Author Topic: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?  (Read 19484 times)

Monkey Uncle

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #50 on: October 07, 2014, 04:26:23 AM »
You have received some great advice, however, I recommend your family focus like a laser on meal planning.  Grocery stores and their products are designed to encourage you to spend, spend, spend.

Start with developing a repertoire of simple, healthy meals that you enjoy.  Veggie lasagna, rice and beans (appropriately spiced it is delicious!), veggie quiche are all options that require few ingredients and can feed your family as a dinner option for 2-3 days!

Based on the crazy variety in your lists, I think you could save significantly by doing that.  I, too, live in an area where it is not convenient to hit a bunch of stores - I shop at a large local chain and am able to spend 300-400 monthly on groceries for a family of 2.  Note that includes all alcohol (and I enjoy wine) as well as household items like toilet paper, laundry soap, etc.

If you really dig into this opportunity, you can save a lot, at least $300 easily.

My wife does do a lot of meal planning, but I'm wondering if that's actually part of the problem.  It has the potential to lead to "I need ground beef for this recipe" rather than "I need some inexpensive protein."  But flipped around, meal planning could work in our favor.  "I have this cheap pork tenderloin in the freezer that I bought on sale, so I'll make something with that."  In reality, we've got a little of both kinds of thinking going on.

We do eat things like veggie lasagna, quiche, etc., and we always aim for leftovers that can feed us multiple times (generally becomes lunch for me, rather than going out or making a sandwich).

Monkey Uncle

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #51 on: October 07, 2014, 04:27:51 AM »
Why don't you start a new thread entitled something like "Saving Money on Food in a Rural Setting"?

This might help you better, since shopping in an urban versus a rural environment is apples to oranges.

Good idea.  Thanks.

Monkey Uncle

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #52 on: October 07, 2014, 04:33:59 AM »
As others have mentioned, focusing in on the price per meal/per serving is the first place to start. We set a $5/meal limit (two adults) and worked with that. We found it helpful to ask: "If I bought this at a restaurant, how much would it cost?"

We made it our goal to eat cheaper and better than if we'd just gone to McDonalds or ordered a pizza, or picked up a sandwich.

After we got our meals in check, our bill still seemed high. So we zero'd in on the non-meal options. Snacks and drinks. I had a lot of resistance from my husband on giving up things he liked, so I sat down with him with the grocery receipt and told him how much things cost. "Cashews cost X, is it worth it to you to spend that much?"

Then we brainstormed cheaper substitutes. We also just quit buying a lot of stuff. In the end, we don't really need snacks. We ate the fancy cheese because it was there. When we stopped buying it, it stopped being a go-to snack. Every time you eat a Cliff Bar, ask yourself, "How much does this Cliff Bar cost? Am I hungry enough to consume $1? Would I enjoy a $0.50 snack just as much right now?"

Does it make you feel good that you ate $20.00 worth of M&Ms over the last couple of months? How many empty calories and sugar is that? And if you were going to eat $20.00 worth of M&Ms, did you really need to eat the donuts and cake? I don't say that to chastise you - I'm a sweet lover, myself, and cutting out candy and dessert is an ongoing battle in my life - but thinking about it in those terms is helpful when I'm considering putting that stuff in my cart.

Glancing at your spreadsheet, it looks like you have a huge variety of fruit/veggies for a 2.5 month period. I know for a fact that all of that stuff isn't in season at the same time! You need to pay attention to sales. You need to be aware of prices. You need to substitute ingredients.

If my recipe calls for three yellow peppers, but yellow peppers are $2/each and green peppers are 0.50/each - then I need to rethink my use of yellow peppers!

Also - stop buying berries. If you like berries, grow your own. All berries are pretty easy to grow (even in places that are hilly, shady and full of deer! - and anyway, you're already paying for deer repellant). They only cost so much because they transport so poorly. And you really don't need a $3.00 container of berries when you could just eat an apple or a banana.

Glad someone finally noticed the sweets category.  That's one of the first things I zeroed in on.

I think the produce category is going to come down to individual item price awareness.  I don't see any obvious items that are blowing us out of the water there.

We do grow our own blackberries (by simply not mowing part of the yard).  We're trying blueberries, but not having much luck with them so far.  The deer repellent is very expensive and is used on a few treasured ornamentals.  If we used it over larger areas (like a vegetable/berry garden), the produce would cost way more than what we can buy.

Monkey Uncle

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #53 on: October 07, 2014, 04:40:05 AM »
Do you have a Tractor Supply near you?  If so, check it out for birdseed.  My sister has a birdseed habit and she says the prices at Tractor Supply are the lowest around.

Yep, that's where we get our sunflower seed.  At $16 - $19 for a 40 lb bag, it's the cheapest around.  And better quality that the stuff at Walmart.

Cpa Cat

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #54 on: October 07, 2014, 06:59:52 AM »
We do grow our own blackberries (by simply not mowing part of the yard).  We're trying blueberries, but not having much luck with them so far.  The deer repellent is very expensive and is used on a few treasured ornamentals.  If we used it over larger areas (like a vegetable/berry garden), the produce would cost way more than what we can buy.

Your blueberry problem is probably an acidity problem in your soil. When I blithely said "all berries are easy to grow" - I should have put an asterix for blueberries. It's not that they're hard to grow - once you get the soil just right - but they're not like raspberries or blackberries - which you can plant anywhere. If you can take a bag of soil down to the county extension and tell them you want to grow blueberries, they should be able to tell you where you're at with your soil and what you need to do.

FYI - I was curious about your deer situation (which would drive me nuts), so I did some reading. But the only thing I came up with that everyone agreed that deer hate is asparagus. So if you like asparagus, the good news is that it is also easy to grow and pretty carefree. The bad news is that there are a couple of weeks during the Spring where it seems like asparagus is coming out of your ears. 

Unique User

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #55 on: October 07, 2014, 10:36:02 AM »
I think a lot has been covered already, but meal planning and alternate purchase options could make a big dent.  We meal plan based on what is on sale and what is in our freezer.  All of our meat comes either from the 50% markdown bin or on sale, we occasionally splurge on steaks when they go on sale, but otherwise $2 to $2.50 a pound is it.  I'd like to do more, but some things have to give if I want to quit working in 6 years.  I also don't buy something for one recipe unless I'll use it again, this cuts down on expensive condiment/herb/spice purchases. 

Some things jumped out at me, you mentioned mahi mahi as the lowest cost fish, but what about tilapia?  We don't like tilapia and I'm unwilling to spend more, so we eat very little fish even though we love halibut and mahi mahi.  You also have strawberries and asparagus on your list, but there is no way that strawberries and asparagus are in season in September, unless you don't live in the US. If asparagus is $5 a pound, even though we love it, we don't buy it until it is less than $2 a pound which is my top price for produce.   We buy lots of produce also, I just can't stay on budget if I buy luxury produce, i.e asian pears instead of pears on sale.  We drink fair trade coffee from World Market, there are many levels in between coffee from the Mayan coop and Folgers, you just need to determine your level.  You also say that the cheeses are small amounts for recipes, but all those choices add up and add up quickly when you are buying lots of luxury ingredients, pricy mixed nuts and $7 a pound fish. 

If you haven't been able to save much beyond the employer match in 20 years then you probably need to look very hard at your budget choices beyond just your grocery budget, unless you intend to work for another 15+ years.   

4alpacas

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #56 on: October 07, 2014, 10:59:26 AM »
So if you like asparagus, the good news is that it is also easy to grow and pretty carefree. The bad news is that there are a couple of weeks during the Spring where it seems like asparagus is coming out of your ears.
I don't have a deer problem, but I want to grow asparagus!  I LOVE asparagus.

To the comments about your sweets purchases, I have also had to cutback on buying sweet treats.  I just make my own.  Sugar, cocoa powder, and flour are cheap.  I frequently make the chocolate mug cake (http://www.budgetbytes.com/2012/06/the-one-chocolate-mug-cake/) when I'm craving cake.  I have a banana bread mug cake that uses overly ripe bananas.  If I have a spare chocolate bar (usually gifted chocolate), I chop the bar up and use it to make chocolate chip cookies. 

If your wife is doing meal planning already, I think it's really easy to cut your budget.  Just make a list, stick to the list, and don't buy anything off the list.  I would also look into cheaper alternatives to snacks.


Cpa Cat

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #57 on: October 07, 2014, 11:34:30 AM »
So if you like asparagus, the good news is that it is also easy to grow and pretty carefree. The bad news is that there are a couple of weeks during the Spring where it seems like asparagus is coming out of your ears.
I don't have a deer problem, but I want to grow asparagus!  I LOVE asparagus.

Well, you're timing is perfect then. Right now is prime asparagus planting season.

2ndTimer

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #58 on: October 07, 2014, 01:07:41 PM »
I want to zero in on what you said about your wife and meal planning.  I think you might have a point that she is starting from, "What do I feel like making?" rather than, "What's on sale this week?"  I know from my own experience that that sort of thinking results in walking past the 99 cent chicken breasts and 50 cent green peppers (half of what you need for sweet and sour chicken right there) to the $6.99 flank steak and $5.00 asparagus because you have a beef and asparagus stir fry in your head.  My own grocery shopping came down considerably when I started with, "What do I have?"  Followed by "What's on sale?"

Here's a real-life example of how that works:  We are having home made minestrone for dinner because
We have chicken broth.  Last week we had chicken bought cheap and frozen during grilling season and I made broth from leftover skin and bones
We have a bunch of mixed peppers and tomatoes that I got free and froze a couple of months ago
We have a lot of eggs to make the pasta because I bought 4 doz. when they were 99cents/doz. two weeks ago.  Eggs keep a long time in the fridge.
We have flour to make pasta because I buy it in 50lb. bags to make bread.
We have dry kidney beans and chickpeas because I buy them regularly out of the bulk bins whenever we get low.
We have hard cheese to put on top because I bought it on sale six months ago.  Cheese keeps forever in the fridge.

My challenge this week is finding things to do with the 14lb. pumpkin that I bought because it was the absolute cheapest vegetable in the store.  My plan so far includes Thai pumpkin curry because I just happen to have some coconut milk that was on sale a while ago, pumpkin scones because I have everything I need to make them and pumpkin pudding to use up some more of the eggs and also the milk that was on sale last week.

Re the deer:  This may not be the case where you live so feel free to disregard it.  I grew up on a truck farm in Michigan and whenever we had deer damage which we often did, my Dad would take a picture of it down to the City/County building and come home with a license to shoot an out-of-season deer which we would then give to whichever deer hunting neighbor happened by on the agreement that he would use it in the area where the damage occurred.  It made us very popular.

boarder42

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #59 on: October 07, 2014, 06:56:50 PM »
^^^^ this. Alot of people say make a meal plan on here. This is great but the plan needs to be based on what's on sale and what you have on hand. I'm still working on my wife on this. She still thinks on the level of what exactly a recipe calls for. A good cook adapts to what they have and somyimes its better than the recipe you wanted to make

4alpacas

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #60 on: October 07, 2014, 07:57:13 PM »
^^^^ this. Alot of people say make a meal plan on here. This is great but the plan needs to be based on what's on sale and what you have on hand. I'm still working on my wife on this. She still thinks on the level of what exactly a recipe calls for. A good cook adapts to what they have and somyimes its better than the recipe you wanted to make

I disagree.  Why not just base your dishes off of ingredients that are always low cost?  I stretch expensive ingredient with inexpensive items, and I'm able to skip looking at sales flyers. 

Goldielocks

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #61 on: October 08, 2014, 12:53:43 AM »
I have marked up your food list to show my approach when I went through my own food cost reduction challenge

I make three types of food purchases...

Items that are frugal and form the bulk of my shopping.  Buy as needed.  Tend to be frugal, or fresh and lower priced per meal or serving.  (Green). I eat different foods, so some of my staple items like squash, rutabaga, cabbage, cereal in bags, etc are not here.

Items to buy and stockpile when on super sale.  Use a price book technique to learn the true loss leader sale prices (brown).  These items you may even buy once a year in a large urban center if you know prices.

All other items are allowed, but are bought with a strict cash only weekly max budget.  You set that amt.  Pay by cc for the allowed items, but by cash for the extras.

A couple of thoughts...
Buy frozen- have you looked at fish, corn, peas, on, etc frozen? Some areas have fish only at $5/lb or less if frozen like pollack, cod, bass are cheap if not organic.

Peanut butter - are you feeding the birds with it?  $10 per month should buy a couple big jars, at annual sale prices.

Make your own suet/fat and chicken stock.  You certainly cook enough meats to do this.  Pork butt renders to lard, chicken fat, beef suet, etc. 

Homemade Stock is very easy and adds that extra for free to many dishes.  Think about growing herbs like oregano and rosemary- many do well in rocky drier soils like Greece, so should give you nearly free meal boosts too.

Others mentioned pizza and bread for homemade.  Really can be easy.  Think about reducing the bird treats, like suet, even if you keep up with the seeds.

Very little processed foods, amazing there. Great job, this is usually the budget buster. Given that, the variety of breads is OK, just recognize that it is at a splurge  level,  in lieu of other treats.
« Last Edit: October 08, 2014, 08:51:25 AM by goldielocks »

Monkey Uncle

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #62 on: October 08, 2014, 04:39:56 AM »
More great stuff.  Thanks, everyone.  Not much time to digest everything this morning - off to work.  I'll take a closer look later.
Tx again.


4alpacas

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #64 on: October 08, 2014, 09:32:52 AM »
goldielocks, thank you for sharing your amazing spreadsheet!  I've made a lot of progress with my grocery budget, but I'm always looking for ways to cut it down without too much effort.  Posts like yours are the reason I come to this forum.  Thank you!

Goldielocks

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #65 on: October 08, 2014, 10:24:04 PM »
Aw sucks, you made my day.

Konaan

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #66 on: October 09, 2014, 01:28:22 AM »
That is a shit ton of Ice House.

Monkey Uncle

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #67 on: October 09, 2014, 04:01:59 AM »
I have marked up your food list to show my approach when I went through my own food cost reduction challenge

I make three types of food purchases...

Items that are frugal and form the bulk of my shopping.  Buy as needed.  Tend to be frugal, or fresh and lower priced per meal or serving.  (Green). I eat different foods, so some of my staple items like squash, rutabaga, cabbage, cereal in bags, etc are not here.

Items to buy and stockpile when on super sale.  Use a price book technique to learn the true loss leader sale prices (brown).  These items you may even buy once a year in a large urban center if you know prices.

All other items are allowed, but are bought with a strict cash only weekly max budget.  You set that amt.  Pay by cc for the allowed items, but by cash for the extras.

A couple of thoughts...
Buy frozen- have you looked at fish, corn, peas, on, etc frozen? Some areas have fish only at $5/lb or less if frozen like pollack, cod, bass are cheap if not organic.

Peanut butter - are you feeding the birds with it?  $10 per month should buy a couple big jars, at annual sale prices.

Make your own suet/fat and chicken stock.  You certainly cook enough meats to do this.  Pork butt renders to lard, chicken fat, beef suet, etc. 

Homemade Stock is very easy and adds that extra for free to many dishes.  Think about growing herbs like oregano and rosemary- many do well in rocky drier soils like Greece, so should give you nearly free meal boosts too.

Others mentioned pizza and bread for homemade.  Really can be easy.  Think about reducing the bird treats, like suet, even if you keep up with the seeds.

Very little processed foods, amazing there. Great job, this is usually the budget buster. Given that, the variety of breads is OK, just recognize that it is at a splurge  level,  in lieu of other treats.

Thanks much for the marked-up spreadsheet.  Lots of ideas there.

The peanut butter is my breakfast staple.  Something easy with a lot of protein to start the day.  I've been spreading it on a toasted bagel, but recently tried switching to home-made oatmeal pancakes for the base.  Made a big batch last weekend and froze them.  The peanut butter itself is pretty expensive, though.  I use the natural peanut butter because the regular stuff is full of trans fats.  Seems odd that the natural stuff is more expensive since it should be easier and cheaper to manufacture (just grind up some peanuts).  Come to think of it, maybe that is something I could make myself.

Monkey Uncle

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Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #68 on: October 09, 2014, 04:04:20 AM »
That is a shit ton of Ice House.

Yes, I've acknowledged the need to reduce that expenditure through a combination of reduced consumption and making my own beer.