Grocery gripe

I promise this post will be about food. Just bear with me, ok?

Last month I took the City of Boston’s Homebuying 101 class, as I’ve lately been thinking about buying a home er, condo now that I’m pretty sure I’ll be sticking around the area for the near future. The class talked a lot about credit reports and mortgages and all that, but it also brought up something that I’m not so great about: budgets.

I’ve never been much of a budgeter. Instead, I siphon off money for retirement, savings and bills into different accounts and allow myself to spend the rest without much thought. But now that I’m trying to save more, I need to know what I’m spending and identify areas where I could cut back. I came home Saturday and created a spreadsheet that categorized all my debit card transactions (in the future I’ll do cash too) and took a hard look at where my money was going. The biggest culprit: groceries.

I spent $377 last month on groceries. My sister (and roommate) spent more than $100. That is nearly $500 a month for a two-person household! Add in lunches ($56) and restaurants ($118) and you can see that this is kind of a problem.

The grocery bill kind of took me by surprise, as I usually buy store-brand everything, don’t eat much meat and look for sales. We don’t buy any processed foods or snack foods. I also haven’t been drinking this month, so that total doesn’t include any booze- that is all food.

Over the next couple months I’m going to track my spending more closely and see if I can figure out how to cut back. I know that one thing I tend to do is go out and buy all the ingredients for a recipe I saw (usually on a blog), rather than cooking what’s in the cupboard at home. I also have been buying produce with wild abandon, and indulging a bit too much at Whole Foods.

Now, blogger friends, I turn to you for advice. Have you ever realized your food spending was out of control? How did you reign in? Any tips?

18 thoughts on “Grocery gripe

    • Hi John. My issue with coupons is that a) they take a lot of time to find and clip, and you have to remember to bring them to the store and b) I don’t buy many processed or prepared foods, which is what I find a lot of coupons are for. Coupons for jarred pasta sauce or boxes of cereal aren’t going to do me any good… that said, I’m sure I could find coupons for natural peanut butter, Lara bars and veggie burgers. I just need to be more disciplined.

      • They’re out there, more so then you may think.

        Go to the websites/facebook fan sites of the vendors you use and check for coupons. You’ll be surprised at how many are out there.

        My wife loves Fage yogurt, their facebook page had a $1 coupon off that you could print multiple times. My mother-in-law is lactose intolerant so I found her coupons for Lactaid (or whatever brand is). There are plenty of veggie burger coupons. Whole Foods even has a coupon for those Lara bars you mentioned.

        Find a mommy blog or two that talks about couponing and has similar tastes that you have for food. They’ll point you right at the coupons and deals available.

  1. I have found if I gather the sale papers for my local grocery stores, and sit down, make a menu for the month and stick to it, even if I see a possibly great recipe, it helped me to cut back.

    • Cathy, that is a great idea. I remember on STX you were so disciplined about grocery shopping, and you had several tricks for feeding a family on the cheap. I am definitely going to have to plan and be disciplined.

  2. ouch that’s rough.
    I love coupons and I stick to coupons.
    I go to different stores for different things….
    Super 88 for veggies, rice, and any other Asian staple I might need. Fish too at times.
    Trader Joe’s for nuts, milk, eggs, and cheeses. I typically go there if I need a quick meal after work.
    I do most of my shopping at Shaws with coupons.
    Whole Foods is a treat. Great burgers and special weekend meals.
    And I go to Haymarket just about every weekend (typ. 7am on Sat) in the summer for veggies. I understand that things spoil faster from HM than a reg store but for 1/3 of the price. So I prep things like pesto and freeze it or I can things.
    It’s a lot of work but most months the grocery bill is pretty low.

    • Ah, I need to take advantage of the Super 88 more- especially the produce. And avoid Whole Foods. There is one near my work, so I tend to stop by on my way home if I need something. But I can never get out of there for less than $75!

  3. You spent $118 in restaurants last month? I spent more than that in a restaurant LAST NIGHT.

    I can’t tell from the receipt in your photo, but if you go to places like Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, Whole Foods, etc., you’re probably also buying household items there too. That’s still money spent, but that’s not money spent on food. Things like good vitamins & laundry detergent & Swiffers are often the most expensive things on my supermarket receipt.

    • Hi, Dale. You do bring up a good point. Part of my increased grocery bill is due to the fact that I’ve been eating out less, particularly at lunch. Also, its January, so there have been several night when I’ve deemed it too cold to go out and cooked instead. Still though, it feels like my spending is out of control.

  4. In regards to Dale’s comment, my roommate recently found that a bunch of household items, which we often times buy at Shaw’s for convenience sake, were WAY cheaper at Target. I know this kind of goes against your goal, but seeing as a lot of these purchases are fresh produce and other whole foods, and you don’t buy much if any processed foods, I’d take a look at just how much you want to cut back. I definitely agree that there are ways that you could decrease your monthly expenditure, but in the US we’re so accustomed to paying so little for food. At least with myself, fresh produce and food I cook myself at home is a spending priority and I’m glad to see it seems to be the same for you.

    • Hi Elizabeth. I have thought about that, and I am willing to pay more for fresh produce and whole foods. Still, my expenditures lately seem excessive.

  5. I do all my shopping at Whole Foods and really don’t find myself spending more at say, Stop & Shop. I really enjoy Whole Foods 365 brand it is very affordable! And I try to plan my menu around sales. I am really conscious about what I buy at Whole Foods and it really pays off. I hardly ever pay more that $75-$85 a week on groceries for the 2 of us!

  6. I feel your pain. I know I spend way too much on groceries. I find recipes I want to make, and I run out and buy all the ingredients they require. I really need to be better about using what I have on hand. Sometimes I challenge myself to cook from the pantry and freezer… that lasts a few days and then I’m back to finding recipes I must make. I’m not much help here, but I found all the advice you’ve gotten helpful. Thanks for bringing this up.

  7. I’ll be interested to see how you cut back – I have the same issue with spending too much on groceries! It stresses me out because I’m the only one in our household with a consistent income….eek!

  8. I find that Lauren spends 2-3x what I spend because she uses recipes. I start at the meat section and get whatever is on sale. Since meat:produce costs are probably 5:1, you save the most money by saving on meat/protein.

    Also, I often eat cheap meat, like pork ($1.99-2.99/lb) or chicken thighs ($1.99). I also noticed that meat people don’t know what to do with, like blade, gizzards, tongue, etc, are also cheap as shit.

    Oh, and here’s an important rule at Whole Foods. Their return policy allows “human error” to be compensated by giving you the item for free. In other words, if they screw up labeling or scanning something, they give it to you for free. I’ve probably saved $100 cumulatively over the past couple years.

  9. Well I don’t know if you were aware, but groceries *are* rising, faster than restaurant prices. The restaurants are trying to keep their prices from rising by cutting the margin. But grocery stores as a whole are way way up!!!!! No avoiding it, just try to cook with less extravagant items and couponing. Lemme know what works too, everyone is feeling the push.

  10. I find that Haymarket’s veggies rot very quickly. Market Basket has excellent produce for very low prices. If you go to the one in Danvers, you can find fantastic pantry staples at Ocean State Job Lot in the same shopping complex. Super 88 is great, but H-Mart in Burlington is massive and has very good prices. Keep in mind that their food court is not as cheap as Super 88’s. I would suggest staying away from Shaw’s; they are grossly overpriced, although they sometimes have good circular deals. The 365 brand at Whole Foods is often more affordable than Shaw’s, and their bulk items like rice and beans are a fair price. Stop and Shop every so often has great sales. Check out the Armenian shops in Watertown for dirt cheap spices and great prices on things like lentils. I actually started my blog, Cheap Beets, as a result of my husband getting laid off. It’s possible to eat great food on a tight budget.

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