me that most Americans now feel entitled to inexpensive food (like inexpensive gasoline), so the demand will persist.

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8 Emily July 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I don’t have a food budget, but of course I don’t eat lobster or filet mignon every day… I wish! I try to build a few meals around what’s on sale, but I need to enjoy what I eat to be happy so I buy what I want, regardless of the price. Also, I need variety so I always buy a few kinds of cheeses, nuts, vegetables, condiments. I also love trying any new product – I LOVE grocery shopping! As long as we don’t waste the food, I consider it a good investment.

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9 Britney July 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm

I saw that article on Boston.com, too, but it’s not new – the date is from last February (during the time Whole Foods was trying to open in JP and there was lots of protesting). For some reason it’s near the top of the “most emailed” list again, though. It is an interesting article, though (and every time I shop at Shaw’s, my most convenient grocery store, I think to myself “This item is cheaper at Whole Foods!” I need to figure out how to shop somewhere else).

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10 Britney July 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm

By “last February” I mean February 2011.

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11 Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy July 19, 2012 at 10:34 am

I spend a lot on food! I try to stick to a budget, but it doesn’t always happen. I save money in other areas, so I can buy more healthy food.

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12 Kat @ Healty Housewife-In-Training July 19, 2012 at 7:14 pm

I spend a lot on food, but I also look for organic and local products whenever possible and shop at the farmer’s market and Whole Foods. I know this is healthier for us so I don’t mind spending the extra money. I try and look for deals where possible but I also know that if we went out for dinner it would be far more expensive and not as good quality.

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