Including an Au Pair in your grocery shopping means more than throwing another package of chicken breasts into the cart.
For any of us (all of us?) with budgets and cost constraints, including an Au Pair takes more than figuring out ‘how much’ more food we need to nourish an additional adult. It also asks us to gauge how much is right to spend on that extra food, and then to get over the fact that the out-of-pocket, week to week, cost of having another adult in the house goes beyond the weekly stipend.
The act of buying food for an additional person living in your house triggers a bunch of other conversations, about things like which foods you’ll pay for or won’t, which foods are for everyone or just kids/just mom/just au pair, and what level of quality or fanciness you want to afford.
But how do you decide how much money to spend?
There are two ways to go about this: We can start from the principles and constraints, and guess at a budget. Or, we can look at average numbers, set a target, and fit the new/more foods into this amount. Here’s my effort from each direction, below:
Direction #1: From goals to $
Basic Food Budget Principles
In principle, we want our au pairs to have:
- Enough food,
- Nutritious food,
- Foods they like (even if we don’t), and
- Food when they need it.
These are the exact same principles we have for our entire family– anyone in our household. We want everyone in the family to feel safe and secure that there is enough food for them.
Basic Food Budget Concerns
We also have concerns:
- We don’t want to waste money or food by purchasing food that doesn’t get eaten.
- We don’t want to spend more money than we need to by purchasing foods that are overpriced, and
- We want to be able to plan ahead, purchase ahead, and have the food we planned to use (still) be available on the day we plan to use it.
- We want the groceries we buy and the money we spend to fit– somehow– into our family’s own food culture.
Once you’re clear about your objectives and concerns, the next question is: What should it cost to meet these objectives?
Direction #2: From $ to shopping list
What’s a reasonable amount to spend on groceries when you add an au pair?
One way to get a handle on this is to look at your family’s grocery spending from ‘before’ you got an au pair, and figure out how much of that was ‘kid’ versus ‘adult’, and then add another adult.
In our house of two adults and two kids, the adults are probably 30% each, with the kids 20% (they eat less but we don’t buy much kids-only food, either). To add another adult, I wouldn’t add another 30%…. but perhaps 20%, because of the economies of scale. With some items, like chicken breasts, increasing the number of people you need to cover makes a noticeable cost difference. With other items (dish soap, cinnamon, loaves of bread) it doesn’t seem to matter.
For us, I spend about $25o/week on groceries. Adding an additional adult, I’d expect to spend about $3oo/week. When we have adult houseguests like my MIL, it probably costs this much simply because I buy extra things for her (her favorite pickles, sliced ham) that I don’t usually keep on hand. She actually doesn’t eat very much extra. Instead, we seem to be a bit more efficient (no leftovers, less wasted food).
Another option is to look at USDA figures for your part of the country. As per USAToday:
The cost of feeding a family of four a healthy diet can run $146 to $289 a week, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Similarly, you could use a reported average cost of food for one woman, which is $278/month, or an additional $70 per week.
Adding an additional adult might be $36 (ha) to $75 (more likely).
Ultimately, both of these strategies are ‘heuristic’ tools– they help us figure our what feels right, rather than telling us what to decide.
Let’s talk dollars and cents:
- How much more do you budget for an Au Pair?
- How much more do you spend?
- How does this amount compare to what you spend for the other adults in your house?