Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Breakdown and Analysis of Total Grocery Expenses this Month

 photo IMG_0579_zps32b16672.jpg
Some of the produce I got this month, about half free,
and the other half very cheaply
It seemed like ever since I started tracking my grocery expenses down to the last cent (I did it a few months already, with a few month break in the middle), they just kept going higher and higher and higher, despite my trying to bring them down. The first month I tracked our grocery expenses, we spent $431.50 on groceries, the next month $479.50... Last month our total grocery expenditure was $619 and I decided that we absolutely have to reverse this upward trend, and start getting it back down, at least under $500, and if I could get it down to $430, that would be awesome. But I wasn't sure it would be possible. Roughly 2 weeks ago, my husband and I agreed to challenge ourselves to see if we could keep our total grocery expenditure down to $514, but weren't sure if we would be able to do it.

Well, let me get right down to brass tacks- we didn't manage. While we did manage to get a lower total bill than last month, our entire grocery bill for this past month was $606.20, well over the goal of $514.

But... We really would have made it, kept to that goal. However, at the last minute an opportunity came up that I wasn't going to miss just "for the sake of the challenge", because I feel that that would be missing the forest for the trees. I buy bulk to save money, because buying things in very large quantities averages out to much cheaper per pound, even if it means more money up front for expenses.
Not so long ago, a friend organized a bulk order that we were going to split, and I wanted to order coconut oil- 40 lbs for $71 dollars, which is at $1.77/lb is fraction of the cost of coconut oil I can buy in other places (typically $14.50 per lb), but the warehouse where we were buying from was then out of stock of coconut oil.
Last week, my sister rented a car and was driving to visit family that lived not so far from the warehouse where we purchase our bulk orders from, and as a favor, she stopped off and I picked up coconut oil, which was being sold even more cheaply than usual- 45 lbs for $57, working out to be only $1.27 per pound. While this is an unbelievable price for coconut oil, maybe it is still expensive compared to other oils? Actually, no. This works out to be $2.62 per liter, and the cheapest oils you can get, soy and canola, work out to be between $1.70 and $2.57 per liter. I don't use those oils for many health related reasons, including their being GMOs, and the next cheapest but healthier oil is sunflower oil, which works out to be $2.85-$4 per liter, and olive oil is typically $10 per liter. So actually, the coconut oil I buy is pretty cheap even compared to the other oils, not just compared to the standard coconut oil.
And since I rarely am in the area (and don't have a car of my own to drive there on my own) and I wasn't sure when I'd be able to get coconut oil next, I decided to buy 2 packages of coconut oil, which will last me a long, long time. I am guessing that each 45 lb box will last me an entire year. (Fortunately coconut oil doesn't go rancid, so I'm not worried about it going off.) This averages out to roughly $5 per month on coconut oil.
So, that was an extra $142 on our monthly total for groceries, but that's $142 dollars which will be used for at least a year or two, so I'm not sure whether I should include it in my breakdown of my monthly expenses.
Additionally, I bought 55 lbs of green buckwheat for $75. This, I know, will last 4 months- that's the rate that we use buckwheat- which averages out to $18.75 each month.

In terms of figuring out how much we spent on groceries this month, our monthly total including bulk orders was $606.20.
Without the bulk orders, it was $402.63.
If I add to that how many dollars worth of coconut oil and buckwheat we'd use on an average month, that would bring our monthly total to $428.
Which is a few dollars less than the $431.50 we spent that first month tracking grocery totals. So... all in all, not bad at all.

So how does the grocery total breakdown?
From greatest to least:
$203.57 on bulk foods, $101.18 on animal products, $60.87 on non food items, $55.97 on produce, $50.16 on processed foods used for meals, $36.97 on dry goods, $31.30 on pure junk, $22.42 for oils and vinegars, $17.56 on sweeteners, $15.77 on drinks, $13.26 on vegan proteins.

Compare that to last months (total- $619.10, of which $168.14 was for animal products, $102.97 for produce, $85.95 for dry goods, $53.71 for sweeteners, $44.85 for oil, $41.71 for pure junk, $41.62 for spices and herbs, $35.77 for processed foods used for meals, $18.23 for drinks, $13.66 for non food items, and $8.49 for vegan proteins...) $66.96 less on animal products, $47.21 more on non food items, $47 less on produce, $14.39 more on processed foods used for meals, $48.98 less on dry goods, $10.41 less on pure junk, $22.43 less on oils, $36.16 less on sweeteners, $2.46 less on drinks, and $4.77 more on vegan proteins.
In short, a big improvement. The only things that went up- processed foods used for meals and non food items both included buying for my stockpile. And vegan proteins- I would rather use them than use animal products, and part of the reason my animal products total went down significantly this month was because my vegan proteins went up slightly. I'm completely satisfied with this trend.
If every month would be like this month, that would be perfect.

Now lets have a breakdown of each category on the list.

Of the $101.18 on animal products, $30.69 was on beef and poultry including 2.2 lb (filler free) beef burgers, 2.2 lb ground beef, 3 packages of msg free hot dogs, 3 whole chickens (8.25 lbs), $27.89 on fish including 12 cans of sardines, 1.75 lbs tuna steaks, and 1.5 lbs salmon fillet, $16.57 on 5 dozen eggs, and $26.03 on dairy including 4 flavored yogurts, 1.5 gallons of milk, 7.15 lbs of cottage cheese, and 1 stick of butter.
I have a decent amount of meat in my freezer now, I probably won't need to buy so much next month. I still have a lot of sardines- they should last a while, and our tuna steaks and salmon fillet were for a special occasion, so our fish expenditure will be lower next month, most probably. We probably will use more eggs next month.
And as for dairy- we use a lot of cottage cheese when my husband is at work (since he likes eating cottage cheese and potato chips for lunch when he's at work), but his work situation is different over the summer and he won't be that for lunch at work, so we probably won't be buying any cottage cheese over the next two months, which will lower our dairy bill. As it is, we spent a lot less dairy this month than we did last month ($61.66) because I didn't buy expensive cheeses and I made sure to keep the house stocked with cheaper cottage cheese so my husband didn't need to buy expensive cottage cheese when the cheap stuff ran out.

Next up- non food items for $60.87. This was abnormally high this month, since we bought a bunch of expensive stuff that will last a while, like a case of 24 packs of wipes (for a great price!), or for one time events, like a decent amount of disposables for a party we were throwing, a package of laundry detergent, 2 bottles of dish soap, 1 pack of candles, 2 bottles of bleach, a pack of diapers, and a container of clay (to be used medicinally, both internally and externally).
I am pretty sure that next month, the total will be much lower, by far.

Produce was $55.97, $47 dollars less than our total for produce last month. Last month we got 243 lbs of produce, most of it fresh, averaging out to 33 cents a pound on produce... Is the reason our produce bill was less this month because we simply ate less produce?
This month we went through 360 lbs of produce, including 3 lbs of frozen vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts), and the rest all fresh produce.
I was lucky to get a lot of free produce this month- 113 lbs of vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, yellow peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, hot peppers, onions, leek, fennel, and celery) not counting the few pounds of lambsquarters that I foraged- and 70 lbs of free fruit (cantaloupe, lemons, apples, plums, peaches, apricots, and nectarines), for a grand total of 183 lbs of produce free.
I was very good about buying produce only at the farmer's market, and only what I could get from the past prime stores, so the 175 lbs of produce I bought averaged out to 24 cents a pound. This includes 125.3 lbs of vegetables (eggplants, hot peppers, zucchini, kohlrabi, cabbage, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins, acorn squash, radishes, pumpkin, butternut squash, avocado, swiss chard, beets) and 49 lbs of fruit (grapes, watermelon, apricots, nectarines, pears, cantaloupe, apples). If you include the free produce I got in the total, on average I paid only 16 cents a pound for that produce!
I still have a lot of produce in my fridge and freezer, so won't even need to do shopping for another week. I would like to keep our produce bills next month this low, but I don't know if it'll be doable. But I will definitely try.

Processed foods used for meals- $50.16. This includes 12 boxes of gluten free corn flakes, 10 bags of potato chips (for my husband's lunch), 2 giant packages of rice cakes, some chemical free food coloring (bought using reward points on iherb.com so I got this really expensive thing practically free), and 2 packages of rice noodles.
I can pretty much guarantee that next month this category will be lower- it was higher in part this month because of my stocking up on the corn flakes because of their terrific price, but we still have most of it left, so it'll last us at least another month or two.  I was proud of myself for finding the chips that my husband to work on sale, and therefore all the chips that he took every day for lunch were 1/2 of the price than they would have been had I not gotten them on sale. Again, because of my husband's work situation being different for the summer, will probably not be purchased this next month, same with the food coloring (I didn't even open it yet, let alone use it up), etc...

 $36.97 on dry goods was spent on pectin, 2.2 lbs of cocoa powder, 1 lb Himalayan pink salt, 3 lbs teff (which somehow didn't make it home with me from the market, so I'll need to go buy that again :( ), 6.6 lbs brown rice, and 8.8 lbs popcorn.
I assume next month it'll be roughly the same- I'll need to get more teff, more brown rice, and am entirely out of rice (both white and risotto) so I'll be stocking up on a lot of that. I won't be buying more cocoa powder, pectin, or the Himalayan salt... so maybe it'll be a little bit less. As I predicted last month, this month we spent much less on dry goods than last, and we're perfectly content with how much we spent in this category.

$31.30 on pure junk, while still high, is $10 less on junk than we spent last month. This breaks down to $19.43 spent on chocolate- 3 bags of chocolate chips and 6 bars of chocolate, and the rest spent on marzipan, freeze pops, halva, and a puffed peanut snack. While I would love to spend less on junk, it's a gradual process. I will look to see if I can find cheaper sources of chocolate since that is a big chunk of the junk expenditures.

$22.42 for oils and vinegars was spent on 1 liter apple cider vinegar, 2 liters white vinegar, 1.5 liters olive oil, and 1 liter sunflower oil. I have no regrets about these expenses, will not try to make any specific changes here.

$17.56 on sweeteners- including 2.2 lbs jaggery, 6.6 lbs white sugar (used in large part for kombucha), 2.2 lb date paste, and 3 lbs coconut sugar, was much lower than I spent on sweeteners last month, because last month I stocked up on raw honey and we were using that this month. I still have another entire jar of raw honey and date syrup from my shop last month, and my coconut sugar just arrived a few days ago from iherb, so I still have most of it left. I am totally satisfied with my expenditures in this category this month.

$15.77 on drinks included 1 bottle of soda, 2 small bottles of chocolate milk as treats for the kids, a drink at a cafe with my friend, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of water that I needed to buy while out since the water bottle I brought with me got run over by a bus. I could possibly spend less in this category next month, but all in all, I'm cool with it.

 $13.26 on vegan proteins was spent on a 2.2 lb container of all natural peanut butter, 2 lbs while beans and 1 lb kidney beans. This category is the only one I actually want to raise and would like it to be more next month. Why? Because more beans and lentils, etc... means less on meat and other animal proteins, and therefore saves money.

So, all in all- I'm very happy with this month's grocery budget. I don't really plan on doing anything different next month- just keeping it up will save us money in the long run.
Now what does "it" mean? How did I get our grocery bills to be this low this month?
A) I really tried to serve more legumes. I tried serving legume meals at least a few times a week.
B) I really tried to plan meals in advance and not just wing it at the last second, which ends up costing more money.
C) I planned my meals and shopping well so I didn't need to run "last minute" to the grocery store and come home with a lot more.
D) I was specifically trying to cook homemade breakfasts instead of just giving the kids cereal and milk everyday. And the kids enjoy the homemade breakfasts better than cereal anyhow, and its healthier, so it's a win win situation for all.
E) I bought some expensive stuff using reward points. I won't be able to do this every month, but it's nice to save "big ticket" grocery items to buy this way, instead of paying cash.
F) I was able to take advantage of a lot of opportunities to get free stuff this month, also by foraging, also by knocking on my neighbors' doors and asking them if I could pick from their overflowing trees, and also by "trash picking" in the "trash wagon" headed for the dumpster at the farmer's market. This is more hit or miss, I can't know what I will get free and when, but if it comes, I'm ready for it.

So, there it is. In detail.
And wow, we eat a lot of food. Especially produce.
(P.S. Not all the produce was eaten right away- some was preserved, and some will be preserved soon.)
And yes, it feels good to finally be able to get my grocery bills lower again instead of continuing that annoying and painful upward trend.

For those of you who've been tracking your grocery bills meticulously the past few months, have your monthly grocery bills been going up, down, or remaining the same? Any changes you want to be making in your grocery shopping to save money, or are you content with how your grocery bills are now?


  1. I can't convert to dollars so easily, but in my local currency:
    November: 1705.65
    December: 1458.01 (bulk order)
    January: 1320.22
    February: 1632.80 (bulk order)
    March: 1238.37
    April: 2314.11 (bulk order) - also had a major holiday; this jump was expected
    May: 1602.80
    June: 892.24 (so far)

    I hope it goes without saying that I'm buying different things in each bulk order...

    I'm liking my June bill right now...

  2. I haven't been tracking groceries, but last month I ran out of grocery money two weeks before my husband's pay day. Most months I can make it last until a few days before, and a combination of creative cooking and change-grubbing helps make up the difference. But my husband had an epic birthday party last week, two days and 20-something people, so that's why it was so high.

    So hopefully this month it'll be better. But one thing I will be doing is to try not to let my husband cook: every time he does it's a frugalist's nightmare, with out-of season produce and fish that's not on sale, and cooking giant portions of food that can't be stored. I'm not opposed to spending a little extra on nice things, but at least it should be on sale, y'know?

  3. When I'm figuring out bulk buying in terms of the monthly budget, I allocate across how many months I think it will last. For instance, we got a really great deal on some grass fed, locally raised beef. But it required a large bulk purchase amount. We had the money in savings, so I took it all from there, but I've been "paying" myself back each month by putting money back into the savings from the monthly grocery budget. I estimated that the beef would last us 6 months, and we're actually going to get a little more out of it than I thought, so all in all, it was a good deal. But that's how I track it, rather than the entire amount out of the original month.

    1. Because I buy "extras" in bulk (baking supplies) it doesn't work well that way for me. I know how long 25kg of various flours will last me, but I can't guess how long 5kg of fondant/10kg icing sugar/12kg margarine will last because it depends what I do with it. If I have 3 birthdays and no special events that all lasts a looooooooong time. If one weekend I go on a cookie baking spree I'll use up a full 2kg bar of margarine, but no icing sugar...and that's a fluid thing.

  4. I just started buying in bulk. The cheese is where it really pays off- $2 a pound! I buy huge blocks, then cut it into 1 lb. chunks and vacuum seal to make it last a few months.

    For 2 people (my husband and I) the monthly bill averages around $120, including household items. I seem to be stuck at that number.

    I think the biggest thing for me in cutting costs is 1) use what you have, and 2) don't eat things that you have to buy. Things I don't buy: meat, breads, & fruit. We eat our own venison and chicken, and I forage or grow fruit. Grains are bought in bulk. The only thing we consistently buy at the grocery store every week is milk and sometimes eggs and butter. Now the garden vegetables are coming in, so I don't buy veggies either.

    I think it really boils down to modifying the way you cook and eat.

  5. What warehouse you bought coconut oil from?

  6. What warehouse you bought coconut oil from?

  7. I make them stay the same as we have a very limited budget. My monthly bill is $800 this is for the almost 12 of us and company a few times a month but it isn't easy eating a lot more meatless meals.

  8. Thanks so much for your post! My grocery bill is about double yours and I'm working to start decreasing it drastically. One part of your post that really jumped out at me was the free produce. Is this specific to where you live or was there any trick to acquiring it? (We're foraying into vegetable growing for the first time this year, so I don't know that this counts...) Thanks!

    1. http://www.pennilessparenting.com/2012/05/is-extreme-frugality-embarrassing.html This is how I get free produce.


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