Sunday, March 15, 2009

How thrifty was the Thrifty diet?

Today is the end of our Thrifty diet. This and the next few posts will run through some of the information that we've collected.

An immediate initial question is, "how thrifty were we?" Our goal was to follow the USDA recipe guide, Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals, for our major meals and see where we ended up budget-wise.

Since Feb. 28 (our first shopping day for the diet), we have spent $480.28 on groceries. Besides the groceries for the diet, this figure includes groceries that were purchased for the weekend before the diet, for the upcoming week, and for a Greensboro Urban Ministry food drive. If we subtract those foods from the total, the grocery bill comes out to $383.11. That figure is closer to a half-month total because we have unused food that will be available for upcoming meals.

Besides the ingredients for the diet, the $383 grocery figure includes things like sodas, bottled water, paper napkins, chips, snacks, etc. However, it omits one lunch that Cathy was served at work and three lunches that the boys had on school trips. There were no other restaurant meals or other meals out.

We can compare the expenditures to what SNAP families receive and to the USDA food cost amounts. Recall that the maximum SNAP allotment for a household of our size would only be $588, or $294 for half a month. So, our spending ran 30 percent over the prorated SNAP allotment. SNAP benefits follow the June 2008 Thrifty Food Plan figures, rather that the most recent figures. The SNAP allotment is also based on the TFP for a particular type of family (two adults ages 19-50, one child 6-8, and one child 9-11). In our case, the TFP has to be adjusted for two voracious teenagers of the male variety, making the half-month TFP figure for our household $318. So, even there, our spending was 20 percent over the TFP.

The half-month budget amount for our household under USDA's second least expensive food plan, its "Low-Cost Food Plan," is $427. The USDA reports that the Low-Cost plan is often used in bankruptcy cases to set household budgets. Our two-week spending was 90 percent of that amount. So, by USDA standards and apparently bankruptcy standards, our spending was very modest.

We should point out that following the menu for dinners as closely as we did actually cost us extra money. The portion sizes were different from what we would have eaten, and we didn't make as complete a use of left-overs as we normally would. More generally, the meals weren't as coordinated as a regular two weeks of shopping. So, with more flexibility in the menu, we could have brought the food costs down.

Also, all but one of our purchases were made at the Harris Teeter at the nearby Friendly Center, which is convenient but pricey. We could have done better if we had taken advantage of our Costco membership or shopped more at Food Lion.

We're going to continue to track food costs, including meals out, through the end of the month. The difference between those costs and the $383 will indicate our savings. A donation in that amount will go to World Vision.