by Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds:
For my money, we eat like kings and queens.
If you want to start a food fight, ask people about their monthly grocery bill–what the USDA calls food at home, as opposed to meals purchased outside the home.
Some people will have no idea what their real grocery/food at home outlays actually total, others will mention their budget, others will brag about their frugality (count me in) and others will brag that they eat out most of the time and never prepare meals at home.
Every once in a while we’ll save receipts from a typical month, and I’ll create a spreadsheet of all food expenses, both groceries for meals prepared at home and meals bought outside the home.
We spent $218.34 on groceries in one month. This includes two trips to Costco (total cost of $68.69) and four trips to our favorite local markets ($149.65).
The data isn’t perfect, of course; we bought a tin of coffee that remains 90% full, and we used some ingredients from the freezer and pantry that we didn’t buy this month. But on average, this balances out.
There is also food that we bought to take to others’ parties/BBQs, which was mostly consumed by the host family and other guests. I’m adding in the $25.49 for meat purchased to grill at friends’ homes, for a total grocery bill of $243.83.
We gave friends other things we made, and received some food gifts (homemade kim chee, for example).
Despite these minor additions/subtractions, I think this is a very accurate accounting of our actual expenses for food.
Our total expenses were around $4 per person per day. Granted, we don’t eat huge quantities of food three times a day, but we ate three meals a day.
To understand our bill, I should stipulate a few things:
1. We waste very little food. Some people we know scrape the leftovers right into the trash after dinner. To Scots-Irish/East-Asians (i.e. our household), this is akin to 1) a mortal sin and 2) like tossing a $20 bill into a fire. Some people make it a point of pride to never eat leftovers. We are not those people. Personally, I don’t think throwing away perfectly good food is a way to get rich or live better. (It is estimated Americans throw away 40% of the food they buy. As an occasional dumpster-diver, I believe it.)
2. This total does not include paper products, cleaning supplies, cat food, alcoholic beverages, etc. This is groceries only.
3. A membership to Costco (or equivalent) is an essential component of reducing grocery costs.
4. We generally buy fresh produce at ethnic markets, where the pricing and quality are very competitive. We live in a diverse region with many such choices.
5. When given a choice, we try to buy organic and local produce, but we are not wedded to any strict guidelines.
6. We eat a wide variety of foods and cuisines, generally along the Mediterranean/ East-Asian diets: meat is often a condiment, not the main dish, and we often eat meatless meals.
7. Of the 180 meals in our household in a month (3 meals a day X 30 days X 2 people), we bought 24 meals outside and ate 156 meals at home.
8. Both of us like to cook, so there is a wide variety of food prepared in our house.
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