I bite my lip as I watch the numbers rising on the register. It’s grocery day and I am holding my breath, waiting to see the total.
I read it to myself like an indictment, a judgment of my skills in meal planning, shopping and saving money.
I feel let down. Really? Over a hundred dollars and I barely got anything. I’ve already pared the list down to the most basics.
When I get home and go on the computer, I am jeered at by articles boasting how someone feeds their family on $40 per week. Another has a stockpile that will last them longer than 4 years.
What’s a Fair Comparison?
I feel like a failure. But then I look closer at what these articles describe. These families are very different than mine. We shop differently because we eat differently.
Is it fair to compare the food budget of a family eating at home every meal with one that eats out twice a week, and has kids in school buying lunch? What about those coupon queens hoarding canned meals vs those of us laboring to create meals using only fresh whole foods?
is there a fair way to compare grocery costs? Are we dealing with apples and oranges or is there a way to figure out how we are doing at keeping our food costs low?
Breaking Down the Cost of Food
I think I have a solution that will at least compare say, red and yellow apples. We can break down the costs into cost per person, per meal. Granted, there will still be a difference between families with different aged children, or those that must eat a certain diet for health reasons. At least it would be based on the meals that are being prepared at home, and not include non – food categories such as household, pet and personal care products.
To me, this is more logical and useful data. When I look at my own budget now, I break down the groceries into food, household, pet and personal care items. That way I can see, month to month, where my money is going, and if my spending in on target for these individual categories. I can do a rough estimate of how much I am spending per person, per meal from the food cost. But then what about the cost of beverages and snacks? Should they be included in the cost spent on food, when comparing to other families?
It is really only a fair and accurate comparison if we can calculate how much each meal costs to make, by ingredient, and then divide by number of servings. This is extremely tedious, however. Are we missing the point?
Lower Your Own Food Costs
Instead of comparing our food costs to another family’s, which can be misleading, we should focus on our own food budget. If we want to spend less, we can use these proven methods to bring down costs:
- Plan meals, and write a list of the ingredients you need to purchase.
- Double check your freezer and pantry to make sure you don’t already have the items.
- Substitute ingredients for less expensive ones, including certain cuts of meat, wine and spices.
- Use seasonal produce.
- Add in inexpensive fillers such as brown rice or beans.
- Buy ingredients in their whole state, and grate, chop, bread and season them yourself.
How do you feel when you see how much someone claims to spend on feeding their family? Do you think it is possible to compare yourself to them, or do you want to know more facts behind the figures?