Let me start this post by prefacing that I am not the best budget planner. Being single and independent, I have never felt the need to budget things mainly because I have a rough idea on how much I make, what my monthly bills are and what will go into savings. While living cost doesn’t change much, I have noticed that my grocery bills fluctuates a lot and have steadily gone up even more so after
Grocery budgeting is a topic I have been wanting to discuss openly for a long time but wasn’t sure how to tie everything together. After reading Cassie’s post on the similar topic, I felt okay talking and hearing everyone’s thought on it. Grocery shopping is something we do on a regular basis but we don’t really discuss openly on how much we budget or spend on it. While there is really no fixed $$ on what one should spend on groceries because it varies from one individual (or families) to another, what kind of budget they have, grocery store they go to, where they live, and what kind of lifestyle they follow and their priorities when it comes to food.
In an ideal world, everyone would love to eat and afford 100% organic dairy and eggs, grass-fed meat, and local produce at all times. But in the real world, it is HARD and almost impossible if you are on a budget. When I did whole30 last month, I bought everything organic and my grocery bill was no less than $100 every week when I walked out of the store. It was a little shocking at first but I didn’t mind it because good quality food is something I value more than a weekly manicure or designer shoes. It really comes down to what your priorities are….and it’s only YOU who can make that decision.
According to USDA, Average Cost of Food at Home for
April 2013 for female (19-50 years)
on thrifty plan was $37.50 and the liberal plan was $74.20 on a weekly basis. Click
for last year’s full report.
One of the common concerns I hear frequently is that ‘Eating Healthy on a Budget is Expensive’ and it’s unfortunate but to a certain extent very true. A lot of times, unhealthy, processed meals come at a cheaper price than if you had to make it from scratch using the best quality ingredients. I find that to be even more accurate especially if it’s for just one person, it is cheaper to dine out than to purchase ingredients and make it from scratch.
The most comprehensive study of its kind indicates that yes, unhealthy food is about $1.50 cheaper per day, or about $550 per year, than healthy food.
But at the same time, I think a lot of it has to do with people’s misconception on ‘healthy eating on a budget’ due to lack of proper education and cooking skills, inability to plan meals ahead of time, or really not knowing where to begin.
It’s very easy to judge each other based on our food preferences, what is in our grocery carts, and where we shop at. After working with low-income populations to savvy rich individuals, I have come to a find that everyone has their own story. While some struggle to feed a family of four adequately (we are not talking balanced meals) others can leisurely afford to drink organic, cold-pressed juices that cost as much, if not more than a meal at a fast-food joint. And then there are others who in spite of all the resources (time, education, money etc) will not make an effort to do anything but just complain….
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates about 12.5 percent of the average family’s spending goes toward food, while the Department of Agriculture puts the figure at 9.8 percent.
Whatever your budget or story is – find your definition of ‘healthy’ that fits within your lifestyle, budget, dietary needs etc. ‘Healthy Food’ is a very relative term; while one may cringe at an idea of eating canned tuna, beans etc, for some it’s a source of protein they rely on a daily basis. In spite of being a nutrition expert myself, I haven’t been able to do everything organic, local yet. It’s a slow transition, a learning process to make the best food choices for our body, mind, and soul.
Tips to Save Money on Groceries
- Planning ahead : This is something I am practicing more and more myself because I get really excited at grocery stores and will purchase random stuff and later wonder why did I pay so much? Having a grocery list on hand (or on the phone) have saved me a lot of money from impulse buys and hoarding on canned goods like its going out of style. PS. Check out my post on meal planning.
- Compare brands : Generally, the generic store brand products are cheaper and on-sale. Take sometime to scan different brands and see if they have low-sodium, organic kind because a lot of grocery stores are getting pretty good about it. I am not into coupons so can’t help you there but it’s a great money saving tool if done right. Make sure to plan your meals based on what’s on sale.
- Buy in bulk : This is good for dried products such as pasta, rice, grains, lentils etc. Also, if you want to try out new products such as chia seeds, quinoa etc go to grocery stores with bulk bin such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, Central Market because you don’t have to spend $$ on the whole bag, you can buy a small amount and sample it.
- Make meats go further : Meat probably accounts for the most expensive item on my grocery list. I use grass-fed skinless, boneless chicken breast and it comes with a hefty price tag. I have found that mixing it with other veggies such as mushrooms, eggplants, and beans, I am able to get more portions. I have been trying to roast a whole chicken on weekends and use it for 3-4 meals in sandwiches, over veggies, or in stews. Personally, I do not like going through the hassle of skinning a chicken and cutting it but buying a large tray of chicken with thigh, breast etc and cutting them into small pieces and individually packing it might be cheaper in the long run.
- Substitute when possible : Whenever possible, substitute ingredients in a recipe instead of buying something you are going to use only once. Here is a post dedicated to that.
PS. my pantry essentials. Some posts on grocery budgeting worth reading:
No questions today…but I would like to hear your thoughts on grocery budgeting.