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Talk me down...how realistic do you think the FDA cost of food plan is?


Aura
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Basically, my family of 8 is looking at a range of $270.82 (thrifty) to $538.36 (liberal) per week for food costs. My area is 9% below the national average for cost of living.

 

Here are the links to the main report page, and then to the latest August 2016 report:

 

https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood/reports

https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/CostofFoodAug2016.pdf

 

What do you think? Are these reasonable plans? (I don't discuss budgets with IRL friends, so I only have my family to reference.)

 

I'm asking before my dh & I sit down and discuss budget. One of us is not taking a realistic view of the grocery budget, regardless of whether this is reasonable or not! ...and I'm not sayin' which one! :lol:

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I find them pretty realistic for food, no paper goods, diapers, etc. For our area they are a little low without adjusting for the cost of food up here but the ranges are about right. I've also discovered we can actually eat much cheaper than than depending on how careful I am with checking for sales and adding in a few meals that are vegetarian.

 

My own diet is specialized and drives our cost up quite a bit but for my husband and kids it's pretty doable.

Edited by Arctic Mama
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If we were careful, tightened our belts, and factored in a 10% increase in terms of food-specific cost of living, we could do the moderate cost. Sadly, due to various schedule and temporary stress issues, we spend more than the adjusted liberal cost these days. Ideally, I'd like to get us down to the low cost. 

 

Second number is adjusted by adding a 10% food-specific COL increase.

 

Thrifty 496/546

 

Low cost 642/706

 

Moderate cost 808/889

 

Liberal cost 957/1,053

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Our costly food items are frozen pork ribs, beef, shrimps, salmon. Since we rarely buy those, the thrifty budget for a family of four is more than adequate.

 

A friend's husband loves beef steaks for dinner and they are dual income. The frozen beef steaks from Costco takes up the bulk of their grocery expenditures.

 

ETA:

No food allergies though in our family so buying and cooking is easier.

Edited by Arcadia
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I don't know what our food prices are compared to average but our monthly cost is usually a couple of hundred dollars UNDER the thrifty plan.  I always look at these charts and wonder how people can spend so much money on food (aka the moderate and liberal plans) because even when I'm not paying any attention I've never hit the moderate levels.  That's probably not what you wanted to hear though.

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I don't know what our food prices are compared to average but our monthly cost is usually a couple of hundred dollars UNDER the thrifty plan. I always look at these charts and wonder how people can spend so much money on food (aka the moderate and liberal plans) because even when I'm not paying any attention I've never hit the moderate levels. That's probably not what you wanted to hear though.

We have noted that on some of my other forums. It turns out we do a lot less convenience food and lunches/dinners out, or aren't considering what we are using from azure standard, the freezer, hunting and fishing, etc.

 

A stocked pantry and freezer, especially with foods bought on sale or bulk, can really cut things down compared to a bare cupboard and minimal prep time :)

Edited by Arctic Mama
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No way could we get by on the thrifty plan cost, but we're at almost 50% above the average cost of living here, so that might be coloring my no way attitude to those numbers.

 

ETA: The liberal numbers seem easily doable to me - we definitely spend well under that, so it's not off the charts. I just felt like the thrifty numbers would mean very little fresh fruit, which would be not something I could handle. Probably if I planned our budget to the nth degree and we went with beans and little meat I could make that budget work. But I'll admit I'm glad I don't have to.

Edited by Farrar
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We fall into the low-cost plan.  With 4 of us here, we fall closer to the thrifty plan.  It's just easier to plan meals with more people. We live in technically a food desert, but we find little ways to save a buck here and there.  We don't eat a lot of prepackaged food/snacks, mostly drink water, and rotate meals based on ingredients so we use up as much as we can (this week we had a pot roast, then the leftover roast became enchiladas, and the leftover enchilada meat made tamales for the freezer).

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Grocery spending seems to be a touchy subject. It's something we're coy about sharing too, unless it's to brag how little we spend.

 

I too have observed in some other places online that some ladies leave out the animals they raise for food etc when they report their impressively low spending on groceries.

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We do roughly $4-5 per day per person, so for 8 that would be $224 to $280 per week. We'd fall in the thrifty plan and I agree with that ("thrifty" designation). I feel like I have to work pretty hard to keep us there. We are median COL, though I don't believe COL really results in a whole lot of variation to food prices - at least not in my experience. 

 

Edited by SamanthaCarter
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Glad to see you all think it's reasonably realistic. It is for our house but I've seen people act appalled at those numbers like they're too high and I don't think they are.

 

Definitely not too high, especially for a family that doesn't eschew luxuries or have someone seriously couponing or a farm/large garden. 

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Our area is about 5% below the national average and we spend somewhere between the low and moderate levels (including paper products, health and beauty, over the counter medications, etc).

 

I do mostly cook from scratch and I don't buy much red meat or junk food, so those lowers costs, but we can't use any wheat products due to a food allergy so that adds expense.  Overall, though, that level of spending allows us a lot of fruits, veggies, chicken, dairy, whole grains, etc.

 

Wendy

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We spend considerably less than the thrifty plan, but then again we are a family of 11 and costs don't rise exponentially equally per family member.

 

 

 

 

 

Eta: The thrifty plan said we would eat $1830 per month.  Our total is closer to $900-$1200.  Occasionally  $1500, like when we host Thanksgiving.  And yes, we do eat well.  Not lobster tails, but good ole' family style dinners with plenty of fresh veggies.

Edited by Excelsior! Academy
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We have noted that on some of my other forums. It turns out we do a lot less convenience food and lunches/dinners out, or aren't considering what we are using from azure standard, the freezer, hunting and fishing, etc.

 

A stocked pantry and freezer, especially with foods bought on sale or bulk, can really cut things down compared to a bare cupboard and minimal prep time :)

 

We too eat very little convenience food.  Also the majority of my food is purchased in bulk and not from grocery stores.  I think that is why my food costs are so much lower.  I would guess less than 50% is spent at a grocery (or even Costco) store.  My grains are bought in 50 lbs bags from Country Life, my herbs are bought by the pound from Ameriherb.  My meat (except chicken and bacon) is bought by the half animal from the farmer.  Much of my produce is bought in bushels from the Amish and canned, dried and frozen for winter use.  I do track every single one of those places for my food budget but lets face it, when I can buy a bushel of apples (46 pounds) for $12 (and the exact same varieties are currently selling at the local grocery store for $2.49 for 3 lbs), of course my ability to buy in bulk is saving money.

Edited by cjzimmer1
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We too eat very little convenience food.  Also the majority of my food is purchased in bulk and not from grocery stores.  I think that is why my food costs are so much lower.  I would guess less than 50% is spent at a grocery (or even Costco) store.  My grains are bought in 50 lbs bags from Country Life, my herbs are bought by the pound from Ameriherb.  My meat (except chicken and bacon) is bought by the half animal from the farmer.  Much of my produce is bought in bushels from the Amish and canned, dried and frozen for winter use.  I do track every single one of those places for my food budget but lets face it, when I can buy a bushel of apples (46 pounds) for $12 (and the exact same varieties are currently selling at the local grocery store for $2.49 for 3 lbs), of course my ability to buy in bulk is saving money.

 

 

Our total is so low because of the bolded.  We cook from scratch and purchase meat by 40# box.  I can get a 50# bag of potatoes from the local restaurant supply store for less than $20.  We haven't used Bountiful Baskets recently, but you can get really good organic fruits and vegetables for a good price.  

 

Truly grocery prices are like real estate prices...location, location, location.

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Yes, with planning and care most grocery budgets can see a reduction in spending at whatever their level is. I cannot get things nearly as inexpensively as my friends on the fedex ground routes or near farmland, but we are still lower spenders than average for this area because we cook so much from scratch and bulk buy.

 

The FDA numbers assume a bare cupboard and local food prices, so I'd expect them to run higher than what a comparable family could do with a little planning of grouping of purchases :)

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That seems about right to me.  I have two teenage boys and my dh and myself. When I did it by ages it all worked out.  I can include things like paper towels etc in the cost of the groceries because we eat almost no meat and that drives down our grocery costs. I am not saying that to be smug or anything, it's just what it is.  I maybe buy some chicken breasts every other week or so. I might spend 20$ a month on meat...and I could also spend none. 

 

I can run up a big grocery bill, don't get me wrong, lol.  If it's tech week and both boys are in a show I will buy a LOT of convenience foods, like luna bars etc, and not think twice about it. 

 

But when I look at the categories they seem about right. I think we usually fall under the 'low cost' range, but I can take it down to 'thrifty' if we need to...during a holiday or if we are entertaining I can see it bumping up to the moderate or liberal.  If I had to provide meat for two meals a day, but kept most things the same, we would easily be at the moderate level on  a regular basis...or even liberal because I would want to get organic meat. 

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We do roughly $4-5 per day per person, so for 8 that would be $224 to $280 per week. We'd fall in the thrifty plan and I agree with that ("thrifty" designation). I feel like I have to work pretty hard to keep us there. We are median COL, though I don't believe COL really results in a whole lot of variation to food prices - at least not in my experience. 

 

I'm often floored by how little it costs to do a grocery run when I visit my family in a low COL area. In particular, going to the farmer's market is cheap there. It's a luxury here. I bought an entire giant box of tomatoes (several dozen) from the farmer this summer for the cost of about three tomatoes at our closest farmer's market. So I'm going to have to disagree with that.

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I'm often floored by how little it costs to do a grocery run when I visit my family in a low COL area. In particular, going to the farmer's market is cheap there. It's a luxury here. I bought an entire giant box of tomatoes (several dozen) from the farmer this summer for the cost of about three tomatoes at our closest farmer's market. So I'm going to have to disagree with that.

Yup. Just buy milk or eggs in Alaska or Hawaii instead of Ohio. It's nearly double here for the exact same item, except at Costco. And we do get the occasional steal at the farmers market but the growing season is short and intense, and the deals are still nothing like the bushels I used to see in California except on potatoes :D

 

We grow really, really good potatoes here. Berry syrups and jams aren't bad either because of all the lovely berries. But even compared to a produce rich high cost of living area, the low cost of living farm communities were incomparably inexpensive on basic goods.

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It seems a little high to me but my in laws gave us half a steer for Christmas so we don't buy red meat at all. The thrifty rate for a family of 4 is what I spend for a family of 5 including pull ups, toiletries, dog food, and the occasional cleaning supplies. It does not include eating out which we do as a family once a week. My husband eats out more often as he travels for work and often meets clients for lunch that's probably why we can eat so inexpensively.

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Yup. Just buy milk or eggs in Alaska or Hawaii instead of Ohio. It's nearly double here for the exact same item, except at Costco. And we do get the occasional steal at the farmers market but the growing season is short and intense, and the deals are still nothing like the bushels I used to see in California except on potatoes :D

 

 

 

I would argue that's *access* more than COL. California has a high COL, but you can get steals on produce. I live in a fairly rural area, mid COL but my family just can't afford the farmer's market prices here. They are higher than non-sale grocery store produce prices.  Our area pays the exact same prices for farmer's market produce that the DC area pays 200 miles up the road. I assume that's because if they can't sell it for that price here, they'll just truck it up the road. That's fair - farmers have got to do what works. 

 

We don't buy bulk items because co-ops and such don't serve our area. I know people in high COL areas that save a bundle on groceries because they have access to bulk buying opportunities.  

 

I'm not convinced there's a correlation, but I could be wrong. It's not what the thread is about. :)

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We have 8 people and all but one of our kids is 15-22 years old.  Thrifty plan worked out to be about $1276/month and Low Cost plan worked out to be $1452/month.  We *maybe* spend $1000 and that's with our 2 oldest pitching in for groceries here and there.  BUT I think at the end of pay periods we are running low on options and could use an extra $1-200, so the thrifty plan seems like plenty to me.  Also take into account that our 2 oldest get their own lunches the majority of the time while working so I think even the low cost number could be completely reasonable.  

 

It DOES seem like the numbers are a little high going up from the low cost plan, but there are so many variables in life that I don't take it too seriously.  lol

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Basically, my family of 8 is looking at a range of $270.82 (thrifty) to $538.36 (liberal) per week for food costs. My area is 9% below the national average for cost of living.

 

Here are the links to the main report page, and then to the latest August 2016 report:

 

https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood/reports

https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/CostofFoodAug2016.pdf

 

What do you think? Are these reasonable plans? (I don't discuss budgets with IRL friends, so I only have my family to reference.)

 

I'm asking before my dh & I sit down and discuss budget. One of us is not taking a realistic view of the grocery budget, regardless of whether this is reasonable or not! ...and I'm not sayin' which one! :lol:

Are you talking strictly food or including household supplies and toiletries?

 

I can tell you for my family of 4 ( Dh, me and two teen boys) I am spending between $150 -200 per week but that includes all toiletries and household stuff too.

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We are about 1/2 of the thrifty plan a week for our family of 7.....8 and 13 boys and 5 adults. That said, the kids get free breakfast and lunch at school if they want. We rarely eat out and if we do it is the $2.49 taco bell special or similar. Even with all food costs added in we are under $200/week for 7 of us and often under $150.

 

We are in a lower cost of living g area and eat very simply.

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Looking at groceries alone (including personal care products, vitamins, paper products, but not pet food or diapers), our family of 5 almost fits the low-cost plan for 4 people. The fine print looks like I can add 20% for another person and at that amount, it covers groceries and whatever we spend eating out for the month (typically pizza nights, some fast food on busy nights or away games for soccer), so safe to say we fit in the low-cost plan. We have no special food needs and girls instead of boys, so smaller appetites for the most part.

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For a family of 5, all paper goods, food, household supplies, and personal care items run us $600-$700/month.

 

There are a lot of factors that go into that, though, that may not be desirable or feasible for other families.

 

We live in the southeast, which has one of the lowest COL in the U.S., I think.

There's almost zero variation in our breakfast and lunch.

No sodas, fancy juices, etc.; drinks = apple juice, water, coffee

Dedicating the pricier food: things like Gatorade or Lance crackers are for Daddy's lunch only (98% of the time)

Buying in bulk; shopping sales

Cleaning with vinegar, dish soap, and bleach

One of each food item per day (ie: one banana, one apple, one orange vs. three bananas)

Cooking from scratch most of the time (even dry beans over canned)

Bread-making interspersed with BOGO loaves

Having a ceiling for food prices

Also, we don't do organic; I try to buy natural (no dyes, hfcs, limited ingredients), but that's it.  

 

 

There may be more, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head.

For me, food is for not dying.  Sure it should be tasty and edible, and we can indulge occasionally, but basically, we eat to live.  

 

One day I'd like to grow most of our food, but that's years away.  It may not even happen before the kid are grown.  :(

 

 

 

 

 

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It seems about right to me. Our weekly budget is about $10 less than the thrifty plan for a family our size. Once or twice a year I do order things like wheat and honey from a co-op so that would add a couple hundred dollars. Also, my DH will occasionally pick up a meal while he's at work if there wasn't time to pack anything. Except for that, we only eat out a few times a year. Our grocery budget also covers things like paper goods and dog food but not most cleaning supplies or toiletries. It's a really tight budget and I have to be really careful to make it work. We eat practically no processed foods though and lots of fruit and vegetables so we're doing ok. All our meat is cheap things like chicken, ground beef, and tuna and we eat very little, if any, organic meat or produce (although I really wish we could!). We have chickens and this year I had a pretty successful garden that helped out. Also, thank goodness for Aldi!

 

This chart makes me feel better about our grocery spending. I always feel like I spend too much. Now I see that I spend a perfectly reasonable amount and it's also reasonable that it's so hard to do!

Edited by 2ndgenhomeschooler
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It's a little on the low side for us, but then again I'm working around multiple food allergies & intolerances and buy a lot more produce than most people, as well as specialty ingredients to make allergen-free, lower-fat plant based taste at least a little bit appetizing.  Also, I'm not very good at this.  A fair amount of the fresh produce I buy goes bad before we eat it.

 

 

ETA:  If I cut out things like non-fortified nutritional yeast, and started cleaning and freezing vegetables the moment I bring them home, I might be able to make it work.  I'm usually exhausted from three stores and Amazon on shopping day though, so I don't know how realistic that is.

Edited by Katy
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I rounded #'s but I'm with in a couple $'s

The September Thrifty for my family of 5 is $200 and the liberal is $390 (3 teens 2 adults)

I spend on average $175 weekly for food only. All 3 kids are homeschooled and DH usually takes his lunch. 

(We only spent $150 per week total on all 5 before DH got the new job, that included paper and cleaning products.)

 

Do I think keeping below the Thrifty plan is reasonable? NO, but I can't afford more.

I think for my family of 5 a reasonable, not extravagant not thrifty, would be around $250.

 

I' very lucky that where I live meat is cheap:$1.50- $2 per pound for chicken/ $2.-$2.50 for ground beef (80/20) and pork loin goes on sale for $1.79 every couple weeks.

Unluckily veggies tend to run about the same per pound.

 

*With DD's special diet I probably add another $25 per week, now that I think about it.

 

It's crazy hard to come up with enough food options to feed this many on that amount and if we had the $$ my time could be better spent on so many other things. 

 

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I'm often floored by how little it costs to do a grocery run when I visit my family in a low COL area. In particular, going to the farmer's market is cheap there. It's a luxury here. I bought an entire giant box of tomatoes (several dozen) from the farmer this summer for the cost of about three tomatoes at our closest farmer's market. So I'm going to have to disagree with that.

 

Grocery prices are I believe average where I am, but farmer's markets are a luxury.  Really they are like craft fairs with some artisanal type foods.  Once saw a head a garlic for $10 (that was the last time I went to a farmer's market because good grief I'd go broke shopping there).

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I was surprised to find the thrifty plan is right around what I spend for my family of 6-7 most weeks, and I don't consider my haul to be particularly thrifty.  A good deal of meat, lots of fresh produce, quite a bit of dairy.  My main cut back lately is to skip organic unless it's on sale.

 

I don't think I could hit the "liberal" budget if I tried.  I mean, I *have spent that much, but usually when I was stocking up for more than just 7 days of things to eat.

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I thought we spent quite a bit on groceries, but I see that we're actually in between the thrifty and low-cost plans. We eat things like steak and seafood at least once a week, I buy plenty of juice, probably in between 1/3-1/2 of what we buy is organic, a couple cases of sparkling water each week, lots of fresh produce, frozen meals for my dh to take to work, etc. 

That said, I do shop several stores and mostly only shop the sales. Most of our meals are meat + veggie but I only buy the meats and produce that are on sale in any given week. I don't buy chicken breasts, generally speaking, and opt for the bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs that are only $1.49/lb. Not everything at Sam's Club is a good deal, IMO, but I do go and pick up big bags of things like brussels sprouts, salad, carrots, etc. for much less than the regular grocery store. We also eat lots of less expensive vegetables like cabbage, carrots, kale, potatoes, onions, celery, etc too. We don't buy bread very often, but dh does make a loaf of homemade no-knead bread 2 or 3 times a week. 

Also, we don't go out to eat for dinner too often anymore, but we do go out for lunch once or twice a week. 

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