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.
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:
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?