How Much Do You Spend on Groceries? - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

How Much Do You Spend on Groceries?

Pictured: NOT Mr. Money Mustache, despite the facial hair


The other day, I was perusing Mr. Money Mustache's hilarious and subversive website, when I came across this post: Killing Your $1000 Grocery Bill.

In this post, Mr. Mustache states that his family of three spends $80 per week at the grocery store. (He also claims that he thought he was going a little overboard by spending that amount, but I think that part is actually fictional. He has to know that he lives like no one else).

When J and I were first married, I managed to lower our monthly grocery costs from $400 to $180. In order to do that, I shopped every other Sunday, made two-week-at-a-time meal plans, cherry-picked sales, matched coupons to sales, and took seven hours to grocery shop every other Sunday.

These days, I generally shop once a week, and I spend about $150 per week for a family of 3.2. (Since BB is only just now learning the joys of gumming food, I don't yet fully include him in my grocery head count).

That puts us just under the USDA's average weekly cost of food for a family of four on a low-cost plan ($164 per week). According to the USDA, on a thrifty plan, families of four will spend $128.90, on a moderate-cost plan, they'll spend $202.90, and on a liberal plan, they'll spend $251.20

Even though I do a little bit to keep our grocery bill low--using coupon apps, comparing prices, meal planning, eating vegetarian for at least two dinners a week--I suspect that most of my grocery savings come from the fact that I live in Lafayette, Indiana. Not only am I living in a farming state, but the cost of living here is in general pretty low.

I could probably get down to Mustachian levels of grocery savings if I were willing to do a few things:

1. Spend more time on grocery shopping. If I went back to my early married habit of shopping at three different grocery stores in order to cherry-pick the sales, I'm sure I'd save a decent amount of money. But these days, I'd much rather spend my time sleeping, working, or blowing raspberries on certain unnamed tummies.

2.  Reduce our luxuries. Mr. Money Mustache is not *exactly* anti-luxury--but he certainly does look askance at any luxuries you consume without thinking about it. In the case of the Mensch family, beer, apple juice, orange juice, out-of-season fruits, and store bought hummus are all luxuries we could theoretically do without. (J would like to point out that while *I* could do without beer, he simply cannot. Pesach is tough for him every year).

3.  Stockpile. We've got a small house. Other than the aforementioned beer and apple juice (both of which I know will not be taking up a great deal of storage space for long), I'm just not willing to have an enormous stockpile in my house.

4. Cook more things from scratch. I love cooking from scratch. As a kid, I used to prefer anything made "from scraps" as I thought it was called. But my life is so much easier if I don't attempt to rehydrate dry beans or make chicken broth from scratch.

Even though I know our grocery bill is certainly within reasonable limits for the size of our family and the amount of time I put into grocery shopping, I can't help but think back to the $90 per week I managed to spend back when I was just cooking for myself and J. But since I am not willing or able to make the changes necessary to drastically reduce (our already reasonable) grocery bill, I'm not going to reach mustachian levels of grocery savings.

How much do you spend on groceries? Where do you draw the money-saving line?



bobi said:

I spend less than $50 a week for two. I am a huge fan of the Tightwad Gazette and learned much of my money saving strategy from Amy. I don't keep a price book but know prices well enough to grab a deal when I see it. The biggest saving tool is to buy when you don't need it. I have some stashes but not huge ones. Most items are on sale in cycles of 3, 4 or 6 weeks. Buy a supply to last until the next sale. I buy meat and frozen veggies the same way. Fish is frozen and comes from warehouse stores. I frequently get stuff completely free and I don't spend that much time working the system. Just peruse the weekly ads (I do this online) and pick the best deals, then go buy only those items unless you spot great unadvertised sale on something you use. Buy enough to last until the next sale cycle. I do my produce and milk shopping at Aldi. (If I lived closer to a Trader Joes, I would go there.) I also shop local Amish and Mennonite markets for terrific prices on spices and produce. I probably shop more stores than the average person but spend less overall time and money on groceries. I think my method could work for everyone but all I ever hear when I explain what I do is that most people just want to shop at one store. They are convinced my method takes too much time and that some place like Wal-Mart will be easier and save them time and money. Whatever. I just laugh to myself.

April 10, 2014 6:14 PM

haverwench said:

I just consulted my spending spreadsheet and found that over the past year, our grocery spending has averaged out to $239 a month, or $56 a week, for two people. That number includes some non-food purchases from grocery stores, like toilet paper and toothpaste, so our actual food expenditures might be as low as $50 a month. I don't consider us particularly extreme in our grocery cost-cutting, as I know of a fair number of people (like bobi here) who spend less than that.

We use a lot of the cost-cutting strategies you mentioned above to a greater or lesser extent. We shop at multiple stores, but we've worked it out so that most of those shopping trips can be combined with other trips; for instance, we drive to Princeton every Thursday for dance practice, so every few weeks we alter our route slightly to take us past the Aldi, where we stock up on breakfast cereal and other staples. We shop sales fairly diligently, but we coupon only modestly (I'm not willing to dig through my neighbors' recycling bins to get extra copies of the very few coupons I find that are actually useful for us). Our stockpile might be bigger than yours, but it's not huge. We indulge in some luxuries, like coffee, cocoa, breakfast cereal (for my husband), OJ (ditto), and seltzer (for me). (We've looked into buying one of those soda machines, but it doesn't look like it would pay for itself very quickly.) We also buy a fair number of Fair Trade and organic products, and we buy only free-range meats--but we eat them pretty seldom, relying on vegetarian meals most of the time. (Ditto bobi's shout-out to the Amish markets; they're the best places to get reasonable prices on sustainably farmed meat. Unfortunately, it's also one store we *always* have to make a special trip to visit, since the only time we can get there when it's open is on Saturday.)

The one thing we do a lot of is cooking from scratch. My husband does most of the cooking because he enjoys it, and since our bread maker broke, he even bakes the bread by hand. (I would not go to this length if it were my job, but he swears he likes doing it.) We do rehydrate dry beans, which is MUCH easier since we got a little stovetop pressure cooker. The one thing we do that some folks might consider a bit extreme is using powdered milk. But it's what I grew up with, so I'm used to it, and my husband doesn't really use milk except on cereal, where he doesn't notice the difference.

We also garden, but on a very modest scale. Our little 100-square-foot garden doesn't come close to supplying all our produce even during the growing season. It just allows us to enjoy fresh-picked veggies cheaply. We are working on expanding our edible landscaping to cover more of our yard, especially with fruit. We have a tiny raspberry patch, an even tinier asparagus patch that we're expanding this year, four rhubarb plants, five baby cherry bushes that we put in last year (so far we've enjoyed about a handful of cherries from them), and three baby plum trees that haven't started producing yet. And this weekend, we're putting in a couple of hardy kiwi vines. Eventually, we hope to grow fresh fruit all summer long. But I doubt it will actually lower our grocery bill all that much; we'll just eat more of it, and (we hope) less of other, less healthful stuff.

As far as "where we draw the money-saving line," well, basically, we won't give up anything that's important to us. So we won't give up desserts, either for money or for health reasons (hey, quality of life matters too). I won't give up buying organic and Fair Trade, but I prioritize these purchases, focusing on the items that are most harmful to grow in the conventional way. My husband won't give up cereal, because it's his favorite breakfast (and at the Aldi it's not that expensive, anyway). But most convenience foods, no problem.

Talking of things you won't give up: if J finds it tough to make it through Passover without beer, maybe he should try cider. My beer-loving friend who had to give up beer on account of celiac disease says she's developed quite a taste for it.

April 11, 2014 11:01 AM

frugalmom1 said:

Happy Pesach.  I don't even add up the costs during Pesach!

April 17, 2014 9:38 AM

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