Author Topic: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!  (Read 5158 times)

ultros1234

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Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« on: July 17, 2014, 02:11:03 PM »
Hey mustachians --

DW and I could use your feedback! We've successfully knocked down our spending in lots of categories. We've made a lot of shifts in our grocery purchases, but we haven't been able to get our grocery budget quite as lean as we'd like. We've been collecting detailed grocery data for the past few months, and I'd love some help from the mustachians to dig into our grocery spending and see if you spot any areas for obvious improvement.

Here's my spreadsheet. I made a copy of my original and gave all you editing rights to this one, so feel free to mark stuff up and add comments if you're so inclined:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-2I5tBAXq6Y8HvJcOXneWVzpbHbnXnXr7FdXAgA7Prk/edit#gid=0

That data goes from April 30 to July 13, 2014. It implies that we spend $500/mo on groceries, though that's higher than what mint thinks we spend, on average. (This data includes a sort-of expensive road trip and two Costco runs, while mint includes times we were out of town for long periods and not eating.)

Some background about us:
  • It's just me and my wife. Mint says our average grocery spending in the past year is $355/month. Total food expenses are $682/mo, the difference mostly being our facepunch-worthy restaurant spending, which is a topic for a different post. The first question: Maybe $355/month is reasonable for a couple, and there's no more ground to be gained here?
  • We live in the San Francisco Bay Area. While cost of living here is generally high, that isn't true of food (except for restaurants). We grow the rest of the country's produce, so it isn't expensive here.
  • We buy most of our fresh produce from a local store (Farmer Joe's) a few blocks away with good prices and selection for produce (but for dry goods, it's more like a Whole Foods). A little produce comes from a bi-weekly CSA box or from the farmer's market. Nearly all of our dry and canned goods now come from Costco in bulk. Occasional other purchases from Safeway, Trader Joe's, the local fancy bakery, the local butcher, and the Asian market.
  • We don't buy much packaged/processed stuff, but we also don't buy much organic. We're kind of foodies (hence the too-high restaurant spending), so there's the occasional purchase of fancy cheese or ingredients for baking.
  • We are in a dinner rotation with some families in our church. Once a month, we each cook for the whole group (7-10 people, depending on the month), and the other days we just show up and eat. I haven't done a cost-benefit on eating via the rotation vs. cooking for ourselves, but I suspect it would be just about a wash. Similarly, we provide dinner for our church small group every once in a while (about 10 people, once a week), and then on other weeks we just show up and eat.
  • We rarely have meat-heavy meals now. Most of our dinners have meat, but it's typically a flavoring for a pasta or a soup, not the star of the show. A more recent project has been compiling a list of easy, healthy, tasty, cheap weeknight dinners that will be easy standbys.

Any thoughts for how we can improve?

swick

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2014, 02:36:05 PM »
I took a quick look and have a few thoughts for you.

Looks like alcohol is part of your grocery spending? We came to the conclusion a while ago that alcohol and non-nutritious "snack food" should be coming out of either our entertainment fund or our personal spending "fun money" It is easy to blow to expand your grocery budget to cover these things...it is much more painful and makes you be more thoughtful if you have to take it out of the other categories.

The areas I can see where you could make the biggest difference is your "prepared" foods. Hummus is dirt cheap to make, you can easily spend an afternoon making ravioli  and stock your freezer for a couple of months. Both Granola and granola bars could be cheaper if made at home, even if it is a wash cost wise, having control of the ingredients brings them from "snack food" to actually helping you meet your nutritional needs.

I wouldn't stress about the food for your groups and meeting nights. You are nourishing community which pays dividends in many ways. You can always look for meal ideas and recipes that feed a lot for less money though.

MandyM

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2014, 02:42:25 PM »
I think that $355/month for 2 adults is slightly on the high side - especially if there is a significant amount of eating out. Scanning through your purchases and my main thought is, "wow, what a variety."

Are you wasting much? Of the mint and basil, how much did you use vs toss? What miscellaneous ingredients are hiding in your pantry, never to be used again?

I happen to notice that 32 oz of yogurt ranged from $2.49 up to $3.99. That is a pretty big difference for an item that purchase regularly.

I saw several canned bean purchases of various type. Eat more of that - they are so cheap. Even cheaper bought dry. I cook mine in a slow cooker while I'm at work.

happyfeet

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2014, 02:43:41 PM »
Pirates Booty.  Yummy stuff.  Have you ever made your own bread?  There is a website for super easy homemade bread that requires no kneading and you keep in refrigerator and use as needed.  Called 5 minute artisan bread.  To bake it you need corn meal to place on cookie sheet/parchment paper.  I tried flour - did not work.  Let it rise a good hour before baking also.  You can save some money there.  All it is is flour, yeast, salt and water.   I got the flour and yeast at Costco.
« Last Edit: July 17, 2014, 03:46:35 PM by happyfeet »

ultros1234

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2014, 03:31:23 PM »
Thanks for the feedback so far! Keep it coming!

A few responses:
Quote
We came to the conclusion a while ago that alcohol and non-nutritious "snack food" should be coming out of either our entertainment fund or our personal spending "fun money"
We mostly don't use budgets. We're more in MMM's mold of making decisions on the level of an individual purchase. So the solution would be either to set a budget for alcohol and such specifically or (more likely for us) just decide to drink less. I do have a non-mustachian habit of having about 1 drink a day after work. All the alcohol comes from Costco; beers average $1/bottle there, and the cost of an individual mixed drink is probably a bit higher. Maybe I should think of this more like people think about lattes and cut to only a couple days a week.

Quote
The areas I can see where you could make the biggest difference is your "prepared" foods. Hummus is dirt cheap to make, you can easily spend an afternoon making ravioli  and stock your freezer for a couple of months. Both Granola and granola bars could be cheaper if made at home, even if it is a wash cost wise, having control of the ingredients brings them from "snack food" to actually helping you meet your nutritional needs.
I feel like we have so few prepared foods left! In general, I like the idea of making more of this stuff ourselves, but there's only so many hours in the day. We have replaced some store-bought stuff with homemade: I make my own almond butter and will never go back. Homemade isn't hard, and it's so much better and cheaper than storebought.
If you make a bunch of hummus, how long will it keep? Ravioli is an interesting one -- we've never tried making it ourselves. Can you point me to a good recipe? DW did go on a granola-making kick for a while, but I'm certain it was more expensive than the store-bought stuff.

Quote
Are you wasting much? Of the mint and basil, how much did you use vs toss? What miscellaneous ingredients are hiding in your pantry, never to be used again?
I've had this thought, and we're trying to reduce waste. We keep a whiteboard on the side of the fridge that says "use me!" that lists non-staple items that need using up from the freezer, fridge, and pantry. I threw the last of that basil into a pasta last night.

Mint is harder. I made a batch of mint extract a little while ago, but other than that it's hard to use. (I could categorize the mint under the alcohol spending -- usually for mojitos.) We can grow some herbs on our patio, which is nice, but no mint there now. Anyway, I don't think we're wasting all that much.

Quote
I happen to notice that 32 oz of yogurt ranged from $2.49 up to $3.99.
Hmmm. One of them was bought when we were travelling. That $3.99 one I'm not sure on. I think DW bought the fancy kind, probably because we were out and she was at the other grocery store.

Quote
I saw several canned bean purchases of various type. Eat more of that - they are so cheap. Even cheaper bought dry.
Any good bean recipes to recommend? We keep intending to cook our own dry beans. Gets back to the "only so many hours in the day" issue.

Quote
Have you ever made your own bread?
Yes! We rescued a bread machine that my mom had in the garage and never used. We don't regularly eat a ton of bread, with the exception of English muffins, which are harder in the bread machine. But this rosemary bread is my favorite, which we make with the rosemary from the patio:
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/jos-rosemary-bread/

Quote
Pirates Booty.  Yummy stuff.
Yes it is. I buy it, and it's gone in like three days. The Costco size. Good thing I bike to work. :)

NoraLenderbee

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2014, 04:03:58 PM »
Making hummus is a lot like making almond butter. My husband makes both with a food processor. If you're concerned about waste, you can freeze the hummus is small batches (if your recipe calls for fresh parsley, don't add it before freezing).

swick

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2014, 04:18:13 PM »
Yep, Hummus is really simple (you can use any sort of bean too, white bean is great!) We make a batch at the beginning of the week for the entire week with no problems and it does freeze fine.

We make our beans in the crockpot, a perfect solution for "not enough hours in the day" it is literally no work at all. Once you have your beans you can freeze them or work them into meals throughout the week. I made a crock pot of white beans this week and have used them in: Salad, hummus, white bean/spinach/artichoke dip, veggie burgers. and enchiladas. Just having them in the fridge is a great start to many meals - or a great addition.

This is the basic recipe I use for fresh pasta:
http://en.julskitchen.com/first-course/cappelletti-fresh-filled-pasta

But I cheat and use my mixer and a manual pasta roller.

Jule's blog is great and has a lot of fresh pasta options:
http://en.julskitchen.com/first-course/cappelletti-fresh-filled-pasta
http://en.julskitchen.com/first-course/fresh-pasta/potato-and-pecorino-tortelli-with-my-family
http://en.julskitchen.com/vegetarian/ravioli-filled-with-tomato-bread-soup - This in one of my favorites.

Rezdent

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2014, 05:37:07 PM »
+1 for Swick's crockpot/freezer idea.

When we decided to get more beans in our lives we had to face that cooking dry beans took longer and we were avoiding them because we are spontaneous cooks.  We'd reach past them to cans because we wanted beans right then, dammit.
We got a crockpot with the removable bowl and started a new habit.   It took a while but we now have a rhythm:
I pick a bean dish.  Beans go in the crock after supper, cook all night, and then into the fridge next morning.  That crock then appears every night during meals until it is gone.   (Repeat as needed)
Chickpeas for hummus cook quite well in the crockpot.  I freeze extras so that I have a steady supply of hummus.

We now use a similar approach to salads and soup.
So at least ounce a week I make a large salad, a big pot of soup, and beans. These form a basis for lunch/dinner and all I have to do is add a main dish and/or vegetables -  easy for lunches and weeknights.

Today's combo is:
Tomato Basil soup
Potato salad
Ranch - style Pinto beans.

OSUBearCub

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2014, 05:41:09 PM »
It looks like you have a large variety and pretty decent quantities for just two people.  Are you both still working?  I'm curious if you're taking your lunch to work every day.  Also, are you taking the previous night's left-overs? 

I cook for one and there are but a few very sad cookbooks with recipes for one.  I usually end up with 4-6 servings of everything.  Packing lunch the next day has helped me trim waste while indulging my foodie tendencies (I've got a spice habit that would put a medieval monarch to shame.)

Goldielocks

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2014, 06:17:49 PM »
Dont be too hard on yourself about the budget.  California is actually one of the highest states for cost of food.   I worked for Safeway/Vons for a few years so I saw the price sheets around the country.  California businesses have a lot of red tape and taxes to cover business, so tend to be 10% than elsewhere.  I think I saw cheaper prices in Alaska.

Produce is cheap from the rural / "ethnic" small farmers markets (not the pretty ones at the center of town on saturdays), or the 1 or 2 items on special.  Really focus on those specials prices.

Carry a price book so you know what a great fantastic, year-busting sale looks like on things you eat.  (Idea from your money or your life),

Start calculating the cost of a dinner, and use the low cost staples for 80%, and add only one or two splurge items as "extras" not as main items. e.g., 1/2 a red pepper diced over rice pilaf with onions and broccoli,  instead of stuffed red peppers when peppers are $3.99/lb. 

The price book completely changed how I purchased food, and planned dinners.

Keep feeding your friends, but calculate the cost of the dinners and look for ideas for great low cost dinners.  There are so many terrific meals that are affordable overall...Our church dinners are deliberately "soup and bread" simple meals to keep the focus on fellowship and allow everyone to participate equally without money worries.  You could suggest that if you like.




MandyM

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #10 on: July 18, 2014, 06:09:14 AM »
... I do have a non-mustachian habit of having about 1 drink a day after work. All the alcohol comes from Costco; beers average $1/bottle there, and the cost of an individual mixed drink is probably a bit higher. Maybe I should think of this more like people think about lattes and cut to only a couple days a week.

Maybe you should try making your own adult beverages: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2014/04/22/brew-your-own-cider/

ultros1234

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #11 on: July 18, 2014, 12:16:31 PM »
Thanks folks! We're inspired, at the very least, to start cooking some dry beans and to try making our own hummus more regularly. Where do you guys typically buy dry beans? They have some at Costco, and I could probably stop in our local Latin market.

The fresh pasta sounds amazing, though I think it would be more a special weekend project than a new thing we keep frozen all the time. But maybe I'm wrong -- I think lots of this is about building the habit in. I thought making my own almond butter sounded intimidating until I actually did it, and now it's second nature. (Still, those Costco raviolis are our last line of defense on a night when we don't feel like cooking and would otherwise order a pizza or grab a burrito at the taqueria. A big pack of raviolis costs $10 and keeps us fed for at least three meals.)

Quote
It looks like you have a large variety and pretty decent quantities for just two people.
DW and I are surprised that people feel like we have a lot of variety, because it doesn't feel that way to us. Maybe paring down our repertoire (except for special occasions) would let us buy fewer items and be more clear about exactly the costs involved?

Quote
Are you both still working?  I'm curious if you're taking your lunch to work every day.  Also, are you taking the previous night's left-overs? 
We do both work. Most dinners wind up with sufficient leftovers for us both to have a lunch. I've made a lot of progress on the work lunch front in the past couple years -- I used to buy take out for lunch like twice a week; now it's closer to once a month.

Quote
California is actually one of the highest states for cost of food.
Helpful to have my perspective corrected on this. I did a little research. This site says Oakland residents spend 117% of the national average for groceries (which is not exactly the same as prices being 117% of national average, but close enough):
http://www.infoplease.com/business/economy/cost-living-index-us-cities.html

Quote
Our church dinners are deliberately "soup and bread" simple meals to keep the focus on fellowship and allow everyone to participate equally without money worries.  You could suggest that if you like.
Good point. The coordinator of our dinner rotation is also a mustachian, so perhaps I'll talk to him about building simplicity in as a value more explicitly.

Quote
Maybe you should try making your own adult beverages
I've dabbled.  There's some plum hooch sitting in the back of fridge that needs drinking. :) And we did buy a lime tree for the purpose of reducing our lime-flavored beverages expense, but unfortunately they aren't that juicy.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #12 on: July 18, 2014, 06:17:22 PM »
Making alcohol come out of personal $ is a great suggestion. I think I'm going to use that myself.

Lately I eschew recipe based meal-planning. I scope the entire produce section (or farmer's market) before buying anything, then buy based on what is cheap or looks particularly awesome that day. Then I come up with ideas on how to use it. Usually stir fries.

Kids make it a bit harder, but luckily apples and bananas are cheap year round.

socaso

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #13 on: July 18, 2014, 08:01:57 PM »
I like this blog for cheap and delicious dinners: http://www.5dollardinners.com/
Also I try to plan my month's meals in advance and I plot out which meals will make enough leftovers to take for lunches. We seldom have to pack lunches that are not leftovers. Also whenever I buy fruit or veggies like carrots that I plan on having for snacks I prep them right away so they are ready to grab and go for lunches or a quick snack. I put it in snack size plastic containers and stack them in the fridge.

mm1970

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #14 on: July 19, 2014, 06:53:23 PM »
Quote
•We live in the San Francisco Bay Area. While cost of living here is generally high, that isn't true of food (except for restaurants). We grow the rest of the country's produce, so it isn't expensive here.

I'm going to dig through this more later, but I don't think $355 is high for San Fran.  You say that produce isn't expensive - even though I live in CA also (Santa Barbara), and we grow stuff here, you underestimate the costs of overhead. 

Produce is much cheaper elsewhere, even if grown here and shipped.  Now the quality - not as good as CSA/ farmer.  So keep that in mind.  We have CSA and farmer spending, which costs more than say, Walmart (we don't have a Walmart).


abhe8

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Re: Troubleshoot our grocery budget!
« Reply #15 on: July 19, 2014, 08:49:08 PM »
I wonder what percent of your meals are out? if its, say 35 percent, then by cutting the dining out budget you will likely see the grocery portion to UP, not down. so I would focus on your total food bill. as you trade home meals for the eating out meals, that total food bill will come down nicely.