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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Keeping Track of Grocery Expenses, Down to the Last Cent, and My Latest Shopping Trip

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My fridge, at the moment, with most of the produce I bought today inside.
On this local "money smart" board I am on, there was a discussion about how much is a normal amount of money to spend on groceries per family, and a financial consultant gave a really high number that many people were shocked to read. A bunch of extra frugal minded and just relatively frugal minded friends were surprised by the number, and all claimed to be spending much less each month on groceries than that. The financial consultant wanted to know what exactly we were buying that we were spending that little...

One of those friends and I decided that for the next month, we'd keep track of every single grocery (and food/eating out) expense we have for the next month- yes, even when we go to the store and just pick up one thing, so we can see exactly how much we're spending, and what percent of our money is getting spent on what. I've decided to scan my receipts daily, and when there isn't a receipt, just write down what was spent and on what. At the end of the month, I'll tally up every expense, and see how much we're spending total, how much on different categories, etc...
This will also be beneficial for us to help us decide if we want to be spending the way that we are, or if there's anything we want to change. And it'll help us know for sure if the estimates we have on how much we spend monthly is accurate or off.
And yes, those nonsensical waste splurges will be tallied up as well....
For those of you who are local and know the name of my other neglected frugality blog... I'm posting my receipts and expenses there each time we spend, and at the end of the month, I'll do a summary on this blog... (If you're local and don't know the name if my other blog, email me at pennilessparenting at yahoo dot com and I'll give you the address. If you don't know if you're local to me... you're not.)

Because of this project I'm undertaking, I'll try to post here more often about my shopping trips, what I bought, and why.

Today I went to the farmer's market to produce shop. A few days ago I went to the grocery store and was very disappointed by what I saw in the produce department. All the produce was much more expensive than it was in the past. The cheapest veggies were 40 cents a pound, but most were closer to $1 per pound or more... I know that most American readers will probably think those prices are amazing, but in my country salaries are much lower, so $1 per pound veggies are pretty expensive for most...

When prices are expensive for produce, I tend to head to the reduced rack for groceries that are cheaper because they are past their prime, but the reduced rack has been nearly empty the last few times I went shopping, other than onions, which I bought, and peppers, which we don't eat because they cause stomach upset in our family...
I decided that if my family wants to continue eating a healthy diet without breaking the bank, I'd need to find another place to do my produce shopping. The farmer's market is an hour plus trip each way from my house, but its the best place where I can find good deals on produce in my area, so even though the trip is tiring, I decided that I needed to make it anyhow...

This is what I got at the farmer's market today and why:

Even within the farmer's market, there is a place to get even cheaper produce. This is a whole "reduced rack" stand, with lots of produce, usually past prime, that you can get cheaply. The catch is- the guy who runs it is an older, often grumpy man... and none of the produce in his store is labeled by price. If you ask him how much something costs per pound, he'll get annoyed at you, and will likely give you a high price. If you insult the food at the store by claiming that it is sub par in any way (even if it is true!) he will be upset with you. If you argue with him that his prices are too high, he'll raise the prices even more, and after you come back to him in the future, he'll continue to give you high prices...
So what do you do? You pick out produce that looks good to you, put it in bags, and give it to the salesman. He'll weigh it, or eyeball it, and name a price. You do NOT argue with him. You do not say "That is too expensive." You just take it, smile, say "Have a nice day" and trust him that he gave you a good price. And if you're nice and polite to him, and he likes you, once you pay, he'll throw in extra food in there for free afterward.

You have no idea how hard this is for me, how much every fiber of my frugal self rebels against this method of shopping. Trust the salesperson that he's giving me a good price? Yea right! Trust that the salesperson is a snake and will rip you off because you're too trusting... But no, not in this store. In this store, trust is what is needed. And the trust pays off...
I'll get to that in a few minutes.

Today, I bought from him a bunch of sweet potatoes (perfect looking, just a little smaller than average), a TON of pumpkin (in my location, 1-3 lb chunks of pumpkin are sold, not whole pumpkins... and I picked out 3 chunks), a bag of carrots, a shopping bag filled with scallions, about 5 pomegranates, a bunch of persimmons, a weird looking squash of sorts, and a bag of potatoes... All perfect quality. He charged me 17 dollars for the lot.... and then threw in an extra pumpkin chunk. I thought at first it seemed like a lot of money, but I kept my mouth shut...
But then when I got home, I weighed it... It weighed 43 pounds! Which meant on average I was charged 39 cents a pound for the produce! And since some of that produce (sweet potatoes, etc...) generally goes for $1.30 a pound in the grocery store, and the rest of the produce generally goes for 80 cents to a dollar a pound, getting the lot for 39 cents a pound is beyond amazing! I am freezing most of the pumpkin so it will last me for a while.
If you noticed, I didn't buy any mushy things from him. I just bought stuff that lasts a while, because I've had too much experience buying cheap overripe pears, tomatoes, etc... from him, and then coming home to a wet, mushy mess that wasn't very salvageable. So now I just buy harder stuff from him...

After shopping there, I walked around the market, and supplemented my shop with some more stuff:
9 lbs of oranges for $2.80 for snacking, a few zucchini for 65 cents a pound (a higher price than I like to pay for it, but lower than I've seen lately, and I really like zucchini in soups), a few ears of corn on the cob for 65 cents (I cut these into small circles, boiled them, and will be freezing them to send in my sons' lunches for school), 1 large bunch of celery for $1.40 (celery is expensive where I live, and this is a decent price for it. I am freezing the leaves, etc... to use for soups), 2 large bunches of radishes for $2.25... which isn't so cheap if you don't consider the leaves food... but we will be using the radish leaves as healthy greens.
Even though I already had persimmons, I saw some being sold for 32 cents a pound (usually they're sold closer to a dollar a pound), so I decided to buy 8 more pounds of persimmons. I know it seems like a lot, but persimmons are some of our favorite fruit in this house, so these will all end up being eaten, without a doubt.
Then I bought about 8 or 9 avocados at 75 cents a pound, which is a pretty decent price for them, and will be freezing some of them for guacamole (yes, avocados are freezable).

As for non produce stuff- I bought roasted, shelled peanuts from a vendor (some salted, some not), because I find they're a good, healthy snack to have around the house, are a good thing to send with my boys as proteins in their lunch, and are much cheaper than any other "nuts". (Don't worry, peanut allergies are very rare where we live, so that isn't a concern with their lunches.) I bought them at this vendor because it's the cheapest place, I've seen, by far, to buy peanuts.

Altogether I spent 36 dollars on my shop today. And came home with a huge amount of produce, that should last us for a while. :-D And I know that if I'd bought those stuff at any other place, I probably would have paid closer to 75 dollars for the lot, if not 100...

Do you know how much you spend per month on groceries, down to the last cent, and not just a guestimate? How much are you spending? (In dollars please.) If you don't know, would you want to do this challenge with us? (I started the challenge yesterday, and plan on continuing it until the 16th of November, after which I will post the results.)
If there was a store near you that in order to get good pricing, you have to just trust that you'll get a good price, would you be able to do so, or would your frugal senses make you unable to do such a thing?

27 comments:

  1. Hi Penni,
    I know all our (grocery) expenses to the T, as I keep all receipts and note down all other amounts for my monthly analysis.
    Living in Germany, our grocery bill averages approx. 80USD per person, and that already includes cleaners, toilet paper and such and other non-food items such as toiletries (all except for clothing).

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    1. How many people are in your family? Because I've found that its easier to spend less per person when you are shopping for more people.

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    2. Sorry, I wondered whether that number seemed so high to me. It is actually what I spend for two people per week, so it's about 40USD per person per week. We`re just a two-people-household, I know that makes shopping more expensive. Also, I haven't been to the farmer's market for a long time :)

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  2. do you wNt my bill split into food and non-food (toiletries, personal care, cleaning) items? because food only will be much lower...

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    1. I use mainly food items as toiletries and cleaning and personal care stuff... but the ones that I don't, I buy at the grocery store and will be including that.

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  3. how do you freeze your avocados? do you wait for them to be ripe, or just toss them in the freezer? whole or cut up?

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    1. Haven't done it yet, but this is what I'm planning on doing. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/10/freezing-avocados_n_1864437.html

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  4. I will do this challenge! How should I report my totals to you Penny?

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    1. If you have a blog, you can keep track of it there, and if not, just on your computer. And then at the end of the month, when I post my results, I'd love if you'd share yours as well in the comments, etc...

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  5. I know how much I spend because we keep a tight budget and use a cash envelope to delegate what we can spend on food. However, we also tend to dump our change in a change jar at home so I know that it's a bit less than what we budget.

    I generally purchase body items or packaged foods at the local major chain grocery store because of coupons, I can get those for free or very cheap.

    Produce and meats I purchase at the local ethnic store, they have great deals on produce like 4lbs/$1 or this time of year 10lbs potatoes for $1. I've never spent more than $20 there and always leave with a lot of produce and fresh meat.

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  6. I know how much I spend on everything each month, down to the last cent (or penny, as the case my be here in UK) - thanks to my trusty spending diary where I've been noting everything we spend - every single little thing - for the last five years. What can I say, it works for us :oD

    Anyway, I buy groceries for two adults and a 16 year old. My budget is £250 per month (currency converter tells me that's $403.67), but I tend to come slightly under budget pretty much every month. On average, £150 ($242.27) is spent on food - the remaining £100 ($161.51) goes on toiletries, household supplies, food bank donations, homebrew supplies (mostly sugar these days with an occasional beer kit thrown in - we brew all our own wine and beer) and garden supplies - as we grow a lot of our own food, money spent on the garden comes from our grocery budget as well.

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  7. We tracked our grocery spending (total cost of FOOD items, not detailed by type of food) for every month of 2010. We spent about $100/month less than the USDA's estimate of "thrifty" spending for a family our size. Here's my analysis of how we spend less than average. But an important fact to consider is that we do eat some meals in restaurants. When I later estimated our restaurant spending for the year, it was about equal to our grocery spending, although it gave us much fewer meals; if we'd made those meals from groceries, our grocery spending would have been at least 15-25% more.

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  8. I do know how much I spend on groceries to the last cent (though I may have forgotten to record an item or two here or there).

    This year I have averaged $98.54 US for just one person with the monthly total ranging from $47.73 in August to $149.11 in April. (Some months are better for stocking up.)

    That includes toiletries, averaging $7.31/month. I have also kept track of other categories:
    protein: $12.56
    dairy: $23.61
    grain: $13.65
    produce: $13.13
    empty calories: $6.19
    other food (like spices): $7.29
    nutritional supplements (vitamins, fish oil, etc.): $10.12

    Obviously I eat a very different diet than your family (and if I would eat more actual produce, I wouldn't need so many nutritional supplements).

    This does not include restaurants, where I do eat probably 2 - 3 times per week, and many times the leftovers from a visit feed me for another meal (or more!).

    The farmer's market reduced-rack guy sounds like quite a character. But it sounds like once you know the rules, it's a good deal (unless you learned the rules by making him irrevokably angry at you!).

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    1. That's cool that you know it down to the last cent. If you added in restaurants, how much would you average on groceries?

      Yea, the shop keeper is quite a character. Uhm, a friend said he's like a certain television character, a soup ___. :-D I never watched Seinfeld, but from what I read, it's true.
      And yes, I learned the rules by getting on his bad side for a while... but fortunately I'm back on his good side, which saves me money.

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    2. Glad you're on his good side again. (I don't think the soup nazi has a good side, but I've only seen one episode.)

      I don't pay for the restaurant meals because it's my boyfriend who really, really wants to eat out. (Exceptions--his celebrations and the few times I really, really want to eat out when he would be fine eating at home. I pay for movies. It's still not fair, but we're both happy that way.)

      The restaurant meals are not cheap, generally $25 - $50 for each meal including tax and tip. The amount I order usually costs less than the amount he orders, sometimes half as much, but it's still plenty of money.

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  9. I'm in. I need to do this!!! Ugh.... groceries are getting more and more expensive all the time. it's crazy.

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  10. We have $150 budgeted for our bi-weekly shopping trips ($300 per month). This is for 2 adults and 1 child. I have been going over this up to around $175 several times recently because we have been doing a lot with coupons and stocking up on good sales. We have however been able to skip bi-weekly shopping trips in the past because of the stocking up so that kind of comes out in the wash. I am going to try to start working my way down slowly toward $100 every two weeks though because we are at a point now where we are able to keep a freezer full of meat, fruits and vegetables and meals we have made ahead and frozen, a pantry full of dry/canned goods, and cabinets full of all sorts of non-food items. I am able to recognize a good deal, and I am able to stock up on the things we need when they are on sale not when we HAVE to have them.
    While we do have company frequently and I do have to keep that in mind as I shop, we are at the point now where we desire to stay at home more and cook. We have found that our time at home gives us the opportunity to enjoy new recipes and the time preparing the food together so we rarely go out to eat. The last few times we have eaten out we find outselves commenting on the fact that we could have done this or that better at home.
    The extra trips to the grocery store are few because we decided that the money spent would come out of the next bi-weekly $150. This keeps me focused on keeping my money for that shopping day. I am also very interested in using coupons and finding sales when ever possible and hate to run into town and buy something that is not on sale and I don't have a coupon for it. It drives me crazy to pay full price when I know how cheap I could get it.
    I guess that is an aweful lot to say when all that really needed to be said was: While I don't track every penny, we stay pretty close to $300 a month and I am going to be starting to work my way down to $200 a month slowly. We don't eat out often and we don't run into town for splurge items at the grocery store often.

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  11. I keep track to the penny of what we spend on everything. We had to recently cut our budget considerably because we have a 2nd child attending Catholic school. We have a family of 6 (4 boys) and I spend about $300 per week on groceries and what I term "household" items, combined. My biggest expense in that is probably meat. My boys are all big meat eaters, as is my husband, so substituting that protein with things like beans would NOT fly in my house. The household items are things like paper products, cleaners, etc. non-food items that I would buy at the grocery store or Target.

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  12. We budget really strictly so I know to the cent how much we spend on groceries. I budget $230/mo for 2 people and I spend between $190-230. We buy organic which drives our price up a bit, but we are able to keep our costs down by eating more whole foods and baking/cooking rather than eating convenience or processed foods (though we do buy the occasional treat). I'd try that store/system you're talking about once. If it worked (like the deal you got), I'd definitely go back. If not, I'd be done with it. I don't like the idea much, but I'd do it for a good price!

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  13. Penny,
    How do you get all those pounds of produce back from the farmer's market? Do you take the bus? Bring a wagon to the market with you?

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  14. Major metropolitan in the Midwest US...we track but at a higher level- we include all shopping at grocery nd similar stores so its directionally correct. We budget 153/ mo for grocery and non grocery items (cleaning supplies, tp, etc). We do not include eating out- that comes from our entertainment envelope. Unfortunately we also buy bulk beef at one point during the year which allocated soul add about $100/mo or $25/person to the total. Its very clear we can do better, but convenience and busy days take over.

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  15. We just moved so I'm re-budgeting for new prices, etc. I was spending $400/ month for 3 people. My son just turned 1 and because I could not breast feed as I had hoped, a good chunk of our budget was spent on special milk formula for him.

    Now we're living with family and I'm cooking for 6-7 people, and I agree it's much cheaper than cooking for 2! I think we spent $100 on groceries this week for everyone. Amazing how far it stretches!

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  16. Two years ago, I kept track of all of our food expenses for 1 whole year. My DH made an Excell spreadsheet for me with categories, such as different stores, eating out, milk goat expenses, gardening expenses, etc. At the end of the year, I averaged it, and for the two of us, it was $50 a week. That seemed like a lot, but I guess that's what it takes. I make nearly everything from scratch and we grow as much of our own food as we are able. Food is expensive!

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  17. Yesterday actually ended my one month grocery experiment. I am in an expensive area of New England in the US. I am totally astounded and ashamed of my total. 849. and something cents. I have been buying almost all of our meat and produce from the "buy it today at cheaper prices because the date is up" section. Most of our yogurt is purchased the same way. I do buy a few specialty items like gluten free bread and pasta for my husband, and some items for my own health. If I made a ton of money I guess I would not be so horrified but I do not even know how I am making ends meet. This is more than my income was last month. My husband occasionally gives me $20 toward food, but that is rare. I MUST do better this month. Actually that is why I ended up here. I love your blog and need to go to all the blogs I like that are frugal and brush up on the latest saving techniques. I would like to get this cut back to 500, 600 at the most.

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  18. We've been tracking every single penny of our spending in categories since June. Some months are higher and some months are lower, obviously, but for food (for a family of 5 - my kids are 10, 8 and 7) we spend the equivalent of US$500-600. Most of what we buy is fruit, veg, grains and legumes with some dairy too. I think that cheese, nuts and seeds are our most expensive things.

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  19. My wife and I live in Queens, NY and have spent an average of $425/mo YTD 2013. This is because we began cooking most of our meals. FY 2011 we spent $223/mo and FY 2012 we spent $257/mo; we were eating out 8-10 times a week then on average, so the added groceries expense more than pays for itself. These numbers include toiletries and such.

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