New Grocery Strategy

My favourite food

Another year, another analysis of a year’s worth of grocery spending! If you tuned in for the half-year report in July, I tried a new tracking method, combining a price book with listing the amounts of each item I purchased throughout the year. Here is a sample record:

Some veggies I bought

Keeping a price book allows you to track the prices of your favourite items (or all items!) so you get to know price cycles and know when to stock up.

For each item, I listed every purchase and how much I spent on that occasion. That lets me know how often I buy each item and how much of it, so I’m better informed about the impact of each price point.

For example, a quart of strawberries in season costs between $2.47 and $5.99. When they’re at their lowest price, I stock up on a few quarts to freeze – I liked chopped berries in my yogurt in the winter. But I might still buy one or two quarts at $4.99 just to get that burst of flavour earlier in the summer or later in the fall. I draw the line at $5.99, though!

Rom and I like a kind of breakfast cereal that costs $4.99 a box and we go through one a week. Occasionally it goes on sale for $2.99, and once our eyes popped when it was $1.99! But the maximum space we have in the kitchen will fit only 4 boxes. Decisions, decisions! We could find more space in another room – or we could save more money by eating oatmeal.

Sales flyers are delivered to our door weekly and I do check them; or I use the Flipp app. This year I have found sale prices almost nonexistent. Most of the grocery flyers have only a handful of price cuts. The rest of the items pictured are “featured” items at regular price. I’m sure the more one sees the pictured items, the more “brand recognition” increases, even if you don’t crave the things right away.

As you know, the biggest trend for the past two years is that grocers sell a smaller version of an item at the accustomed price, hence ice cream containers going from 2 litres to 1.89 and sometimes even down to 1.5 for the old price.

I dare you to eat me all up!

We follow the usual grocery saving tips and tricks which you can find everywhere. Since we don’t cook meat or fish, we have saved in that area for the last 7 years. But now vegetable prices are rising faster than any other category, so we’re taking a hit. I am certainly fine with using canned tomatoes, frozen peas and so on, but I still buy fresh stuff weekly. We have become super-diligent about using it all up. Lately a cabbage made its way into the house and we have managed to consume three-quarters of it by adding cabbage shreds to stir fries and borscht! Nothing is grown fresh during this part of the deep, dark winter, so we pay gobs of money for imports, or make do.

Cheap and cheerful lentil stew

Our usual weekday meals are curries, chilis, stews, stir fries and hearty soups. On weekends we have pizza, paninis and eggs!

We have been so good about making big batches and eating leftovers that I am feeling the need to scout out some new recipes. My challenge is not just to eat frugally but to try new things and enjoy food at home – instead of depending only on restaurant meals to do that.

So, I mentioned recently that we are planning a sun vacation in April. This provides me with a perfect excuse to economize over the winter and minimize the impact of the trip on our annual budget.

Now that I know what we eat the most of and how much I should be paying, I can shop more mindfully. I made a list of our top purchases, the regular prices for them, and the best prices available.

For the first time, I have also given myself a price ceiling for a bunch of items: when the price is THIS, I will just walk away and not buy it. I have never been good at that. I have an “I want what I want” attitude when it comes to grocery shopping (within reason). For example, if I make a menu plan and decide to make stuffed peppers for a meal, and the peppers are at their highest price, I would normally just say “Oh well” and buy them and make that meal anyway. Economize somewhere else.

No more! I will have a backup plan.

Here are a few examples of the most I want to pay. These are winter (out of season) prices:

  • Broccoli $3.00
  • Celery $2.50
  • Lettuce $3.50
  • Grapes $4.38/kg or $1.99/lb
  • Kiwi fruit $0.50
  • Yogurt $2.67/L or $2.00/750 ml
  • Cheese $11/kg or $5/lb

So now for confession time. Here are some highlights from last year’s grocery budget. Mostly our dinners are cheap but we spend a lot on breakfast, lunch and snack foods.

  • 80 boxes of cereal (of which 49 boxes were our favourite, spoon-sized shredded wheat) $314
  • 67 loaves of bread for toast or sandwiches, and 25 six-packs of bagels $272
  • 24 kg nuts including peanuts, almonds, walnuts and cashews (we each have 1-2 oz a day) $339
  • 74 kg of apples, 36 kg of grapes and 26 kg of bananas $344
  • Avocados and kiwi fruit were not very affordable this year – avocados were usually over 1.50 each and kiwis over 70 cents each $53
  • More peppers, zucchini and radishes this year due to improving my lunch salads $173
  • Obviously less romaine ☹ (spent $97 on all greens)
  • We still buy dairy: same amount of yogurt and cheese as last year (54 kg and 15 kg respectively) – coincidentally $226 for each
  • 24 frozen pizzas for Friday nights $116
  • 30 packages of various fake meats which Rom likes these days $131
  • Rom’s latest obsession: 29 packages of rice cakes $60
  • I reduced my intake of protein bars and freezies by 1/3 and oat cakes by 2/3
  • Candy consumption continues unabated but I have popcorn more often

Are you planning any new menu planning, cooking or grocery buying strategies this year?

What are some foods you have stopped buying because of the price?

 

26 comments

  1. Re: faux meats that Rom likes ~ I recently discovered Yves brand vegan bologna and I love it for sandwiches!

    As for your interest in new recipes: I’m guessing many of your readers would have vegetarian recipes to share. Have you considered hosting a recipe day/event on your blog? I participate in one every December and always come away with use-able ideas. I’d definitely participate in another during the year if you choose to host it! 🙂

    • Yes, Rom buys the Yves brand of everything! We thought all their “lunch meats” tasted like bologna, though 🙂 Must be the same seasoning. Good idea to have a recipe event – stay tuned!

  2. I’m still using the 99 bananas I bought at the start of 2018 and froze in my smoothies, and it is a good thing because I have not seen them anywhere near that price again since.

    The deep freeze is vitally important to our meal planning and money saving strategies. I’m even thinking we need to consider getting a bigger one, though we just did a clean out there wasn’t much to throw out, only some Costco danish from 2017.

    For example, yesterday The Other Half went to buy 15kgs of chicken breast at 5.99/kg. We used to be able to get it for 4.99/kg fairly regularly but about August the prices went up and I haven’t seen it at that price again. In fact the cheapest I have seen it was $6.99. So, he processed 15kg, we have many foodsaver bags full of chicken cut up the way we like it and we won’t need to buy it again for many months.

    The added benefit is he is about to start studying in February so this will allow for some quick and easy meal prep for me, as I do most of the cooking and I am working 3-5 days a week these days, so I don’t always have as much time as I would like to cook..

    I still have shredded brussel sprouts in there from last season – we love our brussels too much to miss them in spring and summer. I bought up big on mushrooms about three months ago, prepped, cooked, foodsaved, I still have 4 bags left for pizza Fridays. It was a good feeling knowing I wouldn’t have to do that again until 2019. The chooks just got some frozen watermelon rinds which I freeze anytime I cut one up, it is very hot here today.

    Definitely buying on special, partially cooking and then freezing is a big strategy we use, quite a lot with vegetables these days. I’m thinking of doing some mixed vegetable prep, shredding, part cooking, then freezing for adding vege goodness to any surprise meal. 🙂

    • I am curious – what is the normal price for bananas and mushrooms, versus how much you paid? I bought 2 kg of bananas for $1 in December and made 4 banana loaves to put in the freezer. Normally the best price for bananas is $1.30/kg and ordinary button mushrooms are $8.77/kg. I have salads for work lunches most days so I try to chop everything on Sunday night for the week ahead. I usually freeze fresh local strawberries, blueberries and string beans because they are what I miss most in the winter.

      • At the moment the best I can get bananas is $2.99/kg but I have seen them at 3.99/kg and even as much as 6.99/kg recently. I think I got the .99 cent ones right at the end of the season so if I see them again this year I will buy up big.

        Mushrooms are usually a pretty stable price here of $4.99 a punnet. I’ve been paying that regularly. So when I saw them for $3.99 a punnet I bought 9 punnets on the spot – which happened to be all that I could carry, I would have kept going if I could have! – and spent a couple of hours part cooking them, draining them, etc. I’ve got 3 packets left in the freezer then it will be buy at whatever price I can find them for.. I think from memory the punnets are 500g each, so mushrooms are pretty pricey here.

        And to think I used to regularly waste half a punnet as they would go bad when I couldn’t fit them into another meal that week! 🙂

      • Australian and Canadian dollars are worth about the same so your prices seem high to me! All the more reason to save and stock up.

  3. I do love data but would not have the perseverance to keep records on this like you have! Was your motivation to be able to cut costs, eat healthier foods or seasonally, curiousity or what?

    • All of the above. I wanted to be aware of the normal prices and best prices so I can stock up more, or just choose not to buy things when the prices are not good. Now to make more space for stocking up, without being a full-scale prepper.

  4. Fiona

    I love how your records enable you to pull out facts like how many boxes of cereal or loaves of bread you have consumed! It’s intriguing to see what a household actually goes through in a year. I thought there would be lots more cereal and bread (living with a teenager might be skewing my views!)

    There was a Guardian article on the 9th Jan (‘Blow to low carb diet’) about forthcoming changes to WHO recommendations on diet that is really influencing our family shopping at the moment. It brings together 185 studies noting a new emphasis on fibre as a critical health protection factor for a variety of diseases as we age. The goal is apparently 25g-30g of fibre per day (hard to do!)

    We have been reading cereal labels like crazy and switched to more expensive bran and brake flakes (or variants) as some have 18g of fibre in a single serve, versus 3g in many others.)

    • I read that article! We have so many veg, fruit, grains, beans and lentils that our fibre numbers can easily be 40 grams. But you have to work up toward higher numbers gradually. And drink lots of water (or coffee in my case). I am not a fan of low-carb, paleo or keto diets for myself, but I am a big fan of avoiding processed and packaged foods.

  5. Jo

    I wish I was as organised as you tracking my food shopping to that level of detail!

    I now my overall supermarket spend which tends to cover groceries, household items, the odd magazine and occasional pet food purchase. Oddly enough I’m much better at tracking the spend on pet food since I figured out buying a month’s supply at a time means I get free delivery and I get an online record so can track pricing. Plus this year I scored a Black Friday bargain (reduced by 1/3) so I bought double that month.

    I should transfer that discipline to my grocery/household shopping. My supermarket.com over here lets you put together a shopping basket and compare costs at the main 14 supermarkets. My plan for Feb onwards is to do that and see if I can get a monthly free delivery with a smaller weekly fresh food top up (plus the added benefit of an electronic record of spending)!

    Alas I live in a compact flat – my kitchen is 8 feet x 4 feet and I only have space for a small under counter fridge plus tiny freezer. Mind you I do have a large attic – so though I can’t do much about increasing my fridge/freezer space I could clear the attic and have more tins up there! Considering looming Brexit and dire predictions for just-in-time food supply I do aim to put together a mini emergency stockpile before the end of March.

    My other resolution is to get my 1.5 allotments into full production this year and grow more of my own!

    • Oh wow, I had a look at mysupermarket and I wish we had that “compare shopping basket” feature!

      1/3 off pet food is a great deal.

      I have read about people stockpiling food pre-Brexit and the just-in-time food supply (I read The Guardian daily). If we had no fruit and vegetables from California, Mexico and Central and South America, our diets would be terrible. We’re completely dependent on other countries for all fresh foods in the winter except stored items like root vegetables and apples.

  6. I long aimed to track like you did, but wasn’t sufficiently engaged enough!!

    I’ve pretty much disengaged with self cooking – and buy prepared lunches and dinners for 10 meals, and the balance I eat out or make do. Breakfasts and snacks I do. They cost more, but they are healthful and easy for a solo person. So, I’m not beating myself up and just going with it.

    I do watch prices on regularly used items, to a point (frozen and fresh berries, shelf stable milk, protein powders). I will buy other things no matter the price! Sometimes, the no packaging/bulk store price is what it is and I just go with that. Pricing on things like ‘luxury’ cheeses, wants rather than (diet) recipe needs always rubs me up the wrong way! But I’m trying to be OK with $4 berry punnets cause I’ll easily spend $4 on an ice cream and one is clearly better for me than the other!!

    • Good idea to pay the asking price for zero-waste food options. I have a line in my grocery tracking sheet for “posh cheese” like my favourite, mango Stilton 🙂 I will sometimes buy myself extra avocados and mangoes instead of junk food. Have you found a meal delivery service or meal kit service for your prepared lunches and dinners? If so, I’d be interested to hear what meals they provide and how you like them.

      • Mine are linked to the gym I go to, these meals, but friends have started on a vegan company. It makes me feel great to know they, as professionals who can cook, also order meals!!

      • There are no vegan meal services here – the closest available is the Hello Fresh vegetarian plan. I wouldn’t mind trying it – I would probably want to try copying the recipes myself. Either that or I’d get addicted to the delivery service!

  7. From your list it looks like you have consumed a whole supermarket!! You should be pretty healthy – if not very full – it does look a lot when you list the amounts and you can actually see what the grocery money was spent on. I love baked potatoes and prefer them over bread and sandwiches – I am now wondering how many I might have eaten over the year.
    I am going through my cookery folders and updating them at the moment – so plan to make a lot of new recipes but might just wait for my new kitchen.

    • I loved baked potatoes but I rarely think to make them. They’d be a great snack if I was restless and had the munchies. I think it’s time for me to go through my own cookbooks and saved recipes and choose a few things to make. I would like to try some new burger recipes – I made yummy lentil burgers last year but they were a big production to make. I’d like to try black bean. Still waiting for your mushroom stroganoff recipe. Haha!

      • Whoops sorry I will make an effort with the recipes starting tomorrow. I think I am a bit put off by burgers as they seem a bit fiddly – nut roast is quite simple then you can just slice it so I tend to go for that instead.

  8. Margie in Toronto

    I am writing down what I spend each week – but not item by item. I do differentiate between food and non-food items however. Yes, I do have upper limits on what I’ll spend but fruit & veg costs are soaring. I buy fresh as much as possible, frozen a lot (although the price of my usual brand has jumped 50 cents a bag in the past week) and I will use canned when making certain dishes.
    I tend to buy meat when it’s marked 50% off – and I know what days to check the supermarket for those deals. I intend switching in more seafood and fish this year (although the cost of that here in Toronto would give you a heart attack) – I do buy cans of sardines, tuna & salmon for lunches.
    I do want to make more vegetarian meals this year and home made soups are a staple – I make a big pot every week. I have been going through my recipe books for new ideas.
    Like you I’m very aware of food waste and really work hard to avoid it – bits & pieces go into soups or vegetarian stews, fruits go into crumbles or baked goods and bread is frozen before it spoils.
    I will splurge on things like cheese and good bread and make it last but I also check my weekly loyalty point offers, the weekly flyers and I will go up and down the aisles looking for non-advertised bargains. I like real food and avoid processed food as much as possible.

    • Hi Margie, Happy New Year! My biggest commitment is to real food, too. Wow, vegetable and fruit prices really are soaring, even the frozen. All the more reason to avoid food waste. All month I have been trying hard to stick to my “upper limit” prices. So far, so good!

  9. I don’t track our spending but shop to avoid waste. When my husband shops, he always buys too much and we throw food. That’s a waste of money and resources that really, really irks me. Last year we used a meal prep service for weeks. While it wasn’t cheap, we had no waste and it made us cook foods we wouldn’t have otherwise cooked. I started it when my husband and kids weren’t home – to get the vegetarian menu. Continued it when they came back. It helped out when work was busy. Bu definitely exxy.

    • I would like to try that to get some ideas for new meals. Exxy is a new word for me 🙂 Must be Australian, like arvo! We have “almost” eliminated food waste. I’m especially pleased that Rom will change his cooking plans in order to use things up.

      • We shorten most words. Our American cousin, who was actually born in Aust but moved as a child to the US, loves learning to use our words. Think it reconnects him with his place of birth.

        I will use the food prep service when work gets busy again. It is also great to not have to think of what to cook and to try something different when you are bored with one’s usual repertoire.

  10. Food is one area where I don’t mind spending money. I feel the pain when I splurge on clothes but food impacts my family’s health and I’m okay with buying quality foods at higher prices. I also buy special foods because my child is allergic to dairy – and many dairy free alternatives cost more than the traditional (almond milk and coconut milk based yogurt cost 3-4 times as much as yogurt made with cow’s milk) but it allows her to feel part of the group when possible. We also rarely go out to eat (maybe ten times total since she was diagnosed) because the allergy makes that experience quite stressful.

    Good luck with your price book! I hope it’s beneficial to you 🙂

    • Hi Amanda! I don’t mind spending more on good quality food. It’s just that prices vary so much among stores. I’m trying to stock up on non-perishables, and plan a shopping route so I can buy most items at the best prices. It’s too bad about the dairy allergy, but it’s good you got a diagnosis. I can’t remember if you have dairy yourself?

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