Monday, February 1, 2010

organic grocery costs

Up until recently I worked at the local co-op, where I got a lot of free food and got an employee discount on the rest. Now I'm working full time as a freelance writer and have to actually, like, budget out how much I spend on groceries. So I kept my receipts for the month of January and tallied them up. Subtracting HBC and household stuff ($16.92) and cat food ($48.33 to feed two cats canned food plus organic raw chicken and turkey) I spent $168.05 on groceries this past month for one person, which comes out to $5.42 a day or $1.80 a meal. According to the USDA, that falls somewhere between "thrifty" and "low-cost."

I buy all my groceries at the co-op, so this is all organic, local and/or natural food. And I should say, I eat very well for $5.42 a day, and I don't feel like I am scrimping and saving. My food budget include indulgences like maple-roasted cashews or a lump of gouda or fresh tomatoes in January (they are local hydroponic/greenhouse tomatoes, but still) and even very occasional packaged/convenience food. I do make most of my food from scratch, including bread and other baked goods, and my groceries mainly consist of perishables like soymilk, yogurt or fresh produce, plus stocking up on whatever non-perishables are on sale. I like to keep a well-stocked pantry, and it's pretty rare that I pay full price for things like pasta or or coconut milk or frozen fruit. The conventional wisdom for saving money on groceries is to make a menu plan and stick to it, but whenever I tried that my grocery costs shot way up. I save a lot more money by buying whatever's on sale or what looks good and is in season, and working around that, and I think it makes me a more creative cook, too.

Still, I think I can get this lower, and it'll definitely be lower in the summer when I have my garden up and running and can go to the farmer's market. If anyone's interested I could post monthly updates as to what I'm spending on organic/natural groceries.

1 comment:

Circaea said...

Food costs are sometimes very strange. This isn't really about being organic, but I get exasperated by my roommates who buy themselves quarts of regular milk and have it go bad before they finish it. I buy ultrapasteurized organic milk which keeps for a month or so, and I use a little more milk than they do. But I'm confident I spend less on milk. There are two convenience stores within 7-minute walks of us which sell it, too.

More on-point, the difference between urban and suburban grocery stores often seems to blow away the difference between organic and conventional food. Even a Whole Foods in the same neighborhood as a regular grocery store will not be , comparatively, "whole paycheck" if you are just buying plain old staples. Trader Joe's actively tries to compete on price. And I'd be surprised if the local farmer's market wasn't actually competitive with the regular grocery on the things I buy (e.g. apples, although I try to only buy varieties I have never heard of before -- this is just an unspeakable luxury).

I don't know what our local co-op is like nowadays, because it's in downtown Cambridge and not along my way to or from anything.

So, yes -- food prices are very strange.