KeepThrifty Experiment April 2016 — Challenge: Grocery

KeepThrifty Experiment April 2016 — Challenge: Grocery

The April challenge is over! Here’s the full set of update/results posts:

Thrifters,

Our first month is coming to a close, so it’s time to get prepped for month two’s challenge. This time I’ve got an ambitious one - let’s start tackling your grocery bill.

This category is about as simple as any to describe - Grocery covers any raw ingredients or prepackaged foods to be prepared in your home. It doesn’t cover meals eaten out, takeout, or pizza delivery - those are in “Eating Out” and we’ll cover those another month.

As always, keep the following guidance in mind:

  • The whole point of the experiment is to make sustainable changes — shortcutting in an area one month only to have it explode in the next doesn’t get you closer to your goals.
    • In this case, it’s especially important to make sure you don’t under-purchase groceries and end up buying more expensive meals through eating out.
  • Part of the fun here is pushing your boundaries and seeing what you can do without. Don’t be afraid to stretch outside your comfort zone; you never know what you might find!
  • Don’t get discouraged if you don’t achieve every goal — any progress is a step in the right direction
  • Be creative and have fun :)

Helpful Resources & Ideas for Saving

Thankfully, the web is full of advice on how to slash your grocery bill since this is a sizable portion of most families’ expenses in a month. One issue with this though is that not everyone’s advice will apply to you as an individual.

You may be on one end of the spectrum or the other when it comes to cooking skills, desire for organic or locally sourced foods, time available for cooking, and even grocery stores in your area.

Only you can decide what trade-offs work for your situation - is it worth it to drive the extra 20 miles to get organic kale? Would you rather eat ramen for every meal?

Or maybe you’re sick of the whole cooking game and want to go extreme and give soylent a shot?

No matter what, your goal should be to optimize financially without compromising on your priorities. As an example, if you buy organic because that’s important to you, find a way to get your organic food for less money.

General Tips

  • Don’t go to the grocery store hungry; you’re more likely to make unhealthy impulse purchases
  • Go with a list and stick to the list; predictability is the first step to optimization
  • Make as much as possible from raw ingredients, but be aware of what’s “in-season” so you don’t pay $3.99 for a pound of apples :)

Coupons

I’m going to avoid linking to coupon sites here. You can easily find thousands by googling “grocery coupons” but I have an aversion to these because I think you end up sacrificing nutrition for cost. Eating 60 boxes of hamburger helper isn’t going to help my waistline even if it does help my wallet.

My Challenge

I’m doing this challenge right along with you, so here’s my analysis, goal, and plan for how I plan to tackle Grocery spending in our family this month.

Monthly spending chart

Analysis

Using Thrifty, I’ve got a good sense of where our family stands on spending on groceries for the last 7 months.

Monthly spending summary

Monthly summary of Grocery spending — Average: $1054

In general, our groceries come from just a handful of locations:

  • Willy Street Co-op - a local food co-op with a strong focus on local-sourced foods, organic options, and bulk buying; the majority of our groceries come from our once-a-week visit here
  • Piggly Wiggly - the only grocery store in our town; prices are a bit higher and organic options are low so we generally shop here when we just need Cheerios or run out of another staple mid-week
  • Whole Foods - we’ve really scaled back on whole foods - great quality but high prices; most everything we would have gotten here we can get from Willy Street cheaper

We started going to Willy Street in September and it’s taken us a bit to adjust and find our rhythym. You can see from the chart that we’ve been working our way down over the last several months and have gotten to a better state than before we went in.

Goal

For our family of 5, the USDA estimates a monthly food cost of $1140 for a “Moderate-Cost plan”. Given our desire for organic, natural products we expect to be paying a bit of a premium but I don’t want to target the “Liberal plan”, where we’d be at about $1400.

With that in mind, I’ll subtract our $260 a month of eating out (don’t worry, this is a future challenge) and that leaves us with $880 a month for groceries.

This way, when we target dropping our “eating out” spending, we’ll end up moving toward the “Low-Cost plan” number of $925 a month.

Plan

We were under this for February and I think we should be for March as well. Some of that though is due to bulk purchases that may be coming up again soon. Next time we fill up our maple syrup bottle for $40, I’ll have to take a picture and put it on here :)

Right now, my goal is to stabilize our grocery spending and then we can look at how to whittle it down in a future challenge without degrading our quality of food.

Our general approach to grocery shopping is:

  • plan out our meals for the week ahead of time and build a list around those items
  • try to choose meals that share ingredients so that we’re less likely to have extra of something that would go bad
    • ex) this week, we’re doing tacos and quesadillas to ensure we use all the green onion, tomatoes, cheddar, sour cream, and cilantro
  • make as much as possible from scratch (or close to it); frequent meals include tacos, pasta, lasagna, chicken noodle soup, chicken and vegetable stir fry, and fajitas
  • avoid snack food other than what we need for the girls for school; snacks tend to cost more per calorie

Going forward, I plan to do a mid-month checkin and end-of-month wrap-up rather than weekly posts so that you’re not inundated with updates. Plan on the first update on roughly April 17th.

One hitch this month is the fact that we grocery shop on Saturdays and this month has 5; with that in mind we’ll see how mid-month is looking and whether I should be targeting a total monthly amount or a weekly amount instead.

Your Turn

Are you ready to join the challenge? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me with your goals, plan, or progress!