Wednesday, March 5, 2008
The Grocery Bill
I've had some grocery thoughts rolling around in my head for a couple of weeks, and now my thoughts are just going to spill all over this post. Pardon me if I don't make sense; I get fairly passionate about groceries.
I've seen several articles on the cost of groceries recently -- yes, they are going up, it's not your imagination -- and I've seen my own bill go up just since the first of the year. When I first noticed the upward flux, I thought that our bill was going up because we were eating healthier, due to recent diagnosis of reflux in one of the children. And that might be a little bit of it. But, just in the past several weeks, milk has gone up at least $.50 a gallon and eggs went up almost a dollar a dozen. Eggs used to be my cheap meal option, but now I can almost get a pound of ground chuck for the price of a dozen eggs. And if I watch the sales, I can sometimes do better with good cuts of meat. The boneless pork sirloin chops I bought this week were under $2 -- for five big chops.
The reason I've been thinking about this issue is because it doesn't seem to matter what I do to cut costs, I just cannot get our grocery bill lower than it is. And maybe I just have to learn to live with that. But, I just keep thinking that I'm going to find a magic method to eating cheaper. The grocery budget is the one expense that flexes -- a little. I can't pay less than the billed amount for my phone services or the natural gas. But, if need be, and it seems like we have the need more and more these days, I can squeak a few more days out of the pantry.
Don't get me wrong. My husband makes a good wage, and we're not using food stamps. We eat well. Not as well as some, but well. I can always manage to get a dessert in here and there, and for that we are fortunate. No one is getting fat, but if St. Francis were to visit, he would probably think we are gluttonous.
But, stretching the grocery money gets to me. I'm always thinking I should not buy this, or I should put another budget meal in the weekly menu. Maybe it's because we do eat better than many. I often think we should be suffering a little more. Yea, that's the Catholic in me.
Which brings me to the cue for this post. Doug's father sent me an email last week. Maybe you've seen it; I'm sure it's made the rounds. It's a photo essay of families around the world and what they eat (and spend) in a week. You can see the photo essay here, and be sure to check out the dollar amount for each family. It's pretty eye opening. There are people in this world, in this country for that matter, that get by on very few dollars per week. And that, of course, gets me feeling guilty. We are so fortunate; how can I be complaining about scrimping a little?
But, I was also surprised to see how much some families spend. While I'm not familiar with costs in other countries, I do know that $340 is a lot of grocery money in North Carolina. That's double what we spend for a family of six. And that brings me to this photo:
This is our "groceries for a week" photo. Because I received the above-mentioned email just after I came home from the grocery store on Friday, I decided to put all my groceries on the center island and see what it looked like. Doug came home while I was doing it and took a picture (sans smiling family). This is $150 in groceries. Admittedly I had already put a carton of beer and two gallons of milk away, so they are not pictured. And I am running to the store today for two more gallons of milk and two more loaves of bread. But, for the most part, this is what we eat in a week. I know you can't really see everything -- I didn't really do it for the photo op. But, seeing the picture and knowing that I am spending less, by and large than most families in America, I feel a little better about my quandary.
I know that we are spending less than most Americans because I recently checked out the USDA's food cost web page. You can find it here (click on January 2008 and it will download). Prompted recently by a post on a homeschooling forum, I checked to see how we are doing. I was shocked (really shocked) to find that we are spending less than the "thrifty plan." According to this chart, a family of our size and age, using the thrifty plan -- the lowest amount calculated by the USDA -- is spending $200 a week. Those in the liberal plan -- spending the most -- are spending $386. I know that we are a wealthy nation, but someone tell me who can spend that kind of money on groceries? That's more than a house payment each month.
Some people would say that we shouldn't have had four children if we were worried about feeding them. Like I said, we're not on food stamps -- my husband makes more than enough to feed us. And I'd have as many children as God would give me, and still find a way to feed them. But, it's such a vicious cycle, spending hundreds of dollars a month on groceries and then it's gone. It's disheartening sometimes. Last night, after a big dinner, my oldest teen ate 2 pieces of peanut butter toast (he eats almost a jar of peanut butter a week all by himself), a bowl of cereal, a piece of cake, a half a bag of BBQ rice cakes and then I went to bed. I have no idea what he ate after that. It's endless and I can't stop it.
I suppose I just wanted to talk about it and see if you have the same struggles. I try to plan some budget meals each week, but I run out of good recipes. It's not a budget meal if you use cheap ground chuck and then add $10 worth of other ingredients. And it's not a budget meal if most of it goes in the garbage disposal.
So I search and I try. And I'll keep searching and keep trying.
Do you struggle with your grocery bill? Or are you loaded and all you worry about is where you'll put it all? I know, you're laughing, aren't you?
Do you have any great tips to share? Any staple of your family's diet that costs pennies? Leave a comment or email me if you want to share. I'd be happy to post your suggestions.
I've added "budget" to my labels, and I'm going to try to post more budget meals. They may not always be gorgeous, or even terribly exciting. But, if my family eats it and it's a budget minded recipe, I'll certainly share with you. I guess we're all in this boat, or should I say shopping cart, together.