When our now-toddler boy started eating in earnest mid-last year and his carnivorous tendencies became apparent, we joked that our food budget would double because he ate so much meat.
When our 7-year-old seemed to suddenly have the proverbial “hollow leg” and eat thirds of soup, fifths of pancakes and surpass his dad on pizza night, we cracked the same tired old joke about our doubling food budget.
When I finally crunched all the numbers and saw the food budget totals for 2012…it wasn’t much of a joke anymore.
When I read the final figure at the bottom of the computer screen, my heart nearly stopped. I thought I must have made some horrible accounting mistakes. Seriously, it’s almost embarrassing to share the figures, especially in the context of “Eat Well, Spend Less,” since I clearly spent more and more and more.
This month marks the two-year anniversary of the series, and the other ladies on the team and I are looking back at our past EWSL posts and pondering how things have changed for us over the years.
Our family spent $469/mo. on food in 2011, $477/mo. for 2010, and a mere $350/mo. in 2009, just as “real food” was becoming a new focus for us (also before two of our three children were eating anything of consequence).
When our budget made that initial jump from $350 to over a hundred dollars more, I described my reaction as “shocked” and listed some excuses, reasons for the increase.
I think I can safely say that the increase this year is more serious and deserves even more explanation!
I Still Practice Frugal Habits in the Kitchen
As a frugal person by nature, of course I’m still doing many of the frugal practices I preach here at Kitchen Stewardship, especially as part of the EWSL series:
- I still regularly rely on my 5 Frugal Must-Have Foods, including homemade yogurt, chicken stock, dry beans, oatmeal, and potatoes, although I admit the potatoes are less “frugal” now that I’m really trying to only buy organic – good GRIEF that’s a price hike! That is a new choice I’m making this year, one of many that doubles or triples the price of a certain food or food group on our table…clearly.
- I still practice these Cutting the Budget on Whole Foods strategies, including using cabbage instead of lettuce every other week. We just eat more produce and food in general nowadays, at a rate that seems to be growing slightly faster than our family size!
- I continue to stretch the budget by using a half pound of meat instead of a full pound in soups, chili (Recipe available in The Everything Beans Book), and casseroles, but I admit that our meat budget has burgeoned. John’s carnivorous habits certainly impact that, as has a decision to focus even more on well-raised meat (I bought conventional chicken when we lived with my in-laws for 5 months in 2011, for example).
I also make more “Paleo” style meals which might include two pounds of meat for breakfast muffins (from Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed, so tasty! Find the paperback or Kindle at Amazon) or a pork roast in the crockpot (from Crock On!), and I’ve made the conscious decision to buy (organic) chicken breasts at Costco, my version of “convenience food.” They come, of course, at a price.
- I further stretch the budget by making The Never-Ending Chicken Broth, even more regularly lately (hopefully that will help 2013’s budget!), and I buy a lot in bulk as I detailed in the food resources for the Midwest post.
- I practice meal planning every week and use the KS group at Plan to Eat, one of our sponsors, to search for recipes to use up food I might otherwise not know what to do with. I am vigilant about not throwing away food, and it kills me when I have to, like last night when I discovered I didn’t refrigerate leftover cornbread quickly enough and it molded.
Some Things are out of my Control
grain-free coconut muffins from Healthy Snacks to Go
From kids growing older and simply eating more, to cutting almost all wheat from our diet, to food prices quite simply increasing, there are a lot of factors that increase the food budget as a fact of time moving forward. We also had a horrible year for berries and apples in Michigan.
- We used to use 6-7 eggs for a scrambled egg breakfast; now people are still a little hungry after cooking up a full dozen. Yikes. Besides that, in 2008 and part of 2009 I would have been paying an average of about a buck a dozen conventionally, which increased to $3/dozen once a week during 2009. Now our eggs come in at $4-4.29/dozen and we go through 3-4 dozen a week or so.
- I used to soak 2 cups of oatmeal for a family breakfast; now we’re getting up toward 2.5-3 cups, plus the raisins, coconut oil and raw milk to finish the bowl.
- Gluten free grains are undeniably more expensive than wheat, especially since I bought wheat berries in bulk and ground them myself. Grain-free baking with coconut flour and almond flour costs about five times as much as your average whole wheat homemade baked good. Besides that, you end up eating a lot of eggs, meat and cheese, which are expensive line items compared to breads and rice. There’s no getting around that sort of lifestyle increasing the budget, unless you simply eat less and make changes in other areas.
- The 400 pounds of apples that made up most of our fall snacking in 2011 became about 50 pounds of apples for about the same price. There was no U-pick available, at all. I had to buy other foods to make up the difference, which were certainly more expensive than the U-pick apples.
- My meat sources have also all risen in price, following the trend of food across the country, I believe, further compounding my increase.
- Nuts and dried fruit have taken a huge hit with inflation – I remember buying about 60 pounds of at Meijer in fall 2009 for $2.99 a pound and using them all the way until the following fall. Now I’d never, ever see that price. I paid $137.50 for 25 pounds direct from the grower, and we went through them in less than a year. Raisins, dates, and dried cherries have also become far more expensive, even buying in bulk, than they used to be. All those 50c to a dollar increases are adding up.
Here’s the 2012 Food Budget
Enough excuses. You may want to make sure you’re sitting down…
Our family spent about $800/mo. on food last year, for a total of almost ten grand. On food.
I think I need a nap…
- health food store:
- HH (the one I always went to before): $222.15
- SC (the new one near my house): $237.41
- Farmer’s Market: 17 trips, $390.25
- U pick fruits: $125.03
- CSA: $450
- raw milk and pastured eggs: $239.50 (thru 5/4)
- raw milk new share: $450
- eggs: $276.12
- cheese: $309
- Country Life bulk foods: $906.95
- Tropical Traditions: 9 orders $303.42
- other small grocery stores, meat stores: 165.37
- farm stands: 84
- Vital Choice: $238
- bulk almonds: $275
- quality meat: $803.51
- bulk oils: $203.58
- maple syrup: $90
- eating out: ?
- Costco: 4 trips $1080
- Aldi: $525.83 6 trips
- Family Fare: $283.72
- other grocery stores: $2130.57
Total spent on food, 2012: $9781.91
Ack! How can that even be possible? I looked at some of the increased line items and plumbed the depths of the numbers. It comes down to some of the excuses above, yes, but mostly, because we chose to loosen our belts.
Choices that Increased our Budget
For many reasons, we’ve made different choices this year than previously. Sometimes, I would choose the more expensive food that is faster, because I’m getting to the point where my time is worth more than it used to be. I’m lower on time, so rather than spending time to make everything homemade as I used to do, I have the funds to be a bit more extravagant and make the choices I want to make instead of those choices fueled only by price.
- When we moved, we lost our raw milk source for a few months. For 3 years, we had paid $6/week for one gallon of milk with occasional “extras” when the cows produced more, bringing the yearly average to about $4.50/gallon (I kept track, because I’m strangely meticulous like that even in the midst of my messy house). I made yogurt from conventional milk most of the time.
One of the gals in my milk driving coop got 3 gallons a week, and I always felt that the family must be super rich to spend that much on milk.
Now our raw milk is $7.50/gallon, and we took the plunge to 3 gallons a week. This enables us to allow the kids to drink milk at more than one meal a day (we were pretty stingy when we only had one gallon a week), and I can make yogurt from organic, grassfed, unhomogenized milk, so it’s a huge improvement over the former system, but with a price. Raw milk alone costs over $1000 a year now. And yes, my breath does get short when I consider that.
Hopefully the WAPF is right that raw dairy is good for us and not the speaker from the probiotic teleseminar last week who listed dairy, of any kind, as one of the top 4 foods that will poison you. Hmph.
I do not feel super rich, but apparently I’m spending – on food – as if I am. (My shoes are still either 5+ years old or less than $40 a pair, for example, and my new clothing purchases this year were from Meijer or a consignment shop, generally.) I do still believe I save over $1000 a year by making my own yogurt. Thank goodness!
- As I mentioned above, I’ve place a higher priority on high quality meat and cut fewer corners/make fewer compromises in that category. It’s an expensive one. It’s interesting to me that I spend more on milk than meat though…
- I also have chosen to buy more local, grassfed cheese than ever before, and even though I get it in 5-pound blocks, it’s still more than I’d pay at the store. Butter is another “upgrade” over our 2011 budget. [inc links!]
- Avocados. Seems kind of crazy to have a whole category for one vegetable, but it’s a good example of how you can eat something inexpensive – say homemade ranch dressing or blender hummus, especially if made with a tahini substitute – or dip your carrots in guacamole instead, when avocados cost $1 or more apiece. We’ve purchased a lot of avocados this year, particularly because John loves them, and I know they’re good for us. I’m sure there are a number of other fruits and vegetables I could pick out and say, “I never used to buy this at all or only seldomly, only when on a really good sale, and now I buy them far more often.”
- Preparedness had taken a backseat when we were in the moving process for obvious reasons, but now I’ve stocked up on canned salmon and tuna, bulk grains, beans, and popcorn, and some canned beans and jarred tomato products. Hopefully that made the 2012 budget have a little bulge that will not need to be repeated next year.
- I did can some tomatoes last summer, but not nearly enough to get through the winter, so I do purchase canned tomatoes in glass jars – this used to be a “sometimes” expense and I’d still get BPA-lined cans for about half the time, but now I choose to use glass exclusively.
- Although I know how to make The Gift of a Meal a frugal opportunity, the ingredients I have on hand are more expensive, and I’m in a position to worry less about the expense of what I give away. I use my fancy glass-jar tomatoes, for example, or nice Farm Country cheese, even when giving food away, where in the past I would have used store stuff since I was using it much of the time for our own family anyway.
- I also have been having fun taking things like an avocado-goat-cheese veggie dip rather than Cheap and Easy Party Foods every time, and even our healthy Valentine’s Day cards were clearly much more generous/extravagant/expensive than the free, homemade cards without a treat that we’ve passed out in years past.
- This is my first year (since May) with a membership to Costco. Costco sounds like a great deal, but mostly, I just end up paying more for better quality foods. I can get more organic produce, etc. there for a lower price compared to the grocery store, but when I’m coming from buying mostly conventional produce at the grocery store in years past, it’s still an upsell. The nitrate-free sausages pictured with the egg above are certainly more than I’d usually spend on lunch for myself previously. I also am a sucker for some of the “fun” stuff at Costco that is more expensive than I’d spend if I made it myself but still feels like a “good deal” just because it’s Costco. However, I make a choice to be a bit extravagant there because I know we can afford it now.
- Tropical Traditions has a referral program where for any new customer who orders through my unique link (like this one to dark chocolate bars), I get a $25 gift certificate to TT. The bummer is that I can’t also take advantage of free shipping, but I got a whole lot of expensive food for $300 last year. If I bought lesser quality stuff, like spaghetti sauce for $1 a jar instead of the TT organic versions at upwards of $5 a jar, I sometimes wonder if I’d spend the same…or even less.I’m very thankful to be given the opportunity to afford the quality upgrade for my family, but the amount of packaging and fuel used to deliver food by mail is something that really bothers me. I do have enough coconut oil to last well over a year, though, so I’m not complaining about that. (You can sign up for the referral program, too, and use the power of Facebook or your email list of like-minded friends to share the free shipping deals or other specials at TT and earn gift certs too, especially if you’d buy a few items there anyway.)Buying through Tropical Traditions with these certificates means that my numbers are actually a bit off – I’ve even purchased meat through them once or twice, so I would have spent MORE on the regular budget if I had bought that meat (even lower quality meat) here in town.
So am I going to get kicked out of the Eat Well, Spend Less team? I’m in the Eat Well, Spend MORE boat this year (but hope to bring that number down a bit for 2013, sheesh). John might have to learn to be an omnivore a bit better and cut down on the avocados!
Next to Jessica at Life as MOM who spends $800/mo. on food for EIGHT people instead of FIVE, I feel sheepish. Granted, I understand that perhaps California has less expensive produce than I do in Michigan, but still.
If anyone tries to tell you that switching from a conventional shopping lifestyle to 100% organic groceries will not impact the bottom line very much, they’re lying (unless you’re eating out a few times a week and switch to making all homemade – but there’s always the sacrifice of time to consider).
The real food lifestyle isn’t easy by any means, and I’m just praying today that it’s worth the investment of my time and money
How do you prioritize healthy food and balance your budget?
Read what the other EWSL ladies think about looking back at the past two years of the series:
- Mandi from Easy. Homemade.
- Shaina from Food for My Family
- Amy from Kingdom First Mom
- Carrie from Denver Bargains
- Jessica from Life as MOM
- Aimee from Simple Bites