For the past few weeks, I’ve been working with a dear friend on her grocery budget. She came to me, confessed that her spending was more than it should be and graciously asked if would help her get it under control. I offered her my first steps of advice from this series, namely to tally up her spending and put group everything into categories.
However, as I was working on the last budget accountability post, I realized that I myself hadn’t taken my own advice recently. We followed these same steps back when our income was cut by 50%, but I hadn’t gone through our spending with a fine-toothed comb in over a year (the last time was December 2012).
Like any other goal, grocery budgets need to be re-evaluated and adjusted accordingly every now and then. Once a year is ideal, but more often if your income and/or spending situations are in states of fluctuation.
So I finished the post and then took the old fashioned route of paper and pencil and wrote down EVERYTHING we bought and spent from the grocery budget.
I’m kinda surprised it all fit on one page given the 17 receipts from the month, but what surprised me even more was the actual amount of money spent in each category of food.
January Grocery Spending Categorized
Dairy – $72.74. Includes milk, various types of cheese (cottage, monterey jack, fresh mozzarella), yogurt, eggs, half & half and butter.
Produce – $74.26. Includes lots of bananas, basil, pineapple, pears, kale, corn, broccoli, cilantro, avocado, bell pepper, cranberries, limes, apples, carrots, butternut squash, mangos, grapes, peaches, berries and acorn squash. Some were frozen, but most were fresh. Canned produce is below in the pantry tally.
Pantry – $101.31. Beans, pasta, corn flour, oats, baking powder, coffee, sugar, bottled water, tomatoes, rice, baking chocolate, salt, cornstarch, spices, coconut oil, flour, salsa verde and couscous.
Miscellaneous – $12.95. Includes sourdough bread, tortilla chips, hummus and pita chips.
Meat – $51.02. Includes whole chickens, pepperoni, shrimp and chicken thighs.
Note: The total of these numbers is $28 less that what I came up with in January’s end-of-month accountability post. I don’t know why, but that post is written as the receipts come in so it’s definitely the most accurate between the two. There’s a good chance I missed a duplicate purchase of something written in the notebook. While it would be helpful to know which category the $28 should fall in to, I can still draw fairly accurate conclusions with the totals I’m working with now.
There’s always so much to learn when you’re evaluating past expenditures. If I had a nickel for every time I thought “Why in the world did I buy that?!” I’d be a very rich woman!
Going through each receipt, and each item line by line really helps when you’re trying to get a grasp on your spending. The decisions you made at the store – both good and bad – suddenly become very clear now that you don’t have chocolate covered coconut pieces staring you in the face.
The Good News
Dairy. We spend more in dairy than I thought we would, but none of it is frivolous. The correlation and cost difference between store-bought yogurt and homemade yogurt became extremely clear:
(1) 48oz Fage + (2) Single Serving Yogurts = (1) 128oz gallon Organic Milk + (2) Single Serving Yogurts
The only difference is that I get over 2 1/2 times as much yogurt for my money if I make it at home myself. This was a deal-clincher for me for stop being lazy and making my own yogurt again.
Produce. I’m seriously amazed at the variety of produce we eat! Sometimes it feels like we the same things, over and over, but this list reminds me of all the foods that we ate WITH the same ‘ol same ‘ol. 🙂
Pantry. I love that we buy a lot of ingredients rather than ready-to-prepare boxed foods. This makes me very happy! We’re also eating more beans now than we ever have before.
Miscellaneous. The sourdough was delicious. So were the chips, hummus and pita chips. And the fact that there were only four items in this category is worth praise!!
Meat. We were able to fit seafood and additional chicken into the budget! I didn’t think that was something that could be done in one month, but we did it!
The Bad News
Dairy. With our total spending in dairy being as high as it is, it doesn’t leave us much room for raw milk. Especially when it’s $14/gallon. I could eliminate the store-bought yogurt and make my own, but that would only give me more yogurt, not more funds.
Produce. There are some items that were purchased conventionally that I wish could have been organic, like pears, corn, broccoli, grapes and bell peppers. The produce total was kept so low because of price matching, but I don’t foresee price matching organic produce being an option.
Pantry. I made several bulk purchases in this month: oats, coffee, sugar, flour and rice. If I were to take my own advice, it would be to separate bulk purchases so that no one single month is hit hard by the large totals that bulk purchases demand. However this requires some fore-thought which I clearly didn’t have!
Almost $60 went to these five items alone, which is about 18% of my grocery budget. Ideally, I’d like to keep bulk spending at 10-15% of the total budget. This would free up a little more for raw milk and/or organic produce. Or even more meat!
Miscellaneous. I’m addicted to tortilla chips. I could have made my own pita chips and hummus and bread if I had planned ahead of time for them.
Meat. Only the chickens were organic. The pepperoni wasn’t anything fancy, the shrimp were farm-raised and the chicken thighs were conventional. In a perfect grocery budget world, the sources of the pepperoni and shrimp would be known (and of good quality) and the chicken thighs would be organic.
Changes and Goals Going Forward
Dairy. I’d like to commit to buying one gallon of milk each month and making yogurt as soon as it comes home. I also want to try to buy at least one 1/2 gallon of raw milk each month. This will likely make the total around $80, but if I can cut back on pantry items, that should be do-able.
Produce. I want to be better about shopping according to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. There’s an app on my phone that helps me while I’m in store, but what really does me in is the lack of planning ahead. I’m kinda stuck when there’s a last minute need for grapes, but I could scope out the farmer’s market the week prior if I had looked ahead at my planner.
Pantry. Bulk purchases need to be spread out for sure, but I’m not entirely sure how to execute this. I’m considering setting aside the 10-15% in cash and then having it available when these items run out. What would you guys do? As for lowering some of the costs, I’m on the hunt for bulk couscous and plan on making a bulk purchase of wheat berries and coconut oil from Tropical Traditions as soon as they’re buy one get one free again.
Miscellaneous. If I can keep the tortilla chips to just one bag each month, I’m a happy camper. Knowing that my mind will want to categorize everything that comes in the front door is a fairly effective deterrent for the rest of this group. I don’t want to have to explain myself to you! Amazing how budget accountability works, eh? 😉
Meat. Your input on the choice of conventional meat for company has been a huge help this week – thank you! Going forward, I’d like to be able to have enough organic meat in the freezer to adequately serve company when the time arises. This will mean having to see out better prices for chicken and buying extra when prices are low. The best I’ve seen is $1.99/lb for a whole chicken, but it’s been several months since I saw that. Perhaps this will change with the season. I would also like to find better seafood and no longer buy farm raised, but that will definitely take some hunting and there will likely be some sticker shock involved too!