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: