Grocery Recap and the Hand-Over!

Mine and Yours?

Mine and Yours? (Photo: chatonomics.co.uk)

Once again I have added up how much food I bought in the past year. Not just in price but the actual amount of food! There have been big changes in grocery buying in the past 4 years. First, we moved to a Real Food diet, limiting packaged foods and cooking our own meals much more. Then we started meal planning. Next, Rom and I became empty nesters and only had two to feed. Finally we went vegetarian.

For comparison purposes, the last full year we had 3 of us in the house (2010) and we were also eating meat, we spent $778 CDN a month on groceries, including cleaning products, paper goods, personal care products, cat food and cat litter.

In 2014, we spent $507 a month (or $117 a week) on groceries, including all of the above – except meat – for the two of us. So, on a per person basis, there isn’t much difference: in 2010 we were spending $259 for each of us per month, and now it is $254. Does that mean it was really cheap to be meat eaters? No, I think we absorbed the cost of grocery price increases over that time period.

If you are very keen, you can check out my spreadsheet! (I assert that this file was created by me and is free from viruses and malware).

Grocery Spending by Category

The first year we were eating vegetarian, I calculated we saved about 15% on groceries. I had expected it to be higher, but we had never been big meat eaters anyway, and we were buying a lot more fresh, higher-quality foods.

I have been keeping my grocery receipts all year and noting what we bought. Here are some highlights:

367 lbs of fruit of which Rom ate about 20 lbs of grapes and I had the rest!! I usually have two apples and an orange every day and buy a bunch of bananas every two weeks. I mix it up a bit by getting the occasional mango, kiwi fruit, and of course seasonal strawberries, cherries and peaches.

340 lbs of vegetables. We don’t buy much frozen any more, but decided that peas and green beans weren’t worth buying fresh. We were given some cucumbers, squash, zucchini and turnips! We consistently buy carrots, potatoes, onions and peppers. I make salads for lunch regularly with romaine or spinach, and Rom includes cherry tomatoes in his work lunches.

We buy canned diced tomatoes and baked beans, but I also started cooking dried beans and keeping them in the freezer instead of buying canned chick peas and kidney beans. A lot of our meals are based around beans and lentils which cost practically nothing. We do spend freely on “luxury” nuts and dried fruit, though, like cashews and dried cranberries.

We have cut down on milk and cheese by about 40% since our early veggie days, now that we know how to cook better without dairy, but we both still like yogurt and we buy a dozen eggs each month.

I made bread for about a year but gave it up because of being tied to the kitchen so much. So our bread buying has gone up 50%. We also cook a lot of soups, stews, curries and chilis, so we buy a lot of naan, pita, and bread rolls to go with them. Rom is still addicted to crumpets for breakfast but now that he is responsible for the grocery budget, he may switch to English muffins from Costco, which are much cheaper!

Not too many pre-packaged meals come into the house, but we brought home 10 boxes of Kraft Dinner and 6 frozen pizzas this year. The prepared foods we buy regularly are pasta, cereal, crackers, juice, tea, coffee, chips and candy. Happily we don’t buy pop any more. It was diet, but that stuff is not good for you either!

Not so much to save money, but for the environment, I challenged myself to reduce cleaning products and paper goods as much as possible. The current buying list is: toilet paper, tissues (use handkerchiefs some of the time), garbage bags, recycling bags, freezer bags (reused), ingredients for laundry soap (soap, borax and washing soda), dish and dishwasher detergent, and one “enviro” floor mopping liquid. We have a big stockpile of rags instead of paper towels.

The personal care list is getting shorter too, especially because we have scent-free workplaces: unscented shampoo, conditioner and antiperspirant (not giving them up yet), bar soap, body moisturizer, face moisturizer, and toothpaste. I like Body Shop stuff if anyone asks me for a gift suggestion 🙂

The cats get supermarket cat food! At every vet visit I am told how healthy they are; so I am not concerned.

I am not proud that we spend 10% of our food budget on snacks, especially since I defined them as “anything not used as an ingredient in a meal:” chips, candy, ice cream, etc. If we had nuts, cheese, or raisins, they would go under Grocery. I am especially not proud that one month this year, $81 was spent on in-home snacks! (I suspect that stocking up on Christmas candy contributed to the overspending…)

How could we do better?

  1. Make our own snacks
  2. Snack less

I have given Rom all my grocery stats and it’s his turn to take over now. Last week we did a walk-through of Wal-Mart, Target and Costco to see what, if anything, was worth buying there. I look forward to sharing his results 🙂

Have you changed your grocery shopping or food attitude in the past few years? Are there any patterns you are trying to change this year?

30 comments

  1. Thanks for the accounting and suggestion. With the cost of packaging, making your own snacks is a saver. Since I am retired, I am left over man, as it amazing what we have left to eat. Of course, to make it work well, you change your limitations on what breakfast food is – leftover mac and cheese, stews, rice dishes are a great breakfast. Keep on finding money with what you do.

    • We sometimes cook twice a week and have the same thing 3 nights in a row! No worries about getting rid of leftovers. I rebel occasionally and cook more often. But having a real meal for breakfast is a good idea – or breakfast foods for dinner.

      • We do the breakfast foods for dinner as well calling it Brinner. We borrowed the name from a friend’s family. One reason is we know our kids will eat everything. Have a great weekend.

  2. The best way I’ve found to save on food is to not overbuy and to use things before they go bad. The most expensive food you buy is the food you throw out. This is a challenge with salad and fresh bread, but I’ve learned to buy smaller amounts and use it faster.
    I am also a label checker and will not buy anything that I consider to be over-processed or improperly farmed. This raises the food bill slightly, but that is OK with me. During the growing season, I buy as much as possible at the Greenmarket.

    • I agree. Buying for 2, if celery is needed, for example, I have to buy the whole thing and it’s hard to use it up. Menu planning helps or just freezing things like chopped onions and peppers for future recipes. I prefer cooking with fresh everything, but not if I have to throw food away. I also pay extra for some local produce and products.

  3. Is it weird that I LOVE how you actually know how much WEIGHT of food you had? 😀

  4. Fiona

    That is an amazing effort on so many levels (I am feeling daunted reading it!) Just to be organised enough to track things so well, and in categories. To be environmentally-friendly enough to have made the transition to vegetarianism. And to have so few snacks (especially when you are counting everything other than meal ingredients, which I’m guessing could include all kinds of things like sultanas, seeds etc.) And it’s a very economical grocery rate, especially when it includes the cats. It’s really encouraging to see what *can* be done. We are trying to work in this direction but we are still a fair way off. Congrats – it is really interesting to see the spreadsheet!

    • Thanks, Fiona. I ate a lot of junk food this year, especially candy as usual. So snack foods are the one area where a lot more savings are possible. I expect I may be giving up some control this year 🙂 Extra thanks for looking at the spreadsheet!

    • Yes, I’m impressed with the level of detail in the tracking! No tracking here. Just try to minimise waste – which has lead me to menu planning and shopping to the menu. The menu is flexible in that if I see a bargain, I will buy that and change the menu on the go. I no longer just buy things as an automatic item which my mother used to do, and so did Mr S and I, which leads to extras and waste.

      • Same here – I used to keep the cupboards stocked with the same things, and automatically replace them whenever they were running low. But we don’t eat the same things very often, so the system didn’t really work.

  5. lauralynne

    I think this is great — I’m tracking our food consumption (both monetarily & item by item) for the first time this year and I’ve mostly been stuck on how that looks day to day. I haven’t really given thought to what our total poundage might look like over a year.

    • Hi, I hope you will post some updates throughout the year and your grand tally! This is my third year. I like it because it shows how our eating habits change from year to year – more snacking, less home baking, etc. I suspect these things but it’s easy to deny. “I’m eating the same as ever and I just can’t figure out why I’m gaining weight!”

  6. Seriously, if you weren’t a librarian you could be an actuary…your numbers are so…exacting! Great job on keeping your budget so low for food which I think would be a challenge, especially for vegetarian type food, since you live so far north. We are fortunate that we can get lots of vegies here very cheap (there is a 99 cent store with fresh vegies..an entire pineapple for 99 cents, three heads of romaine for 99 cents, etc) but I would be pretty afraid to see our entire grocery totals since we arent very good with sticking to a food budget :l

    • When I visited Arizona and California many years ago I was shocked by how low the prices were for fresh fruit and veg. But even here, they don’t cost much in proportion to the whole grocery budget. I am not sure if I could eat much more of them even if they were cheaper!

  7. Wow to your effort with pre packaged things. I am going to really be making a HUGE effort to look at what we are eating this year too…I really do relish the prospect! I make soup I the slow cooker for lunch everyday and freeze it so I think I will keep up with that as it is a good way of eating cheaply and getting our fruit and veg in. Now I want to start eating rye bread with it, not normal carb-heavy bread. Then I am going to try to get more fresh fruit in at breakfasts…one thing at a time though! We had a dog who lived to 17 eating store made food, never did him any harm at all! In fact, growing up, all our animals were super healthy and all were fed store food! We do tend to feed our animals the best food we can though – just in case!

  8. HollyH

    I love the tally by pounds! That’s how I always tracked produce too, though I didn’t track everything else as explicitly as you. Now with my hubby in the hospital so much of the time most all of my tracking and cooking has gone out the window. I had to give up even soup making for the reasons behind your giving up bread making. I just needed to be doing other things with my time. So my list for last year would look extremely different from 2010, but not in a more whole food way. I’m not yet sure what direction I’ll take for 2015.

    I’ll be interested to read how Rom does with his new responsibility! 🙂

  9. I’ve started to track grocery/household items in a similar way, but will it continue? I’m not so sure as I’ve failed each and every year before. Your spending (and spreadsheet) look fab Dar!
    Good luck to Rom…is he looking forward to the challenge? 🙂

    • In my case I am interested in whether we are buying enough healthy/real food, limiting packaged food and (someday) reducing snack food. I don’t want to be one of those vegetarians who lives on cereal and chips (crisps)! So this tracking does help me. Thanks for looking at the spreadsheet 🙂 Rom is just starting his grocery duties. From Monday to Friday, he gets home late and will never stop off and get “just a few things” at the store. That should be a budget saver right there! I hope he will develop some enthusiasm for the task. He keeps a tight personal spending limit so I am sure he will like it when the savings add up.

  10. I feel that same way about cat food. I buy them nicer dry cat food because it lasts a while but wet food is just Fancy Feast. Every time I do research on the more expensive brands or raw cat food, it turns out there’s junk in pretty much everything you buy. Either that or your cat just won’t eat it all. I’d rather keep their diet consistent then changing it every time things go on sale too.

    • I have taken the opposite tactic; I buy various supermarket brands and change them often. I figure that way, the cats don’t get addicted to one food and turn up their noses at others (they eat everything!) and if there is any nutritional deficiency in one brand, they won’t be affected long-term! Like you, I did an analysis of cat food once and couldn’t find a nutritional difference between most supermarket brands and most vet office / pet store brands.

  11. I do all cooking from scratch and DH makes bread and yogurt, but it doesn’t take 3 hrs a day. I think as you integrate habits into your life, you just start using little bits of time here and there.

    Saving time: I cook many lbs of onions in slowcooker and freeze. No chopping, no sauteeing. I cook a bit pot of beans now and then. Also–try a rice cooker for rice. So easy and you can freeze or refrigerate rice.

    Saving money: DH would eat a bag of cheetos every day if I let him. In ten minutes. Popcorn is cheap and healthy and might satisfy the snack desire.
    We buy oatmeal in bulk and cook enough for a few days–that one saves time AND money.

    • I’ve been cooking batches of beans and freezing them for later recipes, but I could do a lot more. Freezing rice is a good idea – I do have a rice cooker! I LOVE popcorn and have been trying to eat more popcorn and less candy!

  12. As for “snack foods”, since you mentioned at the end that you may want to do something to reduce purchasing those items, our household doesn’t really buy much in the way of prepared snacks like chips or crackers. I do buy bags of unpopped corn, and occasionally a package of corn tortillas, to cut into triangles and fry for chips. Otherwise, we “snack” on real food. Toast, fruit, leftover soup or oatmeal, baked potatoes (I bake several at a time and keep in the fridge), peanut butter (with or without bread), muffins, leftover fruit cobblers or crisps, pasta with leftover marinara sauce.

    I think of a snack as a mini-meal. I tend to feel better if my snacks are well-rounded in nutrients. It’s just a different way of looking at snacking, and completely avoids the overly-processed, store snack items.

    Of course, the fridge can become full of all of these leftover, home-cooked items. I’ve dealt with this by one meal per week (usually a weekend lunch), we eat nothing but what’s lingering in the fridge.

    Good luck in this next year!.

    • Thanks, Lili. That is a good strategy. Although I will have toast, popcorn or yogurt for a snack, I wouldn’t occur to me to have a baked potato or an egg or some soup. Thanks for the suggestion!

  13. I think it’s amazing that you keep such details records and analyze them. You’re super cool. $81 in snacks … I hate to tally my own snack spending.

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