Two months ago I began a challenge in which I tracked every single cent my husband and I spent on groceries, broken down into different categories, so we could firstly get a better picture how much our family is actually spending (and not just guesstimates), and then to see in which categories we are spending the most, and what our problem areas are, where we could/should cut back on.
At first I thought I'd just challenge myself for a month, but I decided to keep this going, at least for a few months. Number one because I don't buy everything every month- I stockpile, so one month I'll spend more in one area and less in another, and the next month it could be reversed. But now that I know what some potential problem areas are, I want to keep track to see if we're improving in those things, or picking up some other expensive shopping habits that we should drop.
So this month, not only did I track where we were spending our money, I also averaged it out with last month to see how much, on average, so far, we spent in each category. And also I calculated percent change to see where we spent more this month and where we spent less.
And finally, my husband and I discussed what we planned on doing to keep our bills next month lower.
Last month, we spent $431.50 on groceries and I really wanted to lower our grocery expenses this month, but it didn't happen. In fact, we spent $479.50, 11.1% more than last month. The average monthly grocery bill was $455.50.
So, what was spent in each area?
The most money was spent on produce. By far. $146.02 or 31% of the total, in fact, was spent on produce.
This breaks down to $106.15 spent on 242 lb of fresh produce (averaging out to 44 cents a pound on produce), and included tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, potatoes, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, zucchini, beets, cabbage, fennel, celery, pumpkin, swiss chard, green beans, dill, apples, oranges, clementines, bananas, persimmons, and fresh dates. A large chunk of this produce was purchased either on sale or from the reduced rack, but not all.
$22.41 was spent on canned produce- 16 cans total, averaging $1.40 a can. This included some indulgences such as 6 cans of hearts of palm that were on incredible sale compared to their usual price, but still pretty expensive... plus tomato paste, mushrooms, corn, and a lone can of pineapple.
$10.08 was spent on nearly 7 lbs of frozen produce- pretty much just frozen green beans and peas.
In comparison, last month we spent $124.75 total on produce, meaning this month we spent 17% more on produce. On average, we spent $135.38 per month on produce.
The next highest sum was spent on dry foods. (Last month, the second largest sum was spent on junk food, and I'm so glad we didn't have a repeat this month.) $75.96, or 16% of the total.
Of this, I broke it down into two subcategories- base ingredients, that I use to cook with- popcorn, rice, potato starch, and sugar- $31.02, and more processed foods, things I can make at home, or things I can do without- like pasta, rice cakes, gluten free crackers, gluten free cereal, and plain gelatin- $44.94.
This is much more than we spent last month- 91% more- since last month we only spent $39.75 on dry foods. On average, $57.85 was spent per month.
The next highest amount was spent on meat, poultry, and fish. $49.53 or 10.3% of the total bill. Of which $7 dollars was on meat, $28.18 on poultry, and $14.35 on fish. In comparison, last month $37.04 was spent in this same category, but this past month, even though I spent 33.7% more, I got many good deals and got much more for my money's worth than I did the previous month and still have a lot in my freezer and pantry. It averaged out to $43.29 spent each month on meat, poultry, and fish.
Next up was non food grocery items. $37.25. Up 46.1% from last month's $25.49. This included diapers, wipes, candles, cotton balls, and toilet paper. Averaging out to $31.37 on non food items.
All the way down the list now is junk. $32.80 on junk- 43% less than last month's $57.23, and 6.8% of the total bill instead of last month's 13.3%! Quite an improvement, but still more needed to go. I divided the junk into three categories- Mike's junk- $14.99 (mainly potato chips or Doritos, which he often eats with cottage cheese for lunch at work), my junk- $9.36 (chocolate, nougat, and maybe one or two other things... which I totally regretted afterward, because junk makes me nauseous for hours! So why am I wasting my money on it???) and junk for the family- $8.45 (marshmallows, a peanut/corn snack, and gluten free pretzels). On average, between last month and this, we spent $45 per month on junk.
Healthier sweeteners is next on the list- $27.01 for date syrup and jaggery. This is is 5.6% of our total bill, and 12.6% less than last month's $30.90. On average over the two months, we spent $28.95 per month on sweeteners.
We bought 78 eggs this month, for $22.09, a 24.3% decrease from last month's $29.19, and 4.6% of our total bill. We averaged out to $25.64 per month on eggs.
We spent $18.56 on drinks this month, or 3.9% of our total bill. This is a 37.9% increase from last month's $13.46, and averages out to $16.01 per month on drinks. Money on drinks is pretty much wasted money, and I feel weird even dividing it from junk, because in some ways it is junk. But most importantly, 3/4 of what was spent on drinks was ready made stuff that I could make myself if I wasn't being lazy (freshly squeezed orange juice, rice milk, and soy milk- I know how to make my own juice from scratch or at least make it cheaper from concentrate and have plenty of recipes for homemade, non dairy milks), so it's even more wasted money. $12.42 on drinks I could make myself, and $6.13 on stuff I can't (apple juice concentrate, and energy drinks).
I'm really proud of how much we lowered our dairy bill. Last month we spent $32.42 on dairy, or 7.5% of our total bill. This month, we spent $17.10 on dairy or 3.6% of our total bill, and 47% less than last month! We averaged out to $24.76 per month.
This month we spent $14.01 on eating out (2.9% of total), 41% less than last month's $23.81, averaging out to $18.91 per month.
Spent $9.97 on oil, (sunflower oil) 2% of our total bill, something I didn't spend at all on last month, so it averages out to $4.99 per month.
Spent $5.89 on legumes- 1.2% of our total bill, up 71% from last month's $3.45, averaging out to $4.67 per month. This included chickpeas and green lentils.
Last month I spent $5.27 on nuts and seeds, but spent nothing this past month, averaging out to $2.63 per month.
Ok, so so far it's just been a bunch of numbers, and probably some bad math, because for some reason my brain, which used to be great at math, is giving me a headache when I'm trying to figure things out. The percentages of total and averages I know are right, but I'm not sure I did the percent change thing correctly, so if I made a mistake there, you'll have to excuse me...
But now that I have these numbers- now what? What do I do with them?
Firstly, on analysis, WHOA! We spend a whole heck load of money on produce, and eat a whole heck load of it. I know produce is healthy, I know it is good, but honestly, I don't think we need to be eating over 260 pounds of produce a month for a family of 5... That works out to be nearly 2 pounds of produce per person per day- and that doesn't count all the produce I forage...
After discussing it with my husband, we made the decision to try to spend less on produce this month. Firstly, there was some produce that I bought last month that wasn't necessarily so cheap- I ran out of stuff and bought at more expensive prices in a more expensive store, and not at alternative places that I could have bought it for much cheaper had I planned better.... So I want to plan better so I don't run out, or at the very least, make do until I can get cheaper stuff instead of buying at more expensive prices and places.
Secondly, I noticed my kids are snacking on a ton of fruit (more expensive) and less so on veggies (cheaper). I will try to encourage them to eat veggie salads or spears for snacks instead of fruit, which works out cheaper, and also try to make more baked goods and things like popcorn for snacks, which are more filling, so they eat less, and cheaper too.
I have to admit, I am very torn on this, because eating produce is healthy and nutritious- it's not like they're eating us out of house and home with junk- but there comes a time when I think some limits may need to be set dependent on our finances. In an ideal world, if I was rich and could afford a higher grocery bill, I wouldn't limit produce at all, let them have however much their heart desires. But since that is not feasible financially, and since, by far, the largest chunk of our too high grocery bill goes to produce, its an area that would make the biggest difference in our finances, so Mike and I did agree to cut this back. Not cut it out entirely- they'll still probably end up eating much more produce and a more varied diet than most kids their age do, but a little less than they're eating now.
Here's my order of priorities, in order of what I prefer to do:
1) Whatever produce I buy, buy cheaper. Make an effort to go to cheaper places to buy produce, and plan better so we don't run out of staples, and make do without if we run out. The reduced rack at the farmer's market is the cheapest place for me to buy produce, even cheaper than sale produce, but I'm usually too lazy to go there. I will try to make more of an effort to go there this month.
2) Steer them more towards veggies in salads instead of fruit when they want produce for a snack.
3) Make baked goods and popcorn, filling carby foods, as snacks instead of produce.
Yes, I know for weight loss purposes, eating too many carbs isn't great. Except I'm not trying to have my kids lose weight- everyone in my family, other than myself, is on the skinnier end (some like Anneliese and my husband super skinny, with Lee and Ike being less extremely skinny but still on the skinnier end.) So if they gain some weight from this change in diet- that's not a terrible thing.
In addition to all the above, I realized I was buying veggies that were "cheaper than they usually are", even when they aren't necessarily so cheap. I will try to be more creative and set a cap for how much I'll spend on veggies or fruit, and not just purchase them when they are "cheaper than usual". I'll be more creative and just use the vegetables that are really cheap...
However, one good thing is I've really minimized waste this month when it came to produce- nearly nothing got tossed from going off, and scraps were repurposed...
Now the winter has started fully, and it's raining more here, so more plants will be growing, so hopefully I'll be able to supplement our produce with foraged veggies....
Secondly, it's quite clear that we spent a lot on animal proteins (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy), and very little on non animal proteins. ($88.72 compared to $5.89.) This is in part because, per pound, animal protein is much more expensive, however, the main reason is we went through a LOT of animal protein this month and barely made any legumes. Mike and I discussed that we would make one to two servings per person per day of animal proteins, and the rest of the proteins being legumes. Mike said he'd rather have less chicken or eggs, for example, each meal, mixed together with a legume, than to have a day with only animal proteins and then a day with no animal proteins. For example, for today, instead of cooking a package of hot dogs for a meal (they aren't very unhealthy, they're relatively bad ingredient free, so we do use them occasionally since they're cheap and my family loves them), I used half a package in split pea soup, and will be using another half a package together with red lentils for supper.
There were some weeks this past month where I didn't serve a single legume- all the proteins served were animal proteins. And even if I get them cheaply, on sale, it still adds up. I want to serve at least one legume a day to keep down protein costs... This next month, I probably will be spending less on animal proteins anyhow, since I stocked up on sale chicken and fish last month and have a lot left...
Thirdly, more money was spent on groceries than necessary because of laziness. Examples: cereal for breakfast, store bought dairy free milks. Store bought pasta instead of homemade. Store bought crackers. And disposable diapers.
This month, I will try to be less lazy, and plan in advance. I started using cloth diapers again instead of being lazy and using disposables. I decided that I'm not buying cereal, at least not for a while, since it is unhealthy. Breakfast will be alternatives that my kids love and are much healthier and much cheaper than cereal- homemade porridge and muffins. And since crackers were my backup for when I was being lazy and didn't have a meal ready, try to prepare things the night before so meals are quick to cook... And as for pasta- that is something I want to do- make a bunch of homemade gluten free pasta at once to have on hand, but it hasn't happened yet- it keeps getting pushed off for tomorrow.
Fourth, I want to get into baking more. Even if they have sugar, they are still healthier than store bought junk, and are cheaper than other snack foods because they are filling. I want to make a bunch of cookies, muffins, etc... to have on hand. And I want to not buy any junk food whatsoever. As I said- it makes me feel awful after I eat it, so it's not worth the few seconds of tasting nice...
Fifth- my husband has agreed to try to try to cut back on the cost of his lunches. This past month, he had cottage cheese and chips/Doritos that I bought on sale for him instead of buying them daily for his lunch, which lowered the cost tremendously, but he has agreed to cut that out and to have me send him boxed lunches instead, at least for the meantime....
Sixth- I heard rumors of a cheaper place in my community to buy eggs. I will look into this, so that the eggs I buy can be purchased cheaper.
So. Now I have a plan of action.
Will I actually manage to lower my grocery bill for next month? We shall see.... It's possible.
But at the very least, I want to not spend more than I did this month ($479). And ideally spend no more than I spent last month ($431). But if I can get it down to $400 or less... I'll be really proud of myself. But not counting on it....
Are you happy with your grocery bills? How many pounds of produce do you think you go through each month? Would you ever limit the amount of produce your family eats, or is that unthinkable to you? If you're still tracking your grocery bills, did you do better or worse this month than last? Any trends you're noticing that you want to improve? Any things you're proud of?
If you're trying to lower your grocery bills, what is your plan of action to try to lower them?
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