Thursday, March 19, 2015

How much should you be spending on groceries?

There seems to be a lot of discussions about how much money someone should be spending on groceries each month. I see that question asked a lot on Facebook especially within my Catholic Momma's page. *For those that want to cut to the chase scroll to the bottom for a list of tips from these experienced Mommas on how save money on your grocery budget*

This question usually yields a lot of comments (the last one produced more than 50 comments) and the responses vary A LOT from $300-$1,200. Some factors that play into the amount is family size, diet restrictions (dairy-free, gluten-free, etc) and organic purchasing. The most popular response was $600/month for a family of 4-6 people.

A quick Google search indicated that the USDA national data calculates that for a family of four:
a thrifty food plan is $146/week
a low-cost food plan is $191/week
a moderate-cost plan is $239/week
a liberal plan is $289/week.
This data appears to agree with the Facebook poll because in a 4 week month the range this calculates to $584-$1156/month.

Another quick Google search gave me a grocery bill calculator based on our family size, gender, age, and numbers of meal eaten outside the home and it calculated our cost to be estimated $111.42 per week or estimated $482.76 per month (2 adults and a 1 year old).

People have asked me this question a lot especially now that we started blogging about frugal living. But honestly I couldn't answer the question because I didn't really know the answer.

I would guesstimate that we spend $40-60 at Costco every 1.5 weeks and $40-60 at Meijer every 1.5 weeks but we also shop monthly at a co op and I shop here and there at Aldi, online at Vitacost (use this link to get $10 FREE with their refer a friend program and a local health food store. But I have to admit that although we are frugal and recommend budgeting we don’t actually have a budget ourselves (shocking, I know).

We tend to live by the philosophy of “don’t buy it unless you need it” and we just try not to spend money. We know we could save more money if we made a budget and recorded what we spent but we don’t. We have found what works for us but we are also trying to improve and that is exactly what we recommend to other people.

Since people keep asking me I started to become more and more curious about how much we spend. So how much do we spend a month on groceries…
It took some work but I dug out our receipts from the last 11 months and made a spreadsheet and this is what I found out.

We spend a lot more money than I expected and our grocery bill varies A LOT each month. We spend between $129-$913/month with an average of $450 a month over 11 months. (If you look at my spreadsheet you will see that I excluded June in my average because we were on vacation for three weeks and the month we spent $913 we bought a 50 lb bag of almonds which costs over $200!)). Although this falls in the predicted range from both the USDA and grocery bill calculator I have to admit that I thought we were doing better than that.

But there are some reasons why our grocery bills are higher than one would expect even though we are frugal!
1. We buy mostly organic
2. We love to experiment and try new things (so you could argue that our grocery bill includes some of our entertainment budget)
3. We buy expensive things like nuts, quinoa, coconut oil, almond flour, beer, and wine. For example, I make our own pesto which saves us money compared to buying pre-made pesto but still pine nuts are expensive costing $25/1.5lbs. If we wanted to be completely frugal we would use a tomato based sauce instead but that is one of the reasons we named our blog practically frugal because we try to be practical with spending but we are also not completely frugal = practically frugal (get it double entendre). I also snack on almonds quite often which is more expensive than snacking on fresh fruit, veggies, popcorn, etc. (not a money saver, but an Earth saver, we like to use reusable produce bags like these
4. I make all of my own lunches so our dining-out budget is smaller.
5. We both love to eat and eat a lot! Growing up my mom always joked that my legs must be concrete bricks filled with ice cream because of how much ice cream I ate and how much in general I could eat. For breakfast I would easily eat as much as my dad (who is a hard working farmer). Luckily, I must have good metabolism because it has never caught up with me like my sisters warned me. I also notice when we are eating with friends and family that I easily eat twice as much as the other women. Another reason I know that we eat more than most families is because when we go to visit my sister who has 7 kids she will only make a 8X8 or 9X13 main dish casserole and try to feed all of us and in my head I am thinking that John and I could eat the whole 8X8 ourselves. So whenever I go visit my sister I tend be on a diet because I don’t want to eat her out of house and home. To be fair their family does snack a lot but still I know I eat A LOT. And I almost never take food home from restaurants and my co worker make fun of me because of how big my lunch pail is.

Recently, I know our grocery bill has been even higher because there have been a lot of produce sales and I have been stocking up veggies in my freezer (Click here to read about how I saved over $30 in one grocery trip by buying 8 heads of broccoli).

But like I mentioned before there are always ways to improve and other tips and tricks to try. I know we could spend less if we wanted to and it is nice to know that if something happened and we had to tighten our grocery budget we could.

Like I said in the beginning the question about how much should you be spending a month on groceries gets a lot of discussion and comments so I have composed a list of tips and tricks from the comments of others who are smarter and more experienced than me.

Tips from experienced moms on how to save money on your grocery budget (Thank you for everyone who contributed from the Catholic Momma page!)

  1. Menu planning is a must in keeping the budget down.
  2. Cook from scratch as much as possible.
  3. As much as possible, only buy sale items. Buy one or two extra of things that are on sale to build up a nice stock/pantry. (Like the time I bought 8 heads of broccoli to save money)
  4. Use a "perpetual shopping list" that you write down essentials when you only have one or two things left, ie peanut butter. That gives you a few weeks to wait for it to go on sale and buddy up a coupon or simply purchase it on a week you are under budget.
  5. Choose simple breakfasts like oatmeal or homemade yogurt
  6. Make your own yogurt (Click here to learn how)
  7. Make your own "pancake mix" and putting it in glass flour jars in the cupboard so you are not buying pancake mix.
  8. Don't buy cereals or snacky foods at all
  9. Cook with beans, dry if you can swing it, at least once a week. (Click here to learn how)Great info on where to buy, how to prepare and recipes to get more beans in your diet!!
  10. Use rice and lentils to stretch casseroles and soups. (Click here to learn how to cook lentils and click here to learn how to stretch your ground beef)
  11. Simple soups for dinners. (And serve it a lot!) (Click here for some recipes) If you don’t like soup then try serving it as a side dish to supplement your main dish.
  12. Bake a bunch of chicken, throw it in a stand up mixer (kitchen aid) to shred it. It only takes about a minute to completely shred it.
  13. Start off picking a few things you want to improve on and sticking to that.
  14. Get to know your local farmers! Buy 1/2 to 3/4 of a cow once a year. The cost of meat averages around $3.60 per pound. This includes steaks and other nice cuts.
  15. Buy cheaper cuts of good meat.
  16. Eat less meat-based meals by choosing meat-as-a-garnish meals (casseroles, soups) instead of meat-centric like roasts.
  17. Make homemade chicken stock (in slow cooker while you're at work) and use it for big pots of soup that will last for a number of meals. (Click here to learn how)
  18. Stick to water and milk and occasionally juice if it's on sale.
  19. Learn to say no to your little "helpers"
  20. Try not to take your hubby! (they always increased how much you buy!)
  21. For cheap and healthy dessert try making tapioca. You can make parfaits by layering with fruit if you have tall glasses if you want. It is made from the root of a plant so it must be healthy :) Try making a chocolate version by adding two tablespoons of cocoa.
  22. Use a CSA for produce, Big Lots for dry goods, Vitacost for specialty items and Costco for bulk.
  23. Check out Big Lots for name brand, organic dry goods, canned, pasta and cheap cereal.
  24. Be careful at Costco because it can be a real budget eater. Reconsider if you really need the crackers, popcorn, dips, and specialty drinks?  Buying the fun extras can double your bill! Be picky when you go in and stick to a budget.
  25. At Costco buy almond milk, organic eggs, tortillas, bread, tortilla chips, organic cheese, frozen veggies, frozen berries, meat, diapers, baby wipes, toilet paper, and paper towel.  
  26. At Aldi buy peanut butter, oatmeal, frozen berries for smoothies, come cheeses, canned tomatoes, canned veggies, canned fruit and the occasional potato chip or pretzel bag. (I have found oatmeal to be cheaper through my co op - Click here for my post about comparing prices which includes a printable PDF spreadsheet)
  27. At Meijer buy produce, meat, canned goods like store brand pasta sauce, refried beans, organic canned beans, bagged beans, etc.
  28. Use mperks and 10 for 10 sales at Meijer.
  29. Use Shaklee for cleaning products: one $11 bottle of Basic H concentrate makes all the degreaser, all-purpose cleaner, and glass cleaner you need for over a year. Dishwasher detergent is super effective and cheaper than Cascade, dish soap lasts forever, and so does the laundry soap. It's all non-toxic and way cheaper than the health food store stuff again.
  30. Use Norwex cloths for cleaning, so you don't need to buy household cleaners or paper towels.  
  31. Use cloth diapers, or target brand.

So now it is your turn...How are YOU doing? Keep track for a couple of months and find out. It may shock you!


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