Hello folks! What’s shaking on this fine day? Hope all is well. I talk about a lot of different things on this site. As you can see on the right-hand sidebar, there is a post category for about every personal finance related topic. Lately I’ve been wanting to delve into a deep analysis of my budget and various expense categories. Besides housing, one of the biggest expenses families face is food. So today let’s tackle the food budget.
But don’t worry, this post won’t be simply an analysis of my food budget! No sir-e-Bob. I’ve included a few tools that you can use to compare your food budget to similar families around the nation with an interactive and neat tool that utilizes USDA data. And additionally, I’ve included a tool that will allow you to compare the general cost of food in your city to my city or any other. That way you can look at my food budget and see what that would translate to in terms of cost in your area. Is my grocery budget less than yours??
Let’s digest some data!
Before we take a sneak peek at my food budget, I need to be fully transparent on my new diet. As regular readers know, I’ve been vegan for about 9 months. Our whole family made the switch since the health benefits are pretty persuasive. At the time we announced going vegan (a truly whole foods plant based diet, but I’ll use these terms interchangeably) many were curious how this could impact the budget, assuming it would cost less.
Well the jury is still out on this. We haven’t seen much of a difference, but we may still eventually. Doing a wholesale diet transition involves a few one-time grocery costs as we stock up our pantry. We were trying all sorts of different foods and recipes and didn’t really get into a groove in meal selection until late summer of 2017. We’ve been crushing the vegan thing lately and are becoming much better grocery shoppers now. So maybe a slight drop-off in our food costs is in the works still.
Digesting My Grocery Budget
In 2017 (with about 6-7 months of which we were vegan), the Swan household has spent about $7,314 total on all things food and drink. This includes groceries, dining out, and beer / alcohol / wine. Simple math shows that this averages out to $610 per month. While we are a family of four, our second cygnet is still pretty much solely on Mother’s milk, so no major food cost for him. But our first cygnet certainly eats, and he eats pretty dang good for being 3. No joke, but he eats about as much as we do…maybe more. If you have kids, you may know what I’m talking about…it can be crazy…and somewhat impressive.
For a family of three, for 365 days, for 3,285 total meals, that comes out to $2.22 per meal! How do you compare?
Let’s throw some more data out there. For 2016, our total food costs were $6,120. Based on the 3,285 meals that Lucy, cygnet #1, and myself ate, that comes to $1.86! For 2015, assuming that it was just Lucy and I eating (cygnet #1 wasn’t eating much then…), the cost per 2,190 meals was $2.69 based on our total food expense of $5,906. Perhaps cygnet #1 was skewing things a little in 2015…so let’s look at more data! 2014 with no kiddos we had a food bill of $5,097, 2013 the bill was $5,531, and in 2012 it was $6,682. Those years are comparing apples to apples (no pun intended…) as we lived in Charlotte for the entirety of each of these years. The cost per meal in these respective years was $2.32, $2.52, and $3.05. As you can see, we definitely have become better with our food dollars over the years! More data you say…you got it!
In 2011, we lived over half the year in San Francisco…food bill was $7,059…or $3.22. A little more dining out, but can you blame us since San Fran is basically the foodie capital of the world. I actually wish we would have had more money back then to dine out even more!
More data!! Before 2011, Lucy and I lived in a few different mid-sized cities in the Midwest. The food bills in 2010, 2009, and 2008 were $6,031, $5,805, and $4,668, respectively. That comes to $2.75, $2.65, and $2.13. Now that is a lot of data!
And besides the year in San Francisco, we’ve done fairly well given the average meal was below $3, and in recent years we’ve come close to getting below $2 (especially in 2016 and 2017, but perhaps cygnet #1 skews things too much there)!
Is My Food Bill Less Than Yours?
So how do we compare? We’ve more or less been tracking around the $2.5 mark over the last decade. Some have been better, some worse. And while we dined out more in San Fran, I wouldn’t say the grocery prices were much higher there than we saw in other cities. It’s hard to tell how much prices really vary from location to location. Food tends to be cheaper if it is grown locally, and so you tend to eat more of those foods. Needless to say, San Fran is a pretty big agriculture state.
So I’ll let you be the judge on how your bill compares to ours. But if you want to try and be scientific about it, use this cost of living website. You can plug in my city, Charlotte, and yours. Calculate the difference in the food index and apply it to our grocery bills for comparison.
How Does My Grocery Budget Compare to the Nation?
Perhaps what is even more useful or interesting is a comparison with similar families across the nation? Check out this pretty cool tool I stumbled across. It allows you to plug in your family demographics including gender, age, and meals ate at home and provides a comparison of your bill to the USDA low-cost food plan.
For instance, after I plugged in my wife and I and our 3 year old cygnet, it kicked out an estimated spending of $581.06 per month on food. Now I’m bummed as I realize we spend more…I guess I’m not that special…:)
Maybe my numbers are flawed a bit. Some household items may be getting categorized into our food budget as we typically buy those at the grocery store and I don’t take the time to itemize them. Also, it could be flawed as it doesn’t take into consideration going out to eat. And actually I think that is the case. This tool appears to be solely the grocery bill as it did ask how many meals we eat away from home (in an attempt to calc the cost of meals ate at home…?).
We eat out as a family maybe once a week, and that would include the occasional breakfast at Panera which isn’t overly expensive. Our dine out tab / month averaged $154 in 2017 compared to just $98 / month in 2016. Looking back over the years, its basically been about $100 / month in dine-out costs. Taking this out of the calc and we now look pretty good compared to the tool with a grocery bill of about $456 / month in 2017 and $412 / month in 2016.
I think we stretch our food dollars pretty well!
What Say You?
How do yours compare? Do you keep your bill below $3 per meal (a pretty good benchmark in my eyes!)? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Thanks for taking a look!
The Green Swan