I have got to get our grocery budget in check. It’s like a mouthy threenager- it never does what I want it to & I’m usually too tired to stand my ground, so it always wins. I am smart, creative and frugal-minded (if not always actually frugal); I should totally be able to figure out how to feed my family for a heck of a lot less.
I read on a blog recently that the national average grocery budget is $100 per person per week. I tend to be inclined to reach for above average, but not in this case. Thus began the shame spiral. I am seriously worried that the days of a reasonable grocery budget are long gone for us.
Our current budget is $500/month, but I rarely come in on budget. Some months it’s closer to $600-$700, which is just crazy to me if I really think about it. We don’t purchase quality meat, in fact, my M.O. is to go to the store without a plan, see what meat has a peelie coupon on it (meaning it needs cooked or frozen in the next few days) and plan our dinners around my findings. We eat a lot of cheap, processed ‘food’. We do go through quite a bit of fresh produce, but we aren’t usually brand specific when it comes to everything else and often buy store brand. I also shop monthly at our local ‘grocery outlet’, or as we like to call it, the dented can store.
So, all of these issues are clogging my brain- we are eating badly, we are spending too much money on that bad food we are eating and I want better for my family. However, while writing this post, I discovered that the $100 per person/per week figure it not actually accurate. According to the US Department of Agriculture the average family of 4 will spend $719.30 per monthly on groceries. AND THAT IS THE LOW-COST PLAN! The moderate food plan comes in at $890.80 and the liberal plan is $1102.50 per month. (These are stats from 2015.) I just don’t even know where to begin. Apparently, I can stop feeling bad about what we are spending, but perhaps I should feel worse about what we are eating?
So, what is our problem? Unfortunately, I think the answer is me. I do the budget. I do the grocery shopping. I do quite a bit of the cooking, regretfully. As disappointed as I am to learn that the problem lies with me, at least I am something I can control.
I started following the blogger at Fun, Cheap or Free a couple months ago and at first I thought her budgeting system was waaay more complicated than it needed to be. She breaks her budget down weekly and money doesn’t transfer over from week to week. I believe my initial response went something like, ‘Well, if you have self control you can just have 1 pot of money for the month and make it work.’ Excuse me while I eat my words.
At the beginning of the month, I feel like I have 500 whole dollars and that is a LOT- I can totally do this! But after spending $150-$200 a week for the first few weeks, it runs out. Perhaps, just perhaps, I should give this weekly budget a try?
Let’s look back at the last few months of my grocery spending. This is easy to do because we have one credit card that we just use for groceries.
- August- $622.06
- July- $498.32
- June- $506
- May- $688.44
- April- $489
- March- $811.13 (Ekk! I have no clue why it skyrocketed this month!)
- February- $534.69
- January- $726.55 😦
Let me go on record by saying that this kind of personal information is not easy to share in a public forum, even if the only person reading is my mom. Hi Mom.
See, there is definite room for improvement here.
I realized that we pretty much keep a stocked fridge/freezer, pantry & upright freezer at all times. That is great, especially in times of zombie apocalypse, but I’m totally doing it wrong. Rather than buying an item to stock up when it’s at a ‘stock-up price’, I buy it when we run out. Was there a depression in the 80’s that I forgot about?? Because I’m clearly hoarding food for some reason.
I decided that first things first, I need a detox. For September & October I wanted to try to spend as little on groceries as possible. I’m shooting for $50 a week. And I did good on week 1: $39.08! Whoop Whoop!
(Side Note: My monthly budget runs from the 15th-14th. When I was working full-time I got paid once a month & got pretty used to that system, so it sticks with us today.)
I started by making a list of what meals I could prepare with what we already have in stock. Without going into the garage to check the upright freezer, where the vast majority of our meat is kept, I came up with a pretty solid list of 8 dishes! Apparently, I had accidentally begun meal planning.
Meal planning had never worked for us in the past. I would plan a solid week of meals… and then life would happen. We would have a bad day, or get invited to my parents for dinner, or I would realize I was missing a key ingredient, or I just wouldn’t feel like whatever I was planning on cooking, or we had too many leftovers that needed eaten, or …. excuses, excuses. Then meat would go bad & get tossed. I am not okay with wasted food! But since I was already half way there, I decided to give it a go. My meal plan for the week looked like this:
- Monday- Leftover Pulled Pork & Cornbread; kids- hot dog/cornbread pancakes
- Tuesday- Kielbasa, Potatoes & Onion
- Wednesday- Bagel Sandwiches
- Thursday- Soccer Night, Quick & Easy
- Friday- Flex Night
Of course, on day #1 I was already off schedule. We had planned on having leftover pulled pork, but my parents took Bryan to a local event so I decided to swap with Tuesday & have kielbasa, potatoes & onions instead. Annie loves kielbasa, Bryan won’t eat it, so it just made sense. Not that I’m not already accused to preparing multiple meals every evening.
So day #2 was leftover pulled pork, except I didn’t realize that the hubs had taken the pulled pork to a buddies house Sunday night and the leftovers were no more. We settled on hodge-podge, which is basically when you take everything out of the fridge, heat it all up & graze.
Again, day #3 didn’t go as scheduled. When I was at the grocery store on Monday, I noticed that pork loins were $1.69/pound, which isn’t a bad price at all. I had Jon stop on his way home from work & pick up a 10 pound loin for $16.88. He cut it into chops & a roast, and grilled the chops for us Wednesday for dinner. We had 1 last zucchini hiding in the garden, so that was grilled up as well. Easy, delicious dinner!
I’m telling ya…. cheap meat may not be the best for you, but my husband can make ANY cut of meat taste delicious. Here in lies the dilemma.
Thursday was suppose to be soccer practice night, so I call it quick & easy night. My go-to’s on quick & easy night are hot dogs or, if I’m feeling spunky, I’ll run to Walmart after taking Bryan to preschool in the morning & look for ready-made meals with peelie coupons. I’ve found foot long subs and pre-packed salads for $1.99 each- can’t beat that! BUT, this month is special… because I am the proud recipient of a FREE bagel a day from Panera for the entire month of September!! We are on day 17 and I’ve gotten 13 free bagels thus far. I can’t pass this up! I collected my daily bagels for the week and we had bagel sandwiches.
And since I had done so spectacularly (sarcasm, folks) all week, I decided to just not make dinner for anyone at all on Friday. Bryan had a sleepover with his Pops and wanted to have a pizza party, so I picked up a large ready-made cheese pizza at our grocery store for $5.30 and stole a slice for myself and a slice for Annie. Wife of the Year over here has no clue what, or if, my husband ate last night. I didn’t hear his stomach growling in the middle of the night so I assume he found the leftover pork chops around midnight.
All-in-all… a valiant effort! Total spent on groceries for the week: $61.26 (including the pizza). Over budget, BUT we still have a pork roast left that will be smoked this weekend.
I am going to keep working on 1) using up food that we currently have, especially that really should be eaten soon. Time to cycle out the old, before bringing in the new. 2) keeping my weekly budget down as low as I can. 3) figuring out how a weekly meal might night actually work for me (IF it will work for me).
Cross your fingers for me for next week!