Merciful God, You are great in compassion and Your tenderness for us is without measure. We ask You to give us today our daily bread, and also provide for the needs of all of Your hungry children around the world. Through Christ Your Son and Our Lord. Amen.

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.



Barb, sfo said...

The other day my sister-in-law complained to me that she spends $200 a week on groceries for herself, her husband, and 3 children 12 and under who are extremely picky eaters (for Saturday dinner at the grandparents' house these girls ate a plate of plain pasta, some buttered bread, and 3 cucumber slices each). I'm at about $150 a week, I've got a teenage boy, and my kids eat a good variety of foods. Except Brussels sprouts. I couldn't pay them to touch those.
I'd like to feed us on less, but the prices are rising too quickly.
According to that list, my family should be spending $175.60 on the frugal plan--and that doesn't include cleaning supplies, paper products, and "health and beauty" which I include in my $150 budget.

Nicole said...

I totally understand what you mean. I have four boys, 6 and under, (I try not to think about what my grocery bill will be in 10 years...sigh) I used to have a budget of about $80 a week and that seemed to start being impossible around, like you said, the first of the year. I usually spend about $100 now.

I read something lately that makes me feel a little less guilty, and that is that food is not something we should skimp on. We should serve our families healthy wholesome meals and be willing to pay for that. It's our health we're taking about. This person wasn't giving out money to pay for the groceries though ;-) I do try to fix healthy things and not rely so much on boxed meals, etc., which tend to be more expensive anyway, but like you I am frustrated at how quickly the prices seem to jump for even the real food, especially produce and milk.

What I try to do in our family is not rely on meat so much. We rarely have a piece of meat sitting by itself on our plates. It goes a lot further if it's in a casserole or rice or pasta. I have some Asian recipes that call for 6-8 oz. of meat for a meal. It's also a good way to use up leftover meat that wouldn't ordinarily be enough for another meal.

By the way, I really like your site. I made the Linguine and Clam sauce last week and it was wonderful! I am originally from New Orleans, now in Ohio, and it tasted like a very similar dish I make with shrimp, but much cheaper! And I love the English muffins, I've made them twice now. There are several other recipes I've tried and liked. Keep up the good work!

Nicole in OH

scmom (Barbara) said...

I completely agree with you on the health/food link. That's why I really don't buy processed foods. But the whole foods are so expensive.

We eat only in-season fruits and vegetables, which helps. And I shop at a discount grocer, which is huge. I know that if I shopped at Kroger or Giant Eagle my food bill would easily be over $200 a month. We also rarely eat just meat and sides. I do buy my meat at Giant Eagle (for quality meat), but only what's on special.

What do you think of this weather, southern girl?

Nicole said...

You ask how I like the weather during the worst storm of the year! So far so good, but it's only been two days of being snowed in and we won't be able to make it to Mass tomorrow...I think I need those graces especially now! The snow is beautiful though. I do like the 4 seasons. I never in my life looked forward to spring until I moved north.

Which discount grocer do you shop? My choices in this small town are Kroger or Wal-mart. I choose Kroger although I do think they are expensive on some things. The nearest Giant Eagle may be 30 minutes or more from me.


scmom (Barbara) said...

Yes, I guess I was asking that sort of tongue-in-cheek! It's rarely like this (we haven't had this kind of snow in more than 30 years).

We have Marc's in central Ohio -- and they are also in northern Ohio (maybe just northeast). The prices are great although you can't always buy exactly what you want. Rarely can I not find an equal substitute there -- they just have some different, often local, brands.

From listening to other people, Wal-Mart's prices are better than K's, but I know many have issue with their ethical practices.

Stay warm. :o)

Janet said...

As my husband used to say "Food is expensive, but the kids won't eat anything else!" When our four children were young, I too found it challenging to keep the food budget in line. A rule of thumb I remember from the 70's was "If large eggs cost 7 cents or more than medium eggs, then the medium eggs were a better buy. Since egg prices have gone up, I've switched to buying medium eggs.

One cost cutting idea is to serve breakfast for dinner. Eggs and pancakes would be a relatively inexpensive meal.

I always served at least one meatless meal per week and I made good use of my freezer by stocking up on meat when it was on sale.

Here's a recipe I used to make when the budget was tight.
Egg Foo Yong

2 TBS oil
3 eggs
1 cup bean sprouts
2 TBS chopped onion
1 TBS soy sauce

Heat oil in skillet. Beat eggs until very thick and lemon colored, stir in bean sprouts, onion and soy sauce.

Pour 1/4 cup of mixture at a time into skillet, with broad spatula, push cooked egg up over sprouts to form a patty. When patties are set,
turn to brown other side. Serve hot with sauce.


1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp vinegar
2 1/2 TBS soy sauce
I/2 cup water

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute. Serve over the Egg Foo Yong patties.

scmom (Barbara) said...

I wish my kids would eat bean sprouts! Sounds like a good recipe for dh and I.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure if we families compared our grocies it would look different, but I have to admit I was shocked when I saw yours ... where are the fruits and vegetables?!?! :)

To keep bills down, we do two "bean" meals a week -- lentil soup on Fridays, and black beans and rice or some other variation to eat throughout the week for lunch. There's not much cheaper than beans, they're good for you, and sautee a little garlic, onion, celery, and carrots, and you have the start for many great meals!


scmom (Barbara) said...

Hi Collette,
As I said in my post I didn't set the food up for a photo op, so you may not be able to see it all. And I can't remember exactly what I bought that week, but when I click on the pic to enlarge it I can see that I bought a 5# bag of apples, broccoli, Roma tomatoes, lemons, 4# carrots, a dozen or so oranges, strawberries, and I always buy 5 or 10# potatoes and I always buy cabbage. There is also a bag of frozen corn and frozen peas. There were a couple cans of tomatoes and a couple cans of beans.

I agree that beans are cheap nutritious food. Sadly, I have to watch how much I make for meals because my youngest son has a nickel allergy and beans are high in nickel.

Thanks for your comment.


mel said...

I'm glad to see what others spend...I've had major sticker shock. Our family has gone from having one child to expecting number 4 in three years' time...that combined with the rising food prices has me reeling. I used to budget $400 a month for food and other "walmart-y" purchases,,,toiletries, pet food, all that kind of I budget twice that! Ouch.

I'm also experimenting on using more meatless recipes...much to my dh's irritation. :) And I do agree that eating healthier brings up our bill. If I kept everyone on ramen noodles and kool aid, our bill would be pretty cheap!

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating post. In Dallas, we are shocked by food prices too. My sister and I were just talking about the price of milk. I buy mine at Braum's, which is a local dairy store, and it is 3.29 a gallon. It is excellent milk. Borden's is at least 4.69 -- even on sale. I think the grocery store brands are 2.99. My family drinks 5 gallons a week. I'm interested to know what the cost of a gallon is in your area.

God bless you, Barb. I really enjoy your blogs. I think you are doing a great job of feeding your very fine family.

Rachel in Dallas

scmom (Barbara) said...

I think I mentioned that I shop at a discount grocer, so my milk is lower in cost than it is at, say, Kroger. That said, all of the dairy products are from an Ohio dairy (local), so I feel o.k. about buying my milk there (I don't buy meat from the discount grocer, because I'm just not sure how good it is).

I pay from $2.50 to $2.99 a gallon unless it goes on sale. But this is up from $1.88 less than a year ago. The prices seem to fluctuate quite a bit lately. I was paying almost $3 for a pound of butter but this week it's $1.88. I can't figure it out -- it's like trying to figure out gas prices!

Thanks for commenting -- I'm glad to hear you enjoy reading.


Anonymous said...

I'm a little late to comment here, but no matter! I have to say that I read a few posts, and not only did I not laugh at having breakfast before noon Mass, I could relate to it! Some of my best memories are of Sunday breakfast (it's the only time mom made breakfast), and it was always after 11 am Mass =)

Also, I'm glad to see this particular post. I grew up the youngest of five children and I was frequently amazed at how my parents did it. And did it well. They were savvy and frugal. They left their children enough to take care of things - but not their financial savvy (for some of us). This post is a good reminder that there is more I can do to save at the grocery store. I often forget that we have an Aldi close to my home (cash only, bring your own bag, must use a quarter to obtain a shopping cart - probably wouldn't buy meat there either!) In a household where one of us was laid off last week (luckily, we have no children to feed), I need to find better ways to save.

While I agree that whole foods tend to be more expensive, I also think you can find better deals and definitely eat healthier. Plus, I love to cook, so it all works out!

I'm glad I found your site, I believe I will be back frequently for budget friendly recipes and tips!

Martha in Minneapolis