Update on Cost of Food

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):

CE Survey: $510.75
USDA: $435.63

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.”

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3 thoughts on “Update on Cost of Food”

  1. Interesting. I work with a group known as AlleyCat Acres in Seattle, Wa. We are a crazy Urban Farm Collective that takes abandoned urban lots and creates community gardens on them, with the intention of creating a community resource. One of the things we have been talking and researching is that of food cost and spending. We are planning a challenge in the near future. I will be posting the idea and the results soon in my blog. I hope that it reveals some cost saving avenues that are not actually accounted for in the research you have mentioned.

    Thanks for stopping by my site. 😀

  2. Hey, we know each other in person! (This is Joe from Team Alleycat) I found a link to your blog on Seattle Bike Blog, and then I was like “I think I know this person”, based on your accident story and blog name. I was in a similar (though less damaging) accident about a year before you. Recovery is soooo slow, but like Dan Savage says “It gets better”.

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