How Much Do Groceries Cost in Alaska?

Each month, the USDA publishes a national “Cost of Food Report” for the month prior to publication. September 2015’s Cost of Food Report showed that for a family of 4 with two kids ages 6-8 and 9-11, the “liberal food plan” was $1294.40 a month. The “thrifty plan” was half that at $651.90/month. (For a family of two ages 19-50, the “thrifty plan” is $389.60/month and the “liberal plan” is $776/month.)

Alaska and Hawaii warrant an entirely separate report that is published semi-annually, and only the “thrifty plan” is calculated. The most recent report showed that for that same family of four, the thrifty meal plan in Alaska costs $772.90/month. (Hawaii was $1125.70/month! Ouch! Maybe I shouldn’t complain so much…)

The problem with this report is that prices vary widely across Alaska. For the geographic majority of the state, food costs are astronomically higher than those USDA report averages because of the mere logistics of getting the food to the village. In Anchorage, our prices are probably similar to a higher-end locale in the lower 48 because we have Costco and no sales tax.

How do we stack up?

Our family actually has five mouths to feed, but Lui is still young (though not small!), so we’ll pretend he doesn’t exist and is therefore eating no food in our house for the sake of comparison calculations.

In 2013, we spent a total of $6057.24 on food. Monthly average: $504.77 Most expensive month? $1062.76 – A traveling month.

Our 2014 total for food was $5372 (how did I not notice that this year evened out to the penny!? Crazy!). Monthly average: $447.67. Most expensive month: $687.39 – a road trip in Alaska up to Denali.

2015 – through September – total: $5,029.91. Monthly average: $558.87. Most expensive month (again, not including our October travels): $748.35 – a trip to Florida.

Verdict: Our total monthly average on food costs for 2013-September 2015 is $503.77, which is almost $150 less than the “thrifty plan” for the lower 48 and about $270 less per month than the Alaskan version! (Again, we don’t live in the Bush.) Overall, I feel pretty good about where we stand on our grocery budget. As I’ve mentioned before, eating salmon weekly as well as our other list of ways we save money on groceries help us keep costs down even in a high cost area (some find using a budget app can also be helpful). The fact is, this monthly average will only increase as the kids get older.

It’s good to pull back and average it out rather than looking specifically at the months because I am easily frustrated by those months that end up being $700-1000! Mr. T is also much better than I am of keeping perspective. When the end of the month is nearing, and our grocery bill seems out of hand, I often make sweeping declarations of eating only food in our garage for two weeks. Mr. T then (in his calm way) says something like: “But we’ll also spend more money on food this month to buy fresh fruits and vegetables because our health is the most important.” He’s so wise.

I’ve also learned that living in Anchorage isn’t the problem on the food budget… eating out is! We rarely eat out in town, but when we travel, we eat out more. And those months brought up our average significantly. We’ll need to remember to keep the scarcity spending down to a minimum when we leave the state.

Other Interesting Food Budget Facts:

  • Largest amount we’ve dropped on just food at Costco in a single trip: $324.57
  • Percentage of our 2015 food budget (through September) spent at Costco: 69%
  • Amount spent on Trader Joe’s imports 2013-2015 (including October): $464.35
  • Worst food spending of all time:$41.14 at a little restaurant in a small bush village. There were literally no other options and we were all starving. We got two corn dogs for the kids and two plates of whatever inedible nonsense this claims to be:
Worst Food

Perhaps the worst food I’ve ever eaten in my life.

How do your monthly food budgets stack up to the USDA’s meal plans?Alaska groceries

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17 Comments

  1. Wow — you guys are crushing it, Maggie! Your food budget is plenty thrifty even in the lower 48 given your family size. Impressive.

    We are a family of 2, and definitely go above the thrifty option, but are well below the liberal one these days (though this has not always been so!). We have a few things to contend with that drive our prices up — high COL area means higher prices generally, the added “mountain tax,” the gluten-free tax, and a strong preference for organics. I am still working to get our grocery spending down, but am not willing to compromise on certain things, and know that means we have to pay the price.

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes, the gluten-free thing alone would cost a fortune! A huge way we save money is by buying grains and eating them for breakfast and grinding them into wheat to bake bread, etc. We buy a lot of organics as well… Costco FTW!

  2. That grocery budget is awesome, way to go! Your monthly average is below ours and you have Alaska prices to deal with.
    We did a detailed analysis and found a lot of the extra spending for us is unnecessary snack type foods and healthier options for the kids in the frozen food categories. Essentially convenience and lack of discipline with chips and salsa… Oh well.
    That plate of whatever it is looks, well, it looks… hahahaha

    • MaggieBanks

      I can’t even look at that picture without dry-heaving a bit. We have to stay in control on the snack purchasing as well. We spend Sunday afternoons compiling and chopping veggies for lunches for the week. That helps tremendously.

  3. Nicely done! The numbers for Alaska and Hawaii are crazy – more than our mortgage! We’re well below the thrifty plan average. A few months back, I set the goal of trying to trim our grocery budget to $200 for two people. It totally worked. Granted, we had the garden to help with organic veggies, but it’s not been that difficult this fall to keep prices low. That’s a definite trade off to suburban living – terrible public transportation but very reasonable groceries, especially if you know where to look!

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s awesome! We can’t count on cheap prices here. When I get a grocery deal, I go crazy! Our sales cycles are unpredictable and sometimes everything is just darn expensive. But we’ve hacked it pretty well I think.

  4. a woman

    I am from Europe and my budget has no relevance for you; but I can tell you what and how I am buying and cooking (because I have the grocery at 1/4 comparing with my colleagues):
    -cooking local fruits and vegetables. Season. Collect some plants from the local forest my garden.
    -buy a cheap flour and cook bread, cakes.
    -buy dairy and eggs from local producers. Cheap and fresh
    -the meat it is most expensive so I follow the cheap part of: liver, bones, big quantities. Split in portions and in the freezer, the meat is an ingredient (in fact, everything that is very expensive is not avoided just become an ingredient)
    -follow the cheapest vegetable and construct the menu related ( for example now it is 1 euro 1 kilo of pumpkins, so we have soup, at grill and cake in the menu)
    -I prepare the menu for a week. My scope is to arrive at the end of the week with empty fridge, so the planning to meet perfectly the needs.
    -cook once for 2-3 dishes. Prepare tomato soup and a part will be pasta/meatball sauce
    -buy bulk. A half of the leg of the pig. Only full chicken. A big bag of pasta. A big bag of flour. A big bag
    -can. Jam, pickles, dry vegetables etc. Everything 🙂
    -eat wild plants. Use the trips in the nature to identify and collect eatable wild leaves
    -order from internet with friends. Buy big big quantities and split.
    -negotiate. I am buying from producers so…no taxes, no bill, but…I can negotiate.
    -buy ugly fruits. Yes, the one no one like it: small apples with worms; pears like a frog, lemons with spots, the smallest potatoes etc. The price is at the half for these (or better 😀 )
    -avoid sophisticated products ( 5 ingredients it is too much in a pot). A fresh milk is cheaper than the yogurt and I can make it yogurt, avoid biscuits and cereals etc.
    -bean and rice
    -enjoy the food. For a healthy life we need a healthy food but a happy attitude is mandatory.

    • MaggieBanks

      This is a great perspective! Thank you for your input. We try use expensive stuff like meat only as an ingredient as well. Buying in bulk is awesome (that’s why 69% of our budget is spent at Costco!). Congrats on rockin’ the food budget!

  5. Nicely done! All hail Costco! One of our favorite places to shop. Our food budget is the toughest category to get under control. With three teenagers in our house we just never seem to have enough food, and we have been buying more fresh and organic in recent years. We cook at home and do not waste food are the keys for us.

    • MaggieBanks

      Not wasting food and cooking at home are definitely the keys! We’ll see how much our numbers explode as they actually start eating all the food in the house!

  6. This is so interesting! I’ve always wondered what grocery costs were in Alaska, as well as the more Northern Canadian provinces – because research shows how much higher costs are. But you guys are doing incredibly well! My fiancé and I spent about $250 a month just on the two of us, and you’re double that for 3 more people! Impressive.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • MaggieBanks

      Again, my kids are still pretty young and we live in a lovely metropolis with Costco, so that makes a huge difference, but thank you. We try to keep our costs low. Honestly, because the costs very so much between months, I assumed our average was closer to $650-700! I was pleasantly surprised when I did the math!

  7. Wow. Your family is killing it! Our food bill is steadily increasing. We do try to eat primarily paleo, so that really ads to the cost. Plus we buy our fish (from a fisherman, but still) and have our caribou and moose processed for us. I think there’s that part of me that says that we could totally spend a lot less if we needed to, and since I know where we could easily make cuts, I don’t stress about having a decent sized bill (for a cart that is primarily full of veggies and meat). Perhaps I’ve become complacent. Perhaps not.

  8. I remember growing up in the ’90s and having OJ be $5-6 when it wasn’t on sale. Can’t imagine what it is nowadays in Anchorage.

    You’ve kept your spending pretty reasonable given the inflated pricing.

    • MaggieBanks

      I’ve heard from a lot of people that prices have gotten better. Costco coming (in the 80s) helped significantly… I’m sure you were part of that. But Walmart also brought food up here in 2010 and that helped stores like Fred Meyer and Carrs become a bit more competitive (though $5-6 for orange juice seems pretty good ON sale! It’s $9-10 when it’s not on sale).

  9. Absolutely crushing it, way to go Maggie! Sheesh – looking at the USDA numbers, I am actually a bit surprised. I thought our bill for 2 (in the 19-50 age range) was fairly high considering we make 3 meals a day from home close to 7 days a week from home. We actually fall below the thrifty average (maybe exceed by just a little in some months). I’d say we definitely spend $400 or less a month, and we make active choices to shop more organic & natural options. That’s because we scrutinize labels & value health choices/options for us – hats off to Mr. T for his wise words! The only time we are on the more liberal side is if we know we are hosting family meals at our place for the holidays, or special occasions. Now, once we grow our family – then we will definitely need to check out the USDA numbers & compare. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      It turns out that even if you are conscientious about buying organic and healthy foods, if you make your own meals from scratch, it’s fairly easy to stay below the USDA thrifty plan! And yes, I’m grateful every day for Mr. T and his wise words. 🙂

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