Author Topic: Need help with reducing grocery budget  (Read 4112 times)

mabinogi

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Need help with reducing grocery budget
« on: April 24, 2015, 09:23:12 AM »
Grocery budgeting is one of my biggest downfalls. I am a little embarrassed to admit how much we routinely spend every month on groceries. So, I'm seeking your tips on how to get the biggest bang for your buck as far as reducing my grocery bills.

Some details:
-family of three (the child is 2 years old)
-vegetarian, but we don't buy expensive fake meat products
-buy mostly generics, from the cheapest grocery store in town (Winco)
-pay ~$20/week for milk and egg delivery from a local farm - not willing to let this go, and it may save us money by eliminating mid-week runs to the store for these staples
-don't buy a whole lot of organics
-I do some meal planning, but not religiously
-I always shop from a list
-I don't coupon, because I mostly buy generics
-I include in my grocery accounting anything that we buy at grocery stores, so cleaning products, dog food, beer, etc.
-routinely spend $600-800 per month... :(
-very little food waste; usually eat leftover dinners for lunch the next day

Some things I know I need to work on:
-When we don't have leftovers available for lunches, hubby will often buy frozen meals for lunches. I should make some easy lunch-size meals to keep in the freezer for those days.
-Be a little more organized about meal planning
-Cook beans from scratch instead of using canned beans
-Baking bread from scratch (although hubby won't use home-baked bread for sandwiches...grr.)

Additional complication: our second baby is due May 9 (so, any day now, really) so my organizational skills are unlikely to improve dramatically within the near future. That said, I'd at least like to avoid our costs going UP during this crazy time.

So, what are the biggest, best, and most efficient (in terms of time and effort) ways that you save money on grocery shopping? It seems as though I should be able to feed my family well on no more than $100/week, but I NEVER actually manage to do so.

Thank you! 
« Last Edit: April 24, 2015, 10:43:54 AM by mabinogi »

swick

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Re: Need help with reducing grocery budget
« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2015, 09:33:59 AM »
I think the first thing you need to do is break out your spending to see what is "actual" food spending. You are basically using it as a catch all right now. Just clarifying what you are buying would be a great first step.

Bracken_Joy

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Re: Need help with reducing grocery budget
« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2015, 09:47:32 AM »
I agree with the previous comment- what gets measured gets managed. So start entering your groceries as "categories". Ex, I do "protein" which captures meat and eggs, "Dairy" for milk products, "Fruits and veggies" (although as a vegetarian family I recommend breaking this out- fruits get spendy FAST, and honestly nutritionally aren't worth the price vs veggies- they're basically the candy of the whole food world), "home goods", "sauces", "grain products", "prepared foods/snacks/candy".

It's pretty quick to throw a spreadsheet together for this.

Another idea I see a lot: have a price book. It's where you write cost per ounce on a bunch of products as your "usual" price, that way you can tell if a different package size or a sale is worthwhile.

Have you looked at a service like azure standard for your bulk staples like rice and beans that can be stored? Also, if you do any snackfood, amazon subscribe and save can help with this (also great for home goods like TP, shampoo, paper towels, etc).

Be sure diapers aren't captured in the cost for groceries, that'll throw it way off. For diapers, wipes, etc, you should look into a service like amazon mom or the target service (forget the name). Be sure to check craigslist too- people will end up with bulk extra of a diaper size they grow out of.

mabinogi

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Re: Need help with reducing grocery budget
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2015, 09:54:29 AM »
Thanks for the suggestions. I'll work on itemizing my receipts over the next month (well, maybe...we'll see what I'm capable of with a newborn in the house) to categorize my grocery spending. I don't see a price book happening immediately, but that's definitely something I can try to get done later this summer.

We use cloth diapers, so our diaper expenses are pretty minimal, fortunately. I just got a Sam's club membership thanks to the Groupon deal going on this week, so I'm hoping that will help a bit with things like cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc., but I've gotten the impression that for food their prices are unlikely to beat the grocery store where I already do most of my shopping.

As far as fruit, we mostly only buy apples and bananas, which are typically pretty cheap. It's hard to get the toddler to eat most vegetables, so I'm not willing to cut out fruit purchases. Then he'd eat nothing but grains! :P

Bracken_Joy

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Re: Need help with reducing grocery budget
« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2015, 10:01:26 AM »
Thanks for the suggestions. I'll work on itemizing my receipts over the next month (well, maybe...we'll see what I'm capable of with a newborn in the house) to categorize my grocery spending. I don't see a price book happening immediately, but that's definitely something I can try to get done later this summer.

We use cloth diapers, so our diaper expenses are pretty minimal, fortunately. I just got a Sam's club membership thanks to the Groupon deal going on this week, so I'm hoping that will help a bit with things like cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc., but I've gotten the impression that for food their prices are unlikely to beat the grocery store where I already do most of my shopping.

As far as fruit, we mostly only buy apples and bananas, which are typically pretty cheap. It's hard to get the toddler to eat most vegetables, so I'm not willing to cut out fruit purchases. Then he'd eat nothing but grains! :P

Butter is the answer ;) And/or cheese.

mabinogi

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Re: Need help with reducing grocery budget
« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2015, 10:43:39 AM »
merula, thanks so much for your response, and I'll reply more extensively when I get a chance in a little bit, but just wanted to say that I mis-typed in my original post. I think I should be able to feed my family on $100/WEEK, not per month. I'm not that ambitious. ;) I'll go change that now.

PJ

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Re: Need help with reducing grocery budget
« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2015, 10:52:15 AM »
Edit:  Missed your post clarifying the $100 per week versus $100 per month!  So you can ignore that part!

Sounds like you're already doing a lot of things right, so I'm sure you'll be able to get the costs down by making some changes, but can I first say that I'm not sure your $100 per month goal for a family of 3.5 is realistic, even if one of the 3 is a toddler.  Especially if that includes cleaning supplies, booze, pet food, etc!  As a comparison, the article below talks about $1.75 (Canadian) per day, or $52.50 per 30 day month, as the extreme poverty line level of food costs.

http://globalnews.ca/news/1954331/cooking-and-eating-on-1-75-a-day-as-b-c-residents-take-on-challenge-to-end-poverty/?hootPostID=a542bce47f150dc29c773490f935fe8a

That being said, I think there are a few basic approaches to reducing food costs, and of course, you get most impact by combining them.

1.  Reduce waste  - make sure that everything gets eaten and nothing goes to waste.  Chop up broccoli stalks finely so you aren't just using the crowns, eat the radish greens and not just the radishes (can cook them like spinach and other greens) and so on.  For meat eaters this would means using bones to make stock.  Eke every bit of nutrition from what you buy, and wring every calorie from the food too.  Rotate stock so nothing expires, and freeze things right after making them if you think they won't get eaten in time. 

2.  Eat down your stockpile.  Assess what's in your cupboards and make a point of using the stuff that's been there for a while.  This might seem like it would only save you money in the short term (and it does - so save that money and use it to pay down debt, which saves you interest, or get it invested, so that it starts earning you interest sooner!)  But it also helps you see the kind of stuff you buy and never use.  Weird ingredients, large quantities of spices that you might only use once for a specific recipe, and so on.  Over time, this may help you learn what not to buy.  An example - I am not the usual cake baker in my extended family.  But twice in the last 10 or so years, I've wanted to make a special cake for someone, and that left me with half a bag of icing sugar in my cupboard for years.  It's not bad/spoiled but it won't realistically get used for its intended purpose.  So I've mixed it in with regular white sugar to use in my tea and coffee (short term saving).  Long term?  I probably would plan to make something different, or borrow a bit of icing sugar from my mom next time (she's the usual cake baker).

3.  Choose cheaper alternatives.  This is where you switch from fake meat to plain tofu, from canned to dry beans (hint: lentils and split peas don't need pre-soaking or long cooking, if that's an issue), from mangos to apples, etc.  Figure out what's cheapest by serving size - rice (white or brown), pasta, other grains like bulgar wheat, couscous, barley, etc, and make that more often and the more expensive stuff less often.

4.  Shop sales - shop at discount grocery stores, plan meals around loss leaders, use coupons where you can, price match where available, etc

You'll get tons of ideas over in the "Throw Down the Gauntlet" section of the forum, if you haven't looked there yet.  Here are some of the more recent threads:

http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/throw-down-the-gauntlet/eat-all-the-food-in-your-house-take-2/

http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/throw-down-the-gauntlet/fire-drill!-skip-this-week's-grocery-shop/

http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/throw-down-the-gauntlet/food-waste-throw-down!/

http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/throw-down-the-gauntlet/snap-or-$5day-healthy-eating-challenge/

http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/throw-down-the-gauntlet/stick-to-a-grocery-budget-in-2015-challenge/

Also, on the subject of tracking grocery spending: 

(recent)
http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/throw-down-the-gauntlet/track-and-categorize-all-grocery-spending-for-march-2015!/

(original thread that inspired the new one)
http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/throw-down-the-gauntlet/track-and-categorize-grocery-spending-all-march!/msg230366/

Full disclosure:  I have not ever tracked and categorized my grocery spending as per these threads.  I can imagine it would be helpful to do.  I can also imagine not having the time or energy to do it with a newborn!  So if that idea is too daunting, consider just finding out how much of your budget is groceries and how much cleaning and pet supplies.  If you have one small dog, are a slob, and each of you has one beer on Friday night, that would be very different from having two big dogs, being a neat freak and having a couple of drinks each night.  If the latter is the case, then you might not be as far off in your grocery budget as you think! 

By the way, you don't have to sit with receipt and calculator to get some idea of how much is going to food.  Just get the cashier to ring in two separate transactions.  Put all the food on the belt first, total, and pay.  Then ring through everything else.  Voila!  You know your grocery costs, and also how much you're paying for pets, booze, and cleaning.  Extra benefit - you can cut costs in those areas too - I recommend dropping the cleaning first ;-)

Catbert

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Re: Need help with reducing grocery budget
« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2015, 12:25:15 PM »
I understand that a price book can be overwhelming.  As a minimum save your WINCO ads.  When you have a couple of months of ads look at them to figure patterns.  You'll figure things like whole chickens go on sale every 6 weeks for $1 and chicken breasts go on sale for $2 about every 5 weeks (or whatever the pattern is).  Then plan to only buy whole chickens when they are $1 and buy about 6 weeks worth.  Or maybe you'll figure that onions are "on sale" half the time.  Or that there is a different brand of frozen meal on sale each week.

Be careful of Sam's Club.  I assume it's like Costco with lots of tempting non-food items (e.g., books, baby clothes, sheets, etc.)  Avoid those items but if you do get them don't include in your food budget.

MsPeacock

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Re: Need help with reducing grocery budget
« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2015, 12:48:48 PM »
I spend about $400 per month for me and two kids and my boyfriend who is here about 1/2 time. Pet food, cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc. can count for a lot - so you figure of $600 or so might not be as bad as it sounds since you are counting a lot of non-grocery items.

I also made a price book and would recommend doing it. I just went to the store one day (sans children) and as I went up and down every aisle I wrote down anything I usually buy as well as the price information. Then I made a spreadsheet and filled it in for store number two (in my case Costco and Shoprite). It saves me money and it tells me when something is really a good deal or not, even when I am at a different store. I just have much more in miind that peanut butter is X amount usually and bread is Y and  can compare.

carozy

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Re: Need help with reducing grocery budget
« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2015, 02:46:43 PM »
Someone on here posted this link which has many helpful tips:

How to eat for 40 cents a day: http://theprudenthomemaker.com/blog/tags/tag/40-cents-a-day

Vegan on a budget ($1.50 a day challenge): http://www.forksoverknives.com/my-1-50-a-day-challenge-eating-a-plant-based-diet-on-an-austere-budget/

This lady is also vegan and did a $3 a day challenge: https://www.drmcdougall.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=21&t=22365&start=15

Simple Nutritious Affordable Plan "SNAP" meals by nutritionist Dr. Jeff Novick.  SNAP meals are known for being cheap, easy to make, nutritious, and tasty.  An example: https://www.drmcdougall.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=10519

Killing your $1000 Grocery Bill from MMM: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/03/29/killing-your-1000-grocery-bill/


In general I would say that veg folk save a lot of money by not buying meat.  Follow these principles to lower your grocery bill:

- If you have your own backyard, plant veggies like tomatoes, lettuce, and/or fruit trees, corn, etc.

- Stop buying pre-made meals, frozen or otherwise.  Make your own meals from your bulk supplies at home.  Freeze if you make too much or eat leftovers for lunches the next day.

- Buy in bulk.  Starches (rice, beans, grains, oatmeal, tubers) are very cheap in bulk.  Especially when you shop at discount stores like Costco or Sam's Club.  So get thee to Costco.  Starches can be the main part of your meal as they are filling, nutritious, and cheap.

- Oatmeal (bought in bulk) is a very cheap and healthy breakfast.

- Buy at discounted markets.  For example, the grocery stores in San Francisco's Chinatown have cheaper produce than regular grocery stores.  Also, the Indian supermarkets can have good deals.

- If there is a Budget Market Grocery Outlet near you, try them.  They have many deals.  In my area, I go to Budget Market first, then FoodMax, and then...well, there's no point going elsewhere because then I'm paying retail.  Maybe Pak N Save.  I go to Costco for my bulk items.

Good luck :)
« Last Edit: April 24, 2015, 02:48:32 PM by carozy »