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The Cost of Food

According to the USDA, the weekly cost of food on a “thrifty” budget in 2011 is $40.60 for men and $36.20 for women (19-50 years old). For my household of two, that comes to $10.97/day. I am now undertaking a challenge to base our household food budget off these numbers. This budget seems reasonable (even generous), but I have been spending about twice that amount on groceries and alcohol each week.

Unfortunately, an easy solution would be to eat off the McDonald’s dollar menu for three meals a day or to switch from the Co-op to Sam’s Club. Thankfully it’s harvest season and we have lots of fresh and canned produce from our garden already paid for. 

USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food

How much a week do you spend on groceries in the Duluth-Superior region? Any tips for frugal grocery options? Comments on the price of food?

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26 Comment(s)

  1. Well, I live in Rochester, but we spend way more than that. We eat super healthy foods, though. Grass fed beef, wild salmon, etc.

    Lojasmo | Sep 27, 2011 | New Comment
  2. Family of five … around a hundred a week.

    zra | Sep 27, 2011 | New Comment
  3. NY Times had an interesting op-ed piece of relation to your post Sunday.

    Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

    spy1 | Sep 27, 2011 | New Comment
  4. Great post- I’ve been wondering what other people spend on groceries. For my husband and me, I spend anywhere from $400-$600/month. It seems to depend a lot on if we entertain at all, and how much time I have to focus on cooking, baking, and making sure food doesn’t get wasted/spoiled. We do buy all meat and some produce from the co-op and avoid Sam’s Club so I’m guessing that contributes. I have started baking my own bread which helps keep costs down. It can be close to $5 to purchase a whole wheat loaf that doesn’t have a bunch of additives.

    I have needed to adjust my expectations lately because it seems to me that grocery prices have really shot up in the last year or two, and $300 just doesn’t go very far these days. I have noticed that I spend less in winter months when there are fewer fun fresh things in season and I feel like comfort foods then which are usually cheap (soups, chili, stew.) I’ve also gotten better about not treating the freezer as a trash can, and when I actually manage to use the leftovers and other things that are easy to neglect in there I have a lower budget. I guess my point is that there seems to be a lot of variables that affect my grocery budget.

    Laura | Sep 27, 2011 | New Comment
  5. We make these at work. No kidding!
    That is what the company I work for does
    and many other items as well. It’s a small world. This replaces the food pyramid that folks sadly couldn’t figure out. I hope folks see foods on a plate and understand that better?

    Wes Scott | Sep 27, 2011 | New Comment
  6. I think the cost of food has risen recently. I don’t have hard numbers because I switched from the grad student diet to the tenure track faculty member diet (that means super cheap to too busy to adequately meal plan).

    Grad student diet (with 2 kids + spouse) always meant stick to the list. And it always meant less than 100 bucks a week. There’s a fine line for me — my kids take fresh fruits and veggies for lunch/snack. That’s WAY more expensive than sending goldfish. My kids are bigger, but I find that money just does not go as far. Maybe I drink more coffee now? If so, that’s a hell of a coffee habit.

    Kerc | Sep 27, 2011 | New Comment
  7. The co-op isn’t expensive. I buy beans, rice, herbs, flour etc. there as cheap as can be. The vegetables aren’t expensive, given that they are generally actually ripe compared to other stores.

    Prepared convenience foods are expensive.

    super matilda | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  8. Fortunately for me I haven’t had to buy coffee for eight years. (One of the perks of the job), but no compromise on coffee quality means dropping 8 plus a pound on beans.

    It has been a little while since I’ve done price comparisons, but WFC is more expensive than Cub or Super One. (This) man cannot live on beans, herbs and veggies alone.

    zra | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  9. Prior to moving to Duluth in March of this year, our grocery budget was $50 per week for my husband and I. We don’t have children. Groceries are more expensive in Duluth than they were in our rural area of Western Illinois. That issue, coupled with the fact that grocery prices have been rising recently, have thrown that budget goal out the window. I need to sit down and re-evaluate our budget because I’m exceeding it every week now. It might be possible that I can stick with the $50 per week, but I’ll need to change what we’re buying to do that.

    As for frugal tips, cook as much from scratch as you can, reduce meat consumption, and keep some options for quick meals on hand so that you’re less tempted to run through a drive-through when you’re short on time.

    Also, having a garden and canning your own food can definitely help reduce the grocery bill. Since we’re currently in an apartment while we get to know the area, I didn’t have a garden this year. I normally can hundreds of jars of various veggies and fruits, and I know we’ll really miss having that this year.

    As for coffee, I’m willing to pay extra for good quality. I’m hooked on Alakef and not willing to compromise. If that means that we eat nothing but rice and beans, then so be it.

    Hollie | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  10. I agree on Alakef contributing to about $10/week of the groceries budget (and not wanting to give this up). Alcohol was around $50/week for a variety of microbrews, box wine, and the occasional bottle of liquor-- we have guests stop by often and I try to stay stocked up. I’m going to cut alcohol down to boxed wine and homebrew for now, $20/week. There are plenty of local home brewers that make wine and beer in this area and many are willing to barter. With coffee and alcohol taking up $30/week, that leaves me with $46.80 left for actual food. Next time I buy groceries (next week), I will see what I can buy and cook with the USDA’s “frugal” budget.

    A big part of this exercise for me is trying to find money to put into our savings account. We tend to spend the whole paycheck and don’t really have reserves to fall back on for an emergency. If we can eat more frugally (and not eat or drink out very often), we should be able to put about $300/month in savings from this food budgeting alone.

    jen | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  11. We save a ton of money this way: pizza night on Fridays, we switched from Luce or Sammys delivery ($30 a week) to Papa Murphy’s ($8 a week); switched from wine to Summit and Lake Superior brews (save half the $ we used to spend); switched from expensive coffee beans to Target-brand beans (I must have great coffee beans, and Target’s are great); and started limiting portions. We save enough $ that we can afford non-animal-torture milk and once/week beef from the Coop.

    emmadogs | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  12. Another tip that no one mentioned is to figure out what you’re willing to spend on food (say 50 bucks) and go through the exercise of taking 50 dollars cash to the store. When its gone, its gone.

    Kerc | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  13. Oh, I should have mentioned that alcohol is an entirely different budget category for us. We enjoy drinking good beer, primarily local and regional brews. We aren’t heavy drinkers, but we do enjoy a few good brews once a week or so. This is another category where I’m not willing to sacrifice quality to buy something cheap.

    Eating out, whether at a restaurant or ordering pizza, is a separate category as well in our monthly budget, but we don’t do it often. I haven’t found many restaurants here in town that I feel are worth my money (my apologies if this offends anyone).

    Hollie | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  14. Our family of four lives on $500 a month, and shops wisely at the Co-op and at SuperOne. Bulk foods, organic veggies and other things we prefer organic are from the co-op. (If you pay close attention to sales, and are a member, certain things are cheaper on occasion.) We supplement with stuff that is the same but consistently cheaper at SuperOne.

    (When I say we shop wisely, what I mean is that my partner does the vast majority of the shopping. He’s got it down to a science.)

    We buy very little that is processed, and consider them things that are “treats” in a way, like Newman O’s or soy ice cream. Nearly all our cooking is done from scratch, though if we feel rich, we’ll buy bread. We also get quite a supplemental from foraging (mushrooms all summer, wild leeks in the spring) and a large extended-family garden tended by the elder generation. My partner’s mum is the queen of canning and freezing, and they share freely. I should add that we as a family are nearly vegan.

    So yeah, we eat pretty well.

    hbh1 | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  15. “lives on” meaning that’s our food budget. Also, we get eggs when they’re available from the elders’ chickens.

    hbh1 | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  16. Something that no one has mentioned: buy generic. At Super One, we buy Flavorite (i.e. generic) peanut butter, saltines, cereal, pasta, etc; and semi generic olive oil, tuna, salmon, etc etc. Also we only buy on sale (e.g whatever fruit is on sale that week) if possible.

    Over the year, we must save a ton by doing this (our grocery bill, including pizza on Friday, beer, and all the extras tops out at about $120 a week for two adults).

    emmadogs | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  17. Always buy on sale, cook more often than eat out, TRY to avoid the delicious chips aisle. Those are my tricks.

    On a dimly related note, I will be in Duluth this weekend and am looking for breakfast recommendations. Requirements: NO long lines, cheaper is better… I’m thinking Coney Island?

    jane | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  18. Uncle Loui’s.

    jessige | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  19. Chopping out the takeout and fast food is a must.

    Soups. We do a lot of soup. The kids might not eat a lot of it, but it’s fuel for me during the work week! Through the summer, we have probably done more than a dozen already. Everything from strawberry to gazpaccho and potato leek … a great way to extend your meals and keep everyone eating healthy! | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  20. Paul Lundgren | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  21. I’ve done pretty lengthy price comps. at local grocery stores and, as hbh says, the co-op is actually quite competitive if you look closely, esp. if you’re comparing exact items. Watch the sales, use the coupons, and shop bulk…a can of beans costs on average $2.50, but in bulk the same quantity is about 75 cents. It pays to take the time to cook from scratch. It killlllls me to see people with limited incomes coming out of Super America with bags full of $expensive$, nutritionally worthless food. Kills me. There are smarter options. I’m a pretty strong co-op supporter, obviously…I shop there for 100% of my groceries and make under $30,000 a year, so I suppose its also about prioritizing. To me, my diet is more important than a lot of other things. I don’t own a cell phone, I don’t have cable, I don’t have internet, and my land line phone still has a cord. Call me old fashioned. I also agree with Jen that growing your own food makes a hell of a difference in the ol’ pocketbook, too.

    j-i-l-l-o | Sep 28, 2011 | New Comment
  22. Most of the local grocery ads are available on the internet (cannot find Homecroft Foods, for instance). One of the nice things about the SuperOne site is that I can click on an item and it makes my grocery list. Then I can add the other items I need that are not in the ad and the site will save my list, or I can have it emailed. After a year or so you begin to recognize trends on when things are going to go on sale and you are able to stock up.

    Taxidancer | Sep 29, 2011 | New Comment
  23. I agree with the soup comment. We make soup several times weekly (mostly vegetarian) and are able to put half in the freezer for quick, healthy meals later. Other things to do: buy large amounts of veggies in the summer and blanch/prepare and freeze. We do large batches of pesto and put them in individual containers to freeze. Delicious all winter! And cheap. Also, something like a whole, fresh chicken can provide the basis for three meals for our family of four: 1st meal- sliced roasted chicken, 2nd meal- stir fry/burritos with remainder of meat and then using the carcass for creating stock for soup.

    Harriet Lane | Sep 30, 2011 | New Comment
  24. I only buy groceries and other supplies once a month but at a strict $200 per month budget, which is not just enough for our two person household, but enough to stock a little extra in case of an emergency or what have you. It took a long time but I’ve been able to build up a three month food supply on our budget. $200 a month figures to $50 weekly, just $25 per person. At less than $4 per day per person, even the McDonald’s Dollar Menu can’t compete. As cheap as fast food may be (or seem), you will ALWAYS save more money buying and making your own food (assuming no super fancy ingredients).

    Only going to the store once a month saves money (and time). I buy in bulk, I buy most things at the big evil SAMs Club, including fresh produce which is cheaper and comparable in quality to other stores, often times fresher than the grocery store. I have been dissapointed every time I tried to buy things at The Coop and gave up on it about two years ago. Maybe it’s better now but the stuff was too expensive in my experience.

    Do a lot of math, bulk is generally cheaper but sometimes it can be hard to tell so dividing the price by the number the ounces (or other measurement) to compare big and small packages is really helpful. Sales are great but by keeping records of what I buy, I’ve found few grocery store sales that are better than the regular SAMs prices on things like canned goods or sugar/flour/etc… Keep receipts and study them, youll learn a lot over time, compare prices with other spices, not just the sale to the regular price in one store.

    Avoid eating out, fast food, and ready made meals. It’s cheaper to buy basic ingredients (staples) and do it yourself. Time is a factor sure, but some things, like spaghetti sauce, are mind bogglingly easy and drastically cheaper to make yourself. You can also make bigger portions and freeze the rest. Generic brands are cheaper and comparable in quality. Buy fresh fruits and veggies in season, use canned, dry, or frozen out of season.

    I’ve saved a lot of money by switching to instant milk. It’s cheaper, great for baking, won’t spoil assuming you only make so much at a time, and I can stockpile it. Occasionally I get bulk purchases from other sources such as wheat from an online source or dry beans from a farmer a few states over. The beans were only $200 for 250 lbs. (I bought 5 varieties) and are good for years if stored properly. It was a lot up front but we’ve been eating them for

    Watch out for b.s. about “freerange eggs” and organic anything. If it came from a local farmer than awesome, if it came from a store, chances are it was made by the same big evil coporate entities people are claiming to avoid. Freerange chicken/eggs on coporate farms are not any better than battery chickens, most don’t even go outside. Basically, you will pay a premium for the marketing.

    Judas | Sep 30, 2011 | New Comment
  25. My comment is missing a chunk, too bad you can’t edit them…

    About the beans, $200 for 250 lbs. that have lasted two years and counting. It was a lot up front but if you figure out how long it lasts (let’s just say two years to simplify) that’s only about $10 a month.

    Judas | Sep 30, 2011 | New Comment
  26. Dang we’ve been eating in the whole (flipping gorgeous!!!!!) weekend. But will get b’fast someplace… one craving for b’fast burrito, one craving for tasty pastries. My limited knowledge tells me Amazing Grace. Thanks, Duluth. As always, you really satisfy.

    jane | Oct 1, 2011 | New Comment

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