It seems like a simple question, right? So far, how much we budget for groceries has been determined by how much we do/can spend on groceries. Last year we tried to cut back to $300/month on groceries but realized that was too low, so we reworked the rest of our budget to allow us up to $360/month.
I’ve identified four factors that influence what food we buy:
Right now those four factors have found an equilibrium and we can stay within our budget most months. However, now that it’s summer and our CSA has started, I would like to let the “sustainability” influence take on more weight and buy more food from our CSA and the farmer’s market. I would also like to keep health at least the same, not spend any additional money, and in exchange I’m willing to let go of convenience.
I suggested to Kyle that we start shopping at ALDI to save money on our conventional groceries. I have kept a pricebook for several months of both what we’ve been spending on groceries as well as advertised sales from our two local grocery stores and ALDI, and ALDI’s prices almost always beat the sales at our grocery stores as well as Costco. We first visited ALDI last year, but the closest one was about 30 minutes away and we didn’t want to make that trip very often. This year, a new ALDI opened about 15 minutes from us and we are definitely willing to make that drive a couple times per month.
I further suggested that we take the money we save on conventional groceries at ALDI and spend it at the farmer’s market or through our CSA so that we can increase the fraction of local food that we eat. In season, we get all of our vegetables, most of our fruit, and some meat from local sources, so I was proposing that we add eggs, additional meat, and perhaps more fruit.
Kyle didn’t immediately agree. He asked why we would try to keep our budget the same. If we want to spend less by shopping with ALDI and spend more at the farmer’s market that’s fine, but why does it have to net to 0?
This really stumped me. How else should we determine how much to spend on groceries? Perhaps we could decide to spend a certain percentage of our grocery budget on local food? Or decide what categories of food we must buy locally? Or budget a certain percentage of our income and buy as much locally as possible within that? All of us have this issue, of course. If everyone was determined to spend as little money on food as possible with no other considerations, we would all be hoarding Ramen. Clearly, we let other factors influence us – but to what degree?
Are you very directive in how much you spend on groceries, or do you set that category based on what you can afford? If you are very directive, how do you decide what to spend? How willing are you to buy more expensive food (types, brands, organic/local) and where do you draw the line?