Ask me anything #5 – New York City!

By glblguy

Each week I give the readers of Gather Little by Little a chance to ask me anything. The only real rule is that I can decline to answer. I’ll do my best to answer as many questions as I can though. Have a question you would like answered? Just drop me a line or leave a comment!

Kim from Always In Style NYC wrote and ask the following:

I have a question for you. I am trying to determine a reasonable budget for food in New York City. I’ve tracked my expenses in the past and had wildly different numbers month to month. Is there a good rule of thumb on what I should be spending to feed both my husband and I in a big city?

Kim, having never lived in New York City or familiar with how much things cost there that’s a tough one to answer. The guideline from my article on budget guidelines suggests allocating 10-15% of your income for food. Doing a little digging, it looks like in New York City food is 42% more expensive than the national average.

Here’s where I start making a few assumptions. I would also assume your income is adjusted to compensate for the higher cost of living and thus the 10%-15% rule would still apply. If your income isn’t adjusted, than you’ll need to go higher than 15% to say maybe 20% – 25%.

I personally don’t like lumping all of my food expenses together into one bucket. I prefer breaking it out to groceries and eating out. My eating out category is what I consider discretionary spending. In other words, I don’t have to eat out. Groceries are non-discretionary in that I have to eat. Preparing your own food is the least expensive option.

Since you are finding that your food expenses vary a great deal from month to month, I’d guess that’s primarily due to eating out. If you break eating out as a separate category, it will allow you to see this better and make the appropriate adjustments or at the very least set yourself an eating out budget so you can cap your monthly spending. Although, living in NYC you’re going to have to be diligent…way too many great places to eat!!

Any readers from NYC? If so, percentage do you spend on food? I think some real numbers would really help Kim out.

Photo by: barcoder96

9 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Ask me anything #5 – New York City!”

  1. Wendy Says:

    I’m not in NYC, but about 25 miles north of it. I spend, on average, $75 a week on groceries for a family of 4. I an a hyper coupon shopper and stockpiler, and use a service, The Grocery Game, to help me maximize my food dollars. (let me know if you want more info on that!)

    That being said, NYC is horrendously expensive, I think that it is reasonable to say that 25% of your income will go to food, unless you are super conservative. Good luck!

  2. smartypantsmoney Says:

    I live in NYC and I find that if I am not careful, I end up spending a lot of money on grocery. I think one of the reasons is that since everything is so accessible, I can just walk on over to a grocery on my way home from the metro station if I want to, which I tended to do a lot. Also once you are in a grocery store, there are so many different options available to you. If you are not too careful, you end up buying a lot of “gourmet” type food. I do not include eating out in my grocery budget, but if you do, then your bill just sky rockets. Apart from eating out in a restaurant, take outs are so ubiquitous that it is horribly easy to feel lazy and just order a take out instead of toiling over small, cramped kitchen. Lunches are expensive too. If you buy lunch everyday, you easily can spend $50 on lunches alone a week.

    I have noticed that if you menu plan and go grocery shopping with a list, it is quite possible to spend significantly less on food. I think it’s more of a life style choice. For me, some weeks I will diligently stick to menu planning and shopping with a list. Some weeks I am so stressed out, I will just order take out almost every day of the week. I plan to get better at it though. My goal is to be the best menu planner and the list shopper that I can possibly be.
    I hope this is helpful.

  3. Laurie Says:

    Hi Kim:

    My family and I have just moved to Manhattan (Soho) from Atlanta (Midtown). I’m feeding 4 (husband, me, 6 yr old son, 3 yr old son).

    I didn’t pay attention (at all) last month as we were moving, we ate out a ton and I still spent $1200 on groceries (that doesn’t include what we spent eating out)! Luckily my we were able to expense all the eating out – I shudder to think if we’d been footing that bill! I typically spend about $600 in Atlanta. I’m not a coupon clipper though I watch for BOGO sales at Publix, and I do buy primary whole grains and organic. My grass fed organic beef and pork source is my sister’s farm, so I certainly couldn’t do it on $600 if I was buying my meat at Whole Foods.

    I did buy FAR FAR more convenience foods than I normally would and as smartypantsmoney mentioned I got really sucked into the gourmet thing. And oh, it was good! :)

    I also had to restock a kitchen and I bought exclusively organic staples (Whole Foods). What I have noticed is the “regular” food is about 75% more expensive than Atlanta, but that organic is only slightly more than what I’d pay in Atlanta. Makes it far easier to justify buying organic – and there is so much more variety!

    If you have the time the Union Square Farmer’s Market is definitely worth it! It runs Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat (with Wednesday being the “big” day) 8am – 6pm.

    You can also check out: for other green food sources.

    I’m hoping to keep my food costs under $1000, but I’m not sure if that is doable – meat is VERY expensive – and my kids and husband are big meat eaters. I see a lot of chicken in our future :)

  4. Steward Says:

    My wife and I spent about $160 on food in San Diego, which I tend to think is pretty good. We eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables (thank God for California sun) which are generally pretty inexpensive. Another important thing are staples – like rice, beans, etc. My guess what makes food in new york 45% more expensive is access to fresh fruits/vegetables and meats – not everyday items like Ritz crackers. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Ritz crackers change that much in price between major cities, but I guess I could be wrong.

  5. Sonyia Says:

    I live in Manhattan and am a recent transplant from Metro Detroit. I’ve been tracking food expenses there for over a year – ever since I knew we’d be moving here. You can pay about the same amount for groceries here as anywhere else. Prices are high right now but they are high everywhere. Try using your local greenmarkets for fresh produce and use for cold/freezer staples and use for dry goods and canned staples.

  6. midtown creep Says:

    the trick to shopping for food in manhattan is to get a free ride to NJ and shop there – much much cheaper!

  7. battery-stores Says:

    Your point is very positive.

  8. Charlotte Wedding Photographer Says:

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  9. Mark Wallstead Says:

    Been living here in New York City for 5 years now. Groceries are expensive, I like shopping at Grisitides, they have great deals.