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Detailed Grocery Review: October 2015

We realized in September that our grocery bill had gotten a bit higher than we wanted. While we don’t do a detailed review/tracking of groceries each month we figured we would do one for October. This would allow us to see what the big spends were on, and if there was anything we could do to reign it in, or if this was the new standard. We also realized that we have 2 other months that we did this detailed tracking so we have some other months to compare it with. It’s amazing to see some things change dramatically and some items remain status quo. For instance, our $40/month yogurt tab does not seem to be going down because we all still eat a lot of yogurt.
I think the biggest thing we do to keep our grocery budgets low is make a list before we go to the store. We found when we go to any store without a list, we overbuy, and spending goes up. During the week, we add things to the list, and then we stick to the list. We usually make our big grocery trip on the weekend, and then sometimes mid-week for things like bananas or milk, but not staple items. We also are mindful of sales, but we don’t buy something if it isn’t something we usually purchase. Meat is usually low priced, but we almost exclusively buy red meat and pork when it’s on sale. Otherwise, it gets really expensive really quickly.

Charts are fun!

Charts are fun!

Most categories stayed in the same trend as our previous Oct 2014 analysis, and our January 2015 analysis. Some things seem high because we stock up due to being low/out of something, and some things seem anomalously low because we stocked up the month prior. Protein bars are the perfect example, with $33 spent last Oct. (stocking up due to sale), $0 spent in January (we were already stocked up) and $8 spent this month – average spend if you buy month to month and there isn’t a sale or reason to stock up.

Mrs. SSC loves using excel for tracking!

Mrs. SSC loves using excel for tracking!

The big drop I noticed is coffee. I started buying green coffee beans off of Amazon and I just use a Whirly-Pop popcorn popper to roast the beans. Whereas before we were spending ~$8-$10/lb, now it is under $6/lb. We still buy some pre-ground coffee, but it’s only $2-$3/lb so it isn’t a big hitter on the budget.

The other 3 biggest things that jumped out to me immediately, were desserts/adult snacks, frozen prepared meals, and drink mix and juice. Last time the drink mix got high, I just started making tea with teabags, and you can see the difference in January 2015 is pretty big. Almost a $25/month savings which adds up to about $300/year. It falls into the paying for convenience category though. I drink about 1-2 pitchers (~1 gallon) of tea/lemonade or what not each day, and the kids like lemonade, so we give them watered down versions of whatever is made up. It still adds up over a month, so we’ll probably watch that.

Alcohol was higher this month. We did a Pumpkin beer tasting when the in-laws came in for a visit. This is usually only about $9 to make a sampler 6 pack of your own, but the selection was poor, so Mrs. SSC opted for 4 six packs at ~$8-$9 each. We also had the same tasting at a pumpkin carving hangout with some friends of ours since we had more than enough. As you can see usually alcohol is low on the bill. Frozen prepared meals are another thing that fluctuates as we get some frozen meals and other things that are easy for the kids. Weekends, we make a lot of food from scratch, and we save left overs for them when we make dinner, but not every night can be nice like that, so back to paying for convenience. The healthier options in those categories aren’t the cheapest either, so it’s a trade-off. When we enact our Lifestyle Change, there will probably be not much in this category as we’ll have time to get to do more cooking again.

Desserts/Adult snacks were pretty high this month as well. Between the layoff situation, and heightened anxiety, we realized we’re both comfort eaters to some degree. I know I eat more chips than I should, but chips and salsa or guacamole is just SO delicious! Mrs. SSC loves ice cream, and since Blue Bell was out of the stores due to listeria issues (they’re back, but limited flavors) Mrs. SSC found gelato as the only other same quality ice cream substitute but it’s kind of spendy.

Beyond that, cheese was a big drop, not because we had a lot, but we’re just not eating as much lately. We’re doing more baking, so baking supplies, eggs, and the like were a little higher. Surprisingly, “meat” was down. I guess we’ve been a lot better about getting meat on sale and that is reflected here. Mrs. SSC does the grocery shopping almost exclusively now, and I’ll watch the kids. It’s way easier this way for both of us. However, Mrs. SSC knows nothing about meat, except chicken and fish, as that is the only type of meat she eats. So… she will buy what she sees is on sale. It’s a bit of a gamble on my part though, so like on cooking shows, I get to see what’s in the mystery basket each week, and figure out how to cook whatever she bought. It’s been good in that I am learning lots of different cooking techniques that make cheaper cuts of meat tender and delicious and it also breaks me out of my culinary ruts. So I count that as a win on a lot of levels.

Let me know if you have tips or tricks you use to keep your grocery budget in check.

16 thoughts on “Detailed Grocery Review: October 2015

  1. Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor

    That’s pretty neat that you tracked to such detail to identify problem areas and ways to change. Interesting too about your green coffee roasted in the Whirly Pop–great idea! I am planning next week to post on price per serving of protein from various food sources–maybe you’ll find it useful. Turns out whole chickens are even cheaper per 20g serving of protein than beans, and almost as cheap as peanut butter!

    1. Mr. SSC

      I am all about whole chickens and even quartered chickens. Our local grovery has chicken quarters for $1.70/lb so we can get 4 quarters – 2 meals for ~$3-$4, and we do that once a week. I am great with knives, so I don’t mind breaking down a chicken, or just roasting whole. I once made our own Turducken after seeing how expensive it was. It was over 50% less, and only took about 45 minutes of deboning and putting it together.
      I’m looking forward to your breakdown on proteins and the price per serving.
      The Whirly pop came about looking around the internet for a better way to roast beans than our toaster oven (it works but takes ~30 minutes) and cheaper than a $200 roaster.
      I’m planning a post on it soon. :)

  2. Our Next Life

    I still love your roast-your-own-coffee idea, and we may try that someday soon. We’re paying more like $16 a pound, which is definitely a budget killer.

    The tracking by category is such a great idea. We know generally that we spend a lot more on produce in the summer when the farmers market is open, and less when it’s all winter squash and cabbage.

    In terms of trimming, can you do less meat, since that’s consistently your highest spending category? There are so many great meatless recipes on Pinterest and elsewhere, especially with the whole meatless Monday movement.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I find it fun, and there are organic fair trade type coffees available for less than $16/lb. BUT, when time is limited it is another time sink in the list of things to be done.

      We could do less meat, and generally, there are 1-3 nights a week Mrs. SSC just does yogurt and granola, or salads and beans, or whatever strikes her mood that night. Typically, it’s light, meatless, and easy to prepare. However those tend to be the nights I’m having whatever it is she got that week. While I’m not fully against a few meatless days here and there, I haven’t quite gotten there in practice yet. It’s just SO tasty!
      Laurie at the Frugal Farmer does have me intrigued with the rewards she’s seen with her veggie, macro, juicing, meat free diet –
      It’s been interesting following that lifestyle change of theirs, but I’m not quite there yet. Hopefully that link above works. :)

  3. Prudence Debtfree

    That kind of detailed tracking is so revealing and helpful. I was really curious about the sudden rise in alcohol consumption : ) I think you’ve got this grocery thing down pat already. Of course fine tuning is always welcome, but you’re doing well! It makes sense to me that you did some comfort food eating with the stress of Mrs. SSC’s job uncertainty. Now that you’re aware of the relatively “spendy” areas of your frugal groceries, I wonder if November’s numbers will be lower. For us, our groceries go up significantly if there are 5 Saturdays as opposed to 4 in a given month – simply because we shop on the week-ends.

    1. Mrs SSC

      I cheated a little bit on the October round-up — we usually grocery shop on Saturdays also, but since Saturday was the 31st, I only counted what I bought for consumption that day, since I mainly wanted to see what we eat in a month. That is one thing we are fairly good at – we eat everything we buy, so not much is wasted.

  4. Jenna L at Hello Suckers

    I never thought of actually tracking individual categories for our grocery shop – what a great idea! My partner and I are quite good at shopping around for the best price and quality produce. We are lucky in that we have a greengrocers close by for our fruit and veg … oh, and no little mouths to feed!

    I really like the idea of this though because it can show you exactly where your money’s gone recently but more importantly, allows you to assess perhaps why you’re spending like that.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Mrs SSC

      Thanks! Yeah – we break it up into categories that make sense for us – not too many, not too little. Plus – having a category that is essentially snacks or alcohol really lets us see how much we are spending on stuff that isn’t necessarily very healthy for us.

  5. Jacq

    I am a fan of Wegman’s & buy their ‘family pack’ of individually packed chicken breat because it freezes well. Those weeks are higher on the spending, the weeks I use out of the freezer, it’s a lot less! When I have to restock supplies (garbage bags & dish washer detergent the same trip! But I had coupons), it also ups the bill. I try to be mindful of what I already have in the pantry, to not buy double. Wegman’s has an app which helps me stay mostly on target, with an occasional avocado impulse buy. :) I don’t worry if my impulse buys are fruits or veg. :)

    1. Mr. SSC

      We’ve definitely bought double. Actually, there are 3 flats of V-8 in the pantry right now… I only drink a can a day, so um, yeah, we’re set through March. Our list helps stay on target, but when we walk in and they ahve big bins of fruit on sale, those are our usual impulse sorts of buys. I’ve gotten better at resisting the guac and fresh salsa.

  6. Maggie @ Northern Expenditure

    I keep meaning to do a breakdown of this because I don’t actually know the specific spending on each of these categories. And it would be interesting to track because prices can vary so widely up here on even the same products. So higher spending wouldn’t necessarily mean we bought more. (Price points are non-existent!) You’ve motivated me! Maybe I’ll start a new spreadsheet! Squeeeeee! (I love spreadsheets.)

    1. Mr. SSC

      There’s nothing wrong with spreadsheets, lol. We don’t do this all the time, but every now and then we save the receipts for a month and Mrs. SSC categorizes everything. It is interesting seeing where we spent and didn’t spend whenw e do this, but really albor intensive to try and do each month.

  7. Tara

    I never thought about yogurt consumption but we probably spend at least $40 a month too! We get the plain, full-fat greek style yogurt which is hard to find (Americans are obsessed, incorrectly, with fat-free dairy) so we’re stuck with the $3/small container of yogurt from Trader Joe’s. Those containers you can get 3-4 servings out of and my picky eater husband loves yogurt so we keep buying and buying to keep up with demand. Sometimes I find another brand on sale (I just found some at Wegman’s which is awesome and sometimes even Fage is on sale). I’d say that money is well-spent though since it keeps my “i-forgot-to-eat’ husband full and happy for breakfast.

    1. Mr. SSC

      We do both big tubs and little tubs. The little ones are easier for me to take to work, and the bigger ones are easier to give to the kids or for eating around the house on the weekends when we have time to do that. :)

  8. Tawcan

    Breaking down grocery bill into smaller categories like you did is a fabulous idea, I’m surprised that we haven’t done that in our household. Should totally do that.

    In terms of yogurt cost, $40 a month seems alright. Are you getting big jugs of yogurt? When we buy yogurt we usually get the 1.5 or 2kg containers and it’ll last us a week or so. They’re cheaper than buying the smaller size yogurt. I’ve never done this before, but another thought is maybe making your yogurt is something you could look into to reduce the yogurt cost?

    1. Mr. SSC

      We vary it, depending on who the yogurt is for. For Mrs. SSC or the kids, we have big tubs, for me I have the small tubs. I take mine to work, but the kids and Mrs. SSC mostly eat theirs at home. The small ones we can usually get for around 75 cents or so per container. Not outrageous, but the tubs are generally cheaper though.
      I haven’t looked into making yogurt, and even though I know I shouldn’t I shudder a little bit thinking about it. It reminds me of a bad experiment with my mom making yogurt when I was younger. It was fine at first, but then went wonky somehow and ugh… blech… It might be fun to look into though.

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