Thursday, November 08, 2007

$800 a Month on Food = Obese??

An anonymous commenter questions my food spending and whether I'm obese... for the record, as I'm writing this I am wearing a pair of size 4 pants. I'll admit that I might be somewhat more comfortable in a pair of size 6 pants, or even an 8, depending on the brand, but this post is about food, not clothes, so let's move on. How can someone like me with a normal caloric intake spend $800 a month on food sometimes? (Also for the record, no bulimia issues here. That is one way in which it is really a shame to have money go down the toilet.)

Let's take a closer look at my spending, starting with a recent credit card statement, covering 8/25-9/25/07:
I made 5 trips to local supermarkets, totaling about $146 overall. I bought pasta (on sale), Sapporo beer, Gatorade (on sale), broccoli, prunes, maple syrup, peanut butter, bananas, shallots, garlic, chicken breasts, potatoes, tinned sardines, tomatoes, yogurts, apples, canned tuna, Clif bars, lettuce, lamb chops, and a steak. I also bought non-grocery items such as kleenex, dishwashing liquid, and laundry detergent.

I made 4 trips to upscale/gourmet markets (Whole Foods, Garden of Eden), where I spent a total of $40: $12 on fresh herbs, fancy mushrooms and heavy cream for a pasta dish I cooked for a guest, $7 on trout fillets and fresh spinach, $9 on trout fillets (again) and manchego cheese, and $12 on salmon fillets and apples.

Then there was the liquor store: 3 trips, $55, 6 bottles of wine.

That leaves the restaurants: 7 eat-in meals, and 2 take-outs. The whopping total on these? $605. This is an unusually high restaurant tab for me. One of these meals was when I bought dinner for my sister, her husband and two kids. A couple of the other restaurant meals were my share of a tab split evenly, and some were with a friend I go out with frequently enough that we alternate picking up the check. One of these meals was fairly expensive, a bit of a splurge with dessert and coffee. Usually, it's just an entrée each and 2 drinks each, and sometimes maybe a shared appetizer, in restaurants where the entrée prices range from about $12-22, and a glass of wine is $7 or $8.

So that was all the credit card spending. Then there's cash-- pretty much every weekday, I buy coffee and a bagel, or sometimes oatmeal, and a banana, costing me $3.25-$4.05, so that can be $80 or so a month. Then there's lunch, which can be $3.25 if I get pizza, $6 if I get a sandwich, $7.50 if I get a salad, or about $9.00 if I get sushi-- average it out and that can be over $100 a month, and I've been really bad about bringing lunches from home lately.

So you can see how a girl can easily spend $800 a month on food, or even more!

Contrast all of that with how I've been eating this week:

Monday:
Breakfast: coffee, banana and oatmeal for breakfast: $4.05
Lunch: cup o' soup from home, bought with coupon, so cost about $2, plus bagel $1
Dinner: chicken and rice with lemon sauce, and a salad: ingredient cost about $5 or $6. Washed down with a beer costing about $1.50.

Tuesday:
Breakfast: same
Lunch: same
Dinner: same but with sweet potato instead of rice, cost about the same. Again, $1.50 beer.

Wednesday:
Breakfast: coffee, banana and bagel: $3.25
Lunch: just soup this time, no bagel. about $2
Dinner: pasta and frozen spinach, cost of ingredients $2-3, with about $6 worth of wine.

Today I'm having the usual breakfast, lunch will be a business expense, and for dinner I might have a frozen Trader Joe's quiche or perhaps buy some fish, so the cost will probably be under $10, not including any alcoholic enhancement. If I ate like this every week, I'd be in great shape financially, but the reality of life is that I also like to go out and I'm willing to budget for that.

But enough about me... here's a question that I'd love to see some data on: who spends more money on food, obese people or skinny people?

38 comments:

Curtis Miller said...

I'll start this off. We are a family of 3... all considered skinny. We currently have a budget for $400 each month for groceries and another $200 for eating out. But that is in St. Louis, not New York.

T'Pol said...

I think fattening junk food is much cheaper than quality food. I tend to think, an obese person might have a lower budget than yours (depending on their real capacity to eat). Fast food restaurants and commercial pizza chains usually have promotions of buy 1, get 1 free if you order the largest choices on their menus. So for just a few bucks, you can buy yourself a ton of empty calories.

PiggyBankBlues said...

6 bottles of wine for $55, hey what are you drinking, i'd like some :)

Saryn said...

I don't believe it's how much money you spend on food each month - It's WHAT you buy with that money that will make you obese.

Though - eating out at restaurants and fast food will be more fattening and expensive than bringing from home.

phantomdata said...

I definitely agree with T'Pol there and would even take it a step further - the weight of the individual is probably inversely correlated to the amount of money spent on groceries. Buying a bag of chips is far cheaper than a delicious steak or salad-fixins, but which will end up being worse for you?

Also... what are you using the tinned sardines for? Such a tasty and interesting little package, but I've never found a decent use for them...

Aimee said...

It's possible that you could spend less money and be bigger. Why? Good quality food costs more. Fruits and veg are more expensive than prepackaged meals, and meat is through the roof. But you can run over to the fast food joint and spend less than 3 bucks and get a chicken sandwich that could be full of fat. So, I would say that skinnier people probably spend more because they buy better food.

PPN said...

While your food spending is higher than some, I bet your car & gas expenses are close to 0. Food is much more expensive in the city since we have to buy from the small gourmet store on the corner, whole foods, 7-11, or CVS. We do not have the luxury of cosco or a big supermarket with good deals. I would rather have $0 in car & gas expenses and spend a bit more on living in the city and paying premium prices for fresh and healthy food.

Anonymous said...

The most money I've ever spent on food was when I went vegetarian a few years ago, in order to help me lose weight. Although beans and tofu are both relatively cheap, veggie "meat" is quite pricey, as are extra spices, etc., required to make tofu taste like something. Vegetarian food doesn't go on sale quite as often either. I miss the days that I could buy a package of mac 'n cheese and have that for lunch and dinner one day.

Unhealthy food is definitely cheaper. That's why a lot of statistics demonstrate that obesity rates are actually higher among lower-income people.

Mrs. Micah said...

It's hard to say. It could be an obese person buying lots of expensive and fattening food. Or it could be a skinny person buying lots of expensive health food. Or a mid-sized person buying whatever.

I guess you can't judge a person by their shopping budget (I wish I were clever enough to make a pun with that.)

****Veteran Military Wife**** said...

And don't forget...when you buy lots of fresh veggies, fruits and high quality meats..you WILL end up spending more. I also like to try a lot of different recipes...so that = more ingredients = more money spent too...how much you spend on food has nothing to do with "being fat"...we're not fat either.

Little Miss Moneybags said...

A more telling comparison is between eating homecooked food (even gourmet) and eating prepared food (in restaurants or for takeout/delivery). I had an obese roommate some years ago, and she spend much more on food than I did--but it was because she ordered out every meal. Her bowl of pasta would cost her $12 plus tip; mine would cost about $4--and all my ingredients would make two or even three meals for that cost. I've averaged it out and about the only thing I can't make cheaper than I can buy it is a bagel from a street vendor. I'm a strict vegetarian, and I agree with the commenter who pointed out that meat substitutes are NOT cheap--vegetarian entrees in restaurants are consistently cheaper, but cooking at home it's usually more expensive per serving. Of course, you can also be a vegetarian without those substitutes, and I've done that for years at a time as well.

Anonymous said...

Price is one thing, portion size is another. Interestingly enough, my close friend who is obese eats far less than I do, (I'm a size 8), and she doesn't eat out a lot. We always shake our heads at that. I guess for her genes play a 'large' role.

Not to put a damper on your day, but since this is a pf blog, have you ever considered giving up alcohol, or just cutting back, to save money? It's a simple way to save.

JBlue said...

Been reading for over a year and here's my first comment:

For 2 slim adults and 1 slim cat we average about $300-$350/mo. This includes our organic co-op delivery, supermarket staples, household items, health food store or Trader Joe stops. We’re semi-vegetarian, mostly organic and exclude a lot of foods people seem to buy on a regular basis. But for every thing we don’t eat (alcohol, soda, milk, meat, sugar), there’s something that we do eat (tofu, assorted whole grains, nuts, flax oil). As a weekend athlete I eat 5 meals/day and carry my breakfast and/or lunch in every day. About 75% of our food is homemade. As for meat substitutes, we cut back a great deal due to cost and ingredients.

I think we’d spend less if we ate junk food but I have peace of mind knowing we don’t pay for empty calories.

Too bad I don't drink becasue Sapporo is divine!

Anonymous said...

My husband and I also live in a large urban centre, are normal weight (I'm actually chronically underweight no matter what I do) and we spend between $450 and $500 a month on groceries. Then another couple hundred eating out.

It is true that lower income = increased obesity. It's horrible to say, but there does tend to be a lower level of education, lower quality of life, thus food and knowledge about healthy eating. Also, there isn't as much fresh food available in a lot of those areas -- the stores are mostly filled with junk food and not as much fresh fruits and veg. I lived in a 'crack and BMW's' neighborhood for a couple years and the options for food there were horrible.

Anonymous said...

If you are willing to budget for quality food then you will pay more. I'm in a book club and we meet in a restaurant once a month and may spend about $40-60 per person depending on where we go.

I agree with other commenters... buying vegetables and other good things will cost a bit but you will have better health and save in the long run.

urbanfrugal.com

SandyVoice said...

My food budget is $250 a month. I work at home about half the time, so I'm usually able to provide two meals or more a day from my grocery list. Since most of my friends and I don't make much money, when we do eat out, we go to fairly inexpensive restaurants. I don't drink, which cuts out that cost. And, as several people have pointed out, living in New York City, I don't need a car.

But, okay, can I just put in a word for fast food? It has changed. I can get a McDonalds grilled honey mustard snack wrap for $1.51 including NYC tax -- 260 calories, 9 grams of fat, 18 grams of protein. Or, if I'm feeling flush, a Premium Chicken Classic sandwich without the mayonnaise -- less than 400 calories, 32 grams of protein. Add some Apple Dippers (without the dip) for 35 calories, ask for a cup of plain water (or a diet soda, if you must) and that's an actual meal.

It's not that I don't think the food is better at a better restaurant, but on my budget, I'm not embarrassed to eat carefully at McDonalds if I'm in a rush.

Peachy said...

Skinny people eat more. We have to maintain our outrageous metabolisms. Noting that, We spend quite a bit on groceries,I'm going to say $400 for 2 of us. I absolutely LOVE beef and he likes chicken and we both enjoy orange roughy. Our bills are mostly meat.

On a side note, I just went shopping for a food drive. We filled up a shopping cart to the overflow point with 10 for $10 specials on non-perishables. It filled up 5 1/2 copy paper boxes. This whole bill cost us $211.26 at the Jewel in Chicago. Beans, rice, canned goods, pastas, soups, oatmeal.

Madame X said...

phantomdata-- I just eat the sardines on buttered toast. It seems kind of boring but I think it's tasty!

And yes, anon 12:33, I know I could save a lot of money by not drinking, and I don't always drink every night, but I do enjoy wine, so I like keeping that in my budget.

PPN-- absolutely true that my car and gas expenses are basically zero unless I rent one for a trip. I try to buy most of my groceries at regular supermarkets rather than expensive places, but I'm sure prices are still higher than they are in the suburbs.

Jay said...

Healthier food is definitely more expensive than cheaper food. Plus there is the additional issue that fresh fruits and veggies can go bad after a while causing you to waste some of your food budget. The cheaper food tends to be more manufactured as opposed to grown, and has enough preservatives to last for a while.

I think it is worth it to spend more on food now to hopefully save on health care later on. I probably spend around $400 on groceries/eating out a month.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I am amazed at how much more money you and some of your commenters spend on food than my family. We (family of four, both adults thin runners=high caloric need) spend about $300-$350 monthly. That's all our budget can take. We buy almost exclusively food that is on sale, except our Trader Joe's staples. Chicken breast for $1.50/lb? I buy enough for two months, etc. We also fill up on lots of carbs, the whole grain kind (remember, runners need carbs). There's no alcohol in that budget though, can't afford to drink much. We take all meals from home or eat at home and probably eat out as a family once per month. I honestly don't know what I'd spend $800 on, but I guess if we ate out more often, it would be pretty easy. and oh, we're in Philly.
Enjoy your blog!

Anonymous said...

$800 a month is not a lot if you have a good network of family and friends. I easily spend $400/mo for dinners out, $200 for bfast/lunch, and then $200 groceries. But, that $400 is really all I spend socially. I work a lot of hours during the week, so $100/week Fri - Sun for meals out with friends is my personal time. I budget for it and unless I lose my job, that will NOT be cut!

Single Ma said...

I lost track of the post when I saw this:

"Then there was the liquor store: 3 trips, $55, 6 bottles of wine."

HA HA

Interesting...

Care to share your wine selections? You know I'm a a wine newbie trying to perpetrate like a connoisseur. LOL

Anonymous said...

Our average monthly spending for food (local supermarkets, dinners out, lunch, wine) for two adults is $580. We live in NYC. The other night we treated a family of three to a dinner at a decent Italian place and the tab came to $300, which was hard on our budget but sometimes paying for a nice dinner out is worth it.

Anonymous said...

P.S. - I wanted to add a note about your comment on on bulimia; money going down the drain is a huge source of guilt for an already tormented person but the real problem is with the way their life is lived, not with the $ impact...

Anonymous said...

I'm skinny and single and most of my fun money goes towards eating out or drinking out. I enjoy it, so I don't skimp. I do carry my lunch to work on the weekdays. :)

-Tasha

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

One of the reason obesity correlates with being poor is that high fat / high sugar foods are less expensive than healthy alternatives.

Consider a box of generic mac and cheese vs. an organic salad... the mac and cheese will cost you under $2.00 and feed a small family. An organic salad to feed the family will be at least $10.00, if not more.

Anonymous said...

i agree with jay. eating better will save in the long term regarding health issues.

i always say if you are willing to spend a few bucks here and there on other things you can afford to spend a little more on what goes into your body for nourishment.

~unabashedly ashedly

Anonymous said...

Thought: If you enjoy wine 'with' a meal, why not opt for a boxed or large bottle of dinner (cheaper) wine? Save the better ones for your entertaining. It could save $20+/month and you might not even notice the difference.

Anonymous said...

I was saddened to learn that in restaurant budgeting, the actual cost of food should equal one tenth of the entree price. Restaurants tend to buy their foods from commercial wholesale distributers, so the costs are a little lower then my grocery / bodega options here in NY, but I say I'm saddened because it's hard to swallow the 90% mark-up. More kitchen inspiration for me I guess.

Anonymous said...

Rich people are usually skinny, because they have the time and money to afford personal trainers, gym equipment, lyposuction, and gourmet food.
But a lot depends on the metabolism. We all know lots of skinny people who eat a lot and never gain weight.
Unfortunately, I'm not one of those lucky ones. My husband and I spend about $250 a month at the supermarket, plus some $100 on carry-out food (mostly Chinese). We live in Detroit.
By the way, have you seen a recent study saying that overweight people live more than obese, skinny and normal weight people? I was amazed!

Tired of being broke said...

How much a person spends on groceries does not dictate whether or not they are obsesed or skinny. There are a bunch of different factors. I work in lower Manhattan where I can get a cup of hot chocolate for $1.25 or $4 depending on where I go.

Choice of food and where you shop is what dictates a persons budget.

Anonymous said...

Bronx Chica- Well as a skinny person, I say both skinnier ppl. Money is spent on healthy foods. If you have a high metabolism, eat right, and go to bed the same time, then you aren't fat.

Jonathan said...

I'd say unless you are VERY obese, then there is very little correlation between weight and spending. Especially if you consume alcohol =)

Food is both a need and an area of disposable income for us, and we have been spending a lot more than is "needed" since it gives us great joy. I don't keep track specifically any more, though.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I live in Brooklyn and spend maybe $100-$150 a month on food. We try to buy food with the most health bang for the buck. That is, not organic stuff but we try to follow the food pyramid and don't buy junk food. So lots of pasta, whole wheat bread, beans, fruit and vegetables, but cheap ones. We work in Manhattan (but no car expenses since we don't own one), but never eat lunch there--it's too ridiculously expensive. Instead we bring lunch from home every day. Also we eat out only maybe once or twice a month.

erin lou said...

I am actually in the middle of a study trying to prove that poverty is no excuse for obesity by living on about $4 a day in food. I have been eating healthy for about two years and have been price costing what I eat. When you boil everything down, two things are apparent- portions are out of control and Americans choose convenience over anything else. People really only need between 1500 and 2000 calories a day and many people get eat that in one meal. For an extreme example, I make my own bread. Sure the ingredients may cost $10 out right, but my homemade loaf of bread cost about 1.20 with 18 servings at $.07 a serving. Not only is it cheap, the bread isn't going to kill me with high-fructose corn syrup.

Anonymous said...

It definitely takes more money to eat healty foods and therefore be "skinny". In fact, my dad jokes about it all the time. He says that in the Philippines (where we are from), people can tell you're rich because you're fat and therefore are able to eat the necessary 3meals a day and then some, whereas the skinny people are the ones begging for food and barely have enough to eat more than a meal a day. In America however, it's the opposite. Those who are obese are considered poor or lower class because all they can afford are mcdonald's, cheap t.v. dinners and other fast food meals which are filling, cheap, and packed with carbs, fat and other fillers. However, those with money can afford to shop at whole foods, pay more for "organic" and fat free foods and on top of it all they can join the gym and hire personal trainers! When my dad first mentioned this I thought it was quite funny but the more I think about it the more it rings true!!

=^..^= Kitty =^..^= said...

There is merit to everyone's comments. I made very little money until a couple of years ago and got into bone-crushing credit card debt. Since I'm on the short side of retirement I paid everything off, including the house, and am in a rampant savings plan so I can quit work by the time I'm 70 (8 years).

I spend an average of $50 per week for me, 4 cats and my pet possum. Eating in all the time can feel like a prison, but if you have goals, it's doable.

Andy Berard said...

I have raised 5 children on a family food budget of $1,000.00 per month and we ate very well. You need to trim and stay home more often the eating out. $800.00 a month for one person has room for trimming the fat. Buy bulk and save at your discount markets. Also, keep watch for coupon adds.