I mentioned the grocery challenge in my last post and actually wasn’t sure I was even going to blog about it, but I feel like it might change the content here a bit, so it’s worth mentioning.
I’ve never really been a week by week meal planner. I tend to gravitate towards the same products each week, buy the same proteins, lots of fresh veggies, fruit, dairy and make meals on the fly based on how much I have going on after work.
My grocery list is magnetic and stored on the front of the fridge (So 1980) – if we run out of something, it goes on the list. I just take the list off the fridge, add items out of the ordinary to the list on my iPhone reminders or shopping list app (So 2012) and off to the store I go.
I use cookbooks, magazines, blogs and other websites to get ideas for my blog, party and family recipes. What I don’t often do is pay attention to the ingredients and whether or not I have the items on hand. Re-buying things I already have, spending more on organic, getting caught up in putting things in the cart because I’ve never tried them or they look appetizing. Cravings get me every single time. Go to the store when you aren’t hungry… yes, yes, I know.
Some people shop at the mall, nope… I hit up my favorite grocery stores. Nugget, Trader Joe’s, The Co-op, Sprouts, Whole Foods, Bel Air…. none of those (with maybe the exception of TJ’s) has the cheapest prices on things. My problem with TJ’s is that I geek out on all of the new products and next thing you know, my cart is full of so many food options that some even go bad before I get to try them. I act like I need food for 5-6 meals a day, when I pretty much stick to the standard 3 meals with an afternoon snack. I buy WAY too much for 1.5 people. I count Dan as a 1/2 because the only meal he eats at home M-F is dinner and 1/2 the time that’s just cereal or something frozen. I eat 3 meals a day – 5 days a week at home and then we basically eat out 1-2 meals every weekend.
I rarely shop the ads, I don’t use coupons, I sometimes take advantage of the farmer’s markets – but even with those, I have no self control. I’m like a 5 year old on Christmas morning. Fava beans… yes, I can figure out something to do with those. Fresh dates… yes, those would be great on salad. OMG!, I’ve never seen purple cabbage…artichokes the size of my head…oh wait, I must buy myself some fresh flowers. Next thing you know, I have enough produce to feed the entire neighborhood and enough flowers to decorate a wedding.
That all changed this month. I went back a year and logged my monthly grocery spending. Wow, what a complete wake up call. It was easy to track because I use the same form of payment for all groceries. Some of the numbers are totally inflated due to me purchasing garbage bags, sandwich bags, foil, paper towels, toilet paper, tissue, band-aids, Advil, etc. AT THE GROCERY STORE. They LOVE people like me. I always used the excuse that I have a busy schedule, my time is more important than driving around to 10 different stores. First world problems for sure. I even annoy myself sometimes.
We do entertain at least one night of every weekend. If we aren’t entertaining, we are bringing food to a friend’s place for a BBQ or other event. I always provide most of the food when hosting, but that changed this month… I started to ask people to bring stuff to save money. Everybody has always offered, I just usually replied with – I got it covered.
I dug through my junk drawer and broke out my club cards. I looked at the ads I usually tossed and made a plan. I knew in some cases I was probably going to have to brand switch, but I tried to keep that to a minimum.
I set out to “date” a bunch of different “new to me” grocery stores. My first date would let me know whether we were going to be compatible or not. If they didn’t carry a lot of my normal items, I’d move on to the next date/store.
Costco didn’t make the cut. I have no self control. I’ve never walked out of there without extra crap – including jeans, shorts, bathing suits, books and booze.
By searching the ads and online sales, I found eggs for 69 cents. Not my usual brand, but that was o.k. I found super cheap stone fruit… yay for it being in season.
I did a bunch of research and heard and read over and over again that the average family of 4 spends about $170/week on groceries. I took a poll with friends with families and it seemed to be in that general range. Some were much lower at $75-$100/week, others were more in the $150 range, but they did admit to mid week stops for several items they forgot or needed for baseball or soccer snacks, Girl Scout/Boy Scout meetings and other activities.
If the average family of 4 is spending $170/week – $680/month, a single person’s budget would be $42.50/week add on a 1/2 person (Dan) – that’s another $21.25/week, bringing my weekly budget total to $63.75 – $255 a month.
It’s certainly been a challenge.
I made a temporary switch from my beloved Chobani $1.69 at my local grocery store to Yoplait Light – $3.99 for an 8 pack, plus I had a $1 coupon, making it under 40 cents a container. I still bought a few Chobani’s, but I searched and found the cheapest prices at my local Target. Yes, I drove to multiple stores, all within 10 miles of my house.
28 days into the challenge and I’m at $270.35. I went over my budget by $15.35. Not perfect by any means, but so much better than before. This month’s budget also included house hold items such as toilet paper, storage bags, household cleaners, etc. I just purchased those at Target, Home Depot and Walmart on sale – instead of at the grocery store.
I’m working on eating from my pantry and freezer, so that was helpful in keeping the costs down. We did eat out the weekend of my birthday, we still hosted friends for dinner, provided food for a family Father’s Day gathering and a few other events.
I didn’t have to buy a bunch of unhealthy food to keep the costs down… I just had to be a smarter consumer. No more lazy behaviors.
I will continue to map out a loose meal plan and I will continue to check the weekly ads. I signed up for e-coupons on grocery store websites that are in my local area. I actually USE the coupons I get from using store rewards cards and I went into the farmer’s market with a list. I almost put things in the cart on multiple occasions… but I didn’t. I stuck to my plan and cutting my monthly bill in more than 1/2 was worth every extra ounce of time and energy involved in planning ahead.
I realize that everyone has a different view when it comes to how much they spend on food or anything for that matter. Some choose to spend their money on other things, some don’t have the money to spend in the first place, some don’t have many options available to them. I understand and want to be respectful of my readers, but I also wanted to share my own journey of becoming more aware of my spending/grocery buying habits. I wanted to prove to myself that it is indeed possible to still eat healthy while on a budget. A budget that worked for me, not necessarily one that is right for everyone. I wanted to show myself that if I could actually see lots of space on the shelves and drawers of my fridge, freezer and pantry, that I didn’t need to panic. What I had on hand was enough and the urgency to replenish the minute I ran out of something has faded because of that.
Questions for you:
- How often to you grocery shop?
- Do you have a grocery budget?
- Do you shop at more than one store?
- Have you ever done an audit on your grocery spending?
- Any tips you would like to share with me or other readers? Just leave your answers in comments so we can all join in the discussion.
I knew I had been spending far too much on groceries, but I didn’t realize how much I’d been overspending until I sat down and actually added it all up. Two more days left in the month and I have everything I need to get through it. I’m already starting a July list – it’s going to be a bigger challenge since we’re hosting the 4th of July – but I’m up for it and excited to see how well I can do.