Monday, January 18, 2010

The Average Grocery Cost Debacle

Before I begin this post, can we talk about how much I love the hats my grandma makes me?  She just sent me this peach beanie in the mail - and it may edge out the competition as my favorite.  It's perfect for a sunny day that's too warm for jackets but too cool in the shade to walk around with a naked head.  My co-workers and I are offering a knitting/gossip circle group to the girls in our after-school program this semester, so maybe I can sit in and learn how to knit too. 

Hat: my Gramadear!
T-shirt: Delias
Undershirt: J. Crew
Jeans: Sevens from Buffalo Exchange
Shoes: sequined Chuck look-alikes by Gotta Flirt

Ok, back to my promised topic, food:

I know it's not proper etiquette to talk about money, but Lennon and I are having a disagreement, and I want to air it out in public and open up the debate.  The topic is average weekly grocery expenditure.

Last week, I spent about $80 total on groceries.  With this money, I made/acquired:

  • Veggie chicken pot pie
  • Veggie chicken tetrazzini
  • Polenta with Italian eggs
  • Tamale Pie
  • Salsa from scratch
  • Bagel, cucumber, cream cheese and tomato sandwiches
  • Red wine
  • Cereal
  • Fruit for snacking
  • Breakfast stuff
  • Staples: milk, yogurt, etc.
Sunday evening, we spent $90 on ingredients and food for the week.  We got ingredients for meals and items that included:

  • Corn and potato chowder
  • Enchiladas Verde
  • Butternut squash soup
  • Veggie chicken pot pie (again)
  • Pesto sauce from scratch
  • Tomato sauce from scratch
  • LOTS of fruit. (we both need to up our intake)
  • Salad fixins
  • Red wine
  • Six pack craft beer
  • Cereal
  • Staples like OJ, milk, cooking spray, olive oil, more yogurt, etc.
We divided up the cost of everything, like we do, and after he paid, he about had a heart attack at the register.  This is from the boy who can feed himself for $20 a week on Ramen, mac n'cheese, and PBR.  In the past we have also been guilty of only cooking one to two times a week, as we tend to over indulge in eating out or unhealthy, quick choices (like the mac n'cheese, I won't touch Ramen).  So this whole cooking-everyday-thing is a recent development of the past few weeks.  (At least for him, as I used to cook with incredible regularity, and am much happier, healthier, and typically richer when I do, as eating out can cost upwards of $20 a meal).  

He argues that the amount of money we have spent on groceries in recent weeks is ridiculous, but for a "family of two," the national average says that we are well below par.    I offer up the following evidence from the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion's average cost of grocery statistics:

For the age bracket of 19-50, with two people in a house, the "thrifty" average cost from November 2009 is about $80 a week, and the "low cost" average is $101.  At $70 and $90 the past two weeks, I'd say we know how to pinch pennies.  Lennon disagrees. 

Is it too un-kosher to ask for opinions on this matter, or worse, ask what y'all's average cost of groceries is?  Do you cook in or eat out?  Prefer making from scratch or from a box?  Clip coupons?  I don't do that like I should, but I tried it once and found myself buying things I wouldn't have otherwise just because I had a coupon. 

Our compromise is that Lennon and I will try and keep the monthly average on or under the $250 mark, which still seems very, very thrifty to me.  If I had my way and the money, I'd be at Whole Foods every week!  But considering our nick name for it: Whole Paycheck, that won't be happening anytime soon.  My co-worker Elizabeth has raved about Central Market and it's price variance in product offerings, so maybe I can sneak over there from the regular HEB occasionally. 

To conclude: I'd love to hear thoughts on the great grocery debate, and/or advice on belt tightening (in both senses, as eating out makes my middle expand). 


Retro Chick said...

I'm in the UK, but I think we probably only spend about £30 a week which I think is around $60. We're often not home though so get away without cooking!

It doesn't sound like you're spending loads, and you're getting good meals out of it!

I always look out for reduced items that I can put in the freezer!

That Chelsea Girl™ said...

Groceries are hard to keep track of in my house because I have a roommate that likes to cook. Otherwise, I would be fine with finding cheap but healthy things and eating like I abnormally did when I was in my own apartment.
My roommate doesn't like to take the drive to Wal-Mart or HEB, so she shops at a nearby Randall's, which is more expensive.
When I was still on food stamps and would pay for the groceries, we would go to HEB and spend about $70-$90 when using a menu system like you do.
Healthy foods will always seem more expensive, because in comparison at first, they are. That's why the obesity-epidemic is what it is, unfortunately.
Anyway. Good luck. I think your menu sounds a lot better than mac-and-cheese with MSG noodles.

Teresa said...

James and I went grocery shopping yesterday, and spent $105. That is probably going to be for the next two weeks, but we also eat out a fair bit. We got panera gift cards for xmas! So I would say we average maybe $90-100 a week, since we go out 3-4 times for full meals of $20 or so. Of course, when money was tight, we were living on coffee, ramen and mac&cheese, spending about $20 per week or less. Super unhealthy, tho.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Love this post (per usual), and I have SEVERAL thoughts to offer on this Amanda!:

1. One thing I always tell myself is that by spending money on whole, real, non-BS food now, I am saving money in health bills down the road. Have you and Lennon ever watched Food, Inc? That might scare him straight. :) Seriously, it is horrifying what goes into processed food...not just fast food, but regular grocery store stuff. Also, real foods satisfy your body more effectively than fake stuff. So, you might spend more on each individual item (say, a salad of organic vegetables and fruits), but your body won't need to consume as much, because it won't be scrambling to get all the nutrients it needs. I always feel uber-satiated when I eat at Daily Juice Cafe...and I think there's a reason for that. :)

B) All that being said, we don't cook nearly enough. BUT, I can say that when we decided to go all-natural (or, as all-natural as possible), our grocery bills went up. But to me, it's worth it. "Voting with your fork" and all...if we collectively create a bigger demand for BETTER food, retailers respond in kind, b/c they see there is a market for it. At H-E-B last weekend, I saw 3 different organic egg varieties available - in the regular egg aisle, not the "Nature's Harvest" section or whatever! That made me so happy!!

C) For clean foods that aren't terribly expensive, I recommend Natural Grocer on 43rd and Guadalupe, Sprouts (there are 2 locations now in Austin, I believe), and the farmers market on Wednesdays and the weekends.

D) Even though we're more of a buy-when-we-need-it couple than a weekly grocery shopping couple, I would estimate that we spend at least $100/wk on groceries. Ross buys crazy meat, like elk, ostrich and stuff. :)

Sorry this comment turned into a mini-thesis....

Anna Elena said...

we probably spend about the same that you do, IF we plan ahead for meals. the weeks we don't meal plan, however, end up costing us significantly more - double or even higher! whether we eat out or not, simply because the more visits to the grocery store we make, the more stuff we think we need, and also because when we don't meal plan we commit the biggest grocery store no-no: we shop hungry.

Mel said...

I spent $50.00 on the groceries for this week, and that's not including everything that I forgot that I'll need to stop and pick up in order to make our meals complete. So all in all we probably spend about the same amount for two as you do.

Sam said...

I spend about $25 a week at the grocery store then eat out a whole lot. Though my goal for my last semester at school is to cooking rather than eating out, so the bill will definitely go up.

chopsthewarrior said...

In large part, our disagreement stems from my belief that food is merely a means to an end. I am hungry, I eat, I am no longer hungry.

Left to my own devices I would eat eggs, orange juice and english muffins for every breakfast, a cold cut sandwich for every lunch and pasta and a salad (or the occasional grilled chicken) for dinner and be perfectly happy. As long as I am full, I don't care that my meals contain no variety.

Amanda does. She loves to cook and loves to try a huge variety of recipes. And to her credit, they're delicious. But we did spend 9 bucks on mint and basil last night. To me... that's two full meals.

This is where the disagreement lies. I eat solely on a biological level. This tends to be WAY cheap, but also way boring.

Grant said...

I am cooking up some chicken and dumplings as I type this. Damn my place smells good. You would be so proud. This week I spent $89 on groceries for just myself. I did buy a $17 bottle of beer though. MMMMMM beer. Speaking of, have you checked out Austin Home Brew Supply? That is where I got all of my home-brew stuff.

Food Inc ruined eating for me for some time. Also check out King Corn, and The Future of Food if you want to second guess every bite you take. Overall watching those movies has made me a smarter/healthier eater.

Charlotte said...

I spend about $30 a week on groceries. That said, I do eat steak and potatoes and frozen vegetables for dinner almost every night. Hah!

Ericka Clay said...

first off i don't know what this is: "Pole Dancing Escapes the Strip Club + Brass Ovaries, Austin"but your blog says i might like it. and you're blog is absolutely right!!! ha :)

second of all we spend around 100-150 for the week and my baby can't even eat real food yet.

so yeah...

Ericka Clay said...

oh and love your hat. my mom knits/crochets and she's going to make ava some hats and i'm determined to get myself on that list.

Selective Memory said...

Wow, this is something I have always wondered about other people - It's hard to say how much I spend on groceries per week, because I have different grocery stores I go to for different things (fresh produce, canned goods, bread, etc) This only makes sense because I live in manhattan, and I have searched high and low for the best prices on everything. I'd say when I totally run out of groceries, and have to totally re-stock, it usually costs about $60.. But I am very juvenile with my meal planning - it's usually salad, veggie burgers, and peanut butter slathered on something...

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