Heather confessed that she spends $800 a month to feed her family of three a vegetarian, whole-food, mostly organic diet, but is challenging herself to spend half of that for the month of October as a belt-cinching exercise. Well, the comments exploded (for reasons I won't go into, but you can check it out for yourself, here). The interesting point, at least for me, is that many of the commenters from across America are feeding much larger families for much, much less. We're talking a family of seven for $400 a month, or a family of four on $300 a month. How do they do it?!
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and make my own confession: I feed our family of four an omnivorous, mostly-whole food, partially organic diet for $800 a month. There. I said it. I feel like I just farted in a quiet room or something.
Why is it so embarrassing for me to confess that? Well, first of all, I was brought up not to mention money. Period. But more importantly, I just feel like it's way, way too much. I must be a terrible homemaker if I can't be more frugal.
So where does it all go? Well, first off, I spend $60 a week at the farmer's market, where I buy all of our meat and eggs and most of our produce. I realize it's a little steep to pay $5 for a dozen eggs or $11 for a small lamb shoulder, but I don't see myself changing this. I have a very personal relationship with the farmer from whom I get most of my produce, and I like knowing that the food he has so thoughtfully grown for his two kids is the same pesticide- and herbicide-free food I'm feeding my two kids. I also like knowing that the meat we eat--and we only eat meat two nights a week--has been humanely raised and slaughtered. That said, I realize this is a luxury. Still, it only accounts for a fourth of our monthly food budget.
Yep, those farmer's market eggplants are beautiful--and expensive at $7 a pound.
And I do grow some of my own veggies, but that only works for about two month of the year.
Now, I know that some of the sticker shock comes from the "Canadian premium," which is about 35-40% more per item than what I used to pay when we lived in the States. Some of that premium is due to our location. We live in "northern-ish" Canada, where the growing season is only three months long and the range of foods that can be grown is very limited. Much of what I buy at the supermarket has been shipped very, very long distances. But it's not like I'm eating blackberries in July. I'm eating peaches in August, but still, they had to be flown in from British Columbia.
Another huge chunk of that premium comes from Canada's protectionist policies on dairy, which means that we pay $5 for a gallon of milk and $8 for a pound of cheddar. And let me tell you, this family consumes it's weight in dairy a month.
Finally, there's the fact that wages are higher here because Canada has universal healthcare and a true living wage and those things don't come cheap. But they are wonderful things, and I'm happy to pay a little extra at the check out line so that everyone can enjoy them.
I even make our own bread--shouldn't that count for something?
And there was the week I resolved to "eat out of the pantry..."
So there is the naked truth of our family's grocery budget. Shocking isn't it? More importantly, what can I do to lower it? Because while we are lucky to be able to afford to spend so much on our groceries, I would prefer to spend less so that maybe we can put more money toward other priorities, like buying our own house one day ...
What are your cost-saving measures at the supermarket? What do you skimp on and what are you willing to do without? What do you spend on a gallon of milk? A pair of chicken breasts? A dozen eggs? Am I wrong in thinking that the difference at the check out line is mostly due to latitude?
Oh, and if you're interested in following along on Heather's "$400 Grocery Challenge," just click through the button on the right nav bar. I'll be lurking myself, but I'm saving the "challenge" for November. I figured it would be too easy to cut my monthly food budget in half since we'll be mooching off my parents for the next two weeks.
One thing I can't skimp on: real maple syrup. Since Kevin turned me on to it, I've never gone back to Aunt Jemima.