Last week, I came across a chart showing the US Department of Labor's statistics on American household food expenditure and how it's changed in relation to our income since the 1950s, and I can't stop thinking about it. Here, I'll show you:
Though of course the chart necessarily leaves off a lot of information, there is one thing it makes very clear: Americans spend less than they have before on food. Whereas in the 1950s, the average food budget expenditure was 29.7%, it is now 13.1%.
Does this surprise any of you? It really shocked me. First of all, I think over time, fewer and fewer of us Amercans grow our own food, which means that more and more of us are buying food. It didn't make sense to me at first how it could be possible, then, that we spend less money on it. But then I remembered all the cost-cutting articles and how-to guides that started popping up in 2008, when the economy staggered and fell: a large majority of the tips for saving money featured how to save money at the grocery store.
Now, I am all for fiscal responsibility. I am all for comparison shopping and educated buying decisions. What I am not for is buying the cheapest food available to me. My great grandmother used to say "What you save at the grocery store, you spend at the doctor's," and my family still goes by that rule. I don't think you have to spend a fortune on food; it is easy to eat well cheaply if you stick to whole foods and do a fair amount of cooking at home rather than buying pre-prepared packaged items. But I don't think the reason we're spending less on food now than in the 1950s is because we're buying more bulk grains and beans than our grandparents. I think it's because people are buying lower-quality groceries just to save, say, ten cents on a can of tomato sauce, and that doesn't make sense to me. That dumb "you are what you eat" cliche is scientifically true--your body uses the food you eat to build and repair cells, to maintain systems, to ensure that you function--why wouldn't you want the best fuel you can afford?
This is a bit of a rant, and I'll stop myself from expanding on it, but it shocks me that at a time when we have more expendable income than ever, we spend so much less of it on what I consider to be one of the most important parts of our lives. I know it's a matter or priorities, and I can't expect everyone to have the same priorities as me. I would rather not get new clothes than not have cashews for a month. But it's not like I drop mad cash in the grocery store; I buy dried beans instead of canned and many more bulk than packaged items to keep costs down while shopping. It's just that I consider groceries to be one of the most important expenditures in my budget. Not only for the nutrition aspect, but because I enjoy food, and I want to continue to enjoy the way I cook and eat.
What about you guys? Did this chart surprise you? How do you try to cut costs at the grocery store? Do you cut costs in other parts of your budget, like I do, to ensure you get the food you like/want/need, or is food one of the first things to slash when it comes time to tighten your belts?