Saturday, 23 January 2016

January's Grocery Spending

Although it is not yet the end of the month, I had the time this morning to study my receipts and analyze this month's grocery spending. I made up a spreadsheet so that I can track, month by month, the different categories in my grocery list. I broke it down into:

  • Pets/Feed: we have 4 sheep which receive a supplement, 2 cats and a dog who receive some leftovers but primarily purchased food, and 2 rabbits who, for the winter, eat pellets with a bit of hay and lettuce scraps as treats. The cats are good old fashioned barn cats and share a heated dog house with our dog, so I do not buy kitty litter. The bunnies are in cages in our car garage for the winter and I have plenty of straw that keeps them warm, at no cost to us. I'm still debating whether or not to include pet feed in my grocery total...for now I will leave it because I primarily buy the pet food (not sheep supplement) at the grocery store and because I had always intended my monthly groceries to be $600/month including pet food. Now that we are acquiring a menagerie of animals I may move this to its own section in our budget!
  • Cleaning/household: in this category I include things like light bulbs, toilet paper, napkins, cleaning products, dish soap, dishwasher soap, laundry
  •  Dry Goods: I don't have time (or specifically care) to break down the dry goods groceries into sub-sections. Canned goods, dry lentils/beans, flour, pasta, even items from the bakery fall into this category. More or less anything that isn't in a different heading is considered dry goods.
  • Meat: I didn't include canned meat (ie Tuna--called that a dry good) but did include processed packages of meat (ie pepperoni and sandwich meat). Frozen chicken and pork are our main meat aisle selections as we do usually have free beef from the farm.
  • Dairy: self explanatory, oui?
  • Produce: includes any frozen fruit and veg, and anything fresh from produce section
  • Health/Beauty: feminine products, shaving, Epsom salts, prescriptions, vitamins, band aids, that sort of thing
  • Ready-to-Serve: I added this section because it is interesting for me to know how much extra it is costing me to have the occasional frozen meal on hand. We don't often pick up ready-to-serve items but I do prefer it over take-out. I am giving it its own section because I want to know how much extra I am spending on convenience.
  • Take Out: I don't include this in my grocery spending but I plan to track it alongside my food budget, again, to see how much extra "convenience" is costing

I found this exercise to be very illuminating and I think I can keep up with it especially if I enter each receipt as the month goes on. There were a number of factors that will throw off the results somewhat, but I am more interested in a general overview of our spending so that I can "trim the fat". For instance, 2 receipts were unaccounted for, for a total of about $70 (I'm going to go ahead and blame Husband for that LOL) so I can't say exactly how much was spent in each category. The point is, this gave me a good indication where the money is going and also some ideas to reduce costs. I should note that we stocked up on pet food in December so I have only bought rabbit pellets and dry cat food in January. My monthly total was $22.96 but I didn't need dog food yet. Again, as I track this monthly I can get a better idea what it works out to/month. We have also been using stockpiled flour, coffee, cooking oil and soup. Soon it will be time to replenish those stores but their costs are not reflected in this month's tally. 

Assuming that I don't spend more this month (it will be a challenge not to spend anything in the next 10 days as I am accustomed to weekly grocery shopping), we have spent $617.55 this month on groceries--including $22.96 on pet food. I shouldn't need anything from the store so I feel (somewhat) confident that this will be the final sum (although we lost 2 receipts they show up on the credit card bill as two separate amounts at grocery stores so I was able to include those amounts in my final total). The key is for me NOT to go to the grocery store before the end of the month and drop, say, $200 more on groceries simply because I am used to shopping for food every week.

Of course, there are some problems with deciding to eat down what we have until February. I am immediately uneasy at being low on food in the winter months. Should we be hit by a bad storm and snowed in (or roads too icy) it could be extra days without being able to go for food. That is not smart and it's not what I'm striving for. I'd like to keep a well stocked pantry at all times and THEN stick to replenishing it and my fresh food for less that $600/month.

Another difficulty with resolving not to go to town for the rest of the month (it saves us so much on fuel because it is a 45 km drive each way) is that the winter can get depressing if we aren't seeing people. So rather than relying on my weekly trip to the grocer for a dose of "don't want to see people again for awhile", I need to make more of an effort to take the kids out visiting and concentrating on not spending on "other" items when we are out.

All in all, this was a helpful exercise and it highlighted some things I already knew:

  • I can trim more costs by not buying bread/buns and bagels. If I get bagels for my son to have before school I also get cream cheese spread--these are luxuries, not essentials, and they are now off the list. Also, I can make healthy bread here for a fraction of the cost. I will be more strict with myself from now on.
  • We spent approximately $90 on dairy in January (I include my 6 year old's almond milk in this total. It is expensive but it was recommended that we take him off cow's milk). I have stopped buying the kids the cheese sticks that they love so much. They are expensive and I'm not even sure they are food. I'm concentrating on using less cheese and won't need to buy buttermilk until next winter when all our birthday cake baking happens again (seriously, our family is one birthday after another from Nov-Jan. My recipe is delicious and calls for buttermilk). Any cakes from now on will be made with regular old skim milk (sorry O!)
  • Keeping an eye on how much is spent on convenience, either take out or ready-to-serve, will be a good incentive for me to prepare homemade meals ahead and freeze them for those days I want something quick. Menu planning can also really help with being prepared and less apt to overspend.
  • We eat too much meat. This is my fault, as the cook. I confess that I'm a protein hog. I could live on salad and meat. I NEED to live on more salad, less meat. We have free beef from the farm but have been out for ages. Buying all of our protein really allowed me to sit down and look at what it is costing us. I will gladly accept the free beef when it comes, believe me, but I'm determined to go meatless on Mondays to help refine our tastes and to save money. We will buy less chicken and pork and, at the same time, stretch the free beef out further so we don't run out so soon.
  • As well as reducing how much meat we eat, I also aim to reduce how much we have to purchase. I plan to fatten two weaner pigs over the summer and add chickens to our repertoire. I hope that everything goes as planned (I dislike blogging about high hopes and then not following through on them!). I am also tempted to raise 10 or 12 turkeys to sell, but all of these ideas will be reevaluated nearer to spring.
  • I need a bigger garden. I've been planning this anyways, but the skyrocketing price of fruit and vegetables (seriously, $5 for a cabbage, $7 for cauliflower) has me doubting Canada's food security. We are too reliant on food shipped in from other countries. I need to grow more, store more, and possibly become a source of fresh food for some friends and neighbours.  If I can sell a bit in times of glut it will offset the cost of purchasing when my stores of food are used up. 
  • Foraging wild and local food will continue to be a way to save on groceries. Using frozen fruit for smoothies is healthy and cheap, considering I have bags of frozen Saskatoons and raspberries leftover from summer. 
I feel much more organized and determined to meet my goal of spending $600/month on food. For a family of four this is by no means an impossible challenge. But it is a fact that I used to spend much more. And we used to grab takeout much more. Using the blog to discuss ideas and hold myself accountable has helped me curb my spending. I hope to continue that trend :) Have you noticed the rising cost of food where you live? Is it something you are trying to reduce and, if so, can you make any suggestions?


  1. good god, do NOT get me started on the $7 cauliflower! Although I did see it in Freshco on Friday for $3.99. Still. Someone at work reported a $4 lettuce. *forehead-desk*

    I love that you've done this - and shared it. I'm finding it incredibly inspiring and makes me want to work harder at tracking expenses. I was very good at it when money was really, really, tight - and I flatter myself to think I've trimmed us down to extreme lean-ness, even now -- but being a bit more financially comfortable has made me lax.Stuffing receipts into the maple syrup can doesn't really count as good record-keeping....;)

    Turkeys? One word - noooooooooooooooo!!! :P All kidding aside -- and with the trauma of them having faded -- they're a cash crop if you can sell the extra and there is NOTHING better than a home-raised bird for eating. The added bonus is that you'll hate them so much by the time they're ready that you'll feel no pangs of sadness whatsover. :) Pigs - I'd love to raise a couple of pigs but a)we don't have the space and b) I seriously doubt my own fortitude re: harvest time.

    Okay, will stop rambling now! I wish we lived closer....I'd love to pop 'round for a cup of tea and chat...:)


    ps. I also doubt that cheese strings are food.

    1. Mel, would love to have you over! AND every time I consider turkeys...I think of you...TFTs....bahahaha!! I really do sympathize. We got a puppy last winter and the destruction in my yard was just so sad. He bit a cherry tree clean off at the ground, and a shrub that was doing so well. He chewed up 3 chairs. I can't even think about it. I think if I can keep the birds in one large area without the dog bothering them I would just take orders from friends in the spring and get a few extra in case there are casualties. Pigs, though. I do worry about getting attached to them--it's very hard on the kids--and I also really worry about keeping them in. We had pigs once when I was a kid and it was a rodeo if they ever got out. All the same those are some of my happiest most hilarious memories of childhood, chasing pigs around the yard with my brothers. I hope all is well in your little corner of the world--so interested to hear how things are going. Thanks for taking the time to stop 'round!

  2. LOVE this post :-) As you know I write down every single item I buy in Excel. I do this because it makes it so easy to analyze. It will be very interesting to look at how things change from month to month but also from season to season. The patterns are "fun" to see :-)

    I have read that Canadians have really high food costs in the winter because of the need to import. Still, growing your own can only be helpful. You will still probably have high costs in winter but at least if you save in the summer that's good.

    1. Pru, you've inspired me to keep better records. It's so helpful to know where every cent is going. I'm interested to see how much less I spend in the summer when we eat out of the garden. It will certainly motivate me to work harder in the garden if I can see some savings :)