In my last (non-auto-generated) post, I wrote about the disparity between two different methods of tracking grocery costs, one from the USDA and one from the Consumer Expenditure Survey.
I heard back from Mark Lino, Senior Economist at the USDA, and he cleared things up. The difference is simple:
USDA assumes all meals are eaten at home, while the CE survey tracks actual spending habits (I’m guessing every American eats out at least one time per month). I’m not trying to fault Lino or the USDA, since their job is to figure out the most thrifty way to put an optimal amount of nutritious food in your body for a month. After all, their data are what the Food Stamps program is based on.
So to compare apples-to-apples, take a look at the actual food spending of the 2.5 person “unit” in the CE survey, compared to the USDA monthly food budget (adjusted to 2.5 people):
The data would suggest that the average person could save only $30 a month if they never went out to eat. Is that worth it? As the husband of a “foodie” who loves trying new and adventurous dishes, it’s definitely not worth the savings.
This gets to the heart of what being frugal is all about. As The Simple Dollar put it so succinctly last week, frugality isn’t about squeezing every penny out of everything. It’s about maximizing the value of the things you’re doing, and “value” doesn’t always mean “money.”