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Mystery Home Science Theatre: Case of the Bloated Food Budget

January 5th, 2012 at 10:51 am

I live on the coast of the largest body of water on the planet, 110 minutes drive from the second vastest country on the planet. Gas prices, home values, taxes for me are more expensive than for someone in Gary, Indiana or Tulsa, Oklahoma. So my food budget is bigger too. If you gasp at $600/month eating-in groceries for a family of three, you are either a farmer or vegetarian or you can get a 4-bedroom mansion in your neighborhood for $175000. For $175000 one gets a two-bedroom condo in a 40-year-old multi-strata building in my neighborhood, and I live in one of the uh, more affordable areas in my city.

I have been fixated with $750 budgeted for food away and at home and now recognize this fixation is futile and wrong. If someone lived in Boston or Manhattan or San Francisco thought "I should be able to spend no more than $1000/month on a 2200 sq. ft. living area not situated anywhere near a toxic waste site. What am I doing wrong?" I would gently mention that costs of living vary by area.

Since adopting the YNAB software budgeting system, I must accept that there is no ďnormalĒ month for categories, and food is one of the most volatile. It probably has a beta rating of 2.4 in my household. December is when we splurge on stocking stuffers and little feasts and that is not normal. December 31 is not normal for us either: we spent $60, the three of us, eating out.

Iíve also just recently started to keep a price book, have not abandoned meat on our diet, and although Iíve cut down on my coffees out, or swapped two cappuccinos for three drips, in January it feels really good to have something hot down the throat while making those no-gas-day errands.
My son takes lunch to school.
I make soup but maybe not enough.
My husband eats at home most of the time he works.
We do whole and organic foods and shop at farmersí markets, though.
I like seafood and know its health benefits but even being by the fricking ocean doesnít stop mussels from being $4/lb and clams at $5/lb or halibut at $22/lb. What do we have? Salmon at $5/lb., sole at $7/lb, tilapia or snapper at $4.50/lb. And itís not just me buying coffees, or chess meeting snacks, or hot chocolates.

I am now reading the flyers to stock up on good deals offered by any of the three major supermarkets and two discount chains I frequent. Probably it is too early to call this food-cost experiment a bust.
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January 1:
personal holdings
Precious Metals: $10800
HELOC: $14771
Liquid: $17500
Stock: $1800

Stockwatch - some I have, some have great expectations.
TGT: 51.25
MCD: 100.33
DIS: 37.51
FCX: 36.81
WAG: 33.09
PG: 66.71
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What I'm reading now: Burr, by Gore Vidal. The Disappearing Spoon, by Sam Kean.

7 Responses to “Mystery Home Science Theatre: Case of the Bloated Food Budget”

  1. laura Says:


    When you solve the mystery of the case of the bloated food budget, mosey on over to my neck of the woods (suburban Chicagoland where the cost of living is pretty high) and help me tame the food budget busters that are busting out everywhere. I sat here for over and hour with the ads/coupons and a supposed menu plan to stretch my grocery dollars until they scream. Well, they are screaming and I am too - apparently somethings gotta give - my hope to contain the grocery dollars, or the category has got to be given more money. BTW, I feed a family of seven, plus a dog, turtle and frog, and parakeets and fish. Smile

  2. PauletteGoddard Says:

    Heh laura, I didn't even mention my three cats. I do see the meat byproducts in their dishes but somehow even though I see the receipts and occasionally accompany he who buys food for them I think they eat air.

  3. MonkeyMama Says:

    This post helped me go light on the hubby who just wasted $40 by forgetting to ask for an internet discount. Wink I've got none of the advantages you mentioned, but the hubby makes keeping our food bill down a full-time job, and he does it well. I cut him extra slack today.

    No use beating yourself up for impossible expectations (regional) or for enjoying some splurges.

  4. CCraw Says:

    Wow! You were right about my groceries being cheap compared to where you live! I hope you can cut it down a bit!

  5. My English Castle Says:

    I stood before the egg case yesterday pondering the caged chicken--yes, let's say it, battery hens, wondering if I wanted to be responsible for their assault and battery or feel somewhat less guilty and poorer and pay twice as much for eggs. Given the onset of the new job for DH, the chickens roam free. But sigh, groceries. I'm roasting butternut squash and carrots for soup now. We could make our own soup line!

  6. EarlyRetirementJoy Says:

    I have nothing to add, just want to say how completely entertaining you all are this morning. :-)

  7. My English Castle Says:

    Sometimes this site is the wittiest part of my day. Pure joy.

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