Grocery Geek: Just Keeping It Real

Grocery prices are rising. Is it realistic to buy healthier food in an already tough economy?

When I posted my first grocery geek post, it was a delight to brag on my couponing successes and how little I had spent on groceries in the previous week. This is not that post.

This is the post in which I eat humble pie.

It’s been really bothering me that I spent so much on groceries this month. Four years ago, $400 was very doable each month to feed (then) 7 of us. Later we upped it to $500, then $600 as we had wiggle room in the budget. We could eat something more than beans and rice, rice and beans!

But, slowly, that number has been wiggling up some more. This month it topped the $800 I had hoped for. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am very thankful to have this money on hand to spend. I’m not complaining. I know many, many families have much less to spend. I’m just stunned, is all, by the changes.

I’ve done some philosophizing about it — because that’s what a (grocery) geek does – think about something a lot. And I’ll share some of my conclusions. But, first here’s a peek at this week’s purchases:

Sprouts

As the week started out, I exercised restraint. I bought eggs, milk, celery, apples, and bananas. I spent $12.

Abundant Harvest Organics

On Wednesday I picked up the produce box. For $38, we got spinach, apples, carrots, asparagus, tomatoes, beets, chives, oranges, cabbages, and lettuce. In retrospect, I could have done without this week’s box. So, I’ve scheduled some “vacation weeks” on our subscription to offset next month’s spending.

The month could have ended on Wednesday and I would have been a happy camper. But, it didn’t.

Trader Joe’s

On Thursday, we started our Spring Break. And as I had just calculated our gas costs and our mileage record for last year and as we were in the very same parking lot as Trader Joe’s which is not close to our home, I chose to buy for next month instead of make another trip and spend more for gas.

I spent $74 on milk, bagels, almonds, rice, tomatoes, pasta, red wine vinegar, yogurt, sour cream, kefir, crackers, vitamins, milk, and butter.

Ralphs

Thursday afternoon I spent a full day sorting through fifteen year’s worth of toys. I was beat. My eldest and I took a full vehicle of stuff to donate. I was looking forward to leisurely cooking dinner when I realized that I had forgotten my tax meeting. So, we stopped quickly at Ralphs for an alternative (and quicker) dinner option: marked down chicken and bread to supplement with leftover rice and salad. I also found apples on sale and coffee marked down. Total spent $14.

Costco

On Friday (Day Two of Spring Break) we stopped at Costco, again, not close to home, but on the path we driving anyway. I knew there was stuff on my Costco list, so we stopped. I spent $157 on milk, half and half, juice, honey, maple, crushed tomatoes, bread, tortillas, turkey, crackers, and vinegar as well as two huge bags of frozen berries and a large box of popsicles. It seems like a huge amount of money to spend, but it’s all stuff we will use, in ginormous packaging.

Total spent this week: $295

Total spent this month: $1142

Average/month YTD: $914

Ouchie, Mama! Clearly, something’s amiss. I wish I could say my math was wrong, but I don’t think it is.

Edited to add, 4/27: I recalculated my monthly expenses for Jan, Feb, and March, and found out that my year to date, monthly average is not as high as $914. It was actually, $795. Whew.

Clearly, it’s time for a grocery audit. I’ll share my findings on Monday. But, in the meantime, I’ll open the floor to comments. Is this too much to spend for 8 people, including 1 male adult, 1 female adult, 4 boys (aged 7 to 14) and 2 little girls?

What do YOU think?

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Comments

  1. My philosophy is this: where better to spend money than on good, healthy food?!? We can spend it here and now on this, or spend it (and much more!) later to correct the resulting poor health. On top of that, by spending what we spend on the healthy food, we are investing in the healthy eating habits of our children. We’re teaching them how to make wise choices.

    Now, all of that said, we don’t buy all organic and there are treats in our grocery basket every week. We aren’t perfect (or Nazis about it). I use coupons where I can and buy marked-down things when I see them.

    Plus, a grocery budget reflects where a person lives. We are currently stationed overseas, so our budget is much higher than it would be if we were home in Texas. I think what I’m trying to say is that what other people think about your grocery budget ultimately doesn’t really matter. It’s about what’s right for your family. :)

    • @Damsel,
      I agree with this.

      It bothers me how there’s so much emphasis on the rock bottom grocery bill in the blogsphere. While I understand there are people who truly cannot afford to spend more than a minimum amount on food most of us really should be spending more if we want our broken food system to change. I personally view it as my social responsibility to spend my food dollars in accordance with my ideals.

      That said, it does bother me when I go over my budget. So my husband and I spend time evaluating where the money is going. Am I spending the money extravagently? Can we afford it? Are we happy with the way we’re eating? Those really are the important questions. This month I did overspend in a few ways that weren’t strictly necessary so I’m looking into ways to manage that spending.

      • @BethB,

        The current emphasis on rock-bottom budgets arises from necessity for many people. I agree that the food system is broken and that we need to work to fix it. I agree that we need to eat the very best food we possibly can. Sadly, my budget – and the budgets of a great many other people – are declining at a time when prices are increasing. It’s hard to keep food ethics in mind when you’re worried about being able to purchase any food at all. We do need to keep food issues in mind, but we also need to understand that each family must make decisions based upon their personal circumstances.

    • @Damsel, you make some great points. We have been relatively healthy. Knock on wood.

  2. I spent a little bit over $600 for four people. This included an unplanned $79 trip to Trader Joe’s for this coming month and a $16 quart of sorgum from a local farmers fair. And a 54 ounce jar of coconut oil for $25.

    My budget was $500. Oops.

    I do buy expensive meat but the thing is, I didn’t really buy any meat in March! Honestly, I think the only meat I got was a package of bone in chicken breasts, corned beef, and a pound of sausage.

    So yeah, I need to do a grocery audit too.

  3. Well first of all – you realize that food prices have gone up tremendously since you’ve begun this journey right?

    Second, you’re not buying the same groceries and you don’t have the same family.

    Period.

    The discomfort comes from trying to buy the best groceries you can afford – and somewhere in there you’re wondering if you can afford this, I think. But you’ve done the math, obviously you can, and you feel it’s the right ‘choice’ for that money – so let go of the discomfort.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am very much in the same boat as you – kids getting big, making different choices that I feel are healthier for my family, and horrified by the bills LOL

    But I’m not going into debt to do it, so I”m letting it go :)

    • @cherie, I agree with BethB…things have changed considerably and not to your fault either. With the exception of those who absolutely have to stay on budget, I feel sometimes we are too hard on ourselves. Yes, we need to be mindful of our budget, but life happens…grocery prices go up (and up and up rapidly) and it does depend on where you live.

      I wish we could allow ourselves to breath a bit and relax.

    • @cherie, yes, times have definitely changed, haven’t they?

  4. No, I think that alot of this weeks groceries will offset next months. Bewtween groceries and gas it’s very hard trying to stay within budget.

    • I agree with you. My budget is $50 per week for a family of five, but that is because it is all the money I can devote to that catagory. When I have to make a Sam’s trip, that often take two or three weeks of the month’s budget, but I know that I won’t have to buy 25lbs of bread flour for quite some time, etc. So I only have to pick up milk and produce for the rest of the month or two. You will likely find that next month, you will be well stocked and won’t have to buy nearly as much as far as staples go. Besides, it is a great place to be if you can splurge on higher quality foods and produce.

      • I am very thankful to be in this place. I think part of me realizes/worries that life is subject to change. And that we need to be able to find that comfort spot that won’t get too jostled if something else shifts in the budget. Like gas. Or college. Or jobs.

    • @Wendy, well, I’m adjusting my food budget accordingly, so they will have to! LOL

  5. With grocery prices going up daily it is getting harder and harder to stay within a budget but with your Costco order you have alot going into next month. I’m sure it will all balance out in the end and we all have to figure in the raising prices and not blame ourselves for being “extravagant”.

  6. I spend $400 for two adults and a 1.5 year old. This seems like a lot to me but we joined a CSA and also hope to get eggs at the farmers market. I am ok because we have it to spend right now, and I want my son to have high quality food. We live in wisconsin

    • @Helen, @Helen, Helen, we are very similar, but I think I spend more like $500, and that’s with making things myself most of the time, being careful about amounts, etc. We changed to a healthier, more organic, mostly all natural, diet a few years ago and I have also learned to cook better, so sometimes the amount creeps up. On the other hand, I feel good about providing healthy food for my family.

  7. I may actually have first found this through one of your blog posts… I can’t remember. Here’s the link to the USDA food costs chart for 2012 http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2012/CostofFoodJan2012.pdf You’ll see your family is well within their guidelines for a family your size.
    Now that we have that out of the way, here are my thoughts. Is the extra you are spending hurting your family budget in other areas? When our budgets are truly tight we have to eat more beans and rice, etc. But if you are still within your own families means…. It looks like your family members are all at a healthy weight. It is very hard to maintain a healthy weight eating a lot of low cost foods and as someone else commented, this can lead to lots of health costs, which are constantly rising. You have older children they need more protein (esp. boys) and they drink a lot more milk (if they are on a healthy diet). You can get really geeky and find out which categories of food you are buying: how many pounds of grains, meat, fruits, veggies, per person to determine if your diet is as healthy as you think it is… but honestly if you are eating at home with a plan and everyone in your home is healthy, and if you can still afford to eat this way, then you’re ok. It’s really not the number of people in your home it’s the ages of the people in your home. Also, because you homeschool this includes all your meals and snacks. Wow, that’s a lot of meals and snacks.
    We are adopting three boys, they are currently in public school all day, but we are bringing them home really soon. I am already trying to plan for the increase in our grocery budget for the extra meal and snacks everyday. I love your sight and it is very helpful to me, but I might add I’m jealous of the Abundant Harvest deals. We live in NY and seasonal produce is limited by out growing season. I’m really looking forward to the farmer’s markets opening soon.

  8. No I think it will even out. Some months I spend $850.00 then others it is close to $1300.00. I feed 5 adults and 1 tee girl. I buy only fresh fruit and veggies but feel it is fine as it keeps us healthier and away from the dr. I also buy lean and healthier meats. I would love to buy 1/2 cow & pig and know exactly what I am getting

  9. Food prices are definitely rising. I have noticed a $0.25 to $2 increase in the rock bottom sales price on some of our staple items over the last SIX months. I am praying it is too soon to see a trend and maybe the sales cycles have not been that good. Regardless, we used to be able to buy everything (family of 5 with three under 6) for $250 a month. Now, as a family of 6 with 4 under 8 years, I am struggle to keep it under $500. We do eat more produce now because I was sacrificing my own nutrition in order to feed the children healthy meals but the change in the prices is definitely there.

  10. For the year so far, I have spent $727/month on groceries for our family of 4. That does include paper products and some health and beauty stuff, but it’s mainly groceries. If your grocery expenses were causing you to not meet your other goals or your monthly budget is in the red, I would say try to cut back. But since they aren’t, I would just continue on as you are. There are several items that we choose to buy right now that could be cut out if needed (mostly healthy, like protein bars/powder, other specialty items, but also Diet Coke – my #1 vice), but while I try to be aware of those items in the event that our finances change, I’m not worrying about them for now. We also have spent $221.68/month on dining. We have no debt other than our mortgage, and I’m comfortable with the percentage of our income that we are currently spending on eating.

  11. I’ll be honest, it does sound like a lot! I think though your boys are growing and prices going up are making a huge difference. We just raised our budget starting this month by $ 200, but that was for our whole budget, not just groceries. We are a family of 7 with 1 male adult, 1 female adult, 3 boys (12, 5, 4), and 2 girls (7, 1). I have noticed though that my 12 year old could eat us out of house and home! We have also pretty much stopped couponing and are eating much healthier since I have been following your blog! :) We are at right about $600 a month for the 7 of us. I know though it is just going to get more as the kids get older. I think you are doing a great job at feeding your family and I really enjoy reading the Grocery Geek emails every week! I just feel the times they are a changin!

    • Thanks for your encouragement. I think I could have cut out the few bags of chips, but honestly, I think my kids are all spots where they are growing a lot. Ages 14, 11, 9, 7, 5, and 3. And I pack my husband a lunch most days.

      • @Jessica, And if you’re eating the food and not throwing it out because it goes bad, then you definitely need it! You’ll find a new normal, and once you’re comfortable with it, it won’t be as tricky to stay within the budget. Even if it’s more than you were hoping for. :)

  12. Ouch, I feel your pain. I think you are feeding your family better – so kudos to you! From the pictures I see whole and healthy foods, but it’s sort of counterintuitive to the budget. I too, have been borrowing into the next months food allotment. I think it’s time to sit down and rethink the budget for me as well…

  13. Your groceries all look basic so you can’t cut back on the potato chips and pop tarts. Less organics if you need to save money? The biggest thing I noticed was your many trips to various stores. The more often you enter a store, the more you will spend. Choose one day a week to shop and stick to it. You are not saving money at costco if you spend an additional $100 that you didn’t expect to spend (which is why I dropped my membership there.)

    • @Susan, just for time and gas, I think I’ll be revisiting how often I shop! Thanks for the reminder.

    • @Susan, This is really helpful. For sanity reasons I am moving to shopping more biweekly. When my husband gets paid (ironic that when you move to a cash system the term “living paycheck to paycheck” takes on new meaning) I shop that weekend. I hit multiple stores but shop for the two weeks.

      That is supplemented by a weekly dairy delivery, and sometimes a run for produce the second week. I try not to even look at the ads on my off week. It’s been a way of simplifying and I feel like I have more control over the budget and my menu plan that way.

  14. I don’t think your spending a crazy amount on food. Eating healthy is important to us, as well. As long as healthy eating is balanced with cuts to other things, like cable and you can still pay your bills, you’re fine.

    You said that this week was part of your spring break so I can totally see why you bought things like bagels, crackers, and yogurt cups. But for me, when I’m trying to save money I cut the pre-made items. Also buying as much in season as possible helps a ton. I love apples but try not to buy them unless they are in season. I would highly suggest buying your meat in bulk directly from the farm, if possible. We have a small family but we split bulk meat purchases between us and three other families to save money. Buying a whole cow is about 20% cheaper than buying 1/4. By buying a whole cow twice a year and splitting it we save plus we don’t have to fork over too much money at one time.

    I totally get trying to stay in budget during this economy, gas prices are killing us, too:)

  15. I think you are doing fabulously! We have 2 adults, a 4 year old and a 1 year old. In Michigan I spend $600+ per month. I buy a whole pig & quarter cow once a year. In the summer I get a CSA. We buy organic, the best dairy we can, and very few processed foods. And I waste MUCH less than I used to. This does include detergent, cleaners, soap and diapers.

    Interested to see how everyone else pans out!

    • Our toiletries are included in my numbers, too. I make our cleaners, though and buy tp, detergent and soap in large quantities that last us awhile, so I haven’t posted those purchases in months. Thanks for your encouraging words!

  16. Well, I am impressed you can keep it that low for such a big family! Teenage boys? My nephews can eat more than an adult easily. I think you are doing an amazing job feeding your family that well on that amount of money! I think we get close to that with our family of four and we don’t even have teenagers yet (obviously we need to sit down and budget better!). Like someone else said, food prices have gone up, your kids are older and therefore consuming more etc. etc. Don’t beat yourself up at all. Pat yourself on the back!

  17. Catherine says:

    I noticed something interesting too that we struggle with — balancing the need to save time and keep the bottom line low. It sounds like several times you were by the stores anyway and wanted to “get it all done.” It’s just my husband and I – but we both have very demanding careers so I’m always balancing the urge to just get it all while I’m there and not have to come back with the budget.

    Thanks for keeping it real – good reminder for all of us.

    • You definitely identified one of my struggles! ;) Gas is bouncing between $4.20 and $4.50 here, and my vehicle gets about 12 miles to the gallon. So that is also factoring into my shopping. If we are already there, I am saving five bucks in gas!

  18. Kathy Cervantes says:

    We have a family of 7 and I’ve never spent more than $500 on groceries in a single month. We average $450. and I think groceries are a little more pricey here in Texas. We eat veggies and meat with every meal. Do you always buy organic meats ? maybe you could try a carniceria …a meat market inside a hispanic grocery store such as “Vallarta’s” seeing as you’re in Cali we grew up there and I usually buy my meats there you can’t beat their sale prices. I think hubs would roll over and die if I spent more than $500 I went about $100 over once but we had out of town guests for 3 weeks.

    • No, this is the first month that I bought organic meat. We’re still undecided on if we want to make that a priority or not. Thanks for the tip!

  19. I know with the better ingredients that you are buying, that things cost more. You don’t even buy those expensive mixes. I have heard that prices will be going up the next few years as gas goes up. In 4 or 5 years, wow! you will have 4 boys that will be teens that continue to eat, so I know these are challenging times. I started a small garden in wooden planters on our concrete patio. I have saved a lot as I don’t end up wasting all of the romaine lettuce from Costco or brocolli package that we didn’t finish. My friend has her 9th grade son who home schools is studying botany this year and he is planting a garden as part of his class. Have you thought about growing a small garden and using it as part of a home school subject that way the kids could learn something more about plants and you could have a few home grown things? I am not saying to do a huge garden, just a few items to try it out. I know I killed some of the plants last year but the zucchini still kept growing and the cilantro was easy to grow and did ok when I forgot to water it. I know you said you had a brown thumb before but maybe one of you kids might enjoy the gardening and be willing to figure out what went wrong when some of the plants die. Home Depot has a 1 year guarantee on plants so they will give you your money back when they die. I have returned some plants with the receipt months later and I had no problems. I had to tell them what died as they couldn’t tell by looking at them! Also, I live in LA and they have some good ads and sales this weekend at Home depot on garden plants and veggies so check your ad online. I even found some small 99 cents veggies plants at home depot last week. Anyway, hope this helps! I won the cake pops book a while back and I really enjoyed it, and I enjoy your honesty and your blog.

    • @Susan T, I love to garden! However, we rent, and our yard is quite small and landscaped. It’s not ours to tear up, though we would love to. We are going to do some wine barrels gardens this year and see if we can make that work for us. I’m hoping that the summer season with Abundant Harvest will be plentiful. Hoping….

  20. As much as I love Costco, I have to keep myself out of that place for a lot of groceries. On the other hand, I keep my membership specifically for certain products.
    One thing you might want to do, is compare what you bought at Costco & its prices with the prices of the same goods from Aldi. I did, and it hurt. :) But I wound up saving myself a lot of money.
    From Costco, the vinegar is a great deal, and I buy my half & half & hwcream there as well.. not sure about the other products you bought. I used to buy a lot of fruit & veggies there but I’ve quit that mostly, but not completely.
    For me, Costco is a huge money drain and Im super careful what I buy there. I buy local honey & a friend gave us a gallon of Maple syrup a couple years ago & it lasts forever in the frig.
    I do buy some of my meat at Costco, some from a CSA farm source, and then I watch the circulars and stock up on meats elsewhere too when its at rock bottom prices.
    I also am a member of a CSA which of course has no veggies until May or June, but my grocery bill will almost disappear in the summer due to that..

    For me, it ebbs & flows.. You might think about doing an annual estimate to see what your true averaged cost is.. Most of what you bought will last well into April…

    • @KimH, I’ve heard great things about Aldi (We don’t have it here in CA), but when I shopped there when we lived in Kansas, there were few things that I ended up buying. I am wondering if they differ some by location, but the quality of things was not that great. (We specifically didn’t like the taste of the dairy products.)

      • @Jessica, I think they do differ by location but also, about 7 or 8 years ago, Aldi started carrying a higher quality line of foods. Even before, they carried Kirkland brand in some items which is Costco’s home brand. They are owned by the same parent company that owns Trader Joes, did you know that?
        There are still some items I dont buy at Aldi, namely their frozen hamburger, or any of their refrigerator case meats. Their fruit & veggies are hit & miss. Sometimes you find great produce & deals and other times the produce is lacking. Most of their canned goods are perfectly fine and as good as any as are their dry goods.
        M’honey just told me the other day that from now on, he wants me to buy all his snack sharp cheddar cheese from Aldi cuz he likes theirs better than anywhere.. including Costco. I guess to each their own ;)

      • @Jessica,

        That’s funny what you said about Dairy products. My kids will only drink Darigold milk. I have tried buying other milk and one of them ALWAYS comes to me and says they don’t like it. My little ones are 5,4 and 2 and rarely see me pour the milk into their cups. How they know it’s different milk, I have no idea! So I’m stuck buying the most expensive non organic milk around.

  21. I think you could do better if you switched to OAMS (once a month shopping). All those random trips add up and increase your spending (I know because I can do the same thing!). It takes more planning, but it keeps you out of the grocery stores. For example, you can plan a monthly trip to that out-of-the-way Trader Joe’s, and you can take advantage of even more bulk buying at Costco if you intentionally do it once a month. And lots of different kinds of produce and milk will last for a whole month (apples, potatoes, carrots, celery, yogurt, cheese, etc.). What I do is spend 75% of my grocery budget in one big trip, then spread the remaining 25% throughout the rest of the month for weekly produce and loss-leader shopping. It takes a little more planning, but I’ve been doing it for almost a year now, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

    I’m also in a similar state of budget-changing as you, albeit for different reasons. My youngest is 15 months now, and is eating as much as an adult it seems! Leftovers just don’t go as far as they used to anymore, and when I cook up one package of something, there’s never any extra for another meal. So I’ve had to increase my budget significantly for the first time in a few years. Ouch! It hurts!

    • @Anne, long ago I did once a month shopping and you’re right, it can be wonderful. My trouble now is storage for perishables. We go through so much produce, milk, and cheese, that I really can’t buy a lot of it at one time because our fridge (though large) is bursting at the seams. But, I could do a bigger stock-up on some pantry items. I already buy sugar and flour in 25 pound bags and load up on oats and rice on sale, but I imagine I could apply that to other items. Thanks for the reminder!

  22. Cheese, butter, & cream cheese are freezable as is milk & half & half. The cheese becomes a little bit crumbly when thawed but if you’re cooking with it instead of eating it out of hand, thats a thought for saving space if you have a large freezer. You can freeze heavy whipping cream but I’ve heard that it wont whip after frozen. Coffee creamers such as International Delights like the like also freeze well as do nuts & seeds.
    Just thought I’d toss those things in the frey..

  23. Hi Jessica,

    I also live in the San Diego area. We get a small Abundant Harvest box weekly with occasional add-ons from them or Squeeze Play. I’m also trying out a standing order of a dozen pastured eggs weekly (pricey compared to the 18-egg carton of “organic” eggs at Costco!). Like you, I shop mostly at Trader Joes, Costco every month or two, and Sprouts for deals from the weekly flyer and bulk items. Your totals in this post are pretty close to my monthly costs for a family of FIVE (kids are 10, 8, and 3). That includes eating out once a week, kids’ snacks and lunches, dog food, very few processed items, and mostly scratch cooking. I’ve found that coupons don’t help much when trying to eat real foods, and as my family grows it is harder to shop sales by going to multiple stores.

    I love Mary Ostyn’s simple but profound advice in “Family Feasts for $75 a Week”: You can’t spend money if you don’t go to the store! This helped me realize that I really didn’t need to pounce on every deal I spotted.

    If you find yourself with some reading time, I’m finding Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace” an inspiring read, particularly in using my produce box.

    Thanks for your posts. I love following your grocery journey!

    • Hey Kelly, thanks for adding a local perspective to my situation. Whew. Relief! ;) I know how to eat cheap. Now, I’m just looking to eat cheap AND healthier. So, in some ways I am relearning things and working on my sourcing. It’s an ongoing challenge. I’ve never heard of Squeeze Play. Off to google it.

  24. Jessica — thank you for your honesty! Many of the “popular” bargain bloggers all have really young families, so feeding them is cheaper than trying to feed my house with teenagers in it. My kids are beyond sharing a serving of anything (split a yogurt? no chance!), so I really have to factor in what a serving size means for us.

    Food costs are ridiculous for the consumer. Farmers will tell you they don’t make enough. There is no easy solution, unless you want someone to subsidize what we eat (I know, scary!). I think there needs to come an understanding between the consumers and the processors/manufactuers of what will and won’t be tolerated. We might spend more, if the quality were better. We won’t buy quantity of anything not up to standards. I don’t know if or when this will happen or if it will really even out the market place, but it would certainly be a starting point.

    • Thanks for your encouraging words. I think part of this whole discussion is the idea that Americans don’t (traditionally) value investing in food. That was a big criticism when I lived in France 20 years ago: The French don’t mind spending more of food because they value what and how they eat.

      I’m not bagging the US, but I think over the last 50 years, expediency and profit margin have driven our eating habits in a way that has led us where we shouldn’t be. My dad grew up in a purely agrarian community — when they even had plow horses. The food he grew up on is not the same that I’m feeding his grandkids. Though, I wish it were.

      • @Jessica, That’s a great point about people in France. They are known for eating great food, as you know, but they also eat in moderation and in the traditional French kitchen, everything is highly exploited–as in yours. By that I mean only that everything is used if possible. To them, it is an investment, like you said, in health and in pleasure. I remember when I was there that there was a big “controversy” about making diet sodas legal. In France they were not legal because they were viewed as harmful and unhealthy, but you could go to England and get them without a problem. The emphasis, the investment, what matters, is health and pleasure. Nowadays they have probably legalized the sodas too, sadly.

  25. We’re a family of six (2 parents, 2 teens, 2 littles), and often have 1-4 extra teen boys with us for supper or snacks. My budget is currently $100/week (toiletries and cleaning stuff included), but we’re in an area where I can get whole milk for $2.60 a gallon on a regular basis, and between our “home” chickens and the hens from another family north of us, we pay only $1.50/dozen for organic, pastured eggs (which is crazy cheap). Eggs are our most frequent animal protein, as scrambled or steamed, or in custards, grits, sweet or savory bread puddings, etc.

    Some of the things we do to stretch the funds are to use meat as a flavor, not a main ingredient. So, I’ll do shredded meats or fine-chopped meats in gravy or sauce, and feed the whole pack with, on average, 1 pound of meat per meal (2 pounds for something like beef roast).

    Pasta, rice, beans, potatoes, etc go under the meat component most of the time. Salad is also a big hitter at our place. We tend to bake our own bread, biscuits, English muffins, cakes, pies, cookies, and are starting to do our own crackers and bagels, too. The time use is different, but the quality is great, and the kids all learn some great skills. I can make 2 dozen homemade English muffins for the same cost as 6 “off-brand” at the store, so the cost savings are pretty significant to our household. (And those spare teens? They LOVE eating homemade bread!)

    For snacks, we do stick to in-season fruit, loads of veggies (my littles prefer raw carrots to just about anything–we buy bulk carrots for 48c a pound), homemade oatmeal cereal, homemade granola with Greek yogurt, or air-popped popcorn (yay, whole grains! And I’m so lucky we don’t have allergies!!)

    We do easily go through 2-4 pounds of cheese a week (I can buy it for under $6 for a 2-pound brick without sales, at a regional grocery chain that also has a bulk food section–seriously, I don’t think we could do our budget without WinCo!!)

    Instead of serving breakfast meats alone, they’ll be ground or fine-diced and mixed into eggs or potatoes. Since I can typically buy 30 flour tortillas for $3, I can spend $25 and make 90 breakfast burritos for the freezer (4 doz eggs, 2 pounds cheese, 1 pound sausage, 2-3 fine-diced, steamed potatoes). With soft tacos, the meat mixture is extended with beans, etc.

    Since you can’t dig–what about planter boxes on a patio? They’re technically impermanent, and you can grow a LOT in containers, if you go vertical. Growing things like peas, beans, etc right along a fenceline or garage needs a “cultivated” edge of about 6″ wide, so it’s not a huge swath of non-grass. Something as simple as a plastic child’s swimming pool can be turned into an amazing salad/herb garden on a patio! (Spraypaint the outside for a more elegant look…)

    As someone else said, there’s no way to really compare “how low”–everyone is in such a different place with food prices and family needs! I think it’s always instructive to look at the current food plan, and see what could be streamlined or changed a bit. I am encouraged by a friend of mine in California who feeds herself and college-age daughter on $150 a MONTH, and they eat extremely well with their cultural foods (they are of SE Asian descent). I can’t copy her food plan or budget precisely, but I do enjoy picking her brain for new ideas. :)

  26. i like your opening line to this post, “Is it realistic to buy healthier food in an already tough economy?” my family is trying to dramatically change what we eat while trying to stick to a pretty tight budget. what this reminds me of is a family on the documentary “food inc.” that talked about having to buy junk food because the healthy food is so expensive. the next words out of their mouths were about how the dad’s diabetes meds were so expensive, if they bought healthier food, they couldn’t afford his meds i think that says it all. if we eat right, we avoid health problems we can’t afford, in more ways than one. how can we not afford to eat better?

    we are a family of 4 – 2 teen boys and 2 adults. we spend $500-600/month on food groceries. i don’t know how that works out proportionally to your larger family with younger kiddos, but my mind starts reeling when i think of having to feed 7-9 people – that’s a lot of food!

    it is great fun & encouraging to see you making these healthy changes for your family – keep up the good work!

    • It is a lot of food! It seems I’m always cooking! Really, I’m just do for a mega, MEGA freezer cooking session to fill the freezer and get a lot of things baked. Thanks for your kind words. I feel like it’s a process and I’m confident of figuring it out, but there will be some trial and error along the way.

      • @Jessica, Honestly, I don’t see your grocery costs as high for how many people you have at home, especially including bigger boys. I’m amazed at how much cooking you get done with your kids, homeschooling and blog since I only have one and feel busy all the time with just our little family. It’s a bit off the topic, but I’ve thought about that before–you seem way more productive than I am.

  27. My weekly shopping budget is $150.00 per week for two adults and two teenagers, one of which has multiple food allergies that require specialty (expensive) ingredients. I have gone through the various phases of couponing and getting something just because it’s free, and now my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator look very different than they did back then, too. I am cooking more from scratch, thanks to blogs like this, and buying way more fresh foods. We’ve decided to join a CSA that will start in June, and I am trying to buy more organic foods or at least local and eat more with the seasons like that. I am contemplating needing to up that to $155 or $160/week due to that.

    I think your numbers sound totally reasonable considering the number of people in your family and what you are buying. I agree with the others that your April numbers will probably be much lower because of all the things that will carry through the month.

  28. Hi,
    I haven’t read all the comments because I am just taking a break from working on our garden but I wanted to comment. First off I love your blogs and have learned alot from you.
    I don’t coupon usually, I cook from scratch but I am not into the organic food like others….it just isn’t in my grocery budget. I try to buy as healthy as I can but it for sure is not like others. We don’t buy stuff from the farmer’s market (like eggs…we raise chickens(currently we are having to wait for our new chickens to start laying)). We don’t buy raw milk….we are raising goats (currently our girls are dry so we have to get them bred to have raw goats milk) and we don’t buy veggies from the farmer’s market…we grow it in our garden and eat it or dehydrate it. Oh, we do get an awesome deal on local honey that we buy thru a food coop and are able to place group orders for Azure Standard and Frontier.
    We are on a very tight budget because we do have some debt. We would love to get rid of it. Our vehicles are paid for and our house payment is what most pay for an apartment. We are a homeschool family too.
    All that said we hardly ever go to the dr, we have been blessed to be very healthy and when we do get sick we usually use herbs before going to the dr.
    I have wondered about those families that do buy all organic and only the healthiest meat and wondered what they will do when things get even higher priced? Do they have actual limit to their food budget? Lately I have heard a lot of them say “well we have no debt so we can spend what we want”. But is there a limit? And what will they eat then? I try to go by the rule (usually LOL) of everything in moderation. Our grandparents didn’t eat coconut oil and all the healthiest food the store had….they did you crisco, vegetable oil and such (BTW, I use olive oil and canloa). I guess I am just saying that it seems like people have swung one way to “wow, look at all free food I got with coupons” to the other side of all organic, raw, grass fed and paying huge amounts for food. Where is the middle ground? And what do you do when it gets so high that you can no longer afford it? What will your family eat then?
    I would love it you guys would share your thoughts with me. I hope no one takes offense to anything I wrote, that is not what I meant to do at all.
    OH BTW, I shop do alot of my shopping at Sam’s club (buying basics) but I only do my shopping twice a month, I hit the stores that have sells I want and Sam’s. Like someone said “won’t spend money if you aren’t in the stores”.

    • Thanks for taking time to comment! I am not offended at all. There have been some fabulous comments in this discussion.

      I think I’m simply trying to find that right “middle ground” as well. Even when I couponed, there were some things that I never bought, ie Hamburger Helper. Even if it were free.

      Now, I am trying to figure out what really matters to me and how to fit it in the budget. I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to go over $800/month. So, it’s going to take some work.

      The pink slime really bothered me if only for the bait and switch part of it. I think we are still going to be buying conventional meat, but I’m going to try to reduce the amount and see if I can find an affordable source of more natural/less industrialized meats…. like what you do with your chickens and eggs. I never thought I could afford organic produce, but here we are doing it just fine — and learning a lot.

      • Yes the pink slime has bothered me big time. Especially when I heard that the slime is just the tip of the ice berg with the crap they are using on our meat. It truly is getting me more willing to raise rabbits and chickens for meat. I am not doing it yet but I can see if coming very soon for our family so we have a substainable way for our family to afford meat and not get the junk.

    • JenniferJ says:

      @Trudy,
      Trudy,
      Well said and I completeley agree! I want to feed my family good, healthy, whole food but I am on a strict budget. I try to keep it all whole but have to do the organic in moderation to stay in budget.

  29. With the cost of food going up, this is when I am thanful for Aldi. Even Walmart costs to much to buy food at for my family of 8. A mom, Dad, 5 boys & 1 girl. I buy all the basics at Aldi & save a ton of money. Then off to another store for fruit, veggies & meats. It all works out for us. Even some months we have extra $$ at then end. Which is always nice.

  30. I actually really like reading your posts *because* your budget is higher. Our family of four (2 adults, a 2 1/2 year old boy & a 9 month old girl) has a much higher grocery budget than I see a lot of much larger families posting about, and our grocery budget is just that – food only; any household products come out of a separate household budget line.

    The thing is though, we like to eat well. I try to buy high-quality products and consider what my dollars are supporting. I hate eating the same things overandoverandover. I love to bake. I hate going to multiple stores chasing the best deal. Actually, I hate to shop at all.

    Everything combined means our grocery budget is a lot higher than it could be, but it makes our family happier to have it that way. We have no debt other than a mortgage, and we’re able to afford it in part by not spending so much on other things such as clothes or entertainment. It’s worth it to us.

    • I have a feeling that’s the case with a lot of GCE readers. While the super couponing is a wonderful means to an end, there is a cost to everything. In the case of deal hunting and couponing, there’s time, gas, and in many instances, nutrition. I feel like living debt-free is enabling us to eat better. But, at the same time, I want to be wise and not go overboard. So, now I’m on a mission to apply those old practices (stockpiling, sourcing, and simplifying) to healthier food.

      • @Jessica, I have limited my couponing to one store & only buy the smoke’n deals on very specific cereals, Tillamok yogurt & cheese, various kinds of laundry soap, shampoo for my kids, limited crackers & Foster Farm chicken. I stock up when I find these deals, but only enough for a few months. If I have a stock-pile, I don’t buy more! I have had great success with this method & have saved my family a lot of money without spending much time. I also subscribe to a couponing website to help me follow the deals- http://www.frugallivingnw.com, but I don’t chase after every deal. Too much time & I don’t seem to save money. Less time at the store=less money spent.

  31. I feel torn in the same way most of the time. I started buying almost all healthy, natural and organic foods about five years ago, and I’ve learned to cook better too, so our options are different from how they used to be. I know I could definitely find cheaper food, and could seriously cut down our grocery cost, but when I think of feeding preservative-laden, pesticide-coated, hormone/antibiotic-injected foods to my family, especially my son, it really bothers me. I’ve even thrown out foods that came to our house for whatever reason, when I realized what was in them. Right now I have a big bag of potatoes my husband bought at Costco and I can’t quite bring myself to use them knowing that potatoes are high on the dirty dozen list made by EWG when testing for pesticides. But I hate to waste too. In the end, you have to live your conscience, use wisdom, and make the best choices. I feel more and more offended by the fact that food makers fill our foods with toxic, poisonous, unhealthy chemicals, as well as promoting GMOs, when they should have a higher sense of conscience and care for the people, kids especially, whom they provide for. It may come down to money, but still, why would they not be bothered by providing those things for their own children? So now that I know what I do know, how can I peacefully provide that to my own child and husband whom I love? Sorry for going on and on, but I really do feel strongly about how wrong it is that we even have to be so careful and spend so much to be healthy.

    • @Stacy, I find comfort in the 80/20 rule. I try to make 80% be “good” according to my current standards, and then not worry about the 20. Those potatoes can fall into your 20%. Use them, be thankful, and then move on. ;)

      • @Jessica, That is pretty much my rule of thumb too. I may want more than 80% to be healthy, but in reality, that’s probably where we are. I did decide to use them last week. :-) I hate wasting food.

  32. We spend $200/week. It’s my mom, dh, me, ds 14, and three girls ages 13 10, and 5. Last month was a month with five weeks to it so I spent $1000. I dropped the membership to Sams a long time ago. Maybe compare prices to grocery chains and see if it’s worth the cost of the membership? Smart and Final has some really good prices at times. I’ve been doing a weekly run to Sprouts and then to Ralphs. I switched to the chicken at Sprouts (it’s not injected) and the ground beef at Trader Joes (I go once a month) is 2.49/lb and is free of pink slime. This week I did go to Super Walmart and get some ground turkey for 2.49/lb since I’m trying to do the weight watchers thing.

    We don’t eat that much bread. With two of my crew is gluten free so we eat more rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, potatoes, etc. There are no cookies, muffins, cakes in the house. Our desserts are usually fruit. I’ve been making big batches of beans and freezing the leftovers in “can” sizes. Breakfast is eggs, fruit, sausage or cereal I get for under $2/box.

    With the changes at Ralphs I’m keeping closer track to what their new prices are compared Sprouts, TJ’s and Super Walmart.

    • @Jane, the changes to Ralphs are interesting! There’s been one or two things that really caught my eye — like the Starbucks coffee. They are my fave of the big 4 (Albertsons, Vons, Stater Bros, and Ralphs), so I’m still going to keep them in my rotation. Their meat prices stink, though.

  33. Thanks for these posts. We’re a family of four in the inland empire, just above you. I really want to move us to more natural foods and, because of some skin issues, to more natural soaps and such. We’ve been making a few changes, but I’ve noticed a difference in our budget already. I’ve still got a hubby in grad school, so I’m trying to be realistic about what I can change and what I can’t. Its difficult to find the balance! I really enjoy hearing about what you are spending and not the bare minimum you could be spending. Thanks for that!

  34. I believe that if the good Lord wanted you to cut back, he would let you know. ;) I believe that if you are living within your means and you believe in the foods that you buy and believe that the way you feed your family is what you should be doing, then I say you should continue on your path. A wise shopper doesn’t just go for rock bottom sale prices, but instead seeks out the best prices you can get for the foods that you believe you should be eating and feeding your family. Good for you for being conscience of your budget and of your family’s health! :)

  35. Speaking as someone who has only one “little” left of four(and he’ll be a teen this year *gulp*). The older they get the more expensive it gets to feed em’. There is a standing joke that my third has a tapeworm named Bob living in him. The kid is ALWAYS hungry. Bananas…gone almost the minute I bring them in the house. Apples gone on day 2. Grapes…..if they don’t eat them when they eat the bananas then they are certainly gone the next day. It’s impossible to keep a week’s worth of fruit because the little locusts polish it off during the first two days. This means me heading back to the store. Our household of six is spending about $1000 a month. This includes organic beef (even before pink slime the fact that they use hormones was reason enough for me to switch) in addition to the organic produce and milk products. Keep in mind you have 2 more bodies to feed then I. I thnk you’re doing great if you are under 1000 particularly when you have allergies in your household.

  36. There are a lot of thoughtful comments here, so I’m going to keep mine short and sweet. I read a couple of days ago that Americans spend the smallest percentage of income on food out of something like 117 civilized nations. I think when we know about quality and know that we want to give our families the best we can possibly afford, we allow for that higher cost of food in the budget and cut back elsewhere (again, when possible). I applaud you for increasing the quality of food you feed your family (I am trying to do the same!) even when it means also increasing your budget. The difference in overall health and feeling of well-being is soooo worth it.

    • @P Reis, we are going to have to meet-up sometime when I’m cruising through Ventura. ;) We’re totally on the same page, such fun!

      • @Jessica, I would LOVE that! I definitely think we are on the same page when it comes to a lot of this stuff — that’s why I love reading your blogs so much!!

        • Jessica says:

          @P Reis, the book tour is going to be very modest, like Santa Monica. LOL. But, maybe I can arrange something in Ventura or SCV. (Is that too far for you?)

      • @Jessica, Ventura is definitely doable. Pardon my ignorance but — is SCV Santa Clarita Valley? (We’ve only lived around here for a couple of years, LOL.) But I’d even do Santa Monica if I could — it’s probably about an hour, maybe less depending on the time of day. Just let me know the dates and I will do all in my power to get there! I’d love to meet you AND support the book!

        • Jessica says:

          @P Reis, you are so sweet. I’ll keep you posted. Yes, SCV is the Santa Clarita Valley. I grew up there and still have fam and friends there. But, I also have some peeps in Ventura and Santa Barbara, so it’s all good. :)

        • @P Reis, Sounds wonderful! I think we’ve talked about Santa Barbara before because you mentioned it in another post. I grew up in the Santa Ynez Valley and spent a LOT of time at my grandparents’ house in Santa Barbara, and lived there for awhile in college. I know the area well. :) Further south I’m still learning because I lived in San Francisco for most of the years in between!

  37. We are in a fairly similar spot right now. 2 adults, 3 boys aged 17, 9, and 4. I’ve started cooking more, more fruits and veggies, many more homemade items. Your homemade mixes were the inspiration behind that, and thank you for it. I make all of our cleaners and laundry products. Right now I am working to shift things around and buy organic milk/cheese. That is already a big part of our budget. It was very helpful for me to crack down on waste, (nearly) stop buying cold cereal, that kind of thing. My splurges these days are coffee and snacks. With summer coming, we will be eating at home more, so I need to work on the snacks!
    I’m comfortable with the total amount we are spending, but do want to work in more organics. It’s tough sometimes to find wiggle room. It sounds like you are doing a great job balancing expense and nutrition. Love your blog and all the food ideas. Hang in there.

  38. @Sheila @ Seasoned Joy, Yes! We also choose to spend less on clothes, entertainment, etc to purchase better quality foods.

  39. I’m actually relieved to read this post! I have been struggling with spending way more on groceries lately and I just can’t quite figure out what I’m doing different! I make a menu, make a list, etc but I’m still spending about $600-700 month for 2 adults, a 13yo girl, 12 yo boy and 10yo boy. This is up from $500! Yikes! I definitely need a food audit and I look forward to hearing what you find out as well!

  40. I was just hoping to win the Mega Millions so that I could just hire a personal chef and a nutritionist so someone else could make all the decisions about what to eat and then go shopping for it, cook it and clean up after. The Mega Millions thing didn’t work out.

    • Ha! That’s the most interesting “what I’d do if I won” story I have heard yet! ;)

      • @Jessica, Well we have food allergies and everyone is allergic to something different so food is my issue. It costs us so much money (special food, prescription medical food, medication, high deductible medical insurance, doctors office visits, specialist office visits, etc.) that I had to get a job in Ohio while my husband and kids stay in Arizona. My win the lottery dream is to go home and eat well. :)

    • @Jill, I would have sent you my number….I’m a nutritionist and personal chef! Maybe next time, lol.

  41. I’m glad to read this as well! I spend close to $1000 a month as well for our family of 6, soon to be 7. We only buy organic meat, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to up that to only free range/grass fed without going bankrupt. I think if I can find a 1/2 cow that’s the place to start. I also have a nutrimil on my soon to get list, so I can but wheat berries in bulk. Healthy convenience foods get a during baseball season, but when the alternative is fast food or junk food, I can’t stand to give our money to support it!!

    • @Niki, a friend just told me how she worked a deal with a beef rancher up North. She gets it unbutchered for a cheaper price! Then she takes these big chunks to a local butcher shop and they cut it for her for a reduced rate, I guess. Totally thinking outside the box.

  42. Honestly I don’t think your budget is out of line at all. This month I spent about $600 on groceries and $100 eating out for our family of 4 (2 adults, 12 year old, 8 year old). I buy a lot of produce. Got a produce basket twice but my kids are growing and hungry! Especially my 8 year old who plays sports and is really active. My kids also take packed lunches to school since the school doesn’t offer a hot lunch except on Friday.

  43. SoccerMom says:

    I think you’re doing fine! The fact that your kids are all eating at home all day could possibly account for quite a bit of the difference you might perceive between your budget and that of other families. Even a cheap school lunch would cost you $60 or more each week for six kids (and it would likely be far from “real” food). And certainly no one will argue that grocery prices have gone up. Unfortunately, I think there’s a new “normal” for all of us in the check out line. Not to mention that the bottomless pits known as teenage boys will bring the best bargain-hunting moms to their knees! Their capacity for consumption is amazing – I always say my son is hungry every hour on the hour. I, too, am trying to feed my family more “real” food, but I have a long way to go before we make all the changes I’d like. I love reading your posts for encouragement and recipe ideas – keep up the good work!

  44. I’m so glad I’ve stumbled upon on your website. I was wondering if anyone has any advice when you’re trying to save money on things like eggs. I see some signs here in indiana, fresh eggs for example in front of local houses. I wonder what questions to ask people when buying Not from the grocery store?

  45. Every time we grab more room in the budget, I take some of it for food/household expenses (or gas, right now). I have to. The boys are growing, the costs have gone up, and we eat better food – just like you are doing. I think it’s okay as long as you can find the way to afford it. Americans spend way less as a percentage of income on food than anyone else in the world.

    If you really don’t want to spend that much extra, I’d do some projects teaching your older ones how to make the snacks/conveniences (crackers, cookies, tortillas) to save. And right now as we finally save for our grass fed quarter of beef, we are eating meatless more often. There’s no way around it if we want to save…

  46. You don’t spend too much I think, but if you wanted to spend less, I’d cut out the sandwiches. Seems like you guys eat a lot of sandwiches. Bread and sandwich meat (even that cut your own Costco turkey) is expensive. Really expensive. Either mix up those fillings, teach the boys to bake bread once a week, or… ? Fancy store bread for us is a sometimes thing, not all the time. We rarely buy lunch meat.

    If you want to be a large family that eats free range eggs an organic meat, that’s your choice. I don’t think it’s necessarily maximizing the benefits you get for the cost. We choose egglands best and conventional meat (Costco only). We make our own yogurt (with an appliance). And we give out kids fruit at the start of a meal.

    My husband uses a solofill thing for his keurig an buys beans at Costco (grinds them there). And we try to stay mindful of what’s on coupon at Costco. !!

    • @Brandy, you make some great points. I’ll have to think on what the kids can make themselves for lunch. That’s why I choose sandwiches.

      • @Jessica, I know you are a fan of fix your own “bar” style stuff. What about…. BAKED POTATO BAR!!! One day a week? If I had that many kids, I would totally do it. Nothing crazy – butter, sprinkly toppings (chives/green onions), cheese, maybe some chili dug out from the freezer, whatever you have.

  47. I always enjoy the grocery posts. I think you’re doing great with your budget! Sometimes the grocery budget really stresses me out. There are 4 of us–children are 14 and 10, and I know our grocery prices are rising. I recently did a cost comparison between Aldi’s and Costco, and Costco beat our Aldi prices. I’m finding that I am helping to keep our budget in check by purchasing dairy and meats at Costco. I’ve been trying to go every other week to save time and gas money.

    Also, we homeschool and our days are full, and I buy sandwich stuff at Costco because some days we need something for a quick lunch. Even though I’m home, it doesn’t necessarily mean I have time for scratch cooking every day.

  48. Let me just say that I’m impressed with what you are able to feed your family, with the budget that you have! We set aside about $600-$650 per month for food. This includes one date night for the hubby and me : ) I know that it’s a lot of money, and I’m truly blessed to be able to spend that amount, but for a long time I beat myself up about how much we spent on food each month. I just couldn’t figure out how other people could feed their large families on budgets of $40 per week!!

    I think for our family it comes down to the fact that we do not buy processed foods, we usually eat meat 5-6 days per week, and we’re spending a little bit extra on organic items like milk for our daughters. I refuse to compromise my family’s diet just to have a rock-bottom receipt at the grocery store each week.

    One thing that has helped us to not go over budget, is to 1. Meal plan, obviously, 2. Spend 80% of our grocery budget up front in one big Costco or Sam’s club trip, and 3. Divide the remaining money up for each week remaining in the month to purchase fresh, or produce items.

    I know this system may not work for some families, but it’s working for us. Keep up the good work, and don’t feel too guilty about going over budget : )

  49. I think you’re doing great! It makes sense that your costs are higher than someone feeding their kids processed/convenience foods. And you’re doing awesome with all your produce!

    Here’s a calculator that you can use to figure out how your family’s costs compare to the USDA Food Calculator. I put in your family and you’re even spending less than “Low.” That’s amazing!

  50. Margaret says:

    I love this topic. Looking forward to future posts on your conclusions. I also love your point about technically “having the money” at the moment, but trying to prepare for the future. We feel the same way. We want to continue building that savings cushion, and also want to be prepared for changes that bring the monthly spending down. (job loss, college tuition, medical bills, etc.) What would happen if we suddenly did NOT have the money to spend in a given month?

    • @Margaret, exactly. So many folks are hurting right now, in part, because they weren’t prepared for the rainy day. Our rainy day came earlier than others’ and now we are trying to be wiser.

  51. It’s nice to see an honest post that doesn’t involve spending $200/month for a family your size, which never serves any purpose for me except to feel like a failure! I’ve been working since July to pay more attention to my grocery and overall WalMart budget, and I’m still not quite to that comfortable place, but I’m staying at or just above our budget. I’d rather be at or below, of course! I do know that my budget ends up more when I give more away. I stay home with two children, expecting a third, and homeschooling the eldest; the money in our bank account is ours, and we try to be generous, but the grocery/walmart budget is all mine, and my chance to really give what resources feel like are all mine. And, I’ve been couponing, but honestly, most of what I coupon is what I give away…like Hamburger Helper :)

  52. Kara White says:

    Hi! Good discussion! I also thing that you’re doing fine. I am also trying to (slowly) switch over to organic produce. The sticker price is killing me, though. The solution that I have found is to always try to buy the “dirty dozen” from the organic produce. That’s the stuff that is really bad anyway. Stuff on the “clean fifteen” list is almost always conventional, unless it comes in our CSA box or is on a screamin’ deal.

  53. Allison says:

    I think you are doing fantastic with the size of your family you have to feed! We are a family of 7 (2 adults, 10,9,7,7,4) and our grocery bill is about $1000/month :( UGH. We recently moved to South Korea and our bill shot up about $200/month since getting here. Milk is $4.37 for a Liter (that’s not even a Gallon!!), I about fell over since I had been buying our milk at Costco for the last 5 years for almost half the cost. I try to feed the kids healthy foods, not much pre-packaged and fresh fruit/veggies at each meal. I do coupon, but I find the coupons are mainly for junk food! It drives me insane! I use the coupons mainly for cereal. I wish I could find more coupons for healthier foods. You are doing great and I love your blog!

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Hang in there. I bet you’ll figure out some tricks. Did you move with the military? Do you shop the commissary?

  54. Kristen Deweese says:

    Love this comment thread! We have 6 kids and homeschool and my budget is $800/month. Sometimes it’s hard to stick to but usually it’s ok. Healthy food costs money and it’s totally ok! Great investment.

  55. Kristine says:

    You know I’m a big lover of TJs but I have to say that even if their prices are lower, the ounces you often get is a bit lower. I didn’t realize it at first, but when I look at your picture from a TJs trip, you bought Kefir. Which I think is 12 ounces. But at Whole Foods, you can get bigger bottles for not much more. I assume Sprouts would have similar brands to WF. (I miss the SD area!!) I also noticed you had those small cups of yogurt. Which to me seems like a big waste. I used to buy those yogurt squeezers and realized how my middle kid would suck down two in a minute. I started making my own yogurt and saved $$. You could easily buy the large containers of yogurt at TJs and save money that way. I honestly don’t think you need to change what you buy, I think you might need to look at your costs per ounce to see if you can save elsewhere.
    Either way you are doing a great job with the amount of people you care for. Good luck. I am really trying to be below $600 for my family of 5. Haven’t gotten there yet because we only eat organic meat…

    • @Kristine, well, yes. BUT….
      unfortunately, we are “picky” when it comes to yogurt. There are very few that my family likes. But, I am moving back to the bulk containers of Mountain High. That’s my fave. Whole Foods is not close, so I can’t really check them out. But I’ll keep that in mind.

  56. Just more food for thought, but have you ever thought about looking into buy bulk food stores from the Latter Day Saints Provident Living? From what I understand, there are some things that are a much better buy.. I havent done any comparison pricing but I thought I’d share that in case you havent. Google Provident Living and you should be able to find it.

  57. Do you have any good recipes for beans and rice? LOL

    • Ha! That’s what we lived on four years ago. I’m leaning back that way definitely. But, I’m going to try to freshen up the way I do them.

  58. It seems crazy to spend that much, but really you are feeding a LOT of people and food isn’t cheap. I don’t see how could you spend much less and eat in a manner that didn’t make you want to stick a fork in your eye. (healthy, variety, some treats too).
    I personally think you were an AMAZING GEEK!! You bought chicken, bread, apples and k-cups for $14???? In my stores that $14 would have bought the k-cups and apples only, so points for you! Our k-cups never go on sale below $7.99 (honestly that is the best I’ve seen).

  59. I think the key to spending money on groceries is to do what fits for your family. Also to stay up on your budget and keep track of how much you spend. Some people spend less because they have more time. I’m in a season where we are trying to eat more whole foods and I’ve noticed our grocery expenses increased a bit. I love food, love to cook and experiment. I try and keep a balance of using coupons and sales to save money but I have times where Costco is more on a trip, we might splurge on something, or I might not use as many sales, and those are usually times I am working more. So for me, and our family of four, we spend $400 per month and that includes toiletries.
    I just have to say I enjoy this blog and you do a fantastic job of juggling your kiddos, cooking healthy meals and a blog. Great job on sharing it all with us.

  60. It’s definitely getting harder for me as well. Last year I was able to feed my (young) family of 6 for between $250-300 a month. This year, I’m doing good to make it on $400. My figure is low – but I have a big garden and put up a lot of produce in the fall for the winter. I stock up at Amish markets and get local brown eggs for $1.50-$2 a dozen. I used to get them free from a friend. We go through at least 10 dozen eggs a month. My best money saving secret is shopping at Amish markets – 50 lbs of wheat berries for $24; 50 lbs of raw sugar for $35; 50 lbs of whole oats for $20. I also buy local beef 1/4 cow at a time for a cost of around $500. It lasts me the year if I treat it sparingly. Chicken and pork are on my list to source locally. I’m finishing what’s in my freezer and then hope to get a pig from am Amish farmer and see about poultry. We also go through a TON of butter and cheese. I usually buy those at rock bottom prices (butter for $2 a pound and then freeze) but I would love to find raw milk sources (illegal to purchase in my state) and make sure my cheese and butter are rGBH free. All of this is really weighing on me. It’s a trade-off – quality – price.
    By the way, my family is me, husband, 8, 6, 4, 2 year olds – all of whom eat like nobody’s business.
    My husband says there’s a triangle – quality / price/ speed. You can have 2 out of 3, but not all 3. If you want good quality and cheap prices, it will take a lot of time. If you want speed and low prices, you get poor quality. If you want good quality and speed, it’s also gonna cost ya! And that’s all I know. I’ll keep reading to see what you find out!

  61. Atsquared says:

    We are a family of 4, soon to be 5. (2 adults, 2 preschoolers). My husband and I are starting to keep more careful track of our finances, so I don’t have an exact number. I think we spend around $600 a month. This is in addition to our annual beef and pork purchase from a local farm, and annual payment to them for a dozen eggs per week and a csa share (June to October). Our grocery costs are much lower during csa season of course. We’ve started buying organic milk, butter and sour cream, which has added a lot to our budget, but we feel strongly that it’s worth it. I don’t think your costs are unreasonable at all. We all need to feel our families the best we can, and vote with our food dollars. Keep it up!

  62. I am spending $400-$500 per month for my family of 6 (four girls 13, 11, 5, 5). My husband lost his job & recently found a much lower paying job (less than unemployment). This budget does not include the cow that my parents bought last fall & let us use the ground beef.
    Here are the things I do to make our grocery bill lower WITHOUT sacrificing nutrition & taste (I love food too much!)
    * Participate in an organic CSA from June-Dec at $100 per month. I live in Portland, Oregon.
    * Coupon- but only the mega coupons/store sales- cereal when it is $1.50 or less, yogurt, & chicken at $0.88/pound), laundry soap at rock’n deals.
    * I also have chickens so I don’t buy eggs (and my budget does not include organic chicken feed & hay, about $10/month).
    * Shop at Costco- but try to limit my purchases to bread, cheese, tomatoes, grains, greek yogurt, butter, tortilla chips, vinegar, t.p. & tissue, dishwasher soap, & tortillas. I’ve found it helpful to bring cash & leave my debit card at home so I don’t splurge.
    * bring cash to grocery store
    * limit trips to 1/week- if we run out it is usually ok. Milk is the exception, but I’ll only bring cash if I run out of milk.
    * simplify our meals (use less meat, one-pot meals)
    * clean with vinegar, comet cleanser, limited bleach+water & micro fiber rags
    * make our own jam when berries are cheap & freeze blueberries & strawberries in summer for smoothies now
    * make chicken bone broth & freeze
    * make tomato sauce from $2.50 10# cans of tomatoes
    * make own granola
    * don’t buy processed food (no fruit snacks, crackers, limited cereal, soups, prepared food). this kills my kids, but they are getting use to it. i have to have lots of snacks on hand- cut up veggies, hummus, grated cheese for quesadillas, noodles (at $1/pound or less), apples, bananas, peanut butter & pretzels from Costco, sandwiches, homemade cookies!
    * I do not buy lunch meat
    * I only buy butter (no margarine). best price at costco
    * cook my dried beans and freeze in small containers
    * buy large containers of organic spinach & heads of cabbage- makes great salads
    * buy organic if it’s on the EWG’s list
    * buy in-season and local fruits & veggies (try). I do NOT buy fresh tomatoes this time of year!! Apples & bananas are usually in our home in fall/winter.
    * I don’t make my own yogurt- have tried & can’t make it work…

    The above is not a lot of work… it’s part of my life now so it seams to be easy. I like to cook! I do work about 3 days per week as a preschool teacher and substitute teacher at our neighborhood elementary school. I have to be organized and have figured out a system that works for me. Your blog & others have helped me achieve most of the above. I have you to thank!!!!!

  63. Lindsey Swinborne says:

    You are not abnormal! In fact, I’d say you are doing pretty good for having 6 children! My 4 kids 7 and under can pack away the food like no one else we know. One breakfast for the 4 of them is 18 pieces of french toast or 17 scrambled eggs. They go through about 5 loaves of bread per week and can eat 2# of mac and cheese in a meal. My hubby eats a minimum of 5,000 calories a day. Even though I buy everything on sales, clearances, deals, and participate in a really cheap produce co-op (Bountiful Baskets) I still can not feed them for under $700 a month. And in reality, I feel like we have just bare bones stuff all the time. Our fridge is usually filled with cooked beans, or rice, or potatoes, etc. I feel like we just don’t have enough to buy a lot of the snack foods and “extras” and most recipes call for expensive ingredients so I stick with very basic recipes and very simple meals (2 or 3 things on the table). Most of my mom friends with 4 kids who have teens spend at least a thousand dollars a month on groceries and they are not health-conscious or trying to buy the healthiest things. In our rural town in WY there is no way I can afford to buy all organic. I try to find it on mark-down sales if I can but we just can’t afford it.

    I think you are doing great!!!

  64. Cynthia says:

    I spend $200 a week for my family of 4 and it has been creeping to about $220. I shop at only one store because I work full time and only once a week. I buy organic/natural. My coupon use has dwindled because of what I buy now for my family. I used to be able to spend $140 a week a couple years ago:( We eat out about once a week. Thank God we have the money or else we couldn’t eat the quality of food that we eat.

  65. My grocery budget is $100 a week for a family of five, and my oldest is 7yrs old. Your number sounds a bit high, but you’re also feeding teenagers and I’ve heard horror stories about how they eat lol.

  66. Great blog and I have enjoyed the readers’ posts. I look at the health issues of buying good food and understand then that I am willing to spend more money. I think of all the places we spend our money and don’t even flinch, but the grocery bill, we kill ourselves over. I think people should buy and eat the best food they can afford, make it a priority. For ground beef, I only buy sirloin or extra lean. I used to buy round, but now it even seems too fatty. If I am making sloppy joes, I will mix the sirloin and lean together. Sloppy joes seem to taste better with the extra fat from the sirloin.

    I have personally seen several people in my family overcome chronic illnesses by changing their diet and eating very well. Food really is the best medicine.

    We live in the Midwest and our food prices, when compared to bigger cities, are very reasonable. On sale, I can get organic strawberries for $2 (for 12 ounces or a lb., I can’t remember), milk with no hormones but not organic is about $2.85 a gallon. But it goes on sale a lot for $2.00. We have very reasonable prices that a lot of areas don’t. Our meat prices have gone way up.

  67. You said 8 people (2 adults- & some teen boys)… I say WOW! to you… How many meals is that? 30days X at least 2 meals= 60 X 8 ppl = AT LEAST 480 & healthy meals… I say you are a MIRACLE worker… I am single & can not even eat a meal for $2 & what I eat (or should I say don’t eat- I live on coffee & sugar) ain’t—yes I’m from the south–healthy. Your husband & family should call themselves BLESSED.

    • Ha! You are very, very kind. Yes, somedays I feel like all I do is cook. Just a short while ago, three apples fed all the kids for a snack. Now it seems like they need ten!

      • @Jessica, I do not know how I feed my kid’s when they were going up? We had a lot of not so healthy biscuits, gravy, potatoes (real, not instant), pancakes, gumbo, etc.– A few years ago (after having her own children) my daughter ask me… HOW? with 3 teenagers -& usually their friends- By the grace of God!, Little One, by the grace of God! that’s how– & I had a car that got 40 miles/gal that I think ran on air LOL…
        I am sorry to ramble, but it also makes me think of another story from my oldest daughter. We brought pizza once a month from a local pizzeria. I always waited until they had eaten all that they wanted. Eating THEIR leftover crust as they finished, telling them that that was my FAVORITE part. After she was grown, we were eating pizza out one day & she handed me her crust from across the table. I ask her WHY?… “but, that is your favorite part, Momma”– haha, “no, baby, I told you guys that so you would eat all you wanted without feeling guilty”… she cried when she realized the “LITTLE” scarifies we make as Momma’s.
        Keep your head up,Jessica & know that what you do does not go unnoticed & will BLESS you greatly now & in the future.

  68. Nooo! It’s not too much. Boy’s usually have hollow legs, especially teenagers or near teens. I don’t know how you do it. You still manage to have economical birthdays and your meals always look nutritionally balanced. Plus, as someone mentioned, you homeschool, so you do the snacks and lunch menus. I think you should pat yourself on the back. I have one teenager at home and his appetite has hit the voracious range in the last two years. He’s still as active , so he needs the calories. He’s a foot taller than me already and he’s all arms and legs and rabbit feet. I am glad he’s growing, but he can put away some food.

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