Friday, April 19, 2013

I don't get it...

Yesterday I found this chart.  It gives the average cost of food for families in Feb. 2013.  It divides those costs into four levels: a thrifty plan, a low-cost plan, a moderate plan, and a liberal plan. 

I've been working for a long time to try to lower our grocery budget.  The more I plan ahead (and have backup plans), the better I do.  Some weeks are better than others.  But I continue to track and try to see if I can't make the best possible use of our somewhat limited resources. 

But according to this chart, a "thrifty" plan for my family is spending $135.60 a WEEK on groceries.  That's almost $588 a month!  We usually range between $325-450 (depending on how well I'm doing any particular month).  I have never spent $588 on groceries.

And this is the thrifty plan??? 

I do realize that these are averages and that food costs can vary widely according to the region of the county in which a family lives.  I'm no doubt sheltered by the low cost of living that exists here and our relatively low food prices compared to many other parts of the country.

But.  New England isn't exactly known for being cheap.  Amy Dacyczyn, author of The Tightwad Gazette, ran across the USDA's chart back in the mid-90s (when the Gazette was still in publication).  And she shared this rather humorous anecdote: she immediately sat down to figure up what she spent on food for her family of eight.  To her dismay, she ended up in the "low cost" bracket.  She moped around for days, wondering how she, as a writer and publisher of a frugal living newsletter, could have missed falling into the thrifty bracket--or even below it. 

Finally, one of her assistants decided to check her math.  The assistant promptly burst out laughing upon realizing Dacyczyn's error.  Dacyczyn had totaled up her monthly grocery bills.  The USDA chart was listing weekly totals. 

Yeah.  Dacyczyn spent less in a month than the low-cost plan allotted for a week. 

So it's not just me wondering what the heck is up with these charts.

To present another side, a blogger I read spent over $800 a month in 2012 for her family of five.  But she was buying all organic, grass-fed meat, raw dairy, and gluten-free grains.  So her family's special diet definitely figured into the higher costs.

So I'll open it up for discussion: does your spending fall within these parameters pretty neatly?  Do you think the numbers are fairly accurate? 


Tara said...

We definitely fall into the thrifty plan category too. That's including our cat and my mom. ;)

I think we cook more from scratch (and so do you). And lots of people don't. They buy more convenience foods.

But I do have a couple of friends with family sizes of 4-6 people. They buy ALL organic, grass-fed, etc. foods and spend $1000 or more a month.

We buy some organic produce, but that's about it. I'm sure that keeps costs down too.

karen said...

Yeah, organic definitely drives costs up. But that puts the spending more in the "moderate" or even "liberal" part of the chart. And hey, if you've got the money, that is a wonderful place to invest it. I don't. I just do the best I can with what resources I've got. And I KNOW I could do better. I KNOW we have weak spots in our grocery budget--leaks I could plug. That's why I can't figure out those "thrifty" numbers. Shrug.