Author Topic: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet  (Read 2657 times)

bendixso123

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My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« on: April 16, 2018, 08:17:13 PM »
I started cutting down my grocery bill about a year ago. Last year, I spent about $230/month on groceries, and I'm on track to do even better this year.

I'm not a big fan of coupons and deals, so I don't try to align my shopping with what's on sale. I mostly focus on getting the ingredients I love as cheaply as possible by purchasing in bulk from a variety of sources. From looking around the Internet, it seems like there are quite a few people who take a similar approach, Frugalwoods being one of them.

So in order to better serve the community, I've come up with a "big ass" spreadsheet of all the things I've discovered in this process. There are some ingredients I've learned are more economical (and delicious) to make than buy. In other circumstances, the savings doesn't amount to much and it's kind of a pain the ass to make the thing.

Without any further ado, the spreadsheet:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1zuxO7YS1_bqrGKoVGpNs5A9uLoGjhux-XTbTMaA2MWc/edit?usp=sharing

Feel free to hop in, make some edits, and add your own insights. Perhaps if enough people contribute, I could use my website design skills and turn it into  a nicely designed and publicly available resource for other frugal folks taking the ingredient-based approach to food shopping.

Thanks for contributing!
-Ted

savedough

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2018, 11:06:30 PM »
I like the concept but Iím not sure how you can account for regional differences.   For example, when we lived in CA, lemons were everywhere and people would give them away.   I would juice and freeze so lemon juice was free all year round - best possible price.    Now that I live in Montana, free lemons arenít an option.   We donít have Aldiís, Costco or some of the other most popular markets which makes any spreadsheet that includes those useless for me.

APowers

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2018, 11:27:22 PM »
I glanced quickly at the spreadsheet, so please forgive me if I missed something.

Your prices seem very....average. I'm not a huge fan of coupons, as they're generally a hassle, but it really does pay to watch the weekly ad cycles at your local grocery stores, particularly for non-perishable goods that make it onto the front (i.e., loss-leader) page. For instance: you list that you can find oatmeal for $1.50/lb + shipping-- but that's regular price at my local Sprouts, with no shipping or transit time efficiency loss, AND it will regularly go on sale for $.70/lb. That's a 50% savings, just from glancing at the ad and saying "hey, I guess I need to buy oatmeal while I'm at Sprouts this week."


bendixso123

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2018, 07:56:14 AM »
Wow, it looks like I need to start paying attention to some of those deals! If all it takes is a simple glance and just remembering to stock up on more, then it's pretty obviously the right thing to do.

bendixso123

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2018, 08:09:17 AM »
I'll also add that I'm not totally sure what something like this becomes. There are definitely regional differences that make price listing a problem. To my mind, I see it a few ways.

Problems:
1. I don't know if it's worth the time to buy certain items in bulk online or just buy them when there's a sale locally

2. I don't know which items yield the quickest or highest impact "win". Vanilla extract being the obvious example here, since you can make a pretty big dent on the price by making it yourself and not buying it from those tiny ass bottles at the grocery store.

3. I don't know which items are better to make or buy or whether there is a substantial flavor difference when you make it vs. buy it. There's a nice Slate article that does this comparison, but only for a handful of items. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2009/04/scratch_that.html

It would be really cool to crowdsource answers to some of these questions and then present it all nice and neat together on a single website, so you don't have to go sleuthing all over the Internet to figure out what's worth your time and what might not be.

Making Cents

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2018, 02:43:11 PM »
Thanks for posting this, OP! Yes, others are right that crowdsourcing is almost impossible because this is highly localized (even varying by neighborhood within cities) but it is TOTALLY worth it and I wish I'd started a grocery price spreadsheet ages ago.

I finally got around to it this January and it has already slashed my monster of an (organic) grocery bill in more than half. I found that Costco does not earn its keep for me except for very specific products. Now I know which ones those are and I'm debating whether to ever buy a membership again. For now I'm going to decline renewal and buy some cash cards to be able to purchase some stuff there next year and then reevaluate.

My approach to this problem is somewhat different. Here are the column headings of my spreadsheet:

1. Item (e.g. "almonds, sliced). I have a couple hundred items we buy regularly, listed alphabetically so I can look up good prices and sales at a glance.
2. Unit Price
3. Store
4. Date of purchase (to track sale cycles and seasonal lows)
5. Sale? (I check this when it is on sale rather than being a normal price point)

What this does is tell me what I should be paying ... the "buy price." I don't buy it if the price is higher than the normal low. It also tells me where to buy what, and in some cases when to buy what. When buying meat, poultry, and sometimes cheese, I now buy as much as I can in bulk when it is on sale below the normal buy price, and I then wrap everything into portions in freezer paper, label it, and freeze it. I now have chicken locked in at .79 or .89/lb for the next few months and I haven't even done this for a year yet! I'm pretty sure I will see lower. I shop Aldi for most stuff, then Costco for certain well-priced items, then Kroger only for what I can't find elsewhere. I love Publix' atmosphere and labor practices but I don't shop there anymore.

The spreadsheet took some time to start up but it is already paying me hundreds of dollars per hour of work! I started by just snapping pictures of shelf price labels on my phone and going through photos + my receipts. As I add to my file, I do not keep 10 different prices for almond slices, for example. I only keep the lowest normal price (which I now know is at Aldi here, not Kroger or Costco), and then I keep sale prices or seasonally variable low normal prices. Using this, I now know where to get my almonds and what I should expect at the register. I learned that Aldi offers many of my staple foods, especially poutltry/meat at about half the price I would pay elsewhere. I know to buy Costco only for specific items such as frozen wild salmon and frozen fruits and veggies like broccoli, wild blueberries, and cauliflower. Surprisingly, buying in bulk is NOT always cheaper, even when it comes to paper products. Costco produce packaged in bulk is almost never cheaper than Aldi's normal quantities here. Buying in bulk for perishables risks waste and precious fridge/freezer room, so this was a good lesson to learn that I need to do the math. Always.

I can't believe I didn't think to study prices sooner. Now, I don't go to the store without this file open on my phone. I don't shop what we want to eat tonight; I shop what is on offer now that is a good value and cook based on that. I still don't coupon, but I do look at Aldi weekly sale ads and pounce on low prices, especially for meat and fish. In the end, we are eating more seasonally, which means fresher food and fewer food miles which is an environmental win too.

Because I insist on organic and cage-free when possible for environmental/moral reasons, my grocery bills were totally out of hand last year, so I expect this to save us at least $5k this year. I highly recommend this method. There are a ton of bloggers that advocate this. Here is one article with instructions:

http://thefrugalgirls.com/2012/04/grocery-price-book.html

finallyfrugal

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2018, 08:14:06 PM »
Thanks for sharing this! It is a good reminder to track the prices in my local area again. I did it about a year ago, but things have changed and I find that I try to remember prices, but having it in print is always more reliable.

lhamo

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2018, 08:26:39 PM »
You definitely should be tracking Kroger (Fred Meyer in my market) loss leaders and coupons.  My store is having a customer appreciation sale this week so by stocking up on some stuff we were short on and spending over $50 I got a $10 digital coupon applied to my total.  Plus about $8 in other coupons -- saved 25% of my original total today.  Plus it is double points week, and I filled out the survey for extra gas points.

Fred Meyer pretty regularly has butter on sale for $1.99-2.50/lb.  And I often get coupons in the mail from them for another .50/lb off. 

Meats on sale rotate regularly, too, so good to stock up if you have freezer space.  Petite sirloin steaks are $2.69/lb -- not filet mignon, but if you marinate them well they are pretty good.  I also cut up steak meat that is that cheap to use in curry/Chinese beef with noodles.  I also picked up a chuck roast for around $8.50 (2.99/lb, which is my "strike price") -- that will go in the crock pot with a jar of salsa from Costco to make shredded beef for burritos.  One roast usually makes 3-4 meals worth of meat when mixed later with black beans and rick.  My strike price for chicken thighs/drumsticks is .79-.99/lb -- that usually rotates around every 2-3 weeks.  I buy the flash frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts now as it is easier than wrapping/freezing myself -- around $1.50-1.99/lb target price for those.

The price book is an old idea -- I don't keep a paper copy anymore, but have these strike prices in my head for just about everything in our pantry.   

Rosy

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2018, 09:03:55 AM »
Over a lifetime you will keep finding different ways to save on groceries. One minute online usually nets me about $3 in coupons. We spend about five minutes a week perusing ads and coupons over coffee, for things we would buy anyway - worth it to catch a BOGO.
It pays to constantly be on the lookout when it comes to saving money on your food budget.

Just off the top of my head:
1. Did you know that places like TJMaxx, Home Goods and Ross have raw honey at $4 less per jar?
2. Our favorite low sugar oatmeal only goes on sale once every three months - BOGO - worth it. So we stash enough to last us until the next sale.
3. Preferred coffee beans go on sale once every six weeks - BOGO plus I discovered their website gives out $3 coupons - worth it.
4. Butter is always on sale before any of the holidays and no one beats the price of organic milk at Aldi.
5. Produce - best price at the local flea market, just someone with a garden who offers a table full of homegrown fresh peppers or whatever is in season.

The local fresh market charges five times that much and as proven by a local TV station a couple of the "local" farmers just imported stuff which is neither local nor probably even organic. 

6. Fresh herbs like basil, dill, parsley, rosemary and mint are super easy to grow in a nice, big, deep window box. If you grow them organically using organic seeds - flavor bonanza.
Soups, tea, tacos, fish, roasts - you name it. Most herbs can be either dried, some can be flash frozen - like in your ice cube tray so it's simple to toss into your dish when you are ready:).

I'm not a big veggie gardener, but I like to try something new each year - this year I discovered that Celery of all things, grows very well in Florida. I grew it in a big, deep window box and just keep harvesting the leaves for soups and stews. Yesterday I chopped it really fine and added it to our tuna salad, occasionally I harvest a couple of stalks as well to saute with whatever.

7. You'd be surprised how many times we had people ask if they could take or harvest the oranges on our tree out front. One time two guys harvested the entire tree and took the oranges back to New York with them.
Always ask friends, family and neighbors, even strangers if they are willing to share their bounty - sometimes old people are glad someone is actually making use of the harvest instead of wasting on the ground.
Depending on where and how you live, it can be fun to interchange recipes, save money and make new friends.

9. It also pays to know all the ethnic markets in your area. Many of them have bulk grains and rice at dirt cheap prices and depending on the market they often have cheaper spices at better quality.
I like to cook with Bulgur (grain) which I buy loose at the Arabic market for next to nothing, they offer four different kinds. The health food store offers one kind at ridiculous prices.
I'm not into rice - so I just buy the pricey organic wild rice and jasmine rice in a small canister - that lasts us a long while. I have a couple of bags that I keep for emergency food, like for hurricanes. I donate it or give it to my son before it gets too old and then buy another two big bags that I store appropriately. (Wouldn't be of much help if the bugs or moisture got in).

10. The cage-free eggs, organic produce, and grass-fed beef prices are all outrageous. Aldi offers grass-fed beef at good prices sometimes, but you have to get it at the start of that week's promotion (always Wednesday). Publix occasionally has BOGO for one of their organic egg brands.

11. Consider sharing a Costco or Sam's membership with family and friends - just like you would a netflix account. If you see a killer deal, but it is more than you want, can ever stor or use up - call friends or family to see if they want to split the cost with you.

The year I was dirt poor I only survived, because I could share with friends and neighbors - they even gave me food from the church food pantry that they did not want - things like a huge portion of frozen apricots - wow:) thanks! or stuff they didn't know how to cook or knew what to do with. So I made an extra batch of pie or soup or casserole for them in return.
« Last Edit: April 20, 2018, 09:31:19 AM by Rosy »

bendixso123

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2018, 11:45:38 AM »
Okay! Wow, there's so much to learn here.

The biggest thing I'm wondering is how to solve the problem of this information being too localized. It would be neat if there were a way for people to enter the best price they've found for a particular ingredient tied to a location and a way they've sourced it. For example, if you live in California and happen to live near an almond farm where you can get almonds super cheap, it would be cool to have a way to signal that information to other people nearby. Then if I happen to move to that area, I could plop down and quickly find the cheapest way to source all of the common ingredients I use in cooking.

Spreadsheets can't quite capture that info, but a web/mobile app certainly could.

If people keep entering price history, we could build up a giant database of prices at certain stores and times of year. That might be getting too far ahead though. A simple "here's the cheapest place I've found this thing near this location" could be really helpful to a lot of people.

Thanks, everyone, for your help!

MDM

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2018, 12:30:51 PM »
Haven't tried any of these, but maybe...?

crowd sourced grocery prices - Google Search

Making Cents

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #11 on: April 20, 2018, 06:34:16 PM »


Spreadsheets can't quite capture that info, but a web/mobile app certainly could.

If people keep entering price history, we could build up a giant database of prices at certain stores and times of year. That might be getting too far ahead though. A simple "here's the cheapest place I've found this thing near this location" could be really helpful to a lot of people.



Apps like this do exist. When I was putting off just tracking my own data, I tried out a number of them, including apps that cost money. Wish i could remember the names but I ended up deleting them all. I think one of them was called PriceBook? I didn't find any of them to be helpful because there is a lot of nuance to this data... How big of a geographic area do you want to compare across? Are brown cage-free eggs comparable to white? Many of the apps could not compare across brands or varieties (e.g. sodium-free vs regular) or could not convert unit prices from lbs to oz, for example.

In the end, I found doing my own was actually the quickest and most effective route (and free!). Depression-era housewives used to do this by hand. Come to think of it, some of the best tricks I've learned in the last couple of years come from Depression-era housewives. (One more reason to miss my  Gran!)

crimwell

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2018, 11:05:21 AM »
We've been making almost all our own yogurt for a few years now. We do an entire gallon at a time since we have kids (stored in 4 quart jars and 1 pint jar). We use about a cup of store bought plain full fat Greek yogurt as starter.

We don't bother freezing it. We've only had it go moldy in the fridge once, and that took over a month, because for whatever reason the kids just cut down on their consumption a lot.

I've never actually calculated it, but just based on the cost of milk and the portion of store bought starter and the cost of running the stove to make it, I think it costs about 1/10 what it would cost to buy that amount of  yogurt.

Making Cents

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2018, 04:51:51 PM »
Random venting in case this little discovery helps others:

In updating my spreadsheet after my midweek grocery trip, I found that Aldi advertised a sale on artichokes when in fact the price was 10 cents higher than their normal price! I guess this is a thing? Probably legal, but definitely a lie. It suckered me into spending all of 40 cents more than usual and I have gained some valuable info for my spreadsheet as a result of this, but it is annoying me WAY more than it should. :)

APowers

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2018, 06:02:34 PM »
Random venting in case this little discovery helps others:

In updating my spreadsheet after my midweek grocery trip, I found that Aldi advertised a sale on artichokes when in fact the price was 10 cents higher than their normal price! I guess this is a thing? Probably legal, but definitely a lie. It suckered me into spending all of 40 cents more than usual and I have gained some valuable info for my spreadsheet as a result of this, but it is annoying me WAY more than it should. :)

Meh. There's no lie in declaring something a "sale" and setting whatever price you want for it. There was no confusion regarding the actual price on the shelf tag, was there? Was there a "lower price" claim? I'm pretty sure using "[insert reason] SALE!" to create the perception of good value and to add more motivation to purchase regardless of price is a universal sales tactic, and grocery stores are certainly in the business of selling.

okcisok

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Re: My "Big Ass" Food Sourcing Google Spreadsheet
« Reply #15 on: May 28, 2018, 08:22:39 PM »
Thanks for this. It inspired me to take the envelope full of receipts and turn it into a Google Spreadsheet. Very enlightening, as I had a few month's worth from multiple stores.

I've tried this before on index cards, but kept forgetting to grab them when I went to the store, so gradually quit. Why didn't I think to make it digital??