Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Food Budget

Posted in frugal by Kathy on March 12, 2008

As I’m trying to work out a good budget for our family, I assumed that I could feed us plus get all of the miscellaneous “household” expenses (toilet paper, detergent, deodorant, etc.) for around $400 a month. Imagine my surprise when I found out we’ve spent nearly that much on food alone. So I was pretty bummed. I mean, my family consists of me, my husband, our three-year old and our 21-month old. How can we possibly eat that much?? But it happens. One meal at a time, too. Then I heard the same thing from a few different sources that perked me up–most families of 4 spend about $600 a month on food. One of these sources was financial counselor and author Dave Ramsey; and the other was a frugal blog I’ve been reading.

The thing that got me most, though, was from reading The Tightwad Gazette, in which the author spent about $250 per month on food for her family. They have 6 kids. Wow.  One very important qualifier is that this book was written in the early 90s, and food prices have gone up. For instance, all dairy prices are about double the amount listed in the book. Milk is now $4 a gallon, and cheese is about $4 per pound; the author said that she would only buy cheese if it was less than $2 per pound. You just can’t get that any more. It might go on super-low sales once a year or so, but the fact is that most of the time that’s what it costs (around here, anyway). Meat prices have gone up too, probably about double. Part of the problem is simple inflation; a bigger part, most likely, is the greatly increased cost of fuel. It takes gas or diesel to transport products at every stage–from taking food to the dairy or cattle-yard to taking milk or meat to processing plants and from there to the grocery store. Every step (including all the many steps of producing the food for the cows) adds a little or a lot to the bottom line.

Here are the figures from the book, which used the 1993 USDA food chart (which assumes all food is bought at grocery stores and prepared at home)–her family spent about $41.53 per week, which was 28% of the “thrifty” allowance of $149.40 per week. Under the “liberal” plan they could have spent $282.10 each week on food. So I still am a little bummed, because I think I should be able to get lower than the USDA “thrifty” food budget for a family my size in the year 2007. But here is how the Official USDA Food Plan looks: for my family, my monthly food budget would be $466.20 for “thrifty”; $598.60 for “low-cost”; $727.90 for “moderate-cost”; and $902.80 for “liberal.” So spending a little less than $400 per month on food to feed my family is not that bad, when you use these figures for comparison. However, the author of the Tightwad Gazette is probably still feeding her family for either $250 a month, or at most 28% of the “thrifty” figures for her family, so it bugs me that I’m just barely under it. But I’m working on it.

Check back soon for what specifically I’m doing (or not, as the case may be).

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2 Responses

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  1. […] the cost of food In my last post, I talked about how my food budget stacked up against the USDA “cost of food” chart. […]

  2. […] Budget — Update In a previous post, I wrote about our food budget, and working to spend less on food. I’ve since found the USDA […]


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