Author Topic: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?  (Read 20372 times)

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« on: September 30, 2014, 05:01:49 AM »
Hi folks,

As members of a perpetual single-income family, my wife and I have always considered ourselves frugal.  At the beginning of my now 20-plus year professional career, I was making less than peanuts, so we understandably spent every dime I made.  Over time my salary increased, but we never managed to save much outside of maxing out the employer contribution on my 401k. 

I recently started tracking expenses to see where the money is going.  It quickly became clear that our second-biggest spending category (after mortgage) is "general merchandise," which means groceries and everything else that isn't easily identifiable by the entry in the checkbook or the line item on the credit card bill.  So, I started tracking line-by-line off the store receipts.  After about 2 1/2 months of this, I've produced the attached spreadsheet.  My apologies for the excruciating detail, but that was the only way I could really dig into where the money is going.  I completely understand if you don't have the time or interest to comb through it all.

I can't figure out why we're spending nearly $1k a month on food.  This covers 3 adults (my wife, our 21 year-old son, and me).  The $943/mo shown on the spreadsheet is inflated by a couple of non-recurring or rare expenditures (initial investment in equipment for making beer, an astronomical restaurant bill for our anniversary).  But it also doesn't include the $123/mo that we pay for our son's no-frills meal plan at college.  These things are more or less a wash, so the total food bill comes in somewhere between $950 - $1,000/mo.

A few notes:
  • Alcohol - as noted, this is about twice the usual amount due to the one-time purchase of beer brewing equipment.  The wife and I are averaging about 1.7 - 2 beers/day each.
    Charity - we donate a lot of food and supplies to the local Arts Center.
    Meat & produce - this is where a lot of the money is going.  We rarely spend more than $5/lb on meat, generally closer to $2-$4.  The exception being the $7/lb mahi mahi, which is about the cheapest frozen fish we could find.  We do buy a lot of fresh produce from the local farmers market, but it is only a little more expensive that the stuff in the store (and a whole lot better).
    Snacks - this is mostly my mixed nuts habit.  I eat these for a healthy snack around 10:00 am every week day.  Would never make it to lunch otherwise.  We buy them in large containers at Sam's Club for about $7.50/lb.
    Restaurant - abnormally high, as noted above.
    Birds - feeding birds is our weakness.  It's our substitute for entertainment.

Any help/advice is appreciated.  Thanks much!


« Last Edit: December 31, 2014, 08:48:51 AM by Monkey Uncle »

VirginiaBob

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 429
    • LRJ Discounters
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2014, 05:37:41 AM »
My humble analysis:

Ok, looking at the food category only, subtract out the alchohol purchase and you are at $942.73 - 164.55= $778.18.  For bread, see if you have one of those Wonderbread/Hostess stores near you, which will cut that expense down to about $20 (or better yet, bread machine)  $778.18 - 22.58 = $755.60.  Canned goods looks ok - spaghetti sauce a little high, but not a big deal, so I won't count that.  Dairy, thats a lot of special cheeses.  Could probably cut out at least $10 worth or more.  Say $745.60.  Waaaaayy too much on the coffee.  Should be $20 or less.  So $745.60-37.08 = $708.52.  For the meat, club stores (Costco) or a butcher and buy in bulk - other option is to just shop the sales and stock up at the grocery store - I see easily savings of $40 here - so now $668.52 - set a limit of $30 per week on meat or something like that.  Your produce is nuts - as a family of 4, we don't even hit $20 a week, and less during the gardening seasons.  Grow your own for practically free (rain barrell for water, seeds and soil).  If the farmers market is charging you $98, I assume that is local produce that grows right in your locality.  So 668.52-98.22 = $570.3.

Sure you can make excuses such as, "We need that fancy produce - gardening is hard work, we need that fancy meat, we need that fancy dairy, fancy coffee".  Your choice.

1967mama

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2157
  • Age: 52
  • Location: Canada
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2014, 05:42:34 AM »
Hey Monkey Uncle,

What a great step to divide out your expenses in such detail to try and figure out where the holes are in your boat!

Here's some things I wondered about:

1) Printer Ink - are you using a lot for work? can you get your cartridges refilled for cheaper?

2) DVD Rental - most libraries carry new releases on DVD for free. we put in requests months in advance and are always surprised when we get a notification when a good movie comes in. Currently on my tv shelf are: Saving Mr.  Banks and Philomena as well as several interesting documentaries.

3) Alcohol - hopefully your home brewing supplies will make a dent in your alcohol costs -- could you cut it back to 1 beer a day each? or just on the weekends? maybe take a look at the heavy drinking guidelines here:

http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#heavyDrinking

4) Bread - fancy breads like bagels, rolls and english muffins are typically more expensive than just plain old bread. have you ever considered using a bread machine? It takes me 2 minutes to get a loaf going in there. You can pick them up for a few dollars at the thrift store or on Craig's list.

5) Spaghetti Sauce - is just tomato sauce with spices and bits of onion and celery in it and maybe some canned tomatoes- a bit of sugar cuts down on the acidity of the tomatoes - much cheaper to throw together your own

6) Roasted Red peppers - more fancy food, I think

7) Dairy - my goodness, your family eats a lot of cheese - especially fancy cheese $47/month on cheese for a family of three? Do you think that might be a little high? a huge 5 lb block of cheddar cheese at Costco runs around $15.

8) Coffee - I'm assuming that if you are spending $57/month on coffee, you are buying it at a coffee shop? this can easily be made at home. During the day, bring a really good thermos (find these at the thrift store) with the morning coffee keeping hot in there until you need it.

9) Meat - you have a really varied selection of meats there. $172 in meat per month for three people seems really high. Maybe you could try a few meatless meals a month? or at least "less meat?" http://www.budgetbytes.com is a favourite.

10) Snacks - there are lots of good recipes on line for making your own granola bars, which would be quite a bit cheaper. Can you find a cheaper source for mixed nuts? or a cheaper type of nut? even sunflower seeds? are you eating much more than 1/4 cup or so? maybe divide them out into measured ziploc snack bags.

I may have missed the mark here -- only you know what is high and what isn't for your own family, but since you asked (wink) these are a few things that jumped out at me. Also, don't know your situation -- are both you and your wife working? Is there time on weekends to do some cooking ahead and meal planning?

Thanks for sharing your spreadsheet -- I found it really interesting.

Edited to fix broken link
« Last Edit: September 30, 2014, 06:41:12 AM by 1967mama »

wtjbatman

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1313
  • Age: 36
  • Location: Missouri
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2014, 05:54:17 AM »
3) Alcohol - hopefully your home brewing supplies will make a dent in your alcohol costs -- could you cut it back to 1 beer a day each? or just on the weekends? maybe take a look at the heavy drinking guidelines here:

http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#heavyDrinking

That's why I limit myself to an average of 2 drinks a day, or a total of 14 a week. That keeps me from qualifying as a "heavy drinker" on a technicality. Hah, joke's on you, CDC. Now go spend some time curing ebola.

sarah8001

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 85
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2014, 06:17:25 AM »
I'm doing the exact same thing right now. My fiance and I and our raw fed dog are spending 600$ a month. Our problem appears to be eating out more than we think we do, too much dessert, too much soda, and too many small nickel and dime purchases. Looking at your graph, what jumps out to me is: too much money on alcohol (but you're working on reducing this by brewing your own, right?), too much variety (too many different kinds of food) and not knowing how to get the best deals. You say mahi mahi at 7/lb is the cheapest frozen fish you can buy? I can buy wild caught salmon (odds and ends of fillets - 2X4 inch chunks) for 1.99/lb at a local, not brand name grocery store. I can get catfish for 2.49/lb at an Asian supermarket near me. You will never get a consistently low grocery bill if you shop at only one store. When you shop at Safeway or Albertsons, or my least favorite, Fred Meyer, you are paying for a nice looking store along with your food. I skip that. The Asian market smells wonky, and it's definately not as polished as the name brand stores, but it has amazing fish and poultry. Look for someplace that isn't a brand name (or is a Harvest Foods or IGA), but has an actual butcher on site. Also, unless you're buying grass fed, organic, humanely raised, etc, etc, I never pay more than 2$/lb for meat (chicken is almost always 0.99) and try to keep produce under 1$/lb.

justajane

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2147
  • Location: Midwest
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2014, 06:57:58 AM »
Heed Sarah's advice. You need to shop at different places to get the best deals. We shop at Aldi, Sam's, Costco, and our local grocery. Buy whatever fresh produce or meat is on sale that week. Plan your meals exclusively around sales. Eat seasonally (apples in Fall, citrus in January, berries in summer.....).

Fancy cheese is a budget buster, but if you must try Trader Joe's or Aldi (if you have it). It's cheaper there.

Here's the gold standard Thermos. My husband's home brewed coffee stays hot well into the afternoon.
http://www.amazon.com/Thermos-Stainless-Steel-Vacuum-Insulated-Bottle/dp/B00004S1CY/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1412081487&sr=8-3&keywords=coffee+thermos+stainless+steel

Some very cheap meals to consider adding to your rotation:
baked potatoes with toppings
soup (of any kind but particularly lentils and other beans)
oatmeal
breakfast for dinner

You have a perfect opportunity coming into cold weather to introduce bulk soup eating to your life. A massive pot of chili is cheap and delicious. Throw some on a baked potato or a hot dog one night. Serve it over rice one night. Use the allrecipes.com ingredient search to make new recipes with whatever is hanging around in your fridge or pantry.

Noodle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1204
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2014, 07:22:10 AM »
Well, in general there are three ways to get grocery costs down.

1. Figure out how to spend less on the same groceries. That's mostly about checking out all the local grocery options (do you have an Aldi's? Asian groceries? Roadside produce stands?) and learning to watch for sales and possibly coupon. You can get your bill down somewhat doing this and you are getting good advice.

2. Change the way you eat. This only works if the person who wants to change also does a lot of the cooking (or has the cook on board). You're eating a ton of meat and cheese, which are expensive. In winter, are you eating a lot of fresh produce? Honestly, how many "treats" sneak into the grocery cart? I remember one grocery analysis, the shopper admitted to getting seven or eight "treats" every shopping trip. Then they're not treats...they're groceries. I think back to the way we ate when I was kid (always plenty of nutritious food, no one was hungry) and we just didn't have the variety that I have today in every shopping trip. I never had a bagel until I was 12! If I ate as simply as our family did then, my grocery bill would be a third the size that it is now.

3. Really look at how much you bring home vs. how much is getting eaten. Is there a lot in your pantry, or getting thrown away regularly? I personally have work to do both on using food before it goes bad, and also restraining myself as to what comes home. One rule is that no matter how cool the ingredient seems, I'm not allowed to buy it unless I already have a recipe planned.

Really making change isn't just about bargain-hunting...

Captain and Mrs Slow

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 414
  • Age: 59
  • Location: Munich Germany
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #7 on: September 30, 2014, 07:24:25 AM »
wow that is a detailed list!

Grocery shopping is a re-occuring theme in many blogs, here's a good starting point from Canadian Budget Binder

http://canadianbudgetbinder.com/the-grocery-game-monthly-challenge/

http://eyesonthedollar.com/grocery-game-saved-our-budget/

good luck and think how much extra money you'll have if you can get control!

boarder42

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 7849
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #8 on: September 30, 2014, 08:07:27 AM »
meat should never be more than 2 bucks a lb on avg.  buy in bulk and on sale.  i can get pork butts for 99c / lb ... chicken 1.79-1.69 a lb.  pork loin 1.99/lb  steaks on rare occasions i can find for 4 bucks a lb ... and we freeze it all and eat it when needed.  the secret to a low grocery bill is buying things on sale in bulk.  your farmers market habit is insane.  if you really were to compare actual store prices that could be cut in half.  this year my wife and i avg 350 a month on groceries and this includes our booze typically.  and we eat like kings. 

merula

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1289
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2014, 08:34:11 AM »
To me, this just seems like a ton of food, way more than any three people could reasonably eat. Is there anything behind Noodle's third point around food waste?

My suggestion would be to start looking at food in terms of per meal or per serving cost. What's your goal for food spending per month? Just as an example to make the numbers easier, let's say $600/month. (I think that far less is easily achievable, but Rome wasn't built in a day.)

$600/month is $20/day, or say $6 per meal and $2 for a snack. A $6 meal might be a $1 box of pasta, half of a $2.50 jar of marinara, a half pound of meat at $3.50/lb and a pound of veggies at $2/lb. (There are a ton of better priced meals, and you could easily make this cheaper by leaving out the meat, this is just an example.) A $2 snack would be 4 oz of nuts at $7.50/lb.

Have you seen the thread about eating all the food in your house? That could be a great way to save money by using what you've already got and also bring past buying behavior into focus. ("Why did I spend $5 on this can of thingymajigies? I don't even LIKE thingymajigies! From now on I'm only going to buy things I have a specific need for.")

zhelud

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 229
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2014, 09:08:02 AM »
3) Alcohol - hopefully your home brewing supplies will make a dent in your alcohol costs -- could you cut it back to 1 beer a day each? or just on the weekends? maybe take a look at the heavy drinking guidelines here:

http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#heavyDrinking

That's why I limit myself to an average of 2 drinks a day, or a total of 14 a week. That keeps me from qualifying as a "heavy drinker" on a technicality. Hah, joke's on you, CDC. Now go spend some time curing ebola.


Actually, if you drink 2 or more drinks a day, you are among the top 20 percent of American adults in terms of per-capita alcohol consumption

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/09/25/think-you-drink-a-lot-this-chart-will-tell-you/

And 60 percent of us have one or fewer alcoholic drinks per week.

2ndTimer

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4616
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2014, 09:38:09 AM »
Hi:

I am guessing that your wife is a SAHM who does the grocery shopping.  Since that exactly describes me (and I am currently working to keep our grocery bills at $200/month for two people, two cats and keeping the Hub's office in coffee), I feel emboldened to give advice:

First, is your wife REALLY on board with this?  There are lots of degrees of onboardness.  The reason I ask is that being passionately MMM myself and being the grocery shopper and cook, one of the first things I did was tear into our eating habits since I controlled them from start to finish.  So if you wife is not sneaking extra breadcrumbs into the meatloaf and experimenting with new ways to feed three people with two chicken thighs thus greatly reducing your expenditure I begin to wonder.  I am giving no advice on how to work things out if this is the problem except that I have found it works better to go gently with the Hub. 

Assuming that is not the problem or is fixed consider your sourcing.  Here are some examples of what we do which may or may not be applicable to your situation:

1.  Grocery Outlet is a great source for cheese if you have one in your area.  Lots of midrange exotics show up at ours.  You won't find the really high end stuff but for the stuff you find at regular grocery stores considerably cheaper they are the boss.  I also buy yogurt there when the price is 99 cents a quart.  I can't make it that cheap.  And take a quick tour of their canned goods looking for things like 6/%1.00 cranberry sauce.

2.  Salvage stores are also great for midrange stuff.  Unless it is meat or dairy I ignore sell-by dates.

3.  I hit ethnic stores when I can.  All our tea is brought loose from them for way cheaper than teabags  Also some other things like roti flour which I can't find anywhere else.  I also get lots of idea for cheap meals from them.  A couple of teaspoons of spices converts "beans again"  into "Wow, chana dhal and home made flat bread. "

4.  Costco is the cheapest source for regular bread flour and coffee beans.  The Hub provides all the coffee beans for his office and he has found that producing a different kind causes all work to cease while everyone debates the best grind and strength otherwise I would buy them cheaper at Grocery Outlet.  This business of him providing all the coffee beans is one of the areas where I am going gently.  He doesn't own the office and has no obligation to do this, he just does it to reduce strife.  Since he is the one out there busting his butt so I can meditate on chicken thighs, I am not going to tell him he can't do it.  However, I am hoping to gradually ween him away from this. 





 
« Last Edit: September 30, 2014, 01:27:08 PM by 2ndTimer »

Gimesalot

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 666
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #12 on: September 30, 2014, 09:50:04 AM »
I agree with others, that this seems like so much food.  I can't imagine being able to eat all of this food in 6 months between my husband and me.

Here are some thoughts:
Make stuff your self.  For example, you spent $16 on pizza.  Instead buy the $.80 mix and do it your self. I make hummus for less than a dollar for almost a pound in about 5 minutes. Roasted red peppers take 15 minutes. Dried beans take a total of 15 minutes of work and 5 hours in a crock pot.

You paid $5 for red beans and rice after buying canned kidney beans, rice, and anduille? 

You paid how much for shrimp?  The going price in my hood is $4/lb of shrimp and I live on the coast.  So you either ate 7 lbs or you paid more, which means you don't live close to the coast.  Why would you buy "old" i.e. not caught yesterday at the latest, shrimp? Eat local, save money.

Reduce duplicates, 7 kinds of sausage plus ground pork, 10 kinds of cheese, 7 kinds of canned tomatoes. 

Cut down on coffee.  Go to world market.  Get coffee for $6-$9 a pound. 

Bread (Reduce duplicates)... Do you really need tortillas, corn tortillas, wraps, and whole grain wraps? Do you realize that corn tortillas are whole grain wraps?  Can't you put your hamburgers on a sandwhich roll?  Can't you toast bread instead of crustini?

I suggest you first determine where this food is ending up.  I bet most of it goes in the trash or pantry to die.  Second, do your best to eliminate duplicate foods, this way you can buy in bulk.  Once you have that reduced you can then shop for the best price and lower your budget.

wtjbatman

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1313
  • Age: 36
  • Location: Missouri
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2014, 10:31:40 AM »
3) Alcohol - hopefully your home brewing supplies will make a dent in your alcohol costs -- could you cut it back to 1 beer a day each? or just on the weekends? maybe take a look at the heavy drinking guidelines here:

http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#heavyDrinking

That's why I limit myself to an average of 2 drinks a day, or a total of 14 a week. That keeps me from qualifying as a "heavy drinker" on a technicality. Hah, joke's on you, CDC. Now go spend some time curing ebola.


Actually, if you drink 2 or more drinks a day, you are among the top 20 percent of American adults in terms of per-capita alcohol consumption

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/09/25/think-you-drink-a-lot-this-chart-will-tell-you/

And 60 percent of us have one or fewer alcoholic drinks per week.

Read the CDC link, heaving drinking is 15 a week. Im safe at 14. Outsmarted the experts.

dandarc

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3532
  • Age: 37
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #14 on: September 30, 2014, 10:43:16 AM »
Your problem probably boils down to:

1.  Reduce waste - seriously there's gotta be some food you're not actually eating in there.
2.  Change diet - seems like you might eat a lot of meat (if you're really average $4 / lb it is like 15 pounds per month per person) - that can get very expensive, then obviously the alcohol.  Homebrew can compare favorably on cost to "good" beer, but generally not to relatively cheap beer, so don't expect that to dramatically reduce your costs long-term.
3.  Change where you shop.

Dave Ramsey always says part of the stay-at-home spouse's job is to find ways to save money.  It is part of how he defines being a 'home economist.'  Whichever one of you who is the stay-at-homer needs to start actually thinking about how to save money on food - that will go a long way towards solving the grocery problem.

MountainGal

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 431
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #15 on: September 30, 2014, 10:50:45 AM »
Monkey Uncle, I echo your frustration about the grocery bill.  Years ago, I used to spend $550+ a month for DH and me.  That amount included a lot of processed foods.  I figured for the amount I was spending on, say, frozen toquitos and a pizza for $10, I could buy a healthy protein choice such as a multi pack of chicken breasts instead.  The year I made that change, DH lost 50 lbs, and I lost 20.

In 2013 and this year, up until this month, I've averaged $330/mo on groceries, HBAs and cleaning supplies.  This month I spent $201.  (The extra I want to throw at the little remaining debt I have.)  I use coupons, the store value card, and shop sales to save an average of 20-25% off my total order.  Other steps I took:

Reduced the types of cheeses to just a few
Instead of both, I bought a pork roast this month.  Next month I'll buy a beef roast.
Changed my snack from $4.99 pistachios to $1 sunflower seeds
Stopped buying vitamins
Stopped buying diet soda (I stopped earlier this year, but started slipping over the summer)
Instead of scallops, shrimp and lamb all in one month, I'll break it down to one a month.  This month was a bag of shrimp.
Stopped stockpiling so much.  Yes, I'll still buy duplicates when they are on sale.

Over this past weekend, I researched online recipes to use up pantry odds and ends such as 1/4 corn meal, some stale pork rinds, and gelatine envelopes.  Everything must go! 

-Disclaimers:  We have a garden which produces tomatoes, zucchini and peppers.
-DH supplements my once a month shopping with eggs, fresh produce, and his lunch snacks (whatever he's in the mood for)
-We generally follow a low carb lifestyle

Oh, and I've been taking my office printer ink cartridges in to have them refilled for years.  Saves a TON of money.  Also, we stopped renting DVDs at the library when we had one which was so scratched, it wouldn't play.

Good luck! 
« Last Edit: September 30, 2014, 10:52:40 AM by MountainGal »

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #16 on: October 01, 2014, 05:06:21 AM »
Wow, thanks so much for all the great advice!  I really appreciate all of you taking the time to pore over my tracking spreadsheet.

Here are a few thoughts and reactions:

Coffee -- Busted.  We've been participating in a local buyer's club that gets shade-grown, fair trade, organic coffee in bulk from a Mayan co-op.  Typical industrial coffee plantations are environmental nightmares, so this indulgence eases our guilt.  It also tastes about 400 times better than industrial coffee.  And it costs about $10/lb vs. $4.56/lb for a big can of Folgers at Walmart.  So our choice here is to cut back on consumption (currently a full 12-cup pot daily between my wife and me), or go back to feeling guilty about drinking shitty coffee.  Or we could do without coffee entirely.  Not likely to happen, but it helps to think about what the true necessities are.

Meat -- We do eat meatless meals 2-3 times a week.  We always shop around for sales and stock up when we find good deals.  A couple of commenters remarked that they never pay more than $2/lb for meat.  Although we do eat a lot of chicken that costs less than $2/lb, it is nearly impossible in our locality to find any other kind of meat for that price.  On-sale pork butts once in a while, but that is rare.  And cheap seafood options simply do not exist here - believe me, we've searched high and low.  The most likely options that I'm seeing are 1) cut down on variety and focus even more on the cheap chicken, and 2) eat more meatless meals and replace the protein with legumes.

Produce -- I was as surprised as you that we spend about the same amount on fresh produce as on meat.  We do buy in-season, and as I said, the farmer's market stuff is generally only a little more expensive than the supermarket produce.  We just eat a lot of produce.  Although we do grow a few peppers in pots on our deck, our yard is not conducive to gardening (hilly, shady, and full of deer).  So the option here appears to be to reduce variety and focus on the least expensive options.  Not really willing to reduce consumption as we are trying our best to eat healthfully.

Alcohol -- Totally unnecessary, but as with the coffee, we are unlikely to cut it out entirely.  We are not quite hitting the CDC definition of heavy drinking, but we do need to reduce consumption.  The homebrewing should help, as long as I keep it basic and don't start buying a bunch of expensive equipment and fancy specialty ingredients.

Waste -- We waste very little.  We cook enough to have leftovers, which I take to work with me for lunch.  Once in a while we'll end up throwing out a few odds and ends that have been in the fridge too long, but in general, our waste is negligible.

Shopping around -- Several folks mentioned shopping around at various budget conscious stores.  In our small rural town, we have Walmart, Kroger, Shop N Save, and the farmer's market.  We patronize all of these establishments for the things that they do best and/or cheapest.  Our only warehouse option is Sam's Club, which is 50 miles away.  We do shop there on occasion in conjunction with shopping trips that we make on behalf of our local arts center, but the distance prevents this from being a regular shopping option.

Cheese -- Not sure why this generated so much discussion, as it is a fairly small part of the overall picture.  Since my wife found out she has high cholesterol, we actually eat a lot less cheese than we used to.  The fancy cheeses are bought in fairly small quantities, and they go in the freezer to be used a little at a time in various recipes over the course of several months.

Make stuff yourself -- Yes, we generally do this.  My wife is the main cook, and she is very good at it.  Our total prepared food bill was under $20/mo.  Some days when my wife is busy with other things, she needs a night off from the kitchen.  Gimesalot - we only spent $1.41/mo on prepared pizza.  Not sure what you're looking at when you say $16.

The bottom line is that we just eat a lot, both in amount and variety.  My wife has always complained that I eat enough for three people.  I'm active and blessed with a high metabolism, so I've never counted calories in my life.  I'm sure I blow the 2,000 cal/day diet out of the water.  I'm not seeing any easy, no-brainer solutions.  I think it will come down to reducing variety and analyzing every purchase.

Thanks again, guys.

Philociraptor

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 997
  • Age: 30
  • Location: DFW, TX
  • Eat. Sleep. Lift. Repeat.
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #17 on: October 01, 2014, 05:44:31 AM »
It doesn't sound like you're willing to change much. Suggestions: keep the happy coffee, cut consumption in half; stop buying seafood if it's so expensive, take some fish oil instead; buy cheaper produce, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, etc.; cut down on alcohol, it's quite a lot and definitely doesn't help you "eat healthfully"; stick with one or two store brand block cheeses, no more.

If you don't mind me asking, what's y'all's health look like? BMI's, bodyfat percentages, triglycerides, etc?

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #18 on: October 01, 2014, 05:55:45 AM »
I'm generally healthy - low cholesterol, no risk factors for anything.  I'm 5' 11", 180 lbs.  Wouldn't hurt me to lose a few pounds, but I'm active, healthy, and generally not in need of dieting.

My wife could stand to lose some weight and has high cholesterol.  Ironically, she eats about half what I eat.

Our son is 21, 6'2", and skinny as a rail.  He eats a little less than I do.

Neustache

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1189
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #19 on: October 01, 2014, 06:02:19 AM »
Just because you can eat a lot of food, doesn't mean you need to.  IMO it's just as wasteful to eat extra calories you don't need, even if it doesn't show up on your waistline. 

I, too, am blessed with a high metabolism (I'm 34, though, so that might change shortly!).  But I don't eat extra even though I can.  Except for last night.  The after-dinner peanut butter on toast with syrup was calling out to me.  ;-)

Gimesalot

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 666
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #20 on: October 03, 2014, 01:34:15 PM »
Gimesalot - we only spent $1.41/mo on prepared pizza.  Not sure what you're looking at when you say $16.

In your bread budget there is $16 for pizza crust and pizza dough.

What might help is positing the amount of food purchased.  For example, using costs from our area, I calculated you bought 86 pounds of meat in the three months you tracked.  That is almost a poound of meat a day.  But you say that you eat meatless 2 to 3 times a week.  Maybe meat and produce are much more expensive in your area.

boarder42

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 7849
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #21 on: October 03, 2014, 02:31:57 PM »
if you're not willing to change why did you post.  did you want support for your crazy spending... YOU DONT NEED SEAFOOD ... YOU DONT NEED ORGANIC COFFEE ...

EVERYTHING YOU"RE DEFENDING IS NOT A NEED ... either cut it back or go cry to someone else. 

boarder42

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 7849
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #22 on: October 03, 2014, 02:35:35 PM »
also if your wife is a SAHM.  this should be her job to cut this bill down to nothing.  WTF can you possibly do all day.  she should be able to find extreme deals and manage your household budget full time to the gnats ass detail... i can do this working 60+ hours a week sometime.  start making the changes and make it a habit. 

i mean all you did was counter every point made to lower your bill.  this would be like me posting about my boat costing me too much money and people telling me to sell it and me giving them 20 reasons why i wont.

why post

N

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1378
  • Location: Chicago
  • You must change your life. -Rainer Maria Rilke
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #23 on: October 04, 2014, 09:56:32 PM »
I always struggle with my grocery spending.
We are a family of 4. 2 adults and 2 kids.
My monthly average for all food is 900$ which includes an average of 120$ on eating food not made at home.

When I plan my monthly spending, I allot 150$ for costco, 120$ for eating out etc, and about 550$ for grocery stores.
During the month I may move the amounts around a little, and sometimes go over, but Im always aiming for 800$

I try to shop 1/week. I menu plan. I could easily spend double, honestly. I dont buy coffee or alcohol except very rarely.

To keep my spending under 900 requires planning, discipline, and doing without things Id want. Id love to buy steak. Id love to buy pre-prepared raviolis. Id love to buy fancy chocolate. Id love to buy organic. Id love to buy grass fed. Id love to buy at the farmers markets, but honestly, here, its outrageous. A pint of strawberries is 6$. A small bunch of greens 4$. Meat is upwards of 10$/lb, eggs, 4-5 $ a dozen. I cant afford the farmers markets.

I rotate my grocery stores-like others mentioned. Aldi, ethnic produce mart, costco, etc.

From reading about grocery spending on these forums, I think the people most successful and having low grocery bills eat more beans, less variety (making a large batch of something and eating it several times a week) and dont spend money on artisanal items.

former player

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4680
  • Location: Avalon
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #24 on: October 05, 2014, 01:44:46 AM »
I got dizzy just thinking about all the variety in that list.  14 different types of bread, 10 different types of cheese, 27 different meat and fish entries, 51 for pulses, fruit and veg.   There are restaurants that purchase less variety than that: in fact, a restaurant menu with that much variety would either be a Michelin 3 star or a hot mess.  I diagnose a cook who learnt piecemeal and through specific recipes rather than understanding the basics and planning meals from those basics upwards.

Also, it's not doing at least one of you any good health-wise, given the list of medicines on there, which should be a wake-up call that something needs to change for your physical health as well as financial health. 

So simplify, simplify, simplify.  And cook from scratch.  (I mean, honestly, does someone in your house really buy re-fried beans, because I never heard of such a thing.)  All beans should be bought dried, not canned.  Only buy fruit and veg that are in season.  Less meat, less wheat, less dairy for the digestion issues.


Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #25 on: October 05, 2014, 03:59:35 AM »
Gimesalot - we only spent $1.41/mo on prepared pizza.  Not sure what you're looking at when you say $16.

In your bread budget there is $16 for pizza crust and pizza dough.

What might help is positing the amount of food purchased.  For example, using costs from our area, I calculated you bought 86 pounds of meat in the three months you tracked.  That is almost a poound of meat a day.  But you say that you eat meatless 2 to 3 times a week.  Maybe meat and produce are much more expensive in your area.

Based on your first post, it sounded like you were talking about take-out or frozen pizza.  The pizza dough is used to make pizza at home, although not completely from scratch, as we obviously are not making the crust.  But it's still much cheaper (and better) than take-out.  The $16 is total for the entire time tracked; the monthly total is $6.92.  This was a stock-up, and much of it is still in the freezer.

Yes, tracking amounts would help.  The quantities are not shown on the receipts, so I would need to convince the DW to write all that stuff down for me as she unpacks the groceries.

One thing I hadn't thought about when I posted is the fact that much of the meat on the list is still in the freezer.  We tend to follow the sales and stock up, so it's possible my tracking period happened to catch a lot of stocking up.  I have no idea whether it was 86 lbs., but if it was, that comes out to a little less than 1/2 lb/person/mo. (86/73 days/2.5 people. I count our son as half a person since he is eating some of his meals off of his college meal plan.)

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #26 on: October 05, 2014, 04:07:21 AM »
if you're not willing to change why did you post.  did you want support for your crazy spending... YOU DONT NEED SEAFOOD ... YOU DONT NEED ORGANIC COFFEE ...

EVERYTHING YOU"RE DEFENDING IS NOT A NEED ... either cut it back or go cry to someone else.

Apparently you missed the parts in my follow-up where I acknowledged options for cutting back amounts and/or variety in the coffee, alcohol, meat, and produce categories.  These are the 800 lb gorillas in my grocery bill, so they seem like the best places to start.

Regarding rejection of other suggestions, I don't know what else I'm supposed to do with suggestions to shop around at stores that don't exist or buy non-existent cheap meat and seafood.  In your original reply, you simply spouted off a bunch of low prices that you supposedly pay and bragged about how you and your wife eat like kings.  More specifics about how you do this would have been helpful.

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #27 on: October 05, 2014, 04:09:39 AM »
also if your wife is a SAHM.  this should be her job to cut this bill down to nothing.  WTF can you possibly do all day.  she should be able to find extreme deals and manage your household budget full time to the gnats ass detail... i can do this working 60+ hours a week sometime.  start making the changes and make it a habit. 

i mean all you did was counter every point made to lower your bill.  this would be like me posting about my boat costing me too much money and people telling me to sell it and me giving them 20 reasons why i wont.

why post

Again, more bragging and berating with no real suggestions.  If you can't be helpful, STFU.

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #28 on: October 05, 2014, 04:17:04 AM »
I always struggle with my grocery spending.
We are a family of 4. 2 adults and 2 kids.
My monthly average for all food is 900$ which includes an average of 120$ on eating food not made at home.

When I plan my monthly spending, I allot 150$ for costco, 120$ for eating out etc, and about 550$ for grocery stores.
During the month I may move the amounts around a little, and sometimes go over, but Im always aiming for 800$

I try to shop 1/week. I menu plan. I could easily spend double, honestly. I dont buy coffee or alcohol except very rarely.

To keep my spending under 900 requires planning, discipline, and doing without things Id want. Id love to buy steak. Id love to buy pre-prepared raviolis. Id love to buy fancy chocolate. Id love to buy organic. Id love to buy grass fed. Id love to buy at the farmers markets, but honestly, here, its outrageous. A pint of strawberries is 6$. A small bunch of greens 4$. Meat is upwards of 10$/lb, eggs, 4-5 $ a dozen. I cant afford the farmers markets.

I rotate my grocery stores-like others mentioned. Aldi, ethnic produce mart, costco, etc.

From reading about grocery spending on these forums, I think the people most successful and having low grocery bills eat more beans, less variety (making a large batch of something and eating it several times a week) and dont spend money on artisanal items.

That's what I was afraid of.  This article made me think it might be possible to eat well on the cheap: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/03/29/killing-your-1000-grocery-bill/

But it sounds like most of you are having a hard time eating well at low prices (boarder42 excepted, of course).  The recurring theme I'm hearing is to cut back on variety and eat a lot of low-cost staples like dried beans and rice.

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #29 on: October 05, 2014, 04:29:12 AM »
I got dizzy just thinking about all the variety in that list.  14 different types of bread, 10 different types of cheese, 27 different meat and fish entries, 51 for pulses, fruit and veg.   There are restaurants that purchase less variety than that: in fact, a restaurant menu with that much variety would either be a Michelin 3 star or a hot mess.  I diagnose a cook who learnt piecemeal and through specific recipes rather than understanding the basics and planning meals from those basics upwards.

Also, it's not doing at least one of you any good health-wise, given the list of medicines on there, which should be a wake-up call that something needs to change for your physical health as well as financial health. 

So simplify, simplify, simplify.  And cook from scratch.  (I mean, honestly, does someone in your house really buy re-fried beans, because I never heard of such a thing.)  All beans should be bought dried, not canned.  Only buy fruit and veg that are in season.  Less meat, less wheat, less dairy for the digestion issues.

Again, sounds like reduction of variety is how folks are reducing their grocery bills.  But does it really make that much of a difference?  If you focus on low unit prices, you should be able to include a variety of items, right?  Or does that necessarily weed out a lot of things?

We do cook from scratch.  I don't see the point in nitpicking 78 cents a month worth of canned refried beans.  The pennies saved by making refried beans from dried are not worth the effort involved, in my opinion.  I'm far more interested in attacking the categories that have more bang for the buck.

And you're off base about the digestive issues.  I can see how you might reach that conclusion based on the list, but those are due to (1) an esophageal issue that is not diet related, and (2) recent surgery for a condition that was not lifestyle-related.
« Last Edit: October 05, 2014, 04:55:07 AM by Monkey Uncle »

fa

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 233
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #30 on: October 05, 2014, 08:19:37 AM »
Thanks for the interesting post.  I am just amazed by the large list of stuff.  It really adds up.  Others have noticed the coffee, cheese and alcohol.  Obvioulsy those are really high, and bringing them down is just a choice to make.  Besides these, I am surprized by the amount of donations to charity.  With such a low savings rate, that may be an item to suspend until you can afford it.

I also noticed a lot of expenses for stuff that is a very occasional purchase.  Do these really occur monthly, or did you happen to pick an exceptional month?  I also found your bird feed expense to be incredibly high.  Our entertainment is netflix for $8/month.  Maybe the birds could find their own seeds for a while?

For the breads, I make extremely healthy 100% whole wheat bread by hand.  Dirt cheap compared to your list.

It just doesn't make sense to me why you spend so much on groceries.  I would go back and read through MMMs posts on the topic.  He does have excellent advise.

tracylayton

  • Guest
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #31 on: October 05, 2014, 08:34:28 AM »
My grocery budget for 2 adults and 1 teenager has been $100 per week. This included toilet paper, soap, shampoo, laundry detergent and wine. I have noticed that if I shop at Albertson's (which is the most convenient), I pay about 30 to 40% more than at HEB, and go over budget. So maybe...do some price comparisons at different grocery stores? Also, I put some of the items that I consider luxury items at the end of the belt. If I am in danger of going over the budget, I tell them I decided against the ____ for today. Good luck, and I never give face punches!

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #32 on: October 05, 2014, 10:09:03 AM »
Thanks for the interesting post.  I am just amazed by the large list of stuff.  It really adds up.  Others have noticed the coffee, cheese and alcohol.  Obvioulsy those are really high, and bringing them down is just a choice to make.  Besides these, I am surprized by the amount of donations to charity.  With such a low savings rate, that may be an item to suspend until you can afford it.

I also noticed a lot of expenses for stuff that is a very occasional purchase.  Do these really occur monthly, or did you happen to pick an exceptional month?  I also found your bird feed expense to be incredibly high.  Our entertainment is netflix for $8/month.  Maybe the birds could find their own seeds for a while?

For the breads, I make extremely healthy 100% whole wheat bread by hand.  Dirt cheap compared to your list.

It just doesn't make sense to me why you spend so much on groceries.  I would go back and read through MMMs posts on the topic.  He does have excellent advise.

I hear you on the charitable donations.  I'm treading lightly with the DW there.  At the current tracked rate, we're on target to spend a little under $500 over the course of a year (down from $1,500+ in most recent years).  I'd like to get it down to $20/mo on average.

Yes, there are some occasional items that just happened to fall within my 2+month tracking period.  It'll be interesting to see how those shake out over the course of a year or so.

The bird food is just one of those choices we make.  The amount during the tracked period is high due to high consumption during the late summer.  But it's still a large expense on an annual basis.  It's one of those things I'm willing to work a few extra years for.

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #33 on: October 05, 2014, 10:13:12 AM »
My grocery budget for 2 adults and 1 teenager has been $100 per week. This included toilet paper, soap, shampoo, laundry detergent and wine. I have noticed that if I shop at Albertson's (which is the most convenient), I pay about 30 to 40% more than at HEB, and go over budget. So maybe...do some price comparisons at different grocery stores? Also, I put some of the items that I consider luxury items at the end of the belt. If I am in danger of going over the budget, I tell them I decided against the ____ for today. Good luck, and I never give face punches!

We typically do most of our grocery shopping at a Walmart super center, which is the lowest cost option in our area.  I'm thinking we need to start out with a firm budget to force some choices.  It's always easy to justify spending $50 to stock up on $1.99 pork butts, but if it's not in the budget, it's not in the budget.

surfhb

  • Guest
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #34 on: October 05, 2014, 11:14:29 AM »
Uncle.....I'm posting my meal and shopping list for a weeks worth of food for 2 people for comparison.   This is for 1 good sized meal a day and a sandwich lunch.  Snacks which usually is fruit and or a salad.


MEALS

Chicken Tacos and Veggie (2 days)

Bruschetta With Salami and Salad

Teriyaki Chicken And Rice and veggies

Butternut Squash pizza and a salad


Pollo Asada
Tortillas
Tomatoes
Garlic
Basil
Onions
Baguette
Jalapeņos
Cilantro
Lime
Lemons
Smoothie Stuff - a giant green smoothie a day keeps the dr away :)
Arugula
Broccoli
Bell peppers
Eggs
Pizza dough
Salami
Mozzarella

This s just a very rough list I just put on Notes on my iPhone in about 5 mins and will usually include some more items for lunches but you get the idea.   


« Last Edit: October 05, 2014, 11:27:31 AM by surfhb »

tracylayton

  • Guest
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #35 on: October 05, 2014, 11:57:43 AM »
My grocery budget for 2 adults and 1 teenager has been $100 per week. This included toilet paper, soap, shampoo, laundry detergent and wine. I have noticed that if I shop at Albertson's (which is the most convenient), I pay about 30 to 40% more than at HEB, and go over budget. So maybe...do some price comparisons at different grocery stores? Also, I put some of the items that I consider luxury items at the end of the belt. If I am in danger of going over the budget, I tell them I decided against the ____ for today. Good luck, and I never give face punches!

We typically do most of our grocery shopping at a Walmart super center, which is the lowest cost option in our area.  I'm thinking we need to start out with a firm budget to force some choices.  It's always easy to justify spending $50 to stock up on $1.99 pork butts, but if it's not in the budget, it's not in the budget.

It's hard to get lower prices than Walmart. So that your wife doesn't get too discouraged, maybe adjust your budget over time. Reduce to $900/month the first month, to $800/month the second, etc. until you feel like you've reached an acceptable amount. Also, I don't mind buying store brands instead of name brands...that helps, too.

falcondisruptor

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 151
  • Location: Ottawa, ON
    • Simple Cheap Mom
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #36 on: October 05, 2014, 11:59:02 AM »
Get the flyers for your area online.

See what is on sale (like a real sale price, not just showing up in the flyer because they paid the store to be there)

Make a meal plan based on what is on sale.

If you've got lots in your freezer from stocking up, maybe it's a good time to start eating your down your reserves.  I'm not sure how often you go shopping, but the less you go, the less chance you have of bringing home extras.  Just taking some time out of your routine might give you the space to come up with a better plan of attack for your food budget.

Also, don't knock cheap dishes like rice and beans!  That's one of my favorite dishes! 

mm1970

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6965
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #37 on: October 05, 2014, 12:51:16 PM »
Wow, thanks so much for all the great advice!  I really appreciate all of you taking the time to pore over my tracking spreadsheet.

Here are a few thoughts and reactions:

Coffee -- Busted.  We've been participating in a local buyer's club that gets shade-grown, fair trade, organic coffee in bulk from a Mayan co-op.  Typical industrial coffee plantations are environmental nightmares, so this indulgence eases our guilt.  It also tastes about 400 times better than industrial coffee.  And it costs about $10/lb vs. $4.56/lb for a big can of Folgers at Walmart.  So our choice here is to cut back on consumption (currently a full 12-cup pot daily between my wife and me), or go back to feeling guilty about drinking shitty coffee.  Or we could do without coffee entirely.  Not likely to happen, but it helps to think about what the true necessities are.

Meat -- We do eat meatless meals 2-3 times a week.  We always shop around for sales and stock up when we find good deals.  A couple of commenters remarked that they never pay more than $2/lb for meat.  Although we do eat a lot of chicken that costs less than $2/lb, it is nearly impossible in our locality to find any other kind of meat for that price.  On-sale pork butts once in a while, but that is rare.  And cheap seafood options simply do not exist here - believe me, we've searched high and low.  The most likely options that I'm seeing are 1) cut down on variety and focus even more on the cheap chicken, and 2) eat more meatless meals and replace the protein with legumes.

Produce -- I was as surprised as you that we spend about the same amount on fresh produce as on meat.  We do buy in-season, and as I said, the farmer's market stuff is generally only a little more expensive than the supermarket produce.  We just eat a lot of produce.  Although we do grow a few peppers in pots on our deck, our yard is not conducive to gardening (hilly, shady, and full of deer).  So the option here appears to be to reduce variety and focus on the least expensive options.  Not really willing to reduce consumption as we are trying our best to eat healthfully.

Alcohol -- Totally unnecessary, but as with the coffee, we are unlikely to cut it out entirely.  We are not quite hitting the CDC definition of heavy drinking, but we do need to reduce consumption.  The homebrewing should help, as long as I keep it basic and don't start buying a bunch of expensive equipment and fancy specialty ingredients.

Waste -- We waste very little.  We cook enough to have leftovers, which I take to work with me for lunch.  Once in a while we'll end up throwing out a few odds and ends that have been in the fridge too long, but in general, our waste is negligible.

Shopping around -- Several folks mentioned shopping around at various budget conscious stores.  In our small rural town, we have Walmart, Kroger, Shop N Save, and the farmer's market.  We patronize all of these establishments for the things that they do best and/or cheapest.  Our only warehouse option is Sam's Club, which is 50 miles away.  We do shop there on occasion in conjunction with shopping trips that we make on behalf of our local arts center, but the distance prevents this from being a regular shopping option.

Cheese -- Not sure why this generated so much discussion, as it is a fairly small part of the overall picture.  Since my wife found out she has high cholesterol, we actually eat a lot less cheese than we used to.  The fancy cheeses are bought in fairly small quantities, and they go in the freezer to be used a little at a time in various recipes over the course of several months.

Make stuff yourself -- Yes, we generally do this.  My wife is the main cook, and she is very good at it.  Our total prepared food bill was under $20/mo.  Some days when my wife is busy with other things, she needs a night off from the kitchen.  Gimesalot - we only spent $1.41/mo on prepared pizza.  Not sure what you're looking at when you say $16.

The bottom line is that we just eat a lot, both in amount and variety.  My wife has always complained that I eat enough for three people.  I'm active and blessed with a high metabolism, so I've never counted calories in my life.  I'm sure I blow the 2,000 cal/day diet out of the water.  I'm not seeing any easy, no-brainer solutions.  I think it will come down to reducing variety and analyzing every purchase.

Thanks again, guys.
I'm going to echo the others and you here:
1.  I don't think your produce is high.  We eat a lot of produce for a family of four, at least $200 a month worth.
2.  You have a high metabolism, and you are feeding a 21 year old man.  Um, yeah.  That's a lot of food.

Someone recommended 3 ways above, that is spot on.  I have found reducing variety to be useful.  I still get variety once/week though, instead of multiple times per week.  Also, reducing amount but then I'm a 44 year old woman trying to lose baby weight.

justajane

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2147
  • Location: Midwest
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #38 on: October 05, 2014, 12:54:13 PM »
Someone said it's harder to get lower prices than Walmart, but in my experience that is not true, at least in our area. Walmart's prices are often higher than Aldi, Target or even the local grocery store. Don't just assume that they are the cheapest. One good thing about Walmart is that they will price match, so if you see that a store across town had meat that week for lower, just bring in the flyer.

One place I have had great success it with the "manager's specials" at one of our local supermarkets. They mark down meat that is close to the sell by date with a bright red sticker. Just on Friday, I managed to get turkey legs for 50 cents a pound.  In the crock pot it went, and we had a great meal for less than $1 (with carrots and potatoes).

sarah8001

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 85
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #39 on: October 06, 2014, 01:17:43 AM »
Someone said it's harder to get lower prices than Walmart, but in my experience that is not true, at least in our area. Walmart's prices are often higher than Aldi, Target or even the local grocery store. Don't just assume that they are the cheapest. One good thing about Walmart is that they will price match, so if you see that a store across town had meat that week for lower, just bring in the flyer.

One place I have had great success it with the "manager's specials" at one of our local supermarkets. They mark down meat that is close to the sell by date with a bright red sticker. Just on Friday, I managed to get turkey legs for 50 cents a pound.  In the crock pot it went, and we had a great meal for less than $1 (with carrots and potatoes).

Yes. I used to think Walmart had great prices, but unfortunately they really don't, at least not on meat or produce. If you want to eat similar food and a similar variety of food, your hands are really tied with Walmart. This advice might draw some face punches, but if there are no ethnic or independent grocers in your town, how far away is the nearest town that does have these things? I have many grocery stores within one mile of me, but I drive almost ten miles to go to a store that just KILLS everyone else on meat and produce (and has amazing variety). Maybe you drive twenty, or even forty miles, once in a blue moon, and the savings more than pay for the gas? Also, I love, love, love apples. I'm infatuated. But they are very expensive, with crappy quality, all year EXCEPT right now. So I'm buying by the box full and canning applesauce (which is super, super easy to can). I'll be eating top quality apples at cheap prices all winter :) And if you have a cool basement, some apples will store for a few months even without canning. Instead of not stocking up because it costs more up front, I recommend stocking up whenever something is super cheap. But then you have to actually eat your stockpile instead of buying more stuff, which can be challenging for me (except for apples. I will always eat apples ;)

Monkey Uncle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1500
  • Location: West-by-god-Virginia
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #40 on: October 06, 2014, 03:53:13 AM »
Someone said it's harder to get lower prices than Walmart, but in my experience that is not true, at least in our area. Walmart's prices are often higher than Aldi, Target or even the local grocery store. Don't just assume that they are the cheapest. One good thing about Walmart is that they will price match, so if you see that a store across town had meat that week for lower, just bring in the flyer.

One place I have had great success it with the "manager's specials" at one of our local supermarkets. They mark down meat that is close to the sell by date with a bright red sticker. Just on Friday, I managed to get turkey legs for 50 cents a pound.  In the crock pot it went, and we had a great meal for less than $1 (with carrots and potatoes).

Yes. I used to think Walmart had great prices, but unfortunately they really don't, at least not on meat or produce. If you want to eat similar food and a similar variety of food, your hands are really tied with Walmart. This advice might draw some face punches, but if there are no ethnic or independent grocers in your town, how far away is the nearest town that does have these things? I have many grocery stores within one mile of me, but I drive almost ten miles to go to a store that just KILLS everyone else on meat and produce (and has amazing variety). Maybe you drive twenty, or even forty miles, once in a blue moon, and the savings more than pay for the gas? Also, I love, love, love apples. I'm infatuated. But they are very expensive, with crappy quality, all year EXCEPT right now. So I'm buying by the box full and canning applesauce (which is super, super easy to can). I'll be eating top quality apples at cheap prices all winter :) And if you have a cool basement, some apples will store for a few months even without canning. Instead of not stocking up because it costs more up front, I recommend stocking up whenever something is super cheap. But then you have to actually eat your stockpile instead of buying more stuff, which can be challenging for me (except for apples. I will always eat apples ;)

Walmart generally is our lowest price option for most things.  Our only other in-town grocery choices are Kroger and Shop N Save.  We often get on-sale meat at Shop N Save, and we generally do Kroger just for occasional sale items or things we can't get elsewhere.  We have one independent grocer about 10 miles away that we patronize once in a while (like, maybe 3 times a year) for large cuts of meat that we can't always get at the chain stores.  They can't come close to competing with Walmart on price and variety for general grocery items.

There is a Sam's Club about 50 miles away that we visit whenever we have occasion to be in the town where it is located (this town also has other types of shopping options that aren't available in our town, like outlet stores, Target, and big-box home improvement stores).  It's hard to justify making the trip just for groceries.  At a fairly modest mileage rate for our 5-yr old Toyota Camry, I figure each round trip costs us $50.

There simply aren't any ethnic markets anywhere near us.  We'd have to drive to Pittsburgh (about a 3-hr trip one way) to find any of those.

It's the price we pay (literally) for living in a rural area.  Hopefully we make up for some of it through low property taxes (about $900/yr on a 2,700 sq ft house) and the fact that I can heat our house with wood that I cut myself (saves about $1,500-$2,000 annually on electricity).
« Last Edit: October 06, 2014, 04:03:49 AM by Monkey Uncle »

little_owl

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 158
  • Location: DC Metro
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #41 on: October 06, 2014, 05:39:44 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.

VirginiaBob

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 429
    • LRJ Discounters
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #42 on: October 06, 2014, 05:53:00 AM »
They had an article in the newspaper tallying up various baskets at different grocery stores.  In our area, of order of lowest to highest price (didn't include the really cheap places like ALDI's, Save-a-Lot or big box club stores though since the brand names/quanitities are too different):

Walmart
Krogers
Food Lion
Farm Fresh
Harris Teeter

I feel like I always spend more at Walmart than the other stores though since they don't  do double/triple coupon days and don't have other promotions such as free turkey/ham promotions around holidays.

In the future, I'd like to further optimize trips to Save-a-lot, Costco mixed in with the grocery stores to get the best deals.  For example - get all your produce at Walmart, Get your cheese at Costco, milk at Save-a-lot.  One of the benefits of early retirement is that I'll have more time to shop the deals - and as a side benefit, keep the wife away from doing the shopping (no sense of a household budget from her end). 

justajane

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2147
  • Location: Midwest
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #43 on: October 06, 2014, 06:53:50 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.

Cpa Cat

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1621
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #44 on: October 06, 2014, 08:03:05 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.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2014, 08:30:22 AM by Cpa Cat »

2ndTimer

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4616
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #45 on: October 06, 2014, 08:34:57 AM »
Had you considered gardening?  Since you are in a rural setting, you probably have the space.  You wouldn't have to start with a big garden, even a small plot where you plant a few summer squash and cucumber seeds would save you a bit.  Also, based on my own experience growing up in the country, there is usually somebody glad to sell their extra vegetables out the back door.

Cinder

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 468
  • Location: Central PA
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #46 on: October 06, 2014, 09:32:10 AM »
Had you considered gardening?  Since you are in a rural setting, you probably have the space.  You wouldn't have to start with a big garden, even a small plot where you plant a few summer squash and cucumber seeds would save you a bit.  Also, based on my own experience growing up in the country, there is usually somebody glad to sell their extra vegetables out the back door.

Another vote for gardening, done right it can provide a lot of fresh produce with not to high of an investment, particularly in a rural setting. 

PM me with which rural part of PA you are in.  I grew up in an area that was 45 min ~ an hour either direction to even get to a hospital or a movie theater in the central PA area, and we didn't even have a walmart till about 5 years ago.

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.

Would also be interested in information relating to the above, sounds like a great thread option!

4alpacas

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1896
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #47 on: October 06, 2014, 11:10:42 AM »
I thought I would weigh in.  I'm in an urban setting, but I'm lazy.  I have Walmart delivery my groceries to me ($3) once/week.  We also struggled with an out of control grocery bill.  We took several steps to limit our spending, so we've gone from $800 to $200.  We also shop at a single store/week, no coupons, no sale shopping (except for in season produce). 

Our biggest hurdle was getting rid of prepared foods.  We still buy a frozen pizza (usually once/month) and Velveeta shells & cheese (stretched with egg noodles, $1/bag) when we're craving horrible food. 

We save time, money, and our waistlines by bulk cooking.  My favorite website is budgetbytes.com.  I do variations of the chicken taco bowl recipe (double everything except the chicken) regularly.  I cook 1-2 dishes/weekend (usually in the slow cooker) and portion it into quart bags (for single servings).  We freeze most of the food because we like having variety.  At night, we pull something out of the freezer for lunches and dinner the next day.  It makes packing lunches easy.   

For personal care products, we finish a product before we buy more.  My DH is using hotel shampoo right now instead of buying a new bottle of shampoo.  We've switched from using paper towels to using little towels.  We buy a roll of paper towels every few months ($1/3-4 months).  I've also started to use olive oil as a moisturizer in the evening.  It's amazing! 

If you shop at WalMart, have you seen the Savings Catcher?  https://savingscatcher.walmart.com/  I haven't used it yet.

tl;dr  I'm lazy.  I spend $200/month for 2 adults.

caseyzee

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 99
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #48 on: October 06, 2014, 11:54:15 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.

N

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1378
  • Location: Chicago
  • You must change your life. -Rainer Maria Rilke
Re: Reader case study: What the &%^$@ is up with my grocery bill?
« Reply #49 on: October 06, 2014, 03:37:39 PM »
http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/08/23/grocery-shopping-with-your-middle-finger/

MMM also wrote that. note: his grocery spending doesnt include his alcohol.
I also do wonder if he takes into account that he is feeding 2 adults and a primary school aged kid.
Some kids (and adults) are light eaters. Some kids are bottomless pits.