Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How much do you spend on groceries?

How much do you spend a month on food (groceries and eating out)?  This morning I have figured out that we spend easily double what I would have thought.  We're talking about $1000 a month lately on food.  Yikes.

I started out with an exercise in budgeting.  With my newly reduced workweek comes a corresponding decrease in take home pay.  I went to our joint account online and downloaded the transactions for the last month to use as a baseline for figuring out what we spend.  I categorized things into Bills, Groceries, Dining out, Stuff, etc.  I was immediately shocked at how many times we've been to Schnucks lately and how much we've managed to spend there (over $700 in June).  I expected that we would have some extravagant amount spent on eating out, but it was actually not that bad (around $300).  When I pulled the numbers for the first half of this year, they weren't much better--dining out has been pretty steady around $300/month, and groceries from $600-750 (the higher end in May and June when I was home all the time).

My family and I like to eat.  I really like to cook.  But should 4 of us (one who's 2 years old and one exclusively breastfeeding) really be spending that much money on food?  I have been congratulating myself recently on how much cooking-from-scratch I've been doing--buying more meant and produce and very little packaged stuff.  We don't eat many chips, few store-bought cookies (I make plenty of those myself), very little in the pre-packaged dinner mixes/sides.  So I assumed that I was doing well   I think that the main ways we get in trouble at the grocery store are:  #1 buying more expensive ingredients (nice steaks, "exotic" ingredients for one particular dish, etc) and #2 buying way more of things than we need.

 A good example of problem #1 is a couscous dish I made last week.  First off, I don't generally buy couscous, so I had none at home.  The recipe called for a 6-ounce "box" of couscous, but all I could find was either a larger package, or for the same amount as the large package, one with a spice packet that I'd end up throwing out.  I opted for the large package of plain couscous, and now have 3/4 of it still in the pantry.  The same recipe needed peanut oil, so I bought a small bottle, at a cost of $8 (ouch)--I used a tablespoon.  The dish was pretty good, but rather expensive in the end.

A good example of problem #2 is our cranberry juice stockpile.  I drink the stuff every morning for breakfast, but I'm kind of picky about what kinds I like (currently preferring cranberry-raspberry or cranberry-pomegranate, only 100% juice varieties).  My husband came home from the store about two weeks ago with like 6 bottles of the stuff--and none of them were the kind I like (he doesn't drink it..he's an orange juice guy).  I mentioned a couple of days later that we were out of the kind I liked, and he thought I meant we were completely out.  So he bought more.  We currently have 10 bottles of cranberry juice in our pantry.  For reference, I might finish a bottle over the course of a week.

Our pantry and our fridge are overflowing with stuff-we have probably every condiment known to man (3 or 4 kinds of mustard, 4+ kinds of vinegar, bbq sauce, DH's homemade bbq/hot sauce, ketchup, mustard, horseradish, soy sauce, teriyaki, sesame oil, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, wok oil, and on and on...).  For baking I have 3 kinds of flour (all purpose, whole wheat, and cake, plus cornmeal and masa harina), various forms of chocolate (regular cocoa powder, Dutch process cocoa powder, unsweetened chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate chips), unsalted butter, salted butter, shortening, butter flavor shortening.  Our spices take an entire wide drawer plus a two-tier lazy-susan (I've got 3 kinds of cinnamon.  They're all different, and I couldn't cut back to 1...really.).  We use pretty much everything in the kitchen-at least occasionally.

I think a new goal is going to be to cut down our grocery bill over the next 6 months or so.  Cutting coupons won't help much-I already do that, but except around peak-baking season (i.e. Thanksgiving-Christmas) I don't really find a lot for the stuff we buy.  If there were more grocery stores close by, I could play the game of shopping the stuff on sale-but our 2 closest stores are both Schnucks (not counting a couple of "quick marts" that don't carry enough, and the tiny Walmart that carries mostly boxed junk food).  I don't have time to drive 20 minutes each way to find a discount grocery store to save $2 on the bill, so that's out.  I try occasionally to grow some of our own produce, but we have a small yard and lots of neighborhood bunnies, so I doubt we've ever come close to breaking even on the garden.  I guess the trick, then, is going to be to get smarter about how much food we're buying, and to use what we have.  That might help out with de-cluttering our pantry and our fridge, too.

So, know any good recipes for cranberry juice and peanut oil?


Amanda said...

I found that planning a menu for the week, just the meals I want to prepare and not specific days, really reduced our spending. Having a list of exactly what I want to buy and not straying also helps. I hate when we end up throwing away food because it goes bad before we get to it. I spend about 50 - 100 pounds a week here, roughly $600-$800 but we don't eat out as frequently here.

pam said...

Since I started staying home our grocery bill has gone up. I love to cook and make homemade things so I buy the stuff I will only use once or twice. I use peanut oil in my stir fry. Meat is the big one for us. That is where our cost is. G and I drink the same juice so that helps. We do not eat out as much as we used to. The hardest thing for me is I do not do leftovers.

andi said...

I usually plan the menu for the week, too. Our biggest expense is spices, so I usually buy from the international market, which sells spices at a significantly lower price than Schnucks or Dierbergs. I assume it has to do with the reduced packaging (the spices come in a large sealed bag, not jars), but you can get fairly large amounts of spices like cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, coriander and cayenne for around $2.99, which is a pretty big departure from typical grocery stores.

Also, I make most of our bread. It sounds really Martha Stewart-esque, but it's not nearly as time intensive as I thought it would be, especially when using the stand mixer, and it saves a lot per loaf. I highly recommend it, particularly if you have a bread machine.

We also only rarely buy soda, which reduces our bill even more. Plus I take lunches most days - it's helping me lose weight, prevents waste (when I don't bring it, we throw a lot of stuff away) and saves me up to $40 a week.

Right now our grocery bill is usually around $400-$500 per month for the 3 of us, depending upon how much meat we might have eaten in a given month. Not having to buy formula really helps, too!

Kristi said...

Ok, it's sounding like we're high, but not as horribly high as I feared.

I usually buy my spices at Penzeys (on Manchester in Maplewood)--good quality, generally cheaper than Schnucks, also sell in bulk, but I always end up buying more than I expect to (remember the 3 kinds of cinnamon? They have at least 2 more...).

I've considered baking all our own bread. I love baking bread actually, and go through spurts of doing just that, but we just don't go through that much of it to make a dent in our budget--a store-bought loaf lasts well more than a week and frequently gets partially wasted. Then again, if we made more sandwiches maybe we'd spend less on some other meals.

We do both take our lunches, and separate lunches out tend to come out of individual accounts, so they actually didn't figure in my little analysis (we use the joint account when we eat out together).

Also, we're not good at leftovers either--I've been trying to focus on just cooking the right amount for a meal so we don't waste the leftovers--don't know if it's helping though.

Formula? What's that? :) I have several hundred ounces of frozen breastmilk in the deep freeze (2 weeks of pumping while Trystan was in the NICU had my body convinced I was having twins...). It would take a catastrophic event that knocked out power and my milk supply at once before we'd even need to consider that...

A said...

I am so jealous that you don't have to worry about formula! In a perfect world, that wouldn't have been a concern for us - that stuff is outrageously expensive.