Saturday, February 05, 2011

Food Budget

I have had many people ask about our food budget and, specifically, how we eat mostly organic food. I have never written about budgeting before so this is my first attempt! I can tell you that our food expenses have gotten much lower now that we are in Washington. Our expenses have always varied when we move as I try to seek out new food sources and find my groove. (That's an interesting part of military life.)

When we lived in Arizona, there was a year-round farmer's market and we had easy access to local, organic produce and meat. In Georgia I spent a lot of time at the local health food store because they had a good selection of local, organic produce and meat but it was much, much more expensive than buying from the source. I even went out of state to stock up on meat when we lived there. There is a CSA there that delivers as well. In Virginia there was a decent selection of organic produce at the local supermarket but it was not local. The farmer's market was seasonal. We did have an abundance of organic, locally pastured meat. There was no local CSA for produce. Here in Washington, we are blessed to have a CSA that delivers produce and an almost-year-round farmer's market. Obviously, each area is very different and the climate dictates the growing season and availability of local produce. Plus, it is sometimes hard to find sources for good food if you don't know the area yet. I always go to to check for local CSAs and then scout our farmer's markets from there.

That said, most of our food does come from the CSAs and farmer's markets. And more and more, we are making food from scratch at home and buying less and less from the store. In turn, we are spending less and less on food. So while $400/month buys a lot here, it doesn't buy a lot in other areas of the country and it varies widely based on what's available in our area.

In an average month, we spend around $400 on food for our family of eight. This is 2 adults, 2 boys that almost eat as much as adults, 2 preschool girls that eat an average amount of food, and 2 toddlers that are always hungry. We also only eat meat a few times a week. Take that for what's it worth. (Disclaimer: I'm not saying everyone can, or should, eat what we eat or spend what we spend, or anything else. This is just what works for us.)

Monthly Food Budget

Produce CSA box, delivered weekly (includes 95% of the fruits and vegetables we eat)
Cost: $148 for the month

Meat (local grass-fed beef, chicken, and occasionally turkey or pork)
Cost: $50-60 for the month

Baking & cooking supplies and dried goods in bulk (flour, honey, sugar, raisins, rice, eggs, etc.)
Cost: $140-$155 for the month

Supermarket (for us-the commissary)
Cost: $40-70 for the month

Total: $378-433 for the month

Produce: Almost all of our produce comes from the CSA box that is delivered weekly. Sometimes I will grab something at the farmer's market, but for the most part I get everything in the CSA box and can add/delete items to make sure I always have what I need coming in the box.

Meat: I always try to buy beef in bulk and store it in the freezer in our garage. It's cheaper to buy a 1/4 share of a cow than to buy individual cuts of meat. When I buy chicken, turkey or pork, I get it from the farmer's market. Because we don't eat it everyday, we save money since meat is our most expensive food.

Baking and cooking supplies: I just found an awesome, local source for organic flour. I can get enough organic flour to last for the entire month for around $25-30. Costco sometimes carries local, organic eggs but when they aren't available there I can get them from the farm directly or from the farmer's market. I buy organic sugar in bulk at Costco, as well as organic olive oil, organic raisins, organic peanut butter, organic quinoa, organic steel cut oats, and whatever other things I find. The selection varies and sometimes I go there to buy something and they don't have it. Plus, whatever I buy usually last longer than a month. I usually go to Costco once or twice a month and I typically spend $45-75 per trip.

Supermarket: There are only a handful of things that I buy in a grocery store these days. I do buy milk there because it is cheaper for me to buy organic, local milk there than it is to buy it from the source. I buy organic yogurt there and the kids it quite frequently. I also get organic, canned beans there because I can't get organic, dried beans anywhere else. (Although I will have to check the place where I buy the bulk flour and nuts because it just occurred to me that they might have them there.) I buy organic pasta sauce there because it is so much faster than making my own. I sometimes buy cheese from the commissary, sometimes from the farmer's market, and rarely from Costco. We try not to eat much cheese but it is a guilty pleasure and Jason loves it, so we usually have some in the house. Another treat are the organic animal crackers from Costco which are perfect for snacking when we are running errands and require zero preparation. Our organic butter has been coming from the commissary or Costco, depending on who has it cheaper at the time. I also buy dry cereal from either place, depending on who has the lowest price.

The amount that we spend always varies quite a bit based on what I have left in the pantry. It's usually staggered so that we don't run out of meat, flour, peanut butter, etc. all at once. I spend more when we're traveling because we eat more convenience foods. For example, when we were in the camper I made a lot of rice, pasta/vegetable dishes because rice/pasta is easy to store and cook and storage space was extremely limited. We ate a lot of oatmeal, yogurt, and dry cereal for breakfast because we didn't have time or space to make hot breakfasts. I was spending around $30/month on bakery items (mostly just sandwich bread) but now that money is spent buying extra flour and yeast since I'm making my own at home.

Although I don't clip coupons, I think I'm still saving money. Eating less meat/dairy, making more foods from scratch, and buying from the source have cut our food expenses a lot. I know we will not always be able to eat an organic diet for $400/month, but as we start to explore growing our own food we might be able to maintain something close to this amount. Thoughts?

P.S.- Speaking of food... I was about to hit 'publish' and then came across this blog: What an eye opener! This is what kids are being fed in school? I had no idea! While I don't exactly have fond memories of the school lunches I was forced to eat as a child, I surely didn't realize that so much of what we ate was just pure garbage. I am also pretty sure that my parents had no idea that from middle school through high school I only ate Snickers bars and drank fruit punch from the a la carte line in the cafeteria.
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