Grocery Tracking Challenge for February- and Lessons Learned

Some of our very cheap groceries this month.

In the past, I meticulously tracked our grocery expenses, down to the last detail, so I could figure out how much we're spending on groceries and in what area, and then use that to decide if I wanted to make any changes in our grocery budget. Since then, my life has gotten too hectic to be able to write down every last line on every last receipt, but our grocery bills have gone up because of my going Paleo. Therefore, when I saw some local friends deciding to do a tracking challenge in January, I joined them, and calculated how much I spent- $555 for the month of January. I didn't write down any specifics- just which store and how much at each store. For cooking mostly Paleo, and having a decent amount of convenience foods, I thought that was pretty decent, but I still wanted to make my grocery bills lower.

In February, I decided to be more specific about tracking my groceries, and this time, instead of writing down how much I spent on every single item at every single shop, I wrote down what store it was in, the date I shopped, how much it was, and what I purchased there (but not how much each item was, just a list so i got an idea of what the shops were like). While it doesn't tell me the exact break down of how much I spent on each individual item, it does give me a general picture of my shopping habits, which I can then analyze and decide if I'd like to change things.

But before I get down to specifics, I need to say that the entire shop month's groceries were $496.72, which is already ~$60 less than last month, and really terrific for a month in which I ate predominantly Paleo, didn't cook many (if any) cheap legume based meals for the rest of the family, used a decent amount of convenience foods, and also included an expensive shop for our birthday dinner- $87.77 of the total amount.

Scatch and Dent61.711/31/2016Soup nuts, peanut butter, chocolate chips, hearts of palm, chestnuts
Mom and Pop's Grocery Store14.282/1/2016Chicken breast, milk, yogurts
Cheap Grocery Store45.142/2/2016toilet paper, chicken wings, hot dogs, milk, parchment paper, gelatin, plastic tablecloths
Ethnic Store15.422/3/2016jaggery
Market17.572/3/2016apples, bananas, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, celery, melon, turnip, zucchini, hot peppers
Mom and Pop's Grocery Store102/7/2016cheese
Mom and Pop's Grocery Store5.712/8/2016tortilla chips
Mom and Pop's Grocery Store22.422/9/2016eggs, chicken breast, aluminum pans, salt, tomato paste, pasta
Health Food Store19.912/10/2016maple syrup, stevia, walnuts
Cheap Grocery Store29.952/10/2016apples, chicken, tea, basmati rice, milk
Expensive Grocery Store14.282/12/2016ice cream, chocolate, seltzer
Mom and Pop's Grocery Store8.62/15/2016milk
Cheap Grocery Store44.852/15/2016cheese, tuna, corn, bread, gf bread, juice, instant soups
Scatch and Dent25.712/15/2016chocolate, grape juice
Kiosk102/16/2016popcorn, fruit leather, dried apples, marzipan
Mom and Pop's Grocery Store87.772/18/2016cheese, chips, cereal, milk, steak, basil, mushrooms, wine, eggs, cups, juice (birthday meal)
Market7.342/21/2016zucchini, lemons, pumpkin, corn, onion
Scatch and Dent8.572/21/2016hearts of palm, mushrooms
Mom and Pop's Grocery Store4.282/23/2016milk, cereal
Kiosk8.422/24/2016popcorn, mentos, iced tea
Expensive Grocery Store11.372/25/2016cold cuts
Mom and Pop's Grocery Store23.422/28/2016cheeses, yogurts

As to how it breaks down specifically, and my analysis of my shopping habits:

You may notice that the first shop is listed as happening on January 31- I didn't need to shop then, wasn't missing anything specifically, but was going to be passing by the scratch and dent store, so decided to take advantage of things on sale then- but since what I bought wasn't needed for January, but for February and onward, I decided to include it in my February budget, not my January one.

For someone who preaches how it is much more frugal to go grocery shopping as infrequently as possible, I went to grocery stores 23 different times in a month that was only 29 days, so.... That's not so great. To be specific, though, many of them were different shops the same trip- so I only went shopping 17 different days of the month, but that is still a TON!

Another thing I noticed is how many times I went shopping, and at expensive places, for junk and snack foods. 5 different shops for a total of $49.78! That is an entire 10% of the money spent this month on expensive junk, and that is ridiculous. Not that I'm opposed to junk ever, but if I'm going to be giving my family junk, at least I want it to be cheap junk, not overpriced junk. Now as to why I bought expensive junk- its because I wasn't prepared- lack of planning. Sometimes because I was out and forgot to bring food from home, and sometimes because I wanted to give them a treat and I didn't plan enough in advance to bring one from home.

And as for lack of planning- $162.17 was spent at the Mom and Pop's store nearby, which is very expensive. 32% of the monthly total was spent at an overpriced store- and why? Because I needed something last minute, that I didn't think about in advance- if I had, I would have bought it from a cheaper store instead of paying too much for it locally.

In short, approximately 42% of my grocery bill total was buying overpriced things because of lack of proper planning.

If I want to lower my monthly grocery bill, I know exactly what it is I need to do- pre-plan. Write a shopping list of things not just that I currently need, but things that we will run out of soon, and therefore need to buy more of cheaper, instead of last minute at more expensive places. And as for things that I bought expensively while out, I need to start planning my outings more in advance so that I can figure out food more in advance and not be caught unprepared and then spend more than necessary.

And as for what I did right? $113.56 of the total was spent either on very cheap things from the scratch and dent store or reduced rack very cheap produce from the market. And though you can't tell it so clearly from the list of expenses (other than not noticing so much produce)- if I had purchased all the produce we used this month, the bill would have been much more expensive, but I foraged a good percentage of the produce we used, which really helped keep down our expenses.

All in all? Not bad. For what I got, I really did not pay so much overall. In fact, its right around what I spent before I went paleo and used many shortcuts in the kitchen, and lower than many of the months of mine in the past! I'm not really looking to change what we're eating now- my life is much too busy at the moment to not use any convenience foods (I've been working like crazy teaching classes), but I will try to keep in mind just how much money I've been spending extra because of lack of pre-planning, and in the future try to prepare things in advance instead of just doing things last minute.

And as for what I'm doing for the month of March- I'm not just tracking my grocery totals, but also all my other expenses- transportation, clothes, house ware, etc... something that I'm embarrassed to say I haven't done until now. We'll see what lessons I have to learn on that front in another month.

Do you keep track of your grocery expenses meticulously? Do you analyze them? If so, what do you learn when analyzing your grocery expenses?
Anyone, other than myself, find that they also end up spending much more on groceries since they leaves things for last minute instead of preparing in advance? Do you have any tips for someone like myself, who is disorganized by nature, to not fall into the trap of spending more because of lack of forethought?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Penny,
    One trick I have been trying is to stock up on our staple foods, when they are at a decent price, because I know when I run out of a staple I will have to go to the store and inevitably buy more when I'm there. For example we eat a lot of cheese, bread, yogurt, eggs, oj, etc. I will buy these in large quantities and freeze what I can. I buy it even if we already have plenty on hand, just to stay out of the store in the future. So far it's working but not sure as time goes on if there will be good waste. We'll see!

  2. We did a $100 a week challenge (we have 3 children) for the months of Jan and Feb. Some supplements I wasn't sure if I should "count" or not, so sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't. I am pregnant and am taking various supplements and my daughter is fed thru a g-tube and takes various supplements as well. We ended up going only a little over our spending goal for each month, bringing us to ~$450 a month. I also did a lot of foraging and our garden provided a lot of veggies as well, so our vegetable spending was minimal. I think this month and next we will relax the budget a little so I can bulk up on good nutritious food (and MEAT!) during my ante/post-natal period.

  3. I'm starting this as of yesterday when I saw your email subject line. I went to 2 stores and spent about $100 for supplies. Since my kitchen is stocked up this will give me a chance to control my spending for once.
    I also will be more diligent in taking advantage of coupons and sales in hopes of keeping the cost down. I want to get to under $100 a week since there is only 2 of us to shop for.

    Keep up the good work Penny, can't wait to see how much you save.

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