Wednesday, December 18, 2013

This Past Month's Grocery Expenses and Analysis

 photo IMG_1378_zpsb442c8ce.jpgTwo 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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  1. Wow, I wouldn't be so hard on yourself raising three kids is a big job. You are not "lazy" for not always being able to make meals from complete scratch and cloth diapering them. That said your grocery breakdown is impressive! Although I thought it is rather unfair to categorize rice into the junk food category. Good luck with getting your bill down although it does seem like it very low already. Baking a bunch of muffins and snack type food in bulk and freezing them may be helpful so that you have food available on the go. I know some people who freeze whole meals so they have meals available at the last minute.

    1. Rice wasnt in the junk category- it was in the dry foods category... :-D Rice milk was a waste of money though...
      And thanks...

  2. This is an interesting series. Thank you for sharing. One thing that I've recently found is an electric pizzelle iron is super helpful in making gluten-free cookies and crackers. It's quick and a little bit goes a long way. It takes about one teaspoon per cracker/cookie. This allows me to have them on hand much more often with less effort (no rolling out and baking).

    1. For electric pizzelle iron cookies, do you need to use eggs? All the recipes i've seen for them are with eggs...

    2. No, we're egg free too. Here's the recipe that I use: http://myfamilysfavoritegfcfrecipes.blogspot.com/2010/12/gfcfegg-free-vegan-pizzelles.html
      I use the first one on the page. I substitute the sugar with a natural sweetener for the cookies. I just omit the sweet and add spices, tahini, or whatever else sounds good for crackers.

  3. Hi
    - I don't quite undersand why you're publishing this *now* as the month is not over yet (?).
    - Whenever I want to keep the grocery bill low, I do rely a lot on legumes & eggs. I try to make at least 2 different recipes with legumes each week. In order to achieve this, I have to have legumes in stock at all times. I also look for new (& exciting ?) legumes recipes on cooking blogs / cooking books. I do rely a lot on spices to make the legumes "interesting".
    - I say go for the homemade cookies ! :D It is necessary to indulge a little bit. Homemade cookies are sooooo good, it is worth it. It does cut the need for processed junk (at least, in my house, it does)

    Good luck with your plan.

    I decided I wanted to track my december grocery bills too. But as soon as I finished my first trip to the shop I was DOOMED. I had people over for dinner. A nice dinner. I bought more food & also "nice" drinks :'( I lost hope for that month.

    1. Lol its called ADD and procrastination brain. I got inspired to start this on the 16 of october. I knew if i waited until the 1st of november, i'd likely forget about starting it.... lol so I started it the day after I got inspired, and each month I'm tracking lasts from the 17th of one month to the 16th of the next. Because if I didnt do it then, I'd probably never do it.

      Don't not track your grocery bills just because you bought extras one day- keep track for a few months and see how it averages out. Everyone has those expensive times every once in a while, so you can see how much in the long run you're spending.

    2. Makes sense !

      December may be the worst month. In addition to the fancy dinner, I also tried out fancy recipes for my christmas dinner. It sounds crazy but I like to cook something new & at the same time, I want to be sure that it tastes good. I should probably SIMPLIFY ! I drive myself crazy.
      Also we had our niece a whole week-end at our house so we bought food for her (stuff like processed fruit purees), and I bought things to bake christmas goodies with her (almonds, pistachios...). That was not cheap at all :[ But worth it anyway ! :)

      I'll try to track january. My grocery bills are much lower when I go to the closest shop that only sells (cheap !) produces and very basic stuff. There is no temptation to buy "fancy" / expensive / processed food there :)

  4. I think your plan on cutting back on fresh produce is a false economy. Having the kids eat veggie spears instead of whole fruit seems like a good idea, but if you're still have problems "being lazy" (in quotes because I don't actually think you are) cutting up some veggies every time they want a snack--and then running out of veggies for dinner because you didn't plan on having them snack on dinner--is going to backfire.

    I see two areas that you can probably make pretty big cuts in without losing your sanity too much: canned produce and the processed stuff you can do without. Possibly junk, too, though I do think having some pleasure in life is important. Drinks are probably another area that probably wouldn't be too hard to cut back on, especially since, as you say, you can make most of the drinks yourself. If you're going to plan to do more baking and stuff like that then these would naturally resolve themselves.

    I don't quite know how much produce we go through every month. I know I buy at least 1 kg of clementines every week during the winter--the kidlet loves them, and so do I. The produce in our area is really limited during the winter, unless you like paying through the nose for it.

  5. The grocery prices where you live must be higher than ours here (Indiana, USA.) My husband and I eat for about $50 a week. We have a garden, though, and chickens. That makes a big difference. We have 8 chickens, and so there are plenty of eggs for only two people. And most of our vegetables come from the garden. I don't know what it would cost us if not for those things. I think you are doing very well. Your family is lucky to have you.

  6. During the winter months buy seeds for vegetables cabbage, broccoli, kale, potatoes, carrots peppers, onions different kinds, tomatoes etc. Grow a garden have the hubby and kids help out. Build base around where you want it the yard, use recycled materials laying around, test your soil, see what grows best in your region, get a cover so animals don't eat it and as it gets warmer plant your garden. Check out the library on how to grow a garden. It will cut back on produce consumption from the grocery store.

    1. I would love to have a garden. Unfortunately that not is a possibility, as we live in an apartment with no yard, and our porch is shared, so I'm limited in what I could do there. I grow a few things in window boxes and other containers, but I haven't been too successful unfortunately... One day we'll have a yard again and be able to have a garden again,,,

    2. Hi not sure where you live but try seeing if your area has community gardens. I live in the Seattle area and we have many that folks can grow in as long as they help maintain the garden space. Many also coordinate the plots so folks can exchange veggies and not end up with 6 plots of zucchini and only 2 tomato plants! Also you could try what my sister and I did one summer: put a rigid plastic kiddie pool (the 5 ft diameter by 1.5 ft deep type) in your patio, fill with soil and plant a mini garden. Worked great as our mini apt garden but then it was just us two, not a family. :/

  7. Wow! I'm in awe. What you're doing here is something I'm attempting to do now. (Track every penny spent.) it's not easy and I admire the work you've put into this. Out of curiosity, where do you get most of your produce? Do you find it's cheaper sometimes at the supermarkets? Or do you use local farmer's markets. I'm still looking for places to start my saving journey! :-) Great work and good luck in future spending!

  8. I don't know where you live, but have you ever checked whether the government has any official statistics how much money (poor) people spend on food?

    In my country (non-US) the social welfare system is quite extensive, this includes a system that gives poor people a food allowance. For this reason the government keeps statistics how much money poor people spend (or should theoreticallly spend) on food, bc these official statistics determine the amount of food allowance.

    I'm not on the allowance, but taking a look at those numbers has helped me tremendously to make me stop worrying about the amount of money I spend on food. Especially since you are on a special needs diet (gluten-free and egg-free?), you are bound to spend up to 20% more than the average person.

    I congratulate you on your decision to make your own pasta. I do not need to eat gluten-free, but switching to making my own bread was the best decision ever. Much cheaper, tastier and healthier too. Store-bought bread now tastes like it came out of a chemistry set, blegh.

    As for saving even more, have you checked wholesale? Places where cooks from restaurants and small business owners would shop? Some of these places are open to the general public too. In my neck of the woods we also have special shops dealing in remainders, discontinued lines, overstock, liquidated stock, .... I do almost all my shopping at these stores, bc the quality-price ratio is unbelievably good there. There is one store that sells irregularly shaped slices of cold cuts in bulk, so I get all my lunchmeat there once a month. Some of these shops typically also have produce from the wholesale market that needs to go fast, so it is dirt cheap at around 10-25% of the price in a regular supermarket.


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