I haven’t mentioned it before but our grocery budget is one of the more difficult to keep under control. It didn’t seem to matter how much money we had in there we would over spend. Recently we needed to re-do our budget and looking for some places to trim. In order to get the grocery spending under control we knew we needed to try something else.
For a long while we were frustrated by 2 things:
- Spending at least $30 every single trip to the store
- Doing all the things “right” but still overspending
When I say doing all of the things right I mean that we had a meal plan, we price matched and went to budget friendly stores. Even though we did that and we were never able to really move the needle.
Scott and I talked at length to try to understand why this was happening and how to make things better. Scott had the brilliant idea to track everything that we bought at the grocery store. This was to help identify what we were buying to see some of the numbers in detail. We already track every purchase we make but had never broken out each receipt down like that.
To make it easier for tracking purposes we categorized the purchases into categories like produce, meat and protein and staples.
A couple of things to consider based on our situation:
- We don’t eat a ton of meat and our dairy is mostly almond milk
- We price match and shop sales when we can however we don’t plan our budget around what is in the flyer
- Staples are things like beans, spices, coffee and rice etc.
- We don’t have a microwave so leftovers aren’t really our thing.
- We cook a lot from scratch (salad dressing, hummus etc)
- We did not go out much during this time period – only once for Scott’s birthday
- We bring our breakfast and lunch to work every day
- We have a garden but we only get a couple of tomatoes a week and some basil. It’s not supplementing a huge part of our budget (that’s the dream though).
- This tracking was done from June 10 – July 29
So onto the numbers:
I’m happy with spending the average of $100/week on groceries and would feel comfortable going up to $120/week to cover off things like cleaning and paper products
Reviewing the numbers:
- Cleaning was some laundry detergent. We are pretty much stocked on paper products (paper towels, toilet paper etc.) for a while.
- The first week was a full week of shopping however we tried to pull from the fridge, shelf and freezer where possible since we were trying to cut back spending. The average between week 1 and 2 is about $94 which is in line with the weekly average for the rest of the weeks
- We spend a TON of money on produce. Every week we buy 4 heads of lettuce as well as apples, cucumbers, peppers and lemons at least. I’m not surprised it takes up 43% of our spending.
- We are slightly obsessed with chickpeas. We use chickpeas in a tons of different ways; hummus, chickpea croutons, falafel and eat all of those things pretty regularly.
- We spend very little money on meat/eggs. This makes sense since Scott only eats meat about once a week and he only has eggs on the weekends.
- Since we live in an area with seasons this will represent lower costs than what we would spend in the winter when veggies are more expensive
- Health & Beauty was a body wash for Scott. As I mentioned in a previous post about makeup my beauty needs have their own budget.
- Snacks are things like popcorn for our air popper, snacks when we had some friends over and store made hummus.
Sales and price matching:
As I mentioned above we price matched and shop for sales. Below is the table to show our savings.
- We price match and shop sales almost equally for things like produce and dairy.
- If we did not do this we would have spent a total of $956 on the food we purchased vs the $816 we did spend.
This made us more mindful of what we bought and what we were eating. We try not to waste food and most of the time when we hit the store on Friday our fridge is super empty. That is really great since throwing out food is basically lighting money on fire.
How tracking like this helped:
We already were meal planning but most of the evenings we did not stick to it. What we planned for Tuesday would be eaten on Monday and then things would get shifted around. Sometimes that worked out and sometimes it didn’t. During this time period however we did a really great job of sticking to what we had planned.
What we learned:
On certain evenings doing a huge production for dinner didn’t make any sense. We had prep lunches for the rest of the week and make dinner. We were basically spending the whole evening in the kitchen. We have adjusted so that on days we do our mid-week lunch meal prep (Wednesday nights) and that makes more sense to have salad that night for dinner to cut down on the prep. That was great to learn since that makes the nights so much better and easier to deal with.
During the week we pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast (smoothie) and lunch (salad) and we are okay with that. We also noticed that we were eating the same thing all of the time for dinner. That we are less okay with. We started expanding more each week and try new recipes. This has helped so we don’t get bored of what we are eating as dinner. Dinner is the one meal of the week that is the most difficult to keep to the meal plan. Having variety and new and exciting things has really helped.
The most important thing we learned was that we need a lot less than we have been budgeting for in the past. Looking at these numbers makes me feel more comfortable cutting back.
Where do we go from here:
While we stopped tracking everything we bought we have continued to keep the same habits and now we feel more comfortable with reducing how much per week we set aside for groceries. Also if we find that we are slipping off the path we will go back to tracking every thing we buy because we were really on track and point during that time. It was a lot of work however so we are hoping the halo effect of tracking will carry out for as long as possible.
Budgeting for groceries is incredibly personal. What I buy and what you buy might be different. I do understand that this might cause people to have reactions to the amount we spend. There are some people who spend less and think that we might be wasting money. There are some people who might spend more and think that this numbers are not legit. I assure you that they are too legit to quit. I think the biggest take away should be that there are ways to be effective with your spending. Just like tracking your money in your overall budget tracking individual budget items can be powerful with helping you understand where the money is going.
Have you ever tracked your food or other spending in this much detail?
Quote of the Week: Growing your own food is like printing your own money. Ron Finley
Like what you read? Wanna be in the know? Sign up for our weekly newsletter that comes out every Wednesday. Also when you sign up you get our free communication guide – Talking Money: 3 Tips to Improve Communication. Click here to subscribe!