Half Year Grocery Tally 2018

New Salad

We’re more than halfway through 2018 so it’s time for a half-year grocery tally! I examine my grocery buying and spending in detail once or twice a year.

In previous years, I listed how much I bought of each item – how many boxes of cereal or how many kilos of apples. I’ve also made price books occasionally, where I list the prices of groceries over time and identify “best prices” for each item, so I can buy more when they’re at their lowest. This year I’ve combined the two, with a nod to blogger Snoskred, whose tracking is amazing!

For anyone new to the blog, there are two adults in the household, me and Rom. We both work outside of home full-time. We eat breakfast and dinner at the house, and bring lunches to work. We eat vegetarian (except when invited to other people’s homes) and take turns cooking. We also have 2 cats who are kind to the budget.

This year we’ve continued making a meal plan and shopping weekly. I check the grocery flyers and shop at more than one store, grouping errands so I’m not adding transportation costs. Overall, I think our local supermarket is somewhat more ethical than our other options, so we’re spending more of our grocery dollars there. This also maximizes rewards and coupons.

Grocery breakdown

Last year at this time, I had spent $3795 on the following categories: vegetables, fruit, dairy, eggs, grains, beans and lentils, nuts, cereal and crackers, other prepared foods, pantry staples and condiments, snacks, paper goods and cleaning supplies, personal care items, and cat food and litter. This year we have spent $3618.

However, we have spent $517 more on dining out! – upping our meals out from 3 times a month to 5, and spending an average of $50 a meal for the two of us (many of which are lunches). We have an “entertainment fund” that we both contribute to, which we use for concerts, plays, movies and so on. When there are fewer events in town, we spend more on dining out. So it is all budgeted, but still a big amount!

This has been a banner year. We haven’t had any debt for a long time, and we are mortgage-free. We had been providing modest support to our adult child, but they are now financially viable! We already have a savings plan in place, so really, we are simply in a position to spend more. Gulp! This is all very new. You know me. I am not going to suddenly install granite counter tops or jet to Paris on a whim, but I can ease up.

Nevertheless, grocery shopping is one area where it’s usually possible to economize while eating well.

Here is a sample sheet from my calculations:

Veggies

For a closer look, you can download the (safe) Excel file Grocery Tally 2018_06. You’ll see some Toronto grocery stores listed from my two weeks there in January!

I’ve noticed that Walmart usually has the best grocery prices on items that people are price-sensitive about. They identify the price-point that makes people walk away from the ice cream or the frozen pizza. They keep prices stable on the very basics, or raise them very slowly, or decrease the sizes imperceptibly. However, their prices are not the best on a large swath of goods. Because of their labour practices, I am shopping there less, but it’s hard to resist their prices on lettuce, mushrooms and canned tomatoes.

People often say my local chain, Sobey’s, is expensive. Like anywhere else, if I shop in-season and on-sale items, I can keep the costs down. Of course, not buying meat helps a lot. My credit card gives 4% cash back on everything purchased at a grocery store; Sobey’s has a “grocery store” merchant code while Walmart and Costco don’t. I can use AirMiles and FastFuel coupons at Sobey’s, too. It forms its own little ecosystem 🙂

I’m price-sensitive about a few things. I can’t bring myself to pay the Sobey’s price for peppers, salad greens, broccoli, sweet potatoes and apples. The local produce stand has Nova Scotia apples all year so I buy them there. This produce stand bills itself as local, but most of its fruit and vegetables are imported.  This is not a scam – because of our climate, we only get local fresh fruit and vegetables 3-4 months a year. We gorge on in-season fresh stuff when we can get it!

We have farmers’ markets of the upscale variety, full of handmade jewellery, soap, wine, baking and preserves. So they are not a mainstay of our shopping. We’re keeping the local restaurants afloat instead!

We still shop at Costco every 2 months; they have by far the best prices on nuts and coffee, of which I buy copious amounts. They have nice ciabatta buns and naan, and beautiful cases of Sunkist oranges, and expensive but perfect grapes. Plus I can browse their clothing section – so far this year, I have come home with a swim suit and a hoodie! I’m not sure if the membership fee is worth it for us, but to be honest, we really enjoy the shopping experience. Since it’s essentially a department store, I do birthday and Christmas shopping there too.

The expensive products we buy do not change: coffee, nuts, goat cheese and avocados. There is a facial moisturizer I like, Simple brand, that was always inexpensive, but lately its price has almost doubled from 8.99 to 16.99. There are sometimes 2-for-1 deals which might explain the leap. I will be buying that online from now on.

We trialed 2 changes this year. Despite cooking vegetarian for 6 years, we generally don’t buy fake meat products. Rom went through a phase this Spring in which he made all kinds of comfort foods with soy meats – things like Hamburger Helper and taco kits and stir-fries with veggie sausages. They were nice for a change but I don’t see them becoming a regular part of our diet. We usually have stir-fries, stews, chilies and curries with vegetables, beans, lentils and nuts. I am not averse to using TVP or bulgur in chili, though.

Occasionally I think about giving up dairy so I tried using only Rom’s soy milk for a week. I have tried almond and oat milks and I like the taste, but they are far too low in protein and calories to meet my needs (I work out a lot). I enjoyed the soy milk in cereal and oatmeal. I could tolerate it in coffee, although it created an entirely different-tasting drink, especially for lattes. Despite using plain unsweetened soy, I found it added a “flavour” that obscured the taste of my expensive coffee 🙂 I could not manage it in tea, and it ruined a couple of things I baked or cooked. I concluded that to use soy milk permanently, I would have to change my eating patterns – to give up tea, and to give up several meals I make. Right now I’m in-between, using soy for milk and oatmeal, and cow’s milk for coffee and tea. The cost of using Daiya instead of cheese is formidable, so again, it would involve changing my diet to avoid all meals made with cheese – quite an adjustment – or vowing to absorb the cost. Food for thought.

I also overhauled my default salad which formerly included tinned and dried fruit. Now I use about 1.5 cups of chopped raw vegetables on top instead!

Halfway through the year, I only have one goal, which is to rein in our restaurant meals. Since we have two vacations planned for the second half of the year, and I always tire of meals out after a vacation, this should be achievable. I am feeling the need to try out some new recipes. If I get inspired, I might not want to eat out so much?

In general, I fully subscribe to the tenet, “Eat well, live well!”

In 2018, have you changed anything about the way you eat?

 

13 comments

  1. Dining out can be expensive now – we should know we have just had my mum to stay and we will be on bread and jam for the rest of the month. Goodness knows how we will manage her visits once I leave work.
    I had to switch back from Soy milk as it affected my Thyroxine availability (it blocks the uptake) and left me too tired – pity I do like it but not in tea either.
    I am not a shop around person – where I live it would cost too much in petrol to do that so I stick with Sainsburys and get as much as I can when it is on offer.
    It is good that you can ease up a bit now and spend a little more on something you want to do.

    • Does your mum especially like dining out, or do you try to have more outings/special occasions when she visits?

      I am not sure about the long term health effects of soy products but I don’t have them daily.

      I have never shopped at a Sainsburys – my in-laws go to Tesco so that’s the one I’m most familiar with in the UK!

      • Tesco is quite similar to Sainsbury’s our Tesco is not big but we shop there when in Scotland.
        I agree with the soy – we have never eaten meat substitutes as I don’t like the texture or taste of meat so the substitutes are never on my list. We occassionally have the cauldron sausages but that is all.
        Mum loves eating out and tea shops it is her favourite hobby as well as being out all the time – she would never just sit at home in the garden so we always have to find things to do.

  2. That “new salad” you have pictured at the top looks excellent! Would you mind sharing your ingredients list?

    Re: the milk issue ~ I’ve found coconut milk to be a great substitute for cow milk in my banana bread recipe, and its ‘moistness’ factor makes me suspect it will work well in cakes. I don’t like it for other things though (on cereal, as coffee creamer, etc), and I can pretty much only do soy milk in a white mocha or chai latte. My husband likes the SO Delicious brand soy milk ice creams though, and we recently discovered that they make yogurts from soy, almond, and coconut milk as well.

    Re: faux meat-like products ~ I like Gardein frozen grain protein products. One of my regular go-to quick meals is their (un)chick’n teriyaki. They have several other meatless products as well. You and/or Rom might enjoy trying them for a change of pace.

    • For the salad, I fill half a large bowl with greens of any kind, then I top it with 1/4 of a pepper, 1/2 a carrot, 1/2 a stalk of celery, 2 or 3 radishes and about 2 oz of zucchini. I use a handful of almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts, and usually some crumbled goat cheese, then use a prepared salad dressing.

      Thanks for the coconut milk suggestion – I will try that. I looked up Gardein and their products are available at our “downtown” stores so I look forward to trying them!

  3. Margie in Toronto

    I am following a low carb diet as prescribed by my cardiologist – who follows a totally Paleo diet. I cannot be that strict – nor do I believe you should be – but he was right – I ate far too many carbs and not the good kind! It is challenging as I have to plan ahead a lot more – no quick sandwiches or bowl of pasta as a default meal when I’m in a hurry.
    I try to eat only two meals a day – with a snack of fruit if I need it – and I do practise intermittent fasting – which has been a lot easier than I thought it would be.
    I eat meat but only 3 or 4 ounces at a time and I eat more fish & seafood than I ever have before, plus eggs or cheese rather than more meat.
    I enjoy vegetarian meals but since I don’t eat a lot of grains or legumes it can also be a bit tricky. I have a soy sensitivity so soy based “meats” and “milks” are out – and I don’t really like them (I have tried).
    Default meals for the summer (when I assemble more than cook) are huge salads daily – a base of different greens with just about any other veggie that I have on hand – both cooked & raw – added, along with a protein. That is my evening meal – the one that I have around lunch time is usually a cooked meal – 2 slices of bacon with an egg plus lots of veggies that I’ve usually stir fried or roasted ahead of time, or perhaps a cheese omelette. I find that portion sizes are being reduced naturally as I think the intermittent fasting has helped me to realize that I don’t actually need as much food as I thought I did.
    I do have a sweet tooth but most days I can keep that under control with a square or two of really good, very dark chocolate. Desserts and especially ice-cream, are something that I will have as a very occasional treat when I am eating out rather than risk keeping it at home as I would devour the lot! 🙂
    I have cut back on eating out simply because I can no longer afford to do it as often. Friends actually seem relieved when I suggest coffee instead of a full meal out. We still indulge occasionally but not as often.
    Overall my grocery costs have been reduced as I have been much more careful about what I buy to ensure that there is no food waste – makes me feel so guilty! Two meals a day and smaller portions have also helped the funds go further. I now shop the outer circuit of the store more than the inner aisles for produce, dairy & meat and skip the processed foods.
    I am a loyal Loblaw customer – although they have many levels of stores so I check all flyers each week and match for my Loyalty points wherever I can. I buy most basic foods at the local No Frills and then hit Loblaws, Fortinos or a couple of independents under their banner for other items, depending upon what is on sale.
    One New Year I’m going to get myself better organized to track my expenses for the year – I bet it would be a real eye opener.

    • Hi Margie, Sorry for the delayed reply. You’ve made a massive overhaul of both eating and shopping! It is my dream to have my main cooked meal in the middle of the day. I don’t do that now because Rom and I would be bringing the cooked meal to work and reheating it. I do intentionally have both raw and cooked vegetables every day. I am currently gorging on summer fruit in season. I have started eating either eggs or oatmeal for breakfast some weekdays in the hopes I’ll be less hungry before lunch. I would have a hard time fasting – work is often not distracting enough to keep me from thinking of food!

  4. OK, I have to ask. What is the credit card that gives you 4% back on groceries? I thought they didn’t have great credit card rewards in Canada, but I’ve never seen anything like that in the States.
    Nothing much’s changed about my diet recently. Just trying to eat healthy, mostly fresh foods, but not depriving myself of anything I want, having some dark chocolate every day, and something prepared from the freezer as a “treat” on Fridays!

    • Ha, you are doing much better than me; I manage to find treats daily! The credit card is a Scotiabank Momentum Infinite Visa; it has an annual fee of $99 but last year I earned $400 on it.

  5. Dining out in Canada is bloody hell expensive, we try and limit it and spend more on higher end groceries (but the cleaning up part still sucks). Good for you that you have more room in your budget to splurge, that’s what happens when all your hard work pays off. We live on Vancouver Island, don’t have a big lot nor a garden but I am growing some items to try and help with the grocery bill – cucumbers (first year, next year I am buying several plants, not just 1 like this year, so rewarding for the first time), tomatoes (always grow well here), strawberries – only have 7 plants so don’t get that many berries from them but enough to keep my vitamin C requirement in check, chives, rosemary and peppers – not sure how the peppers will do but have 3 growing strong so we will see. Nuts are expensive. Do you ever use the flipp app? I use it mostly for non-food items that we buy regularly like specific OTC medications that I can’t get at Costco, beauty products and things like toilet paper. So much easier to plan shopping routes.

    • Thanks for visiting. Flipp is great! I make note of sales every week and plan a route. This year I took the window boxes down from my house – the windows are high up, the window boxes were permanently in the shade, and they were hard to water. Now that we have a new deck, I am developing a plan to use the window boxes on the deck next summer as container gardens for flowers and a few herbs and veg.

  6. Buying seasonally is a great way to save and build up a stockpile.Each month grocery stores offer certain sales on items.Barbecue items will be at rock-bottom prices, making it the perfect time to stock up on chips, crackers, ketchup, relish, mayo, and mustard.

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for reading. I think of seasonal foods as fruit and veg, but you are absolutely right on the barbecue stuff. Just like I buy lots of avocados, tortilla chips and salsa at Superbowl time 🙂

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