A Look at Our Food Budget

The subject of money comes up a lot, especially for those real food newbies who are not quite sure how to make the transition from a standard American diet of prepackaged, convenience foods to wholesome, real foods.  The cost of grass-fed meat, raw milk, wild-caught fish and organic vegetables can really add up over time.

Of course, our perception of the expense of food might be a bit skewed.  After all, about five decades ago, the average American family had a garden and still spent approximately 17% of their disposable income on food in the home.  In 2010, the average American family spent just 5.5% of their budget on food in the home.  It seems like other expenses, consumer goods, housing and the rising cost of health care, command most of our budgets while the budget for food is simply what’s left over at the end of the month.

That said, many of you have asked me time and time again to share a our monthly food budget.  So here it is: we typically spend $750 per month.  That averages to spending about $2.75 per person, per meal each month.  Many of you make do on less (and we did too), and many of you spend much more.   I feed two adults and a six-year old who eats like two adults.

All of the animal products we purchase are grass-fed or pasture-raised, and all of the plant foods we purchase are organic.  We buy almost all of our food directly from the farms and ranches that produce them.  Most items, I make from scratch and we don’t typically purchase convenience foods.  And if you’re looking for more information on what to purchase and where to purchase it, definitely take the time to read this post on how to stock a traditional foods pantry.

Our Monthly Budget: $750

Milk and Dairy: $50 to $140 per month

Raw Milk and Cream Herd Share ($90): Our dairy is a seasonal dairy; that is, all cows calve in the spring and are dried off in the autumn.  The drawback is that we do not have access to the fresh jersey milk throughout most of the fall and winter; the benefit is, of course, that the milk we do receive is drawn when the cows are grazing on a lush and fast-growing pasture.   The result is that when we do get milk, it is of the highest quality.  We drink this milk primarily raw and I use it to make yogurt, kefir and cheese, occasionally.  When we’re not receiving milk, I save the money we would have spent for bulk purchases.  We typically go through 1 1/2 gallons of raw milk, plus 1 quart of cream each week.

Raw Goat’s Milk Herd Share ($50): We also participate in a goat’s milk herd share which delivers raw goat’s milk to us weekly, regardless of the season.  I’m not particularly fond of raw goat’s milk unless it is very fresh, and still warm from milking.  I primarily use this milk to make yogurt, kefir and cheese.

Eggs: $44 per month

Pasture-raised Eggs ($44): Each week we purchase two dozen eggs, usually through a herd share arrangement which uses Joel Salatin’s model of moving egg-laying hens from pasture to pasture.  The resulting eggs are beautifully rich in flavor and appearance.  A dozen eggs typically runs us $5.50 when we purchase from our favorite farm, and $6.75 at the local health food store.  Other local farms offer eggs for as little as $4 per dozen, but don’t follow the same method of moving hens to fresh pasture; as a result, the hens rely less on forage for their food and more on supplementary feed.  For us, the difference in quality is worth the additional expense of $1.50 per dozen.

Meat: $165 per month

Mixed Meats ($70): Our local ranch offers a CSA that provides assorted meats: veal, lamb, beef, whole chickens and pork.  In addition to a variety of meats, the CSA also offers a variety of cuts: stew meat, sausages, steaks, ground meat and roasts.  Our CSA provides us with about 10 pounds of grass-fed and pasture-raised meat each month.  Currently, we have an overabundance of meat in our freezer and have halted our CSA while we consume what we already have.

Offal ($25): We also participate in an offal CSA which provides us with suet and leaf lard for rendering, bones for making broth, as well as nutrient-dense organ meats like liver and heart.  This CSA provides us with a further 10 lbs of organ meats, bones and fat each month.

Chickens ($80): I always have a pot of perpetual soup bubbling away on my counter.  For this, I purchase one chicken a week – especially since chickens arrive in our CSA only sporadically.  I purchase pasture-raised chickens when they’re available, and organic free-range chickens when they’re not.  Chickens, both pasture-raised and organic, typically cost me $15 to $25 each.  Were the need arise to reconsider our food budget, I’d drop the weekly chickens and focus exclusively on beef bone broth as beef bones are plentiful in this area.

Produce: $300 per month

Fresh Produce ($300): Our largest expense, my family relies heavily on fresh produce for the bulk of our meals.  Sauteed Greens and Garlic for breakfast, huge salads and vegetable soups at lunch, plenty of fermented vegetables, vegetable side dishes and both fresh and cooked fruit as snacks and desserts.  We earmark $165 each month from April to December for our vegetable CSA which provides us with vegetables. With what’s remaining after the CSA we purchase supplementary produce, usually fruit which is relatively scant in the CSA.

We also count seed purchases in this category since they will ultimately produce vegetables to feed us in the summer.  In the summer time, when we rely on our garden, we save a good amount of this budget and divert it to bulk purchases of grains, pulses and fish or boxes of root vegetables, fruits and winter squash which we preserve for winter use.

Dry Goods & Bulk Purchase: $90 to $150+ per month

Supplements: We take Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil and High Vitamin Butter Oil daily.  It’s not available locally, so we purchase it online (see sources).  We also take dessicated liver capsules (see sources), especially when I haven’t made a conscientious effort to include organ meats in my family’s diet.  I also make an effort to give my family a therapeutic-grade probiotic like Bio-kult (find it here), even though we do consume several fermented foods.  For us, this extra bit of nutritional insurance is non-negotiable.  You can read more about my take on supplements here.  I buy supplements in bulk to save money.

Grains and Pulses: If we’ve under-budgeted in any area, I add that money to our dry goods and bulk purchases.  I like to purchase large amounts of dry goods like coconut flour, beans and lentils, whole grains and almond flour in bulk which will typically save us 20% to 30% over purchasing them at retail.  I store them in mylar-lined, food-grade plastic buckets which you can purchase from many emergency supply companies online.

Sweeteners: We don’t consume a lot of sweeteners, and a single quart-jar of honey can last us several months. Occasionally, I make  a treat with molasses or unrefined cane sugar.  A bulk purchase for us is about five pounds which will last us a year (or longer).

Wild-caught Fish:  I purchase wild-caught fish online (mostly from these folks).  The prices are excellent: sardines sell for as little as $5.88/lb, and with a purchase of $250, shipping is only $5.  For that reason, we order large amounts and only purchase a few times a year.

Fats and Oils: I also purchase cooking fats like ghee and coconut oil in bulk online (see sources).  Olive oil comes by the gallon.  Coconut oil comes by the bucket and ghee arrives by the case.  Healthy fats tend to be expensive, which is why we make bulk purchases – saving about 10-20% over retail prices.   You can read more about the fats I stock in my kitchen and why I love them here: My Favorite Fats.

Herbs and Spices: I also serve quite a few herbal infusions and love using exotic spices in my cooking.  I purchase these in bulk online.  I like to support Mountain Rose Herbs because they carry herbs and spices I can’t find locally, use high quality sources and have reasonable prices and bulk discounts.  So I purchase all my teas, culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, and spices from them.

How does your budget stack up?

Where do you skimp?  Where do you splurge?

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What people are saying

  1. Corinne says

    Ah Jenny, I love you. Thank you for making me feel not alone in spending a decent chunk of change on my family’s food budget. Health IS wealth!

  2. says

    Great post! Also, I tell clients that spending more on food tends to lower their medical expenses. You probably won’t need to go to the doctor anymore.

    A tips to save on food: buy in bulk at co-ops, grow your own veggies, and volunteer at local organic farms in exchange for produce (I volunteered at a local organic farm for just a couple hours each week and brought home 2 grocery sacks FULL of produce!).

  3. Siobhan Phillips says

    When I click on the link for your fish purchasing, I get an error message. Can you provide the company/source that you use? MANY thanks.

  4. Lily says

    Quick question Jenny, wouldn’t stocking up on such vast quantities of healthy fats risk them going rancid before you are able to use them?

    • Jenny says

      That’s a good question, but, no, there’s no risk of them going rancid. The fats I use are monounsaturated and saturated fats which are very heat stables. Further, these fats were traditionally rendered or pressed only for a few months a year, so traditional peoples would typically store them for 9 to 12 months. The fats I purchase, are still only made a few months a year. Ghee is typically only made in the spring and summer (depending on your source). Olive oil can only be pressed in late fall since that’s when olives are ready for pressing.

  5. says

    Our budget, unfortunately, does not allow for a lot of those items but I have been trying to make more room for the “wants” by making my own of the “needs” (like bread, rolls, doughs, etc) or abstaining from the meats. I want our grocery budget to be one of the highest priorities next to rent and basic utilities, unlike a lot of people who let health come second after all the ‘fun’ stuff (cable, internet, phones) is paid for.

    Thank you for detailing your monthly budget and giving your readers tips on the best places to buy, which also relates to the small steps we can do to reevaluate our own food budget!

  6. Kristen says

    Hey Jenny! Love this post. Thank you so much for sharing your budget plans w/ us. I too am interested in ordering the wild fish, however the link isn’t working. Can you tell us who you are ordering from please?

  7. Danielle says

    Hi Jenny (and others)- I was super excited to read this post and then blown away by the pricetag. I agree whole-heartedly that we do not spend enough money on quality foods but more than doubling our food allowance for the month (we spend about $300-350 for adults plus one child) is not doable. I am trying to incorporate small changes right now (making sure all our dairy is full fat, not skimping on butter, attempting to make my own yogurt) but I am wondering if you could give me the three most important changes to make first. Is it most important to be drinking raw milk or should I be buying grass-fed beef and pastured eggs? We just can’t do both and don’t even know if we can do either. I’m looking for manageable steps. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Jenny says

      You got it Danielle:

      My three most important changes are:
      #1: Buy single ingredient foods exclusively.
      #2: Purchase unrefined ingredients exclusively (no refined grains, flours, fats, sweeteners or oils).
      #3: Purchase small amounts of inexpensive cuts of good quality meats (bones, ground, liver etc.)
      And a fourth, if I may, practice a little forgiveness. This movement isn’t all or nothing, it’s about doing the best you can with what you have.

  8. says

    I just read everyone’s comments and have found it so refreshing to see you all realizing that if you spend just a little more on “good” food you will really rarely get sick and not have the medical bills, etc. Also, when you really start getting into this, you will find local community gardens (or you may start one like we did) and everyone shares their fruits and vegetables. Before you know it your organic produce is costing you next to nothing, because you are all trading food. And having fun! Or, you can make organic jellies and jam and trade for vegetables, etc. which is what my son did at the Roscoe Farmer’s market this summer. Namaste, Susan

    • says

      hi everyone,
      i am totally on the same page with all of you- we spend about 20% of our income on food and eat mostly Paleo. so of course i agree with the importance.
      i just wanted to make a comment about the casual way of saying “if you just eat healthy, you’ll never get sick or go to the doctor again! it’s all you have to do!”
      some of us have more chronic, deep, health issues. i eat very much a whole and real foods diet and am still struggling with debilitating chronic fatigue and immune suppression. i am currently following the GAPS diet, which i pray will help over time; (it’s been about 3 months and i am seeing some signs of being on the right track but still not feeling much better. i am going to go back and do the intro diet…)
      just wan to put it out there; please be sensitive to other peoples’ experience of health or lack of….
      health issues can be complicated.
      thanks for considering!

  9. says

    Looking through your budget my first reaction is OUCH! Then I really simmer on it and think about what we spend. I try to keep my budget 200 or under. (per week) I’ve been buying more and more online just because its so much cheaper, and with so many enthusiastic customers I feel like I’m buying into something that is better quality. I still buy meat on clearance, I feel guilty for it but I’m really pushing into more intentional eating. Just a year ago I bought whatever meats or eggs were on sale. Now I travel to buy farm fresh eggs, I go to multiple stores to get what I need if I have to. I order raw milk, when we can afford to. We aren’t so black and white but I do share the common goal. Eat real food!

  10. Heather says

    I loved reading this post. But it also was disheartening. The amount your budget allows you for food equals about half (or more) of our total monthly income. We do our best to eat great, but we have to rely on what we can afford in the grocery store and none of the meat is grass-fed. We can’t afford the organic produce since it’s sometimes double the price. I highly value healthy food and realize that it saves on healthcare bills in the long run. But what is one to do when the money just isn’t there to spend on that better food? It’s not that we aren’t willing, we’re just not able. Right now in our current situation our food budget is restricted to, unfortunately, the amount of food stamps we are receiving. So that gives us a little less than $400/mo to work with.

    I’m not trying to whine, I just got very discouraged reading this wonderful post because it’s how we strive to eat. But we just can’t find the means to do so as of yet. We don’t buy any junk and make everything from scratch, so I guess that’s at least one step in the right direction.

    • melanie says

      I feel you on this one, it can be so tough to make it work on a budget. (I’m a nanny and my monthly food budget runs about $200-$250) One of the solutions i found that has been such a blessing has been a CSA. You have to save up to be able to afford the buy in during early spring, but i was determined. It works out to be $60.29 per week or $241.14 per month for a med. veg share, a fruit share a full egg share (doz/wk) and 8oz of raw milk cheese . The best part is that the deliveries start in June and last through the first week of December! With a bulk bag of rice every few months and the occasional $.50 bag of carrots or a potato or two, myself and my sister are eating like Weston Price queens! And my CSA even runs a program where they give away 100 shares to families in need in our community. So ask ask ask around and see if there is a CSA near you with a similar program! Best of luck!

  11. Gloria says

    Hi Heather,
    I totally understand what you are saying, but as I read to the end of your comment you wrote “We don’t buy any junk and make everything from scratch…” That is probably the best way for you and your family to address the issue of health. We all have to make due with what we have. The wisdom is in doing the best with what the Lord has given us and trusting that life’s challenges are not permanent. The day will come when you will be amazed at how your effort pays off in terms of health just from abstaining from junk and cooking your meals from scratch. Sometime in the future if your finances change favorably and your are able to afford the higher quality items, yours and your family’s transition will be easier given that you have already fostered the good habit of eating home cooked meals and no junk, which is HUGE. Although good health is a priority, good overall health also comes from having moms like you who do all they can to care and nurture their families. :)

  12. Miranda says

    I just wanted to encourage Heather :-). I feel your pain! We spend about $400 a month on food that feeds 2 adults and 2 children. I’m a vegetarian, so that helps with the meat bill ;-). My husband has meat about twice a week. We have a few chickens in our backyard from which we get fresh eggs. We are pretty blessed with so many dedicated organic farmers in this area. We volunteer at a local, organic CSA; in return, they give us a veggie/fruit share, a discount on pasture raised meat, and a block of raw cheese. We purchase raw milk from a local farm, and I buy “seconds” of fruit at a deep discount from a local orchard and freeze it. I have a small garden, and I freeze/preserve quite a bit of food while it’s in season. You should look around; I know in my area, the farmer’s market doubles food stamps (you get twice for the money!) Even something simple like buying a bunch of peppers in season, chopping them up, and freezing them can save you money!

  13. Amanda says

    I am right along with those who are struggling with their budget being very low. It is discouraging when you read things from people who have a bit more wiggle room in their budget. But you can not let it get you down. Instead you need to think creatively and do the best with what you have. Find the best eggs, dairy and meat you CAN afford. I can not afford grass fed meats straight from the farm but I can afford to buy meats on sale at the local butcher. They sell a higher quality meat than the grocery store, even though it is likely conventional. I buy raw milk and fresh eggs only because I found places where I can get them cheaply. I buy store brand butter for cooking, but I buy 1 lb of grassfed butter from Organic Valley or Kerrygold to use on veggies, bread, ect. Produce is a bit all over the place, I buy what I can get at a good price. Sometimes it is local and organic, sometimes it just has to be conventional. I got a low income grant that paid for a half the cost of a farm share so we will have that. I also started a sad little weed infested garden. Just do what you can. Eating whole foods from conventional sources is a far cry better than eating a SAD full of fake foods!

  14. Valerie says

    I was shocked at how little you spend!
    After reading the comments, I’m a bit ashamed that I seem to spend too much on food, but I cannot figure out how to spend less. $750 is our usual bill from just the meat and dairy farm where our friends go about every 5-6 weeks or so. We also pay 10% on top of that for the delivery (the farm is in PA, and we are in NJ). I spend about $150 for vegetables per week, a bit less in summer months when I grow my own greens. And we also spend about $180 – $230 per month for dry goods and oils: GF flour mix, coconut flour and coconut oil, ghee, coconut sugar, coconut vinegar, honey, sprouted flours, sprouted nuts, loose tea, and grains. Also, weekly we spend about $50 just for milk and eggs. We go through 3-4 gallons a week. Drink about 1,5 gallon and tun the rest into soft cheese, kefir and whey that we use to help sprouting our grains, feed garden vegetables, and share with our friends’ dogs. We are a family of 4: 2 adults and 2 kids, but we never go out, and everywhere we go, we come our own food (our friends say that we are ideal guests :)), plus, it’s a habit of mine to feed every person who comes to my house (ask the cable guy :)), and cook for my friends when they need help (sick, overwhelmed, just had a baby, returned form a vacation). I have cold feet every 5-6 weeks when both of my freezers are almost empty…And when I order food from the farm, I’m always worried: What if my mom decides to come visit us? What if we finally gather our old friends and invite them to a picnic? What if my kids would go into a phase of refusing every soup I make, and I would need to be creative with other sources of protein? So, I order a lot. And then I feel content and rich and go on cooking for my friends and neighbors, until week 5 comes again :) We do spend half of our earnings for food. I would like to know how to spend less. I’ll start with sweeteners. 1 jar of honey per year? It would be impossible for our family, but I’ll try to cut down all the other sweeteners we eat (coconut and maple sugar, maple syrup, rapadura)
    Jenny, do you make kombucha at all? It takes a lot of sugar and we all drink it on a regular basis.

    • Jen says

      Hi I am also in NJ and was wondering which farm delivers from PA? Looking for a good source of grass fed beef and pastured poultry. I found a great source for raw milk not too far from me (I’m in Jackson NJ) called Birchwood Dairy in Newtown, PA and their gallons of raw milk are $8 each. Better than the $5.50 a HALF gallon I was paying in Philadelphia! Thanks!

  15. liz says

    Hi, Jenny! thanks for all this great info. i love your site! i was wondering if you and your son drink milk. or do you use it for other things. my sons drink a lot of milk. we can’t get raw milk in NC, but buy the best i can find from a local farmer. i wonder how much I/they need to drink. Mark Bittman wrote an article in the NY TImes today, saying we don’t need to drink any at all, as the nutrients from milk can be provided from other sources. I’d love your thoughts! thanks

    • jenny says

      We drink it daily when it’s in season, then we do cheese when it’s not. Of course, Mark is right – we don’t need to drink raw milk. We don’t need to eat any particular food, but that’s not the same thing as saying we shouldn’t.

  16. Kelsye says

    Wow! My budget for food is around 300 a month. I have the major advantage if having access to free grass – fed jersey milk and organic free range eggs. My mom has 3 dairy cows that they milk and my brother in law has a dairy of 50 or do cows. Needless to say that saves me a lot of money a month!!! But one thing about buying organic dairy. Have you actually ever been on an organic dairy? I have a family member that does herd management for several organic farms and needless to say its not all its cracked up to be. Since you cannot use any type of anti- biotic on a organic dairy cow ( once used you have to wait 3 years before it is condidered organic again) it is not uncommon to see frail – sickly looking cows . Mastitis is a common infection that can be treated with a round of anti-biotics. But if you don’t treat it the cow can develop a major infection that can cause the cow to lose quarters or even die. Then what I think is worse is lets just say the cow had an inverted uterus after having a calf. Once the uterus has been exposed to the outside environment infection is almost guaranteed to set in. Instead of giving anti- biotics to stop the infection the cow is allowed to have. Her uterus literally rot inside if her while they milk her till she dies. Since most small farms have to use the milk from “hot” cows (Which are cows that have been given anti-biotics or hormone treatments for a set number of days) to the calves. I personally would be more conserned about drinking organic milk from the store than drinking raw milk from a healthy cow that had previously been given anti- biotics. In case your wondering I personally saw that poor cow at an organic dairy farm. The poor thing was guant and her bones were sticking out. But the sad thing about it is that that’s what most of the “healthy” cows on that farm looked like to . They just didn’t smell like rotting meat.

    • Helen says

      While I am not a certified organic farmer nor an herbalist, there are ways to treat these cows that are safe for humans. For example we use colloidial silver and/or grapefruit seed extract where there is a need for antibiotics/antivermiage, etc. Also when they have mastitis we wash the teats with these and add them to their feed which can be fruit peels soaked with the grapefruit seed extract or water. I sure don’t mean to tell anyone what to do but there are also herbal preperations that can be used by mixing the herbs into a paste and feeding it to the cows. The choice to use nothing in my humble opinion is a money losing choice. I suggest this book as a starter to learn how to naturally treat the animal: “The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Julliette de Bairacli Levy” and to find someone who is very knowledgeable in herbs that could assist them. We also cull (sell) cows that have trouble or calves that don’t grow properly because our bottom line is healthy for us, our animals and our finances. Plus we simply don’t want that type of gene in our gene pool either.

  17. says

    Glad to find this:) My husband and I eat 95% the same way, however, our spending is $1300 monthly. Sheesh, I know. We are very big meat eaters, I’d say it’s 50-60% of our diet. We purchase grass fed beef ($7/lb) and pasture chicken ($3.60/lb), but you can imagine how it adds up. We purchase organic produces, the dirtty dozen, and we also save a lot in produce in the summer because of my garden. I think I need to look into buying in bulk for the other items. I almost have a heart attack when I see people say they spend $300 a month, I feel like we’re wasting but I suppose eating real food isn’t cheap!

    • Amy says

      We have a substantial grocery “budget” that bobs around $1300 as well and doesn’t include our dining out budget. I put budget in quotes because I am clearly not on a budget when I am spending that amount. It’s impressive that people, whether by choice or budget, feed their family economically, while being mindful about real and organic food for $300 – $500.

      Info: Family of Four, live in a house with a small yard within five miles of a major U.S. city. Eat organic veggies, grass-fed and organic animal proteins.
      Most expensive single ingredients that I purchase aside from meat: organic berries (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry), red peppers, sunflower butter, salmon. Strawberries and raspberries are for my picky eater. My picky eater just decided that he likes salmon, so we’re eating salmon twice a week, he also just ate chicken the other day — perhaps greater fruit and vegetable choices will occur soon. Guilty pleasures: coffee, craft beer and wine.

      Would like to: Reduce my grocery budget to $900 or less/month successfully for several months, and then see if I can reduce it further, meal plan, subscribe to a CSA, stop buying Cheddar Bunnies, Granola bars and other quick and easy snacks for the kids to eat as an after school snack (I will simply start showing up to school with an apple, banana, homemade muffin). Reduce our meat consumption further (two meals per week) and start buying organic/grass-fed meat on sale and freeze it.

      I would love suggestions for blogs that help you meal plan, shop your meal plan, and make mostly vegetarian school lunches.

    • Maya says

      Same here. My husband and I spend about $1100 – 1200 a month for ourselves and our 15-month old daughter. I have tried most of the suggestions for lowering our food bill – buying clubs, bulk purchases, farmer’s market, eliminate pre-made foods, etc. We have a garden and raise chickens for eggs. We make our own ferments, condiments, etc. We buy our meat in bulk – we have a 1/4 grassfed cow and 12 pastured hens in our freezer at the moment. We rarely buy luxuries like coffee or alcohol. We cook everything from scratch and have to spend much of our free time in the kitchen and planning meals. This is on top of working full-time. It’s really frustrating! I need to lower our food bill and honestly feel that I have tried all of the suggestions from various real food websites. I think much of it depends on the cost of living in your area, I just can’t seem to get our bill much lower.

  18. Lauren H says

    My heart sinks to read this blog post! We are on one income as my health prevents me from being able to work. We have $40-50 per week to spend on groceries. We would increase this if we were able to, but the money just isn’t there. We are often choosing between which fresh produce items we can afford to buy for the week. I wish eating real food was more affordable for families like mine. $1.20 will make enough macaroni and cheese to fill our bellies. What other options are there? Any ideas or suggestions?

  19. says

    i am re-reading this post as we are re-looking at our grocery budget and sources…
    i just read all the comments and i would love to know where each of you live- it makes such a big difference.
    we live in the SF bay area and it is exhorbidantly expensive here.
    i am hoping that after a good tax return, we can invest in some of the storage systems that jenny talked about and stock up on large bulk purchases. i feel so sick about buying “organic” milk and eggs at Trader Joes lately- i don’t trust them!
    jenny- how do you store and use the sardines?

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