Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Breakdown of Money Spent For the Month

 photo IMG_1028_zpsf9d12bad.jpgA month ago I announced that I would be diligently tracking my grocery expenses, down to the last cent, so I could see exactly how much our family was spending in a month, and then break it down into different categories, so we could see how much we spent in different categories. I had a rough guesstimate that altogether my family spent 425 dollars a month on groceries, but since I never tracked things down to the last cent, I wasn't 100% sure.

Turns out my guess was very close- we spent $433 dollars in the past month.

Two years ago, with 4 people in our family instead of 5, when we ate less healthily, when we used more processed foods, ate gluten and white sugar and less healthy oils, and before prices in our area were raised tremendously, we were able to get our grocery bills as low 250 dollars a month... but that simply isn't doable now, both because our family is larger, our kids are older (and pickier), and because we have health issues that we are taking care of via our diet.
However, most people with families our size and gluten free/sugar free, etc... end up spending a lot more than what we spend each month, so I'm pretty happy with what we're spending. Even so, there definitely are things I would like to cut back on, and would like to lower our grocery bills further.

So, what are we spending in each of the areas?

We spent the most on produce- something I am totally fine with, as produce is very nutritious and it's ideal that we fill up on this and not with less healthy foods.
Total spent on produce: $124.
The produce can be broken down into three categories- fresh produce, canned produce, and frozen produce.
Fresh produce: $90
Canned produce: $33.20
Frozen produce: $2.53
The fresh produce was a mix of fruits and veggies, including lots and lots of bananas, as well as onions, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin, apples, clementines, persimmons, oranges, zucchini, grapes, pears, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, avocado, celery, radishes, scallions, cabbage, and some cilantro.  (I'm probably forgetting to list some produce.) I don't know how many pounds, but it was a LOT, because for most of the produce I paid around 40 cents a pound.
The canned produce was a lot of canned applesauce, some hearts of palm that I love and found on incredible sale, and some canned pineapple and mushrooms that were also on sale. And also one can of leechees which I bought on sale, for a treat. The cans, on average, were $1.50 per can.
I bought one thing of frozen produce- frozen green beans for $2.53 for the package. (Frozen produce in my area tends to be very expensive. This was a terrific price for the frozen green beans.)

We spent way too much on junk food. This is something I am trying hard to cut back on. The junk was occasional treats for my kids to bribe them to go to school with, plus a random treat for myself here and there... and on top of that, when I forget to pack my husband lunch, he goes to the nearest gas station and buys himself doritos and cottage cheese, which fills him up. But is super expensive. So for next month, I'm trying to keep the costs down and stocking up, so at least on these stuff from cheaper stores, to keep at home for him to take with him, for when I don't have a chance to make his lunch. Yes, I know it's not so healthy, but its his choice- he's a grown up, this is what he wants to eat, and it's not my place to force him to comply to my wishes. I'm just trying to fulfill his wishes, more cheaply.
So, total spent on junk this month: $57.50
Among that junk was lots of Doritos and potato chips, some chocolate, gum, lollipops, and jello. [The jello was actually medicinal... My daughter was sick, and dehydrated, and we were going to take her to the ER if she didn't drink, but she refused to. I enticed her to get liquids into her by giving her store bought, ready made jello. (No time to make homemade healthy jello, or even unhealthy homemade jello from a package, because we needed to get liquids into her ASAP.)]

Speaking of junk food- there also were the store bought drinks, which, in my opinion, are another form of junk.
Total spent on drinks: $13.55
This includes orange juice, one small thing of chocolate milk as a treat for Lee, energy drinks that I bought on sale for very cheap , and some coca cola to help with my nausea.

The total amount spent on proteins this month was $108 dollars.
This breaks down to:
Dairy: $32.60
Eggs: $29.35
Meat: $37.25
Nuts and seeds: $5.30
Other vegan proteins: $3.46
The only dairy (other than that chocolate milk) this month was for my husband's lunch- it was either cottage cheese or this spreadable soft cheese that comes packaged like cottage cheese...
The eggs are expensive! But they're a staple in my house. I don't eat them, but everyone else has eggs when I need a quick healthy and filling food to feed them.
The meat includes ground beef and frozen hamburgers (no fillers) that I bought on incredible sale. (We already had chicken in our freezer from a shop we made before this month started.)
Nuts and seeds is mainly peanuts, plus a little almonds for almond extract I want to make.
The other vegan protein is really just a thing of tofu- that's how much a small package of tofu costs here. I was craving something with tofu, so even though I usually avoid soy, especially tofu, both for health and costs, I bought one package this month. We did use other vegan proteins this month- I had lentils and beans in my stockpile.

Total spent on dry goods this month: $40.
This includes lots of rice, including brown rice, risotto rice, and regular white rice, rice cakes, rice noodles, corn meal, potato starch, and a few boxes of gluten free cereal, plus sugar for my kombucha making.

Total spent on spices: $6.05
This includes lots of garlic powder, nutmeg, allspice, and a few dried herbs.

Total spent on healthy sweeteners: $31
This includes raw honey, date syrup/honey, and date paste.

Total spent on non food grocery items: $25.63
This includes disposable diapers (yes, I've been bad about using cloth lately), sandwich bags, aluminum foil, baking paper, a few disposables, and eucalyptus essential oil.

Total spent on eating out: $23.95

So, overall, looking back, the only thing I'd really change how I'd spend, is getting less junk, and if we do buy junk, buying it in cheaper places (already done- bought a bunch of doritos and potato chips at the grocery store yesterday, for less than half of what it costs at the gas station), and buying dairy at a cheaper place. (I found a place that sells each container of cottage cheese for 65 cents less than my husband was buying it, so I am stocking up.)

Another thing that affected our groceries a lot this month was my laziness to cook legumes... I am going to try to cook more of them instead of eating so many animal proteins, and maybe cooking in advance so I don't end up relying on eggs as a back up option so many times this month. (And I bought chicken wings yesterday on an incredible sale... they are less expensive per meal than eggs, so I'll be doing that more when I don't want to do legumes.)
Additionally, we had two bouts of illness this month- stomach bugs, and flu, so I ended up buying a lot of things I wouldn't have, like tons of bananas NOT on sale, canned applesauce (it's a fortune here!), and jello, plus freshly squeezed orange juice. Hoping that other months we'll be spending less because hopefully we won't be sick.
Also, we have incredibly cheap produce sales one day a week here- last week I was very lazy and didn't feel like going out on the day of the sale, so when we ran out of all produce, I needed to supplement at the grocery store for much more money than they would have cost at the sale, so I'm going to try to be a little less lazy this next month.

Because of all these factors, and the fact that I had bought chicken right before this month started, and just needed to buy toilet paper yesterday, I decided I'm going to repeat this experiment next month, and see how much I end up spending, to get a better picture of our "average month".
My goal- next month get our grocery bill down to $340 dollars. And if possible, $280. But that's really stretching it- not sure it's doable at all. We'll see! Wish me luck!

If you were tracking your grocery expenses this month, how much did you end up spending for the month? Was it more or less than you were expecting to spend? 
How do your grocery bills break down? What are you spending the most on? What are you spending the least on? Are you happy with your grocery bill breakdown, or is there anything you'd like to switch? If you're trying to lower your grocery bills after seeing your expense breakdown, what are you going to try to do to lower it?

Again, if anyone is local and wants to see my exact breakdown on my groceries, in my local currency, send me an email to pennilessparenting at yahoo dot com to find out the address of my local blog, where I wrote all my receipts, etc....


  1. Have you read the Mr Money Mustache blog? He talks about groceries and is also on a no gluten, etc diet.

    1. No I haven't, at least not regularly. I'll check it out again.

  2. Hi,
    You really hit on the key for living frugally. While I don't for one minute believe that you are "being lazy", running around doing what you do while pregnant, while being mommy and wife, and taking care of the world, living frugally takes energy - lots of it. Without energy you can't plan, which leads to spending when you don't want to, and spending for convenience. And the people who most need to live frugally are usually the ones scrambling to keep money coming in the door while dealing with "life". That leads to buying cheap fast food to fill the kids stomachs since regular priced, healthier food costs so much more. Terrible predicament.
    Keep up the good fight. You are great!

    1. Haha, I beg to differ. I sometimes sit and watch movies hour after hour- that's called laziness... :-D I could be doing money saving stuff instead of wasting time. And yes, frugality takes energy, at least mental energy to prepare things in advance... Stuff like lentils are both cheap and quick, but if people are picky eaters, then you have to deal with that as well....

  3. I don't track our grocery spending, mostly because I get 400 euros a month to pay for everything with, and that's it. So after the cat food and diapers are paid for, that's a bit more than 300 euros a month, and then it's up to me to figure out how to make things work.

    However, I will say that when my husband is home, he does the cooking, and therefore we end up spending a lot more than my allotted sum because he likes cooking good food but he has no idea how to do it cheaply. He never knows what he's going to make until the afternoon (too late to soak beans) and it usually involves out-of-season produce or stuff that's not on sale. So this month and last month, we've been spending a lot more on groceries, because his work has been less demanding.

    A petty thing of mine, though: I take issue with your characterizing sweeteners as "healthy". With the exception of whole dates, it's now being found that sugar in any form is unhealthy. Fructose--what makes sugar sweet-- is terrible for you in any form, and the only reason why fruit is relatively healthy is because it contains fiber. If you divorce the fructose from the fiber, your body can't tell what it is, and it gets processed in the exact same way as refined white sugar.

    1. Would your husband be open to menu planning in advance, to help save money?

      Feel free to disagree about referring to those things as healthy sweeteners. No sweeteners is healthier than sweeteners, that's right (which is why I didn't buy much by way of sweeteners this month- one jar of honey, one jar of date syrup, and 2 small packages of pureed dates), but I do believe that the less processed a sweetener is, the healthier it is. Honey and date syrup and dates, for example, contain enzymes and nutrients and minerals that plain white sugar is lacking. And plain white beet sugar is usually highly processed, having been treated with lots of chemicals to get it as it is, in addition to it usually being made from genetically modified sugar beets.
      But that aside- my body reacts badly to white sugar- nausea, headaches, etc... but is totally fine with the less processed sweeteners that I use- so I'll listen to my body- I trust that it does know what is healthier and what is not. At least for me.

    2. I can get date products very cheaply and use them small amounts coz it is sooo sweetI left the USA almost 3 years ago and live in a country much more expensive than the USA for most groceries.I am learning to eat like the locals coz that is the cheapest way.We care for my elderly inlaws and they are extremely picky eatters.. it is really tough but my husband is very open minded.I try to do more in crock pot and beans and lentils.. tho I have had to change the kinds coz American types aren't here.I am a bit under employeed and making a low wage working 7 shifts a week 4 to 6 hour shifts..Things are challenging the climate for gardening is challenging and my FIL is not relenting much space to me to do so I have taken to recycled containers in a area of gap between the house and perimter fence.Produce can be cheap if I buy stuff that is a bit past prime but not the kind of prices you seem to get.I got a couple pounds of figs from some one at work the other day that was a treat !! I think some times we maybe in the same country but I am not sure love sally

  4. I'm desperately trying to cut our grocery bill - but I know I spend a LOT more on meat than you do. I have large (as in tall!), teenage boys who are athletes, and they really pack in the protein. And no one (except my husband) likes legumes in my house. On average, we eat 2 - 3 lbs of meat for a dinner, and it's not cheap. It would be nice to be "local" to you to see where you get things on sale, but I'm in the U.S., so no-go! Love seeing these posts on how you cut costs on food.

    1. The question is- do they need as much protein as they're consuming, or do they just want to eat more? I once showed a picture of a family dinner, showing us each eating a hamburger, plus lots of veggies and some carbs, and people were shocked- they "could eat" 3 burgers in a meal. Yea- so could we, but just because we CAN eat that much doesn't mean that we need to eat that much. You should eat as much as you need, but that doesnt mean you need as much as your eyes tell you you should have. And if they actually do need that much protein, have you thought about using eggs as protein- because they often are cheaper than meat, per oz of protein...

    2. On the nights that they have practice (swim practice currently), they come home REALLY hungry. In the long run - having more protein means they don't go scrounging for "junky" stuff later. I also have learned to have dinner ready to go as soon as they get home, so they don't grab a "snack" as soon as they walk in the door. And using your hamburger example - it varies. Sometimes, they are satisfied with just one, but other nights, they really are hungry and will eat two. And I definitely use eggs, although not as much as I would like. They do like breakfast for dinner, but only once a week or so. My husband is big on "meat" for dinner, so I can only go vegetarian or eggs every once in awhile or there are massive complaints. And he's not terribly flexible on that one issue. They all will eat veggies, but they are not huge carb consumers during meals - everyone can take or leave rice, pasta, etc. They do like bread, and I do make that all from scratch, so I try and supplement there.

  5. I think you're doing great on your groceries. Its hard to stay organized and to plan ahead with pregnancy-brain! In my opinion.. I wouldn't blame u if u grabbed a box of macaroni and cheese and called it a meal. Lol. Sometimes life happens, and even the most healthy eater has to grab the nearest thing at the store and call it a meal. And you haven't done that yet, so you are skilled lady, very skilled.
    We are trying to pay off our 30 year loan in 10 years and put my husband through college.. So we are not healthy eaters. We are cheap eaters. And this is pretty much how I grew up, so I know that the foods I am choosing are enough to meet basic nutritional needs.. Because I was never lacking in anything at doc appointments when growing up. We have had the same basic grocery bill for 3 years now.
    Our grocery breakdown:
    Special cat food for old, sick cats: 24
    Litter 32.00
    (56.00 just on our pets)
    Canned chicken breast 10.74
    Lowfat American cheese 7.96
    Sandwich Bread 5.34
    Splenda 1.99
    Toilet paper 10.00
    Fat free refried beans 7.11
    Hard taco shells 4.00
    Soft flour tortillas 2.00
    Fat free Milk 11.56
    Eggs 5.56
    Coffee 5.66
    Cereal 11.34
    Spinach (canned or fresh baby) 6.00
    Produce: 5.00 (clearance bananas, cantelope, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots,etc.)
    Sauce (alfredo, tomato, curry whatever) 1.00
    Miscellaneous filler items 12.00 (changes every week, might be yogurt, oatmeal, stock piles of rice or dry beans, meat that is on sale, sardines, produce, more sauces etc.)
    Total for the month is:
    But subtract the pets and our bill is:
    $106.26 for the month
    We eat dried beans (not meat) every day with dinner. Our meat that we buy on sale maybe 3 times a year is reserved for when we have company or a special date night, or holidays. My husband eats a canned chicken and cheese sandwich everyday for lunch because its convienient, and I eat a bean taco or burrito for lunch everyday (also convenience) I grow our potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes and bell peppers (always adding new produce to the garden each year) And we have 3 walnut trees that I harvest from during their best producing years. Also, in tight months we actually just eat our dry bean and rice stashes, milk, eggs, potatoes and spinach. So our grocery bill is reduced during those seasons quite dramatically. We also just eat FAR smaller servings when we are tight on money. This is the breakdown of our grocery bill when we have money. Lol. When we don't... We only spend about $85 a month on the cats, milk, toilet paper, a few eggs, a couple sardine cans and maybe 3 cans of spinach. The rest of our food if the stashes of rice and beans we've accumulated over the rest of the year.
    I have always wanted to cut our cat litter costs down. We've tried pine chips which are far cheaper and might go back to them. Also interested in cloth T.P. (Just for number 1) To save on toilet paper costs.. But other than that we don't have much wiggle room in our already trimmed down to bare essentials $85 breakdown for our money-bare months. Hopefully one day I can cut out the produce bill entirely. I have a lemon tree, and plan to plant a fig, olive, apple and pear tree this spring.

    1. I noticed Splenda on your shopping list. I'd encourage you to read this and make up your own mind- http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2000/12/3/sucralose-dangers.aspx#

    2. Thanks for the concern :) I checked out the link too. In general I'm not too concerned with chemicals or additives, I admit they're bad for ya, but I have other things that will probably kill me before food additives will. I have been medicated with prescriptions my entire life to keep me from dying.. The side effects of the drugs that keep me alive will eventually one day take me out.. If my illnesses don't. And I'm okay with that, I faced my own mortality long ago as a child, so I guess splenda just doesn't seem as big of a threat to me as it seems to be with other people. I do acknowledge that splenda isn't a health food though, by any means :) and its true that people should be aware of it's effects.

  6. I use purina crumbles chicken feed as cat litter and its great. I used to use Sweat Scoop natural litter but it was too expensive and smelled more than I liked so now I find the chicken feed to smell better and its also easier to scoop out the wet areas. It clumps well. I spend about $5 a month for three cats.

    1. That's amazing. I'm going to check the farm store my mom buys chicken feed at this weekend!!! Is it low dust? My cats have several issues health-wise from the dusty litters, that's why we buy the lowest dust we can afford. I'm so excited to try this thanks!

    2. I also love this idea. I will be on the lookout for it. Thanks Mindy!

    3. I cant use a dusty litter because of husband's allergies so the chicken feed is great. I don't notice dust and we have one very eager digger! When I used clay or scoopable litter there was a layer of dust on everything in the room. This is a great alternative. Maybe you can buy a small portion at the feed store to try in one litter pan to see what you think. Good luck!

  7. I didn't see beans/legumes on your list so this must have been a month when you did not need any.
    I noticed avocados in your fridge. I did not know they could be refrigerated. I can buy a package of 5 cheaper per piece than individual ones but, unless I am disciplined enough, I end up throwing some away.
    I confess that discarding produce that has gone bad is one of my biggest expenses. Do you have suggestions for over ripe avocados?

    1. I had a bunch of legumes in my stock from previous months when I bought them on sale. Avocados should only be refrigerated once they're soft- they won't soften in the fridge. But once they're soft, the fridge stops them from going overripe and spoiling.

  8. How/where did you get your produce soooo cheap???

  9. As a vegetarian, sometimes, I do get tired of legumes... :[ But I have a few go-to recipes where legumes melt into powerfull & delicious flavours. They are always a hit :)
    1. Simplified chili : onions + garlic + pepper + tomatoes & usually with red beans but it can be a mix of green lentils & red beans etc.
    2. Simplified rissotto / jambalaya : a mix of rice & peas & cajun spices and whatever I have (onions, corn, pepper, celery etc.). I just love the cajun spice mix I found and it makes everything delicious :)

    > Do you ever cook quinoa ?
    It could be an alternative to (expensive) meat and (unloved) legumes for you.

    The best way for me to avoid to buy "junk food" is actually to make some (small quantities) myself... I mean I don't crave (anymore) sweet stuff when I make my own delicious cookies :D A little bit of homemade indugences makes buying no junk food totally sustainable :)

  10. Good for you! I try to keep my grocery spending in the $350-$450 range and am eating in a very similar way to your family. IT IS TOUGH!! I only buy sale items unless its a necessity (high quality eggs, for example.) We order our meat, eat very little grains, no legumes (my tummy can't handle them) so the bulk of our groceries are veggies, meat, fruit, eggs, and nuts. I love to bake but have reined it in since I don't seem to have the time. My husband has an insane metabolism it seems, cause when he eats, HE EATS all these things, and we splurge on ice cream for him all too often. (But at least he's cut back on beer!) I was getting slack on my budgeting the last few months and after an expensive family trip I am seeing the sad results! Time to rein it in again!!!

  11. Last month I spent $79.08 on groceries (for just one person). That's less than usual. My average so far this year is $96.60 (but I've already spent $110 this month, so that average is going up--last year my average was $103/month). This year my spending has ranged from $36.55 to $149.11 per month. I don't have any cash flow problems, so I can spend more when I get good deals.

    I do break down my spending in categories similar to yours. Here is the average per month in those categories so far:
    * protein - $11.87
    * dairy - $22.13
    * grain - $12.33
    * produce - $12.33
    * empty calories - $14.97
    * other food - $6.56
    * nutritional supplements - $9.11
    * toiletries - $6.58

    "Other food" is stuff that's hard to categorize like cocoa powder or a TV dinner with multiple food groups.

    The nutritional supplements are: multivitamins (because I don't eat enough produce), fish oil (because I don't eat much fish), vitamin D (because I wear sunscreen), vitamin E (because I heard it's good for your skin), and cranberry extract (for urinary tract infections). Obviously it would be better if I got more of this stuff directly from food.

    And I don't really need that many empty calories! But I love them.

    To keep prices down, I do some of my own food processing (like grating cheese) and I keep a price book and I try to focus on recipes with lower-cost ingredients. I just started working on a list of my favorite things from each of the different stores I go to so that whenever I go to one of them I make sure to stock up on things that they do best.

  12. You do know that plastic bags have chemicals? You maybe want to try storing your food in glass containers. Just a suggestion. Especially with how bags are recycled now a days. Just a suggestion; don't beat your self up either.


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