Pandemic Grocery Tally 2020

Pink Muscat Grapes

I had decided not to blog about my grocery shopping for 2020 because it was too embarrassing. But in the interest of full transparency, I bring you my true report for the year. You can judge me all you like: and you will, after reading about my food follies!

I’ll get the key finding out of the way immediately. In 2019, we spent $6235 on groceries for 2 mostly vegetarian adults who prepare our meals at home. This is a corrected version of what I posted at the time. We also spent $2093 on meals out.

In 2020, we spent $9549 on groceries ($796/month) and another $2489 on meals out. So, there you go!

Since we spent 53% more on groceries, what happened?

  • Spent 2 weeks with Link in Toronto in January; paid for groceries at home (for Rom) and at Link’s place
  • Global pandemic, 11-week lockdown (March 16 -June 5), 2-week quarantine (December), working primarily from home since March
  • Link lived at home with us for 4-1/2 months (3rd adult in the house)
  • Link is an unabashed carnivore
  • No entertainment was available except take-out food
  • Shopped at one nearby supermarket and didn’t comparison-shop or go to Costco

There were some positives:

  • Meal-planned every week and didn’t waste food
  • Only one grocery shopper per household was allowed in the store; Rom took over and he spends less on food than I do
  • Supported local restaurants by ordering take-out food once a week
  • Saved 100% of our travel budget; underspent on clothing and haircuts
  • Gave more to charity

I was curious about whether we had experienced much Covid price-gouging, whether the cost of food had gone up generally, and how much our eating habits had changed.

I took a look at items and categories where we spent noticeably more. First, we spent $90 more on fruit; I would say for the same amount. More grapes and clementines; fewer apples because the cost went up. Avocadoes went up so much we stopped buying them. In the vegetables category, we bought 3x as much broccoli (a delight), more potatoes, and fewer peppers. I mentioned in another post that I have stopped trying to be creative about lunch and I just have a fresh home-made salad every day. Rom has continued on his pasta kick so we bought lots of cans/jars of sauce. I stopped cooking dried beans so we bought canned. I cooked my way through the Plants Only Kitchen cookbook (Gaz Oakley) which required a lot of fresh and fancy ingredients – it was fun.

Last winter I experimented with dairy alternatives but I didn’t get very far. I don’t mind oat milk for cereal or lattes. However, it is more expensive than dairy milk. I couldn’t find any non-dairy yogurts I liked, so I just stopped eating yogurt. Despite consuming 50% less yogurt and 25% less cheese, our “dairy and alternatives” bill increased by 10%, as a result of higher non-dairy prices and inflation. We have also been cooking with tofu regularly.

The “elephant in the room,” of course, is meat and fish. We have not banned it in the house but Link cooks their own, and cleans up. Link will have our vegetarian meals once on the day they’re cooked, but rather than having leftovers, will cook meat-based meals and create their own leftovers. We are getting used to this system and it’s working OK. Link likes two kinds of packaged foods – frozen French fries and spring rolls. My favourite convenience food is frozen pizzas, but they weren’t on sale very often, so we bought only half as many this year. I made (assembled?) more semi-homemade pizzas on store-bought crusts or flatbreads.

Link does a lot of baking which has its own costs, but reduces the amount of snack foods we buy. Except for chips; we seem to have developed a fondness for them over the course of the year!

I am sure you’re wondering if we stocked up on toilet paper – we only bought one extra package!

In addition to local take-out food, I am slowly drinking my way through the range of Nova Scotia Tidal Bay wines, but since my drinking rate is pathetically slow, it will take a while 😊

As a result of spending more, I also earned more Air Miles and credit card rewards, which did help.

I’m going to be honest and say I’m not really looking for advice to save money. Last year was what it was! The Covid situation is very calm where I live; stores and restaurants are open. I may comparison shop a little more; I would like to start cooking beans again; buying fresh fruit and vegetables is money well-spent. So, onward to 2021!

My favourite purchase of the year was in May, after 8 weeks of lockdown. Some seasonal “pink grapes” (Muscat grapes) became available, and no one else at home particularly liked them. I thought they were heaven.

How would you describe your 2020 year in food?

26 comments

  1. I’m with you, re: It was what it was!

    Generally speaking, during 2020, we ate at home more and ate at restaurants less. However, we tried to limit our grocery shopping to once a week and buy more at one time. We also stopped shopping at big box stores and stuck to the local grocery stores. There were definitely price hikes on some of our “usual” grocery items too. With all of those factors considered, we definitely spent more than normal on a monthly basis for food and other grocery items during the pandemic months. Even with no longer having to buy cat food and supplies as of the end of July. (Our 16-yr-old cat had to be put down this summer.)

    I did the same amount of baking as usual, but I dislike cooking (it’s NOT the same as baking; the two get grouped together as one thing quite often, but I have polar opposite feelings about the two activities!), so used short-cuts and easy-fixes as often as possible. Those types of meal solutions usually cost more. To me, it’s worth it.

    • You would be missing your cat – our two will be 14 years old soon. I can’t say I dislike cooking (I actually really like chopping vegetables) but sometimes I resent the opportunity cost, thinking of other things I’d rather be doing!

  2. I also am completely with you – it was what it was. And in fact because our home business got so busy, we ended up spending way more on pre-prepared food.

    On the positive side a local cafe which was quite small and not able to have as many people in started doing a market day once a week – we get 14 lunches from them every week (2 each for 7 days) plus 4-5 dinners. The food is just the right amount and it is really good and I couldn’t cook it for the price she charges.

    It helps her business wise and it helps us life wise, so it is a win-win all around. We do not have to go shopping anywhere near as often now, too.

  3. I don’t track our grocery spending so can’t say if it’s up or down but it feels the same. Nearly all our food is grown in Australia and I think prices have stayed stable. However, I think they will rise soon as fruit and veg producers depend on backpackers who have to work on the land if they want a second year visa. No travel = no cheap backpacker labour. We’ve definitely saved money with no travel and no going out.

    • Have your restaurants been open for either take-out or dine-in?

      • Yes. For both. In Sydney we only had a short complete shut down early in the pandemic, in March. I can’t remember actually how long it was for. Around five weeks. Most restaurants reopened for takeaway. Then there were restrictions on numbers which are still in place, though they’ve gone up and down. Pubs have “no standing” rules, you have to stay seated, some brought in table ordering using your phone so you don’t have to go to the bar to order food and drink. We started eating out in October, when things were looking up here and we were less nervous.

      • Very similar here. We had a second tightening of restrictions in Nov-Dec for 4 weeks but all is good now.

  4. I have not done a complete reconciliation of last year as I fell off tracking of my cash purchases. Don’t think there were too many of them though. I admire how detailed your budgeting is.
    I found a coconut milk yogurt, I think the brand is Riviera, at Walmart of all places that is decent. I buy the mango/peach version and the berry ones as my palate is not mature enough for plain yogurt yet. 🙂

  5. Last year can be described as fewer restaurant meals. We did do take out from places we frequented that had their act together on keeping people safe (kudos to Great Wall of China restaurant), but the take outs were fewer in number as well. So, more leftovers, more Ramen…Keith

  6. Our food bill seemed huge – mainly because if something appeared on the shelves I would stock up a bit in case that was the last time we saw it – this was mainly with packets of chickpeas and lentils which seemed to fly of the shelves as they came in and being vegetarian are a staple for us. There were fewer offers too at one time which is getting better again now. We didn’t spend very much on petrol, haircuts, clothes or going out anywhere so I suppose it all balanced out in the end. I have acquired a lot of reward points though!
    Good interesting post glad you decided to write it in the end – just shows we are all in the same boat one way or another.

  7. Jamie

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen muscat grapes for sale here in Australia.

    Last year they started selling fairy floss grapes. Each of the two big supermarkets here had a slightly different sort. This year only Woolworths seem to be selling them (at least where we are). They aren’t as nice as last year. More sour. I wonder if they are trying to extend the season and have picked them early.

    We are right in the middle of sugar plum season at the moment. This is the third or fourth year I’ve kept an eye out for them. Last year our boys took a liking to them. I think they were the highest percentage spent item in our food budget last week.

    I’m keeping an eye on the weather, hoping for one more really nice, warm day to go down the coast for a day trip. There is a fruit shop down there that sells a different variety of watermelon to what the big supermarkets do. I’m keen to get one before the season is over.

    In other foodie news, yesterday I found some Gramma Trombone pumpkin seeds at our local health food shop. I nabbed a packet and hope to grow some next year. Will have to remember to start them early inside the house. Our season here is just a bit too short for some things.

  8. Mary

    Don’t think anyone needs to feel the need to apologize for food shopping this past year. While I haven’t done a complete scan of food bills for the year, I would say that ours is up quite a bit, as is the general cost of food. Being older, I have avoided the grocery store; probably only been inside one about five times this past year. This means I spent more on delivery services in the initial months–though now we use the local pick up service (DH goes) which is much less expensive. Averaging around $160 (US) weekly for two–or three, if you count my six year old GS who comes here every weekday for virtual schooling with me. He may eat me out of house and home. Have only gotten takeaway meals once–sometimes twice–a month. Not much selection where we live. Our favorite restaurant sadly went out of business last summer. 😦

  9. This is interesting as always!

    I’m surprised to see I only spent 5% more on groceries this year, since our weekly totals were certainly higher. But we made fewer side trips and mostly stuck to one or two trips per week. I also ate less frozen dinners for lunch since I was at home and they were almost never on sale. I replaced them with leftovers, salads and soup, which are usually cheaper per meal. Dining out was down 2%, but we did try to support our favorite local restaurants often and tip more.

    I don’t love cooking, but I do like eating something yummy, so I tried to cook a bit more this year. Toward the end of last year I started making dinner in the crockpot on Sundays, often with enough leftovers for two more meals. I really like it, because somehow it feels like less hassle. I need to find more recipes to add to the rotation though!

    • Hi Candi, A mere 5% increase for 2020 is amazing. A lot of prices went up more than that. While I somehow don’t get along with crockpots, I do like cooking extra and having leftovers!

  10. I think we did OK with our food spending last year, even here on Hawaii. Prices are higher from when we lived here before, but not too bad. Our spending was exceptionally high though when our daughter lived with us – she is a bigger eater than we are and went through products quickly, and has different tastes than we do, so we were always buying specialty ingredients for her or at least it seemed that way. She just headed back to school though so our budget should return to normal.

    We have put ourselves on a stricter food budget going forward, so shopping will be more strategic going forward. We’ll see how that goes.

  11. I love reading about food in just about any form so thanks for deciding to share after all!

    I feel almost obligated, as a money blogger, to feel some sense of something negative about not tracking our food spending at all, but I don’t. I know we spent more. I know we ate out a lot more than usual. I know I’m fine with all that. It was a source of nutrition and comfort in 2020 and I generally enjoyed whatever we chose to purchase and consume. Even, perhaps especially, the 30 weeks of weekly tacos.

    We didn’t do nearly the kind of baking others did (like Nicole and Maggie’s DH did), I envied them that beautiful baked goods output but I wasn’t up to it myself (since, pun and euphemism both, I was myself baking a long term addition). Our COVID rates have been high for a long time so we have stayed in isolation with only grocery shopping, take out, and recently some delivery services for a change of pace. We’ll likely continue doing the same this year!

  12. I sort of tracked groceries more or less, last year. We definitely spent more, but we did have two teenagers at home for three meals a day for a large chunk of the year; plus Reg was home one week on, one week off and he likes a “good lunch”. I think our grocery spend was up by about $50-100 a week over all. The local fruit shop started doing deliveries, and we started using the nice organic and expensive milk because, well it was pretty nice. And I did a LOT of baking. I am a stress baker, so things get overwhelming and out come the baking things. One side effect of last year, that I’m putting down to the kids being at home and thus having three decent meals every day was they both grew a ridiculous amount – about 10cm each!

  13. Pingback: Good Things Friday (106) and Link Love « A Gai Shan Life

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