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Interactive: How far will $35 go at the grocery store through the decades?

Weather, speculation, and the economy all impact food prices. So are you paying more for groceries today than in decades past?

Ever wonder how far your money goes at the grocery store today compared to decades past?

When you adjust food prices for inflation, you might be surprised to learn that your dollars go further today compared to 30 years ago -- for most products at least. Don't believe it? See for yourself with this grocery shopping simulator that reveals how much your grocery bill varies over the past three decades.

How it works
You start with $35.46. That's the average weekly grocery budget for an individual on a thrifty plan for a nutritious diet, according to Census data. Of course, $35.46 in 2012 is not worth the same as in the past thanks to inflation. In 2002, that amount (adjusted for inflation) is the equivalent of $27.57. In 1992, it's $21.50. And in 1982, it's $14.79.

To calculate your grocery budget in the simulator, food prices from the Consumer Price Index have been adjusted for inflation using the Department of Labor's inflation calculator.


Could you live on $438 per month? That's the poverty threshold for a family of four in 2011, according to Census data. See if you can get by supporting a family of four on just $22,811 a year with the Marketplace Poverty Simulator. Give it a try.


What impacts food prices?
The story of food prices is mostly one of supply and demand. On the supply side, when the weather is bad, it can hurt farmers growing crops like grains. Thing is, grains don’t just factor into bread prices. Let's say wheat supply slows -- that means more expensive feed for farmers. When it costs more to keep cows and pigs and chickens fed -- it’ll cost more when you buy a whole chicken or ground chuck at the grocery store.

Demand is up, too. The United Nations tells us there are 7 billion people on the planet. In 30 to 35 years there’s going to be more than 9 billion -- and that’s a whole lot of mouths to feed.

Fifty years ago, people were eating a lot less on average, especially meat. But as more people reach the middle class, they eat a more protein-rich diet. That meat protein requires greater grain units. As world trade expands, the price of meats and grains both rise.

Other variables -- like the economy and speculation -- all affect food prices as well.

About the author

Daryl Paranada is the associate web producer for Marketplace overseeing all daily website content and production, as well as producing multimedia features -- including the popular economic explainer series Whiteboard -- and special projects. Follow him on Twitter @darylparanada.

Weather, speculation, and the economy all impact food prices. So are you paying more for groceries today than in decades past?

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I'm not sure where they get their prices from, but since 2002, i've spent more on food now than in the past. To keep my families cost down we have started a garden and buy bulk to can, dehydrate, and preserve. This is the only reason we have been able to get by in the last two years with job cuts and higher property taxes.

It's a good topic, but your simulator hits it from the wrong angle. It's very hard to tell what's happening.

I think a better illustration would be a "pile" for each year, showing how many steaks, eggs, carrots, etc, you could buy with the same real money. (Always spending $1 for eggs, $1 for steak, $1 for carrots, etc)

This would show, for instance, that you can buy a lot more eggs now than you could in 1970.

I agree. Depending on where you live, 35 dollars is just enough to buy the staples, bread, milk, eggs, etc. Removing inflation is not a reality because as consumers, our dollars are based on the current prices.
20 years ago, I sent my three kids to the store with $5.00 to get milk. They had $4.00 left over for candy, chips, and popsicles. Giving their budget of $1.00 each, I got back $1.00 in change. Today, the price of a gallon of milk ranges from 2.50 - 4.50. I'd say prices are 10Xs higher today, than they were 20 years ago!

Your simulator states that I have $9 left over in 2012. But a quick check with my Quicken program reports that I spent $2542.73 more in 2011 than I did in 2001 and I had one less mouth to feed under my roof in 2011. So I do not put much into this story.

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