Grocery Geekery

Beautiful brainy cookies by Rosanna Pansino /Nerdy Nummies on YouTube

Beautiful brainy cookies by Rosanna Pansino /Nerdy Nummies on YouTube

More than half of 2016 has passed so it’s time for a half-year grocery tally! I’ve tracked and analyzed my grocery spending every year since I started this blog. At our house we’ve gone through some dramatic changes in food shopping and eating styles, from a family of 3 to an “empty nest,” from (half-hearted) meat eaters to mostly vegetarian, from a reliance on prepared foods to cooking from scratch, and from “winging it” to meal planning.

If you divide our annual grocery bill by the number of us who were living here, the numbers are about the same: $3133 per person when there were 3 of us (five years ago), versus $3041 for each of us now that we are two. Despite all the changes we’ve made and all the economizing we’ve done, it isn’t a big difference. I will chalk it up to rising food costs.

For the first half of this year, the grocery bills were running a little low. We’ve had both of our major vacations, during which our meals were paid from vacation savings. We also spent most of our entertainment budget on meals out. Now comes the long haul with almost all of our meals made in-house for the rest of the year. So far, we’ve spent $114/week for food, snacks, paper goods, cleaning products, personal care items and cat food/litter. (We have two cats). My “stretch” goal is $6000 a year on all those things, eating in our usual way, but I don’t think we’ll attain it this year – since I won’t be eating lentil soup every day to make the goal – although coincidentally, it was on tonight’s menu 🙂

For the past 2-3 years I have been bemoaning how I never bake any more; I no longer bake bread and rarely make yogurt. On the plus side, I cook all types of beans from dried. I’m working on baked beans: my recipe needs work but it’s gradually improving. Another thing I’ve done is substituted homemade popcorn for other salty snacks. Last year, Rom and I decided not to keep ice cream in the house, and instead go out for ice cream when we feel like it, and we are sticking with that plan. I have minimal food waste, however, I could save a lot of money (and packaging) by making my own snacks such as muffins and cookies.

A few notables:

Biggest grocery splurges: the usual suspects! Goat cheese, salad greens, cashews and pecans, local honey, locally-ground coffee, soy milk (Maybe I am secretly from Portland OR?)

Biggest price increases: bread, eggs

Pricey non-food items: unscented hair gel ordered online for $20 including shipping (it will last a year) and non-soap cleanser for $16 (ditto)

Free items this year (from family): jam, maple syrup, stored parsnips, weekly Sunday dinners, tea biscuits and cookies (lots)

Free items (2-for-1 deals, etc.): 1/2 pint blackberries, 1/2 lb mushrooms, 2 tubs yogurt

Mistakes: $18.99 green protein powder only suitable for green smoothies 😦

Buy/eat most of: apples (as always), raisins, spoon-size shredded wheat cereal, whole wheat bread, bagels, milk and soy milk, yogurt

Bought more of this year: almonds and broccoli!

Bought less of this year: lost the Clif bar habit 🙂

Grocery Chart 2016_06

Fruit  $     368.96
Veg  $     371.40
Dairy  $     656.09
Bulk/Dry  $     178.80
Baking  $        37.73
Packaged  $     869.98
Condiments  $     117.34
Paper/Clean  $     103.08
Personal Care  $     128.69
Cats  $     128.00
 TOTAL  $  2,960.07

In the pie chart, the packaged foods section includes bread, cereal, crackers, hot and cold drinks, snacks and desserts, and a few prepared meals such as frozen pizzas and veggie burgers.

How are you doing with your food spending this year? Are you satisfied with what you get for the money?

27 comments

  1. We are trying to keep our grocery budget down and eliminate our food waste. I just started tracking grocery spending at the beginning of 2016, and it’s been enlightening. Our biggest unnecessary expense is bottled drinks; we could easily make our own teas and flavored waters, and are starting to be more conscientious about doing exactly that. Our biggest faux-pas is buying things just because they are on sale. It’s one thing if it’s a staple item. It’s quite another if it’s frozen fruit I will never bake with or a type of cereal we’re both “meh” about. It ends up sitting around and/or getting tossed, and that’s money lost.

    We used to live a mile away from the grocery. It was easy to pop in to the store so we didn’t plan ahead. Now where we live is quite a trek from any food store, so we’re learning to plan meals ahead of time and do bigger, “stock up” runs. It saves us money in the long run, because it eliminates those “I just need a couple things” (but I end up buying three bags full) stops at the store.

    Also, we have a weekly Eating Out budget that we manage in cash. Having a tangible, visible limit makes us think twice about how we’re spending when it comes to dining out. And as a bonus, any unused money goes in a savings jar at the end of each week. Sometimes it’s $10, other times it’s 10 cents. But it adds up, and it’s a positive reinforcement for being food-frugal. 🙂

    • We do some of the same things at our house. We live only 2 km from 2 grocery stores and I used to pop in all the time but now I only visit weekly. We have an “entertainment” budget that started off being for concerts, plays and festivals, but when fewer events are going on, it gets spent on meals out. If we exceed the budget, we pay from our own personal “pocket money” rather than the household budget. I like your savings jar idea! Rom did that last year with leftover grocery money and it was used for lunches, cafes, special foods for NYE, etc.

  2. Methinks if it lasts a year, then it is not pricey. 🙂 BTW, the cats say their slice of the pie (chart) is way too small! 😀

  3. Very interesting level of detail and analysis. I am curious what kinds of things are included in “packaged” besides cereals & nuts.

    • Hi Juhli, The full list of packaged stuff is: frozen pizzas and veggie burgers, bread, cereal, crackers, coffee, tea, juice, freezies, candy and the occasional package of tortilla chips, cinnamon rolls or Kraft Dinner!

  4. 1066jq

    I like the way you’re tracking you food budget. We live 5 miles from the nearest store, the one I use to fill in things we run out of and 20 miles from the military commissary that we use for most of our shopping. I do bake my own bread and really try to buy little in the way of processed foods.

    • Thanks for stopping by! At a previous home, I lived 5 miles from a grocery store, and although it encouraged me to stock up, I didn’t like being so far from everything. I grew up in a semi-rural area and I’m afraid it prompted me to be more of a city slicker at heart (although I am in the suburbs now!) I admire regular bread bakers. I made my own for a year or so but had to back off when I got repetitive strain from too much computer use (couldn’t knead dough any more) but that has long since resolved itself so I want to bake bread again!

  5. My big ticket items are fresh fish and fresh fruit/vegetables from the Greenmarket. We don’t eat out a lot (by NY standards at least) and we don’t buy take out. I don’t throw out much fresh produce anymore (I roast it or make a salad before it expires).
    I drink way too much seltzer/club soda and coffee, which even when bought in bulk, costs more than it should.

    • According to the media, at least, New Yorkers always eat out, so you are bucking the trend! After visiting, I can see why, since grocery stores are not in every neighbourhood and the ones that are there can be upscale and not much cheaper than eating out. And then there would be the issue of small apartment kitchens? I alternate between buying coffee at Costco and at a local place but it’s a big expense regardless (and thoroughly necessary).

  6. Margie in Toronto

    Wow! I always have good intentions of doing this sort of tracking but never seem to get around to it! But – I am planning on a new strategy for 2017.
    I am a singleton and an omnivore but have cut back on red meat and added more beans, lentils and fish. But – fish is extremely expensive here in the middle of the country so I often resort to cans of sardines and mackerel (along with salmon & tuna).
    Fruit & especially veg have gone up ridiculously high in price this past year – I’m sure you read about the price of cauliflower going up to around $8/head at one point! I afford my fruit & veg by tracking prices on other things and only buying when it’s on special – love to have a good stockpile. However I have been working my way through my pantry over the past month or so as I don’t want things to expire. I’ll stock up again come the end of August. For now I cook from scratch, take my lunch to the office at least 9 days out of 10, make a cup of tea for free at the office rather than buying a morning coffee and try not to waste anything – I make pots of soup even in the summer with whatever is left in the crisper at the end of the week.
    I do eat out a couple of times a week as it is part of my social life. I have cut back though and have had people over for a meal or coffee & dessert much more often this past year – so hopefully it all balances out. I think going forward that one thing that I do need to do is clearly differentiate between my monthly grocery allowance and my “spending money” which has to now include eating out.

    • Hi Margie, Good idea about the canned fish. The fish is expensive here too but it is right off the boat so it’s possible to support the local fishery. I remember the $8 cauliflower! Prices seem to have stabilized since then. Later in the summer I am looking forward to fresh peaches and plums, Coronation grapes from Ontario, and corn on the cob. I only buy them in season. Moving dining out from the food budget to the entertainment budget really worked for me – when I kept it under Food, it was easy to justify all the meals out as just an extension of groceries.

  7. Fiona

    That is interesting that the per person rate has not changed much in that time – given the deletion of meat, there must have been quite a rise in groceries overall during that period. Still, $114 per week is amazing! Have you always had the same number of cats over that time? Your budget is really streamlined, especially with all the ‘extras’ it includes, from pets to household supplies.

    We do stick with our $150 pw grocery limit when I’m watching it, but that doesn’t include all our meals out which go under ‘entertainment.’ We go in terrible phases of just wanton ‘take out’ periods these days (never happened 2-3 years ago, but it does now.)

    I’m intrigued by the idea of DIY baked beans! I almost threw out all my bake ware with this move, wondering if I was just hoarding unnecessary equipment. But over the primary school years, we have baked quite a lot with lunchbox snacks, birthday cakes, family get-togethers and so on. I think I’ll keep the cookware for as long as we can get away with including home-baked goods in the lunchbox.

    • Hi Fiona, Looking forward to hearing about your move, when you are more settled! Yes, we’ve only ever had two cats – my upper limit, especially since I do the litter box duties. I think $150/week for a family of 3 is excellent (better than us on a per-person basis). I’m impressed that you have kept up baking. I’ve done almost no baking for the past 4 years (after a binge of homemade everything) and would like to get back to it.

  8. That’s so interesting.

    This year has seen quite a few changes for us. We make a lot of things that we used to buy packaged – virtually all of our bread and bread products, other than the very occasional loaf and cinnamon roll (I can’t learn to make them or I will be enormous!), sandwich fillings and other sandwich fillings, snacks, stirfry sauces and things like that.

    I can’t say I’ve realised the savings, but we have been able to use our money in a more useful way.

  9. I love how detailed your tracking is.
    I’ve been trying to use up what is currently here. Having a little luck but it’s almost guaranteed that I will want what is not in the house. 😦

  10. Wow, this is an impressively detailed tracking. You’ve obviously got it to a fine art. I’m intrigued, especially as I have to confess that I don’t actually know what we spend on food and household items. I know we cook almost everything from scratch, we grow some of our own fruit and veg and bake all our own bread and cakes,, we don’t think we eat or live extravagantly, but beyond that I’m clueless.
    In the past I’ve tracked for a month at a time, but only to record total spend, not broken down like this. Do you have a post I can read where you explain how you do this? Do you enter every purchase in a spreadsheet?
    Now we’ve both retired and have one fixed income to live on, we need to be more aware of exactly where our money is going and this seems like a good place to start – any tips gratefully received!

    • Hi Deborah, I save all my grocery receipts and I write down casual odds-and-ends purchases so I don’t forget them. Then I manually tally everything from the receipts. It is a slow and detailed process which I can only recommend to hardcore data buffs! Basically I make myself a page for every category (fruit, veg, packaged foods, etc.) and on that page I list the foods I buy most often. Then from each receipt, I write down the amount of the item I bought and the cost. Eventually it works up into a list, such as all the apple purchases I made and how much they cost, all the bananas purchases I made and how much they cost, etc. Then I tally each food and enter them in a spreadsheet. I could do this “ongoing” all year but I prefer to kill a couple of hours and do it twice a year! There is an example of the Excel spreadsheet attached here at the end of the post (but not the handwritten scratch sheets): https://anexactinglife.com/2015/12/29/grocery-reveal/

      If I wanted to clamp down on my costs I would tally more often and make corrections. For beginners’ tips, I would start with: record everything including each time you stop at a store to buy 1 or 2 items, decide if you include take-out/take-away meals as groceries or as dining out, decide if you include cafe visits and snacks on-the-go and drinks at the pub as groceries, decide if you include foods that you bring to someone else’s home or make for someone else, do you include toiletries or hardware (light bulbs) or cleaning supplies or pet food…and if you don’t include any of those things, where do they go in your budget? I also kept a grocery price book for a while which I plan to revive soon.

      As you know, cooking from scratch is the real way to save, and I think it’s fantastic that you make your own bread and cakes – that’s my goal!

  11. I used to track my grocery spend – when I took over from Mr S as the grocery shopper. I didn’t break it down as you do. Just separated it into supermarket, butcher and green grocery. Since then it hasn’t changed too much – except meat. That’s gone up. I’ve cut out buying biscuits and lollies as routine and those things to put in kids’ lunch boxes – museli bars and little packets of things. But I now buy nicer cheeses and dips.

    I know when I retire I will visit three different supermarkets. I have three within walking distance and shop their loss leaders. I don’t do it now as I have little time. I can see that will save us heaps but we can’t do everything that will save us money.

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