Are my Food expenses Normal?

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about food expenses and how we can minimise them. I’m not talking about going to the extreme of just eating rice or pasta. Rather, minimising expenses while still eating a nutritiously complete diet with a few bits of fancy pants here and there. Everyone knows I love cheese!

I wrote a post about a month ago about minimising Your largest Expense- Food (British English spelling by the way- had a few emails requesting the return of the “z”) where I explained that after mortgage and tax, food is our largest expense.

Our food bill is around $600 per month currently- This has inflated a lot from $350 per month a few years ago. There are two things I wanted to decipher here


What do we spend $600 per month on?

I’ve been calculating the cost per serve of many of the meals I have been cooking. Making my pesto chicken pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and capsicums comes in at $2.09 a serving. That is pretty good I thought. Until I worked out what the cost of making Thai pumpkin soup with coriander and cashew nuts cost per serving.

Thai Pumpkin Soup

IngredientTotal PricePrice per Receipt
Pumpkin$2.00 each$1.50
Coconut Cream$1.50 each$1.50
Cashews$4.90 a bag$1.63
Garlic$21.00 per kg$0.13
Sweet Chili Sauce$2.19 each$0.22
Coriander$2.00 a packet$0.20
Chicken Stock$2.50 a box$0.21
Chicken Stock$2.50 a box$0.21
Fish Sauce$1.99$0.05
Thai Pumpkin soup with Coriander and Cashew nuts. Total cost of the ingredients- $5.65. Makes at least 5 servings. Cost per serve $1.13.

There are definitely recipes that I cook which are more expensive than these two. But let us assume that an average serving cost $3.00. There are a total of 21 meals a week. 14 of which are at a serving cost of $3.00 each. We normally eat leftover dinner for lunch. And the remainder is breakfasts.

I eat porridge, and my partner generally only has some yoghurt. She is not really a breakfast person. Each of these cost less than $1 per serving.

So the cost for the 42 servings a week will cost $98 using these estimates. We spend $150 per week on average, so there is a discrepancy there.

The difference probably snacks and treats I would say. On top of that, there are household items and personal items like shampoos and toothpaste.

The second things I wanted to know is whether or not our increase in food expense is due to food price inflation.

Are we spending more now, or is this food inflation?

I found a study from the University of Otago on the estimate food costs in New Zealand for 2018. In the study, it estimates the cost of food for basic, moderate, and liberal diets. The average cost of food for a heterosexual couple was estimated to be $128.50, $167.50, and $200.75 per week for a basic, moderate, and liberal diet.

Our spending falls in the moderate category. The moderate category allows for an increase in the variety of meats, fish, fruit, and vegetables over the basic category.

While the liberal category allows for more convenience and imported foods, as well as out of season fruits and vegetables, and higher-priced cuts of meat.

I tend to agree that we are in the moderate category. We buy a variety of fruit and vegetables that are in season. And we tend not to buy speciality meats.

The Otago study also has data that goes back to 2009 on the estimated cost of food. Analysing this will reveal whether or our spending increase from $350 in 2014 to $600 per month in 2018 is due to food inflation or lifestyle inflation.

I suspect lifestyle inflation has crept in.

Anyways, below is the average estimate of food for a heterosexual couple in NZ from 2009 to 2018.

Food costs for a couple from 2009 to 2018 in New Zealand Passive Income

From the Otago data, the increase in our food spending cannot be put down to food inflation. And deep down I knew this already. In fact, the Otago study only shows a 3% inflation in food prices from 2014. The inflation of food would have to be over 85% to get $350 in 2014 up to 600 in 2018.

The graph does show that food inflation has actually been negative for a period. But in fact, if you read the fine print of the study they changed the study method in 2014, so you really can’t compare data before 2014 to data after 2014.

Lifestyle creep has set in

Lifestyle creep is one of the biggest enemies of retiring early.  Lifestyle creep is where your expenses increase as your salary or income increases.

This is how it goes, your income increase so you think you deserve or think you can afford more stuff. You work hard, you deserve it! The problem is that your lifestyle can always inflate to match your income.

What you want to try to do is keep your lifestyle costs the same year to year. Even with an increase in salary. What you want to inflate is your saving and investment rate. You work hard you deserve to pay yourself more.

My income has increased by 70% from 2014 to 2018, so my food inflation is outstripping my salary inflation. That is not good.

When I first graduated and started working I was still accustomed to eating like a student. This is probably one of the biggest reasons why it has increased so much. But is it a normal amount to spend?

Are my foods expenses Normal?

The data has shown me that our spending of 600 per month isn’t too excessive for a couple living in New Zealand. From the study, a couple in 2018 would be spending about $670 per month.

It even gets better though, the study only counts for actual food items. It excludes personal care items and household items. The study estimates an extra $14.80 per week for personal care items and $10.80 for household cleaning items. Bringing couples monthly spend up to $772.40.

We are well below this figure. But there is definitely room to improve.

What is your monthly expense on food?

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