Monday, July 4, 2016

Super Frugal Grocery Shopping Challenge And How I Managed!

Working hard... for this. What's keeping me motivated.
Happy Fourth of July to all my American readers! Living out of the US already for 10 years now, and being married to a non American, 4th of July is kind of a non story here... No fireworks, no BBQ, no nothing... But all of you celebrating, hope you have fun without breaking the bank!

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A few weeks ago I wrote about how I wanted to go on a vacation with Mike for our 10th anniversary in September, and mentioned that in order to feel better about the splurge, wanted to save up specifically for the trip by spending less on groceries in the three months until then, and whatever I generally spent on groceries each month but didn't, would go into the vacation fund instead.
Well, one thing led to another, and at first we were going to go on our trip in late August instead of September, and then again things came up, and turns out that we are going on our trip in late July, 2 months earlier than we'd expected, which means taking things to an even more extreme level and see just how little we could spend on groceries because there is less time for me to do this challenge. No, I wasn't able to "save by spending less" for the entire cost of our trip, but we did have the money to pay for this, it just was for my own frugal conscience that I wanted to do it this way, so I do plan on continuing this challenge even after we come back from our trip to pay ourselves back...

So, here's how it ended up going:

Ok, so first a caveat -- I did manage to get our grocery bill to be the lowest it has been in a long time, but I didn't even do as frugal as possible, which goes to show that if I really kicked my butt into gear I could definitely do this even more extremely.
I don't think we suffered.
My kids and hubby and I enjoyed our meals. I didn't work too hard. We had our treats, even store bought, not so healthy, treats. The biggest difference really was preplanning.

And I have a confession:
I may have made a menu plan for the purpose of saving money, but I didn't actually stick to it very well. Yea, that's what happens with me- make big plans and then not follow through.

But what did actually help was that because I made the menu plan, I:
-Knew what frugal foods my kids were happy to eat
-Had a list of go to meals in my head, many of them easy to make, so that I didn't rely on quick but more expensive meals, because I couldn't come up with frugal ideas at the spur of the moment,.
-Made sure to keep said frugal ingredients in my house so that way I didn't run out of things and end up spending more on meals with more expensive ingredients because that's what I had left in the house
-Partially meal prepped, at least with the more time consuming foods to make, such as whole chickpeas and hummus, and had them available in my freezer to defrost as needed for meals, so even if I didn't have the time or energy to make something specific, or even if I wasn't going to stick to the meal plan exactly, I could still make something else with those chickpeas for supper instead of more expensive things like tuna, hot dogs, or eggs.

Total amount?

Well, first how much I typically spend on groceries:
On average for my eating paleo and the rest of the family eating gluten free, I spend $570 per month on groceries. When I've been even more mindful about my spending and splurged less, I've spent $485.

This month on food groceries alone, I got it down to $364!!! That's only 63% of my average and 75% of my frugal months, so that's pretty awesome.

But in the spirit of total upfrontness and honesty, I divided up my "groceries" into a few sub categories which weren't included:
On household things- toilet paper and dish soap I spent another $15, and $12 that I spent on coconut sugar to be used to fill bread mix orders, 75% of that ended up being used for myself, so I really should count $9 of that and the $15 on the toilet paper and dish soap too, which would make it $388 on groceries... Which still isn't bad at all! 68% of my average and 80% of my frugal month's expenditures.

If you're even wondering why I didn't just include those in my total grocery tally, why even it crossed my mind, and whether it's being dishonest or not, it's something I was trying to figure out myself, and here's my thought process.
If I want to be very frugal, I can just make do. Don't buy this, don't buy that. Find cheaper alternatives. Wait till next month to buy. Etc... but when it comes to toilet paper and dish soap, no I can't just decide to not buy that this month and wait till next month, because we need toilet paper. (Yes, yes, toilet paper- not family cloth around here anymore. Long story, but to sum it up- Mike didn't like it, kept on tossing them when he found clean ones on the floor after the wash, it was a pain to hang dry them and our dryer isn't working and I'm having a hard enough time keeping up with regular laundry and my girls won't use it and even if they would I'd worry about them accidentally dropping them in the toilet and clogging it so... yes, toilet paper wasn't just something I could do without.) And dish soap, well, I tried making dish soap from scratch and I thought it worked, but then we had some issues with sinks getting clogged and I wasn't sure if maybe it was a build up because of hard water and our dish soap, so we decided for now only store bought dish soap...) So that's why I am leaving them off our total tally when I decided how much we managed to save for this trip.
And as for the coconut sugar- I could have done without it, I was just going to not buy any even though we ran out of all our non refined sweeteners, but I had to buy it anyhow to make money, so it definitely was a work expense even if I used it at home after... so not counting that either in my total tally in terms of what I can set aside for the trip fund.

So, total saved to set aside for this trip this month? $206!

Now that I shared the total amount, here's what we did spend on and where:

O Store6/1/2016$30gluten free rolls, chicken, hot dogs,
R Store6/5/2016$63.40rice, lentils, chickpeas, tuna,
sardines, sugar, salt, vinegar, lollipops
Local Health Food Store6/6/16$9.14buckwheat flour, teff flour
Market6/7/16$15.90papaya, cilantro, green peppers,
pumpkin, butternut squash, tomatoes,
banana, soda, fish heads, lollipop
R Store6/9/16$56.57cheese, grape juice, soy sauce, olive oil, chicken, produce
Local Health Food Store6/9/16$3.14cashews
O Store6/13/16$102.90bread, chicken, cheese, rice cakes, fish
Market6/16/16$11.11bananas, pears, peaches, grapes,
zucchini, flax, fenugreek
Corner Store6/18/16$5.71milk
Local Health Food Store6/22/16$5.08chocolate, dates, energy bar
Corner store6/22/16$3.77alcohol
Cheap local store6/24/16$6.20corn flakes
Corner Store6/24/16$2.86milk
Corner Store6/26/16$9.97ice cream, milk
Local Stores, some cheap, some not6/26/16$34milk, cereal, cashews, peanut butter, chips, alcohol
Corner Store6/27/16$4.83candy

If you were wondering, no, that wasn't all the produce we ate. I also foraged and I also got some past prime produce free.

As you can see, I did the bulks of our shops at the O store, the R store, and the market, the three cheapest places I can shop. However, there are many things that I bought at the local stores which are overpriced, many things that we could easily have done without and been even more frugal, not to mention healthy: ice cream, ice cream, alcohol, candies, etc... And some of the things I bought more expensively, such as ready made gluten free flours and cashews, if I'd thought ahead and preplanned a little more, I could have done more frugally by either making myself or buying at cheaper stores. I can rationalize and explain why I got these expensive/unhealthy things, but honestly, it's really not important why I spent more, why I bought exactly what I did, because overall, when everything's said and done, I am happy with how things went, I have a nice sum of money to set aside into our vacation fund this month, and next time I do this, I know what I can do differently to set aside even more money.

Don't buy so much junk. If I want to feed them junk, make it, or at least buy cheaper junk.
Figure out something regarding breakfasts, so that I don't rely on cereal and milk 5 out of 6 days, despite having something cheaper on the menu plan.
And make the trips to the cheaper stores so I don't pay too much at the expensive local stores.

Yea, I said next time I do this.

I am not doing that for the month of July. I do not expect our grocery bills to be lower than usual this month; I expect them to be higher, as out of the 4.3 weeks of the month, one will be on vacation with my husband, and one will be on our annual summer trip with the kids to visit relatives at a resort town, and there's no way I can do there what I can do here in terms of frugal grocery shopping and food preparation. So I'll try to be frugal in ways that I can, but then only go back to this "pay back the vacation fund" in August and September. No, because I'm doing it this way, I wasn't able to decide what to spend on the vacation based on how much I saved, but I am trying to keep it relatively frugal, and this way I'll know how much specifically I need to "pay back" instead of spending what I'd already set aside. Oh well, it wasn't what I'd wanted to do it, but this is how it has to be.

Overall, I am pretty proud of myself. My original goal was to get our grocery bill down to $430 per month, then I wanted to see if I could get it down to $285, which I thought was possible even if hard...
Well, you know the cliche- reach for the moon, and even if you miss, you'll be among stars. So no, I didn't actually get it down to $285, but since I set such a high bar for myself with such a low number, even though I didn't manage to make it that low, only to $364, and that was with spending on extras and convenience foods, alcohol, treats, and other nonsense, which shows me that $285 actually is an attainable goal, should I need to get our bills as low as absolutely possible for whatever reason.

Things I learned during this month?

1) I struggle with breakfasts.
2) I get too many unhealthy treats.
3) I need to start scheduling grocery trips to cheaper stores so I don't go to expensive local stores.
4) That being organized and on top of things is possible, even for a person disorganized by nature.
5) Where there's a will, there's a way.
6) That even if I don't do things "perfectly" I can still save a lot of money on my grocery bills if I just watch my expenses more carefully.

How about you? Have you ever set yourself a goal to lower your grocery bills to a certain amount, and then actually managed to do that? What were the biggest changes you did to be able to reach your goal? What is the lowest you can manage to make your grocery bills be for your family, and are there any special dietary restrictions? What would you say are your best tricks to push your frugality up a notch, when you already consider yourself to be frugal with your groceries, but now want to save even more?

1 comment:

  1. Another great entry Penny. Thanks.

    I've found that my diet and my grocery shopping go hand in hand now. Since I'm cutting out junk I'm saving tons. My shopping trips go from being over $100 to almost $50 and all because I'm not buying the pre-packaged junk food for me anymore. While I do crave it, it's getting better as I replace the bad with more fruits and veggies. And I'm not having to use as many coupons since I've noticed most coupons are for junk food.

    And I switched my ground beef from the cheapest to the healthiest one with only 7% fat. I've noticed I don't have to drain it and it's actually the perfect amount of meat for my meals now. Also introduced chicken legs as a entree and since I can get those for 99 cents a pound and I'm only eating 1 per meal, I'm saving big time and freezing the others for other meals.

    I intend to shop smarter, more organic and healthier and save even more money by eating less and therefore need less food.

    I only shop for 2 (and 2 dogs but I don't even include their foods in my budget cos it's not that expensive), and while my food is costing less, my husband is still a picky, junk food eating person so until I get him on board, then money will be wasted on crappy food.

    My newest goal is to rid my dinner plate of unwanted carbs and replace it with a 2nd veggie, therefore eliminating un-needed calories. However, it will be hard to get the hubby on board as he's stuck with the "meat, starch, veggie, bread" dinner mentality. But I refuse to give up hope and if I have to, we will simply start eating different dinners. Honestly, if I never cook another Hamburger Helper meal, I won't feel deprived.

    I also read somewhere that learning how to cook help someone lose weight and I'm seriously considering taking my cooking skills to a higher level in hopes of cutting out more carbs and calories and finding some delicious healthy meals because the meals I see out there are not always appealing and some I just look at the ingredients list and just shake my head in either confusion or disgust.

    So for the record, use to spend around $200 a week, now I'm down to about $75 a week. Kudos to moi! Gonna use that extra $$ to finally get a new tv and then a new car.


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