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How do people have so little food money?

by 309 · June 15, 2013 at 02:50 AM

I've been reading the 50 dollar a week food thread and it got me wondering. For all the families and singles who are working and can't afford grass fed or much food, what do your monthly budgets look like? In addition, why doesn't everyone in such a situation apply for food stamps? I used to live in NYC and had a minimum wage job and still had 500 for food every month. I'm honestly mistified by this. Can someone explain.

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166 · March 28, 2013 at 03:45 PM

I've been mulling this question over for a while and I think in many cases it just comes down to priorities. Being honest with yourself about your priorities is im my opinion essentially important to using the phrase "I can't afford..." whether it be grass fed beef or something else entirely.

If a person feels that having a new pair of shoes or a night out with friends is a higher priority for them than grass fed beef and they are honest about it, it's not our place to judge them. Even if they aren't honest, it's still not out place to judge them. we can only judge ourselves and our own actions. Someone else said living in a nicer area is a higher on their priority list. I say "Good for you! You have your priorities and you work hard to them!"

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952 · March 27, 2013 at 03:58 PM

My boyfriend and I live together and take home $3,200/month combined. Pretty average middle class income. After we've paid rent for the month ($1,125), we still have to pay for: student loan debt, utilities, a dog and 2 cats to feed, a modest car payment and insurance, gas to fuel both of our cars (necessary for us to get to work), credit card debt, medical bills (No room in the budget for health insurance), and enough to put into a savings account for the baby that we have on the way. Food? Absolutely a priority, and we do our best, but no one is making marks on our credit report every time we don't pay the right amount and on time. ;)

Contrary to popular belief, the government isn't just handing out food stamps to people. They don't care how much debt you have; if your income is above their threshold, you're not qualified. End of story. I make $1700 by myself, and even if I were to walk into an office and claim that I'm paying $1125 for rent on my own, that leaves me with $525 to pay EVERYTHING else, they'd still deny me. I make "too much".

Considering grass-fed anything where I live is well over $6/lb, let's do the math. I'm pregnant and have a large appetite. My boyfriend is also a big eater and we do better with more meat in our diets, so average about 1.25lbs of meat per day for both of us. 1.25x31 days = 38.75lbs of meat per month. $38.75lbs of meat x $6/lb = $232.50. So we'd be spending $232 on grass fed meat ALONE. NOT including the other food we want: dairy, produce, condiments, misc. If we were to eat more expensive cuts (Aka anything other than ground beef) our budget would go up.

Compare that to CAFO beef (avg. $3.20/lb) we spend only $124/month on meat.

Are you starting to see the whole picture? Did you notice that in my budget breakdown I did NOT include cable, cell phone, trips out to eat and other entertainment? We don't have these luxuries and still cannot afford to eat properly raised animals. It's not our choice, we just have bills to pay just like many other American families.

When you lived in NYC, what else were you paying for? Car payment? Insurance? Other mouths to feed? Medical debt? Credit card debt? Student loan debt? Many in my generation are starting their independent lives in debt due to misleading advice to take loans for college. I wish I could have gone back to change that, but I can't and now I'm $50,000 in the hole. Lucky you for making it on minimum wage.

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1972 · March 27, 2013 at 01:53 PM

$50 a week was my food budget in college.

I was a calculus TA for $100 a week and also babysat for $60 a week. I did not have time to do more than this with also trying to graduate early to avoid even more student loans.

So I lived off of $160 a week and also had to use this for car payment and insurance.

Lucky you for having 500 a month but when a single mom is working minimum wage for $300ish a week and paying rent and raising kids, how in the world do you expect her to pay $100 a week for food? This is an incredibly judgmental post.

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376 · March 27, 2013 at 08:25 PM

In college, I babysat for a few hours once a week, and whatever I made that night, usually $20-25, was my food budget for the whole week. I was by no means paleo at that point in time, but by SAD standards I actually ate pretty healthy diet... I just had to be smart about what I spent it on. Today, I doubt my fiance and I spend more than $80-100 a week on food for the two of us, and we continue to eat well. I don't think our budgets are sloppy, but we, like most people, have loans, debts and other things to pay for. I'm not going to choose to not pay back Visa, or the government for my student loans, because when you borrow money you are promising to pay it back, and I am all about making good on promises. I'm also trying to pay off debt more aggressively so that when we have kids in a few years, we have our debts (aside from a mortgage) behind us... $50 a week seems like a very reasonable food budget to me, even if someone is Paleo... if you eat a ton of grass fed beef you probably need to spend more, but that's someone's own choice. I choose to budget my money in a way I think most people would find very responsible.

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26073 · March 29, 2013 at 01:09 PM

predatory practices and high interest rates -- This may be true for you because you have no idea how to build financial freedom. I have never had predatory actions against me, and interest rates are extremely low right now.

In the US Minimum wage is $7.25 - $9.20 per hour which, after taxes, is about $1200 - $1500 per month. You remove $500 and you are left with $700 - $1000 per month to pay for rent (or God forbid mortgage), utilities, AND SAVE FOR RETIREMENT. If you are banking on social security supporting you in your old age (1) You are not putting enough into the system to get a decent return; (2) Hate to tell you, but the baby boomers are going to milk it dry for us.

Even if you qualify for SNAP, EBT at minimum wage is about $150 per month.

Nonetheless, if you are wasting $500 per month on food (which, btw, for myself, my wife and the kids and we are less than double that for 5 people) whilst on minimum wage, I would question your priorities.

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78 · March 27, 2013 at 03:48 PM

I don't see WHY unless you had frivolous money to blow on silly things, that you would spend more than $50 a week on food. IMO, that's ridiculous. $50 a week gets me wildcaught fish and a good selection of organic veggies/fruit (or a boatload of conventional produce)---so much so that I end up with too much leftover.

Seems to me that unless you're eating and drinking only the finest most over-the-top things that $50 a week is both doable, satisfies your nutritional needs and keeps money free for other things, like paying down debts, savings, etc. OR hell, wiggle room for fun things or emergency expenses or...

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45 · June 15, 2013 at 02:50 AM

What everyone's said about planning and prioritizing is true, to a point.

I'm single and my living situation includes a small fridge shared between four 20-30 year old males. The freezer section is very small. That makes it difficult to buy in higher quantities which drive the price down. I honestly have to go shopping at least twice a week.

As well, I don't live in a very metropolitan area. The closest Whole Foods is hours away, as well as the closest Trader Joe's. Every other place that has grass-fed beef sells it at a huge premium that I simply can't justify with my budget.

I could make the drive to get grass-fed beef, but to make up for the time and gas money, I'd have to buy in bigger quantities, which I don't have the space to store.

Obviously, if I was more dedicated, I could overcome these things, but at what cost? At some point the returns are definitely diminishing.

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15261 · March 29, 2013 at 12:34 PM

FWIW I didn't find the original post to be judgmental but as others noted, it is just a matter of priorities. For me personally, high quality food is a very high priority. When my wife and I go over our budget we don't seriously consider cutting back significantly on food expenses. We are not eating foie gras and prime rib every day but I'm also not willing to eat hot dogs and Cheetos. Fortunately we can make ends meet by cutting back in other areas but we spend a lot on food.

At one point in my life I was very broke, earning $9/hr working 20-30 hours per week (while in school) and supporting myself completely which meant paying rent, utilities, car, gas, etc. In those days I literally figured out the maximum number of calories per dollar and didn't really care about food quality. I am not sure what my food budget was but probably something like $25-35 per week. I would take whatever free food handouts came around, for example my mother worked for a food distributor and once a month they would clean out their freezers and I'd get a 20 pound box of stale frozen pizza or something, and then eat frozen pizza every day for a month. When you're hungry enough you'll eat anything. It was a good day when I had more than one meal so the idea of eating organic or grass-fed anything was completely foreign.

These days we support a family of four and I'm about 100% Paleo and the family is about 50-75%. We need on average 1.5 pounds of meat or seafood for dinner (as my kids get bigger it's getting closer to 2.0 pounds) which usually runs maybe $8-20. Vegetables, potatoes, etc. are a few more dollars, add a little more for fats like oil and butter, and optional luxury items like nuts, cheese, wine and chocolate add a few more dollars. So dinner at home might run $15-30, which is $450-900 per month just for dinners, without eating out. When times are tight we are on the low end of this but have a hard time pushing it lower because we're just not willing to sacrifice the food quality. We would rather buy second hand clothes for the kids and go on a "staycation" rather than eat cheap food, but that is just us. A couple of years ago we bought a half grass-fed steer for about $5.50/pound so that gave us a source of relatively cheap meat for a year.

If I had less money and more time I would grow more fruits and vegetables and can them which would provide essentially free vegetables and would allow us to eat the ultimate in local and seasonal produce. But growing enough for a family of four is pretty time consuming. I would also like to keep chickens for eggs but that isn't an option where I live.

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40588 · March 28, 2013 at 05:01 PM

I'm on a < $50 a week right now. I've cut all outside expenses, everything goes to rent, insurance, utilities and food. And even then I'm not making ends meet... partially my fault, but meh... I'll survive without defaulting on loans and debt (because someday I'll want to own something, use credit, be a normal person...)

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