• Mon, May 6 2013

You All Are Much Better At Grocery Shopping Than I Am But We All Suck Compared To The Rest of The World

Cost of Feeding A FamilyNow that I almost, finally have a working kitchen  I’ve started cooking at home again, mainly things that don’t require a kitchen backsplash or actual countertops. I’ve been making due with boards placed on top of my lower cabinets and cutting boards, but it sure is nice not having to eat takeaways or garbage foods, like granola bars and crackers for lunch. We’ve been eating a lot of whole wheat pasta with peas and parmesan, some nice ground pepper and a side salad, but I can’t wait until I can actually cook, you know, things like roast chicken or even something simple like scrambled eggs. What I am not looking forward to is actually grocery shopping, because I detest going to the store more than just about anything, and I end up spending way too much money and then have nothing to create actual meals from. I’m a terrible grocery shopper, even though I know how to grocery shop. I know how to check ads for sales. I know how to use coupons. I know how to make lists but I rarely do these things.

The Daily Mail has an amazing pictorial all about what average families from across the world spend on groceries per week, and the photographs illustrate how families in other countries do so much more with their grocery money, even when they spend so much less on food. Compared to the American and British families, the amount of produce and non-prepacked items is pretty admirable, and like so many other families, I need to stop buying so much processed junk like Goldfish crackers and those amazingly yummy terra chips. The cost of groceries have gone up, and according to USA Today:

The cost of feeding a family of four a healthy diet can run $146 to $289 a week, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s based on preparing all the meals and snacks at home for a couple with two school-aged children. It doesn’t include one-dollar deals at fast-food restaurants or splurges at pricey restaurants.

The USDA uses national food intake data and grocery price information to calculate different costs for a healthy diet at home. The latest numbers for a four-member family: a thrifty food plan, $146 a week; a low-cost food plan, $191 a week; a moderate-cost plan, $239; a liberal plan, $289 a week. Some food waste is built into these costs.

I think I do average about $289-300 a week, mainly because I have a Diet Coke habit (I know, I know how awful that garbage is) and I include wine in our budget. Plus, organic milk and meat is more expensive, and I’m not very good at buying what’s on sale.

I am going to get better at all these things, I swear, but in the meantime how are you keeping your grocery bills down? Is everyone doing that cute thing where you spend $30 a month and you get a box of produce from your local farmers? Are you guys doing magical things with your crock pots I don’t know about? I’ve vowed with my new kitchen I’m going to get smarter about shopping for food and cooking meals, I just need some inspiration. I have a million cookbooks I need to start using and I need to start doing prep work for the upcoming week on Sundays so I can have a plan for dinners when I’m tired from working all day. Plus, my kids need to get better at telling me what they want to help me make. I need to get better at all of this because this whole not having a better plan thingy isn’t working out so well.

And I sure as hell can’t afford to hire a personal chef.

(Photo: Art Allianz/shutterstock)

Share This Post:
  • Liz

    $30 a month for a CSA?! In our area it’s closer to $100 a month!

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      I need to check but I think we have boxes that cost around that, do you do it? I want to!

  • http://twitter.com/lizardrebel Elizabeth M. Mangum

    I don’t overload on coupons, but I won’t buy certain items unless they reach a certain price point. Then I stock up – having a large pantry helps.

  • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

    My first slow-cooker pot roast recipe came from…

    …Sandra Lee.

    So good, I’m going to do it again. There’s enough pot roast to last for months in the freezer. Chili, too.

    Coupons and warehouse clubs, Eve.

    A co-worker of mine joined a food co-op. She’s got celiac disease, so her selections have to be very specific. Once, it didn’t quite work out for her, so savings lost for that week.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      Haha! I need to read this recipe.

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      This one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0e8mMJV0mc

      It’s like the first one I found that did NOT rely on canned mushroom soup and dry onion soup mix (yuck).

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      What Cocktailtini do you make with it does it involve cheeze whiz?

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      COCKTAIL TIME!!! Vodka, Velveeta, and pan-drippings!

  • Tea

    Back when we were at maximum poverty levels, we managed a semi-healthy diet on 35$ a week for two people. Now we’re big spenders, we do 60$ a week, and it’s nothing but produce, meat, and some rice.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      wow! what do you make?

    • Tea

      When we were dirt broke, it was a lot of “Rice and ____ in a crock pot” or “Pasta and ____” or “potatoes and ____” with lots of discount veggies. These days we do the paleo diet, and it’s a lot of crock-pot stews, curries and throwing everything but the kitchen sink onto a salad. Sometimes we do oven-fried or grilled potatoes to go with it. We also make our own yogurt by the gallon (which is super easy once you get the hang of it), and I usually cut it with rice or oats and fresh fruit for breakfast. It sounds like I do a lot, but I’m actually a lazy cook, I’d rather be painting.

      My preferred manner of cooking is to throw something into a dutch oven and ignore it until my partner starts whining, then I usually grill up some chicken or lean meat to go with it, and we have a lazy salad (I make my own dressings and store them in the fridge, it’s also very cheap)

      The highest our food bill gets to is about 80$, but I make all 3 meals for two guys who eat like wolverines.

    • http://www.facebook.com/RetiredSceneQueen Emmali Lucia

      If you live in the NW can I like, pay for you to come teach me your ways?

    • CK

      I’ve been toying with making my own Greek yogurt, but I don’t think it would be cost effective, at least using organic milk. We have a 14 1/2 month old, and I’m trying to keep the nasty stuff away from her as long as possible.

    • Shea

      Yeah, back when I was a starving grad student, I spent $15-$20 a week to feed myself. Rice and beans, rice and lentils, rice and chickpeas, potatoes, oatmeal made with water instead of milk. Nearly my entire weekly budget went to fruit and veggies, and I ate almost no meat. With enough spices, it’s actually not so bad.

  • LiteBrite

    I keep my grocery bill down by sending DH to the store with a list. If I go, I’m apt to buy all kinds of fancy cheeses and yeah, wine, because I have champagne tastes on a beer budget. If he goes, it’s pretty much store-brand stuff all the way. We spend about $200-$300 every two weeks, which for three people isn’t too bad I guess. We eat at home about 80% of the time and most of our food is not wasted.

    The problem is that I then have to field about 20 calls from him asking what certain items on the list are. (“What’s coriander?” It’s a spice. “Where do I find it?” In the spice aisle.) His motto is also “If it’s on sale, you buy two” hence why we have no less than 12 boxes of pasta in our kitchen pantry.

    • Tea

      I’m so glad I don’t have the only spouse who does that. I have so many squash and sweet potatoes right now because they were on sale…

    • chickadee

      Heh. It’s the other way around in our family — my husband is the splurger. If he sees a wine, a cut of meat, or a cheese that he likes or that sounds interesting, he immediately becomes blind to the price tag.

    • AS

      It is INSANE what my husband will come home with. I mean, I always enjoy it, but I know better to send him to the store on purpose! He loves to splurge! :)

    • C.J.

      If I send my husband to the store he just comes home with a pile of junk food. Then I have to grumble at him because I don’t want the kids eating all that crap.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      My husband once went to the store to buy items to make french toast. he came home with 80 worth of stuff and NO bread.

    • Rachel Sea

      I cannot let my wife go to the grocery store without me. She will buy $125 worth of food, and we will somehow still have nothing to eat.

    • Shea

      My boyfriend isn’t the best shopper either. If the list says “eggs”, he just grabs the first carton he sees, rather than looking to find the best value. Also, I’m willing to go to a few different stores to get the best prices, the freshest produce, whatever, whereas he just wants to go to one store and be done, even if he has to spend more.

      This is why I do the grocery shopping.

  • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

    I spent $130 at the grocery store yesterday and then got home and realized I did not have any full components for a meal – so yeah, I suck at this too.

    • Andrea

      This is me. Every single freakin week. Ugh. That’s because I suck at menu planning and making shopping lists.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      word, we need a support group

    • AS

      I do that all the time.

    • Blueathena623

      Story of my life

  • AS

    I don’t do coupons and that saves me money. Most things I purchase don’t have coupons for them and when I do decide to go through a coupon phase I ALWAYS end up with a bunch of junk I don’t need.

    If I am being on top of things, I will make a list of all the days of the week and a meal for each day (I don’t hold to the schedule, but it assumes me I am purchasing enough meals) and make my list from there. I do purchase quality ingredients, but not much more than just what we need for our meals, but it still amazes me how much I spend. If I don’t do my list, it is even worse, I spend more money and don’t have enough items to put together one solid meal during the week!!

  • TngldBlue

    Check for local farmers that sell chicken & beef. I just bought 50lbs grass fed, hormone free ground beef for $2 a lb. That’s $2.50 less per lb than the grocery store around here. And it tastes miles better. I do make my husband pick it up though because if I go, I’ll see the cows and start getting all sappy and bad feeling, next thing you know I’m a vegetarian again and everyone starts avoiding me because I get all shouty about animal cruelty.

    • C.J.

      I don’t like to meet my food either. Luckily everywhere we buy from the animals are in the back and we don’t have to see them if we don’t want to.

  • Justme

    I’m on the thrifty end of things and I used to not be at all. We have instituted weekly meal planning and since my husband’s diagnosis of Type II Diabetes we’ve transitioned to almost no processed foods and instead stay on the outer edges of the store instead of venturing to the frozen food aisle. I am not a couponer but I am a list fanatic so I make my big, long list of stuff and stick to it at the store. When I buy fresh foods it also helps me stick to my meal plan because I HATE wasting food.

    And the good news is…since we instituted this eating plan, my husband has lost over 25 pounds and is no longer considered Diabetic (but we’re sticking with the healthy eating nonetheless).

    • C.J.

      That’s great that your husband is no longer considered diabetic! My grandmother was diagnosed at 39 and never changed her habits. Now she is 75, has had 2 strokes, 1 heart attack, her kidneys are failing (a bunch of other things too but too many to list) and she is in a home. She is killing herself with food. The only reason she is still alive is because of all the medications she takes. Good for you and your husband!

    • Justme

      Thanks! He’s 39 right now and we have a two-year-old so it was a big wake-up call for him. Some days are harder than others (I miss bread!!!) but we are seeing the results so that makes it worth it.

  • C.J.

    If I had to guess I think we probably spend about $100/week average on groceries. I don’t really do a weekly shop except for perishables. I am a sale shopper. When I see a good sale I stock up and it usually lasts until the next sale. I try to never pay full price for anything. I like to buy a half a cow and half a pig for the freezer and get the chicken from a farmer twice a year. We also have a little grocery store uptown that has a butcher and the meat is reasonably priced if there is something else I want or I forget to take something out of the freezer. It helps that we live in a small town surrounded by farms so I can get great produce cheap too when it is in season. I find the produce in the grocery stores overpriced and not all that great since it has had to travel so far. Half of it is from Mexico because they sell it cheaper. I only buy produce from Canada and the US, even if I have to pay a little more for it in the winter.

    • Sarah

      We’ve been buying portions of cows and pigs for a couple years now and love it! We save so much money at the grocery store. I recommend it to all my friends and I’m sure they think I’m crazy. But it has so many benefits…you know what’s in your meat, the ground beef tends to be way less greasy, its WAY cheaper, you’re forced to go outside your cooking comfort zone with new cuts of meat, its easier to throw a decent meal together when you always have the meat on hand…on and on. But mostly its cheaper and healthier. I think my beef averages $1.80/lb all said and done, and this is including steaks and roasts. Ground beef can run $4/lb at the grocery store around here! One year the cow we got was so lean that we actually had to add a little oil to the ground beef. My pork is about $2.00/lb and the bacon I get is ridiculous and I hoard it for special occasions. I haven’t tried chickens yet but I’m thinking about it. I just never cook anything but breasts so I’d have to go outside my comfort zone again.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      wow, this is amazing, but do you have to butcher it yourself?

  • Michelle

    I use coupons only for foods that we eat and then I stock up on basics when they are on sale. I will plan meals for the week based on what we already have, make a list of what we need, then try to stick to my list as much as possible to make sure I don’t impulse buy. I have to go alone because my husband will throw fancy cheeses and Oreos in the cart without a second thought. It’s just me and my husband right now but our baby is due in 3 weeks so hopefully I can keep up value shopping with kids!

    • Ana

      You may have heard this before, but as a new mom I would recommend that you make & freeze some meals now for the first couple weeks after baby comes. For example I would make chili or soup and then dump it right into a freezer bag. Lasagna, breads/muffins, anything that takes prep but freezes well and heats up easily.

  • http://www.facebook.com/greerelizabethphillips Greer Phillips

    I keep my grocery bills down by being poor, and also by having a 3 year old who hates to eat. Seriously, though, I think I’m a decent grocery shopper, and in a weird way, I kind of love it–it’s like putting together a puzzle for me (don’t ask me to expound on that with any kind of eloquence, it just is.) I’m a single mom living in an expensive part of the country, and my son and I eat fairly well on about $85 to $100 a week. I am mostly vegetarian (I do eat eggs and fish occasionally) so that helps, because overall, quinoa and beans and frozen veggies are relatively inexpensive. I try to buy organic stuff for my son (Grass fed organic beef hot dogs for a three year old! This kid better put me in a nice nursing home one day!) I don’t use coupons but I pay attention to sales and stock up on stuff when it is on sale. I also meal plan, which I find helps me to not impulse shop. Also, I’m lucky to have a Trader Joe’s, which definitely gives the most bang for your buck in terms of healthy food, I think.

  • Sara

    We’re pretty thrifty in most areas, but food is one of two places (day care being the other) where we make cuts in other areas to be able to afford better quality. For three people (two adults and a toddler) we spend $100-$150 a week, although that includes not only food but all household items as well except for diapers. I’m also starting to grow more of my own food, and in the last year or two we’ve started buying a lot more of our meat and eggs from local farmers.

    I figure it’s either “pay now, or pay later”. I can pay more now for healthy non-GMO food, organic where it counts, and grass-fed meat, or we can pay later in higher medical bills, medication for preventable diseases, etc. My father-in-law is the king of “cheap” food. He eats an unbelievable amount of processed crap and fast food in the name of “budget”. The irony, though, is that he’s morbidly obese and on several medications that probably cost the same amount of money as what he’s “saving” on food. And his health and quality of life are both terrible. I’m not naive enough to think that eating healthy will guarantee a lifetime of good health, but as long as I’m lucky enough to be able to afford healthy, appetizing food, I’m going to do it.

    My hope is that in the future, we won’t have to choose between healthy food or food that won’t kill you.

  • bludab

    When I was first married, I lived in a country where the markets were fresh and open everyday. I was just learning how to cook, so it was fun to find something and take it home and figure it out! But then we moved back to the States and had two lovely kiddos and not a lot of money. So I learned how to meal plan and shop for sales. I spend between 100-125 on groceries for the week, with two-three meals out (two lunches and a take out dinner on Fridays) and at least one night of entertaining.

    This week my local grocery store had a sale on pork butt – I have an 8lb pork shoulder braising in the crockpot. For dinner tonight, pulled pork sandwiches with greens and cornbread and potato wedges; tomorrow is carnitas and kale quesadillas; two nights of on sale chicken meals – from scratch chicken pot pies and quick stir fry; then take out for movie night on Friday. Saturday will be quiche extravaganza (meaning lots of leftovers and cheese).

    I always feel so so lucky to be filling my cart with healthy food for my family, even when it means a little work. I guess I saw a lot of people, especially moms, growing up in a small town and living overseas in a big city, who really couldn’t afford or sometimes even access fruits and veggies and protein. I know it feels like a chore, but I find that shopping carefully so I can save some money and give it to a local food charity or another organization that fights hunger, is an amazing privilege.

  • Rachel Sea

    Every Friday I buy produce for a week’s worth of dinners. Knowing that a portion of it has to be used or wasted every day means we eat more vegetables, and plan better overall. I always have a bag of frozen chicken breasts and a bag of frozen fish fillets, so that I always have a protein on-hand that can thaw in the sink in less than 20 minutes, and I never need to go to the grocery store after work in order for us to eat dinner at home.

  • anon

    I used to be so bad at grocery shopping!! One thing that really helps me is NOT doing a big weekly trip to the grocery store. We have tons of places where I live ( chicago burbs) so I just go to the store every day that I cook/ need something.

    This lets me buy just what I need and also watch sales…doesn’t hurt that the grocery store is on the way home from gym/work. This helped me reduce my bill from about $200 a week ( for two of us) to about $100-150. I don’t know if the going every day/ every other day thing will still work once we have kids but right now it works!

    We don’t eat a whole lot of processed foods so that helps too, cooking from scratch sucks sometimes because it is time consuming but it does save $$. Crock pots are amazing.

    Also I would recommend going to Wal-mart/Target for organic ‘box’ items/dairy (not produce) Much cheaper than grocery stores for that kind of stuff.

  • Tusconian

    That picture essay has been circulating for years (though I always love to look at it). And I don’t think the cost of living is really accounted for, nor what is actually being purchased. Just numbers. I can tell you, having grocery shopped for one in two different countries, it’s totally different, and I’ve only shopped in first-world, relatively expensive countries. Feeding one person a healthy diet in Germany is cheaper than feeding one person the same diet in the United States. Plus, eating cheap doesn’t always mean eating well. Compare not only the amount of food (really not enough), but the price they pay, the Sudanese family has to any of the other families. And compare the spreads of any two of the given families. Similar spreads (say, Guatemala vs. Turkey vs. Mexico vs. Kuwait vs. Italy) cost different prices. And while the German family may look like their food is just through the roof, they’re the one of the only ones who have beer and wine, and they have a lot of it, plus tons of bottled water. I’ll tell you from experience, a few six packs or multiple bottles of wine can practically double your grocery bill real quick, and if you have a taste for liquor, well. The first American family is said to order a lot of fast food. Unless you’re ordering from the dollar menu exclusively and saying “no fries, we have chips at the house,” fast food meals for two adults and two teenage can add up quick. They also have a case of beer and a bottle of (admittedly, dirt cheap) wine hiding out back there. And while it doesn’t seem like it, packaged meals cost more in the long run than fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables, or whole pieces of meat (assuming they’re available, which they are for both American families).

    As for shopping better….honestly, even in a completely ideal situation like I’m in (about a dozen supermarkets to chose from, a car, and a 9-5 job that doesn’t extend to weekends), it can be tough, because there is usually not just one “good” supermarket. I’ll often spread my grocery shopping out over multiple days. Mondays go to Albertson’s for fresh fruits, vegetables, hard liquor, and bottled water, but under no circumstances purchase anything else there. Tuesday pick up packaged dinners like macaroni and cheese or soup, eggs, snacks, beer, and wine, from Target, but never bottled water, produce, or meat. Wednesday, buy bread, milk, cheese, meat, pasta, and rice from Safeway, but don’t even think about buying the fresh produce. Over the weekend, go to Trader Joe’s and see if you got lucky and everything is cheap, or if they decided to be expensive today. However, someone working more hours or with kids might not be able to swing that. I also make sure to buy either what’s on sale or the store brand if possible. A lot of the stuff is exactly the same; Target brand frozen broccoli tastes exactly the same as Green Giant or Bird’s Eye, but it’s cheaper and usually on sale. Safeway brand boxed mac and cheese is actually better than Kraft or Annie’s, in my opinion. Unless you can seriously taste the difference, buy store brand. They usually hide the cheap stuff near the floor. Also, go to the store with a physical list (written down or on your phone), and with at least a couple of meals in mind. Don’t get distracted by the chip and cookie aisle if you already have those things at home.

  • SusannahJoy

    I used to eat cheap when I lived in central California. I’d stop by the store on the way home from work and grab whatever veggies were on sale, some meat, and maybe some cookies, it’d cost like $5-10. Now I live in Hawaii, where not only is food ridiculously expensive, it’s all crap. I got so spoiled with fresh veggies that were from the farm down the street, now I can either buy “fresh” veggies that have been shipped from a different country, or spend 4 times as much on local stuff. There are farmer’s markets, but not on this side of the island, so by the time we pay for gas, it’s more expensive. Right now, for the two of us we spend about $150-200 a week, which seems crazy to me, not to mention it still seems like we never have any actual meals (somehow I never buy enough meat). We are getting better at eating everything we buy though, instead of letting it go bad and tossing it.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      Hawaii is INSANE expensive but so beautiful.

    • CK

      Alaska is the same way. My friend lives in Anchorage, and when visiting her one time, we bought groceries for $60 that are normally around $40 where we live. The funny thing is that it even applies to gas. Right down the street from the refineries the gas is more expensive than where we are.

  • Jen

    I make a meal menu for the week. Monday-Pasta, Tuesday-Glazed pork chops. Then I make a list of what I need for those specific meals, plus lunches etc. and go. I can keep it at about $60a week for two people (with soda, and wine, and beer). They aren’t gourmet meals and there are lots of $1 rice/pasta sides etc. but…it works for now. And I use coupons, but only for things we will actually use.