Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2009 Grocery Budget

(VERY, VERY, LONG DETAILED POST... but I needed to clear my mind. Oh, and some of the subject matter may be considered "too much information", but hey... it's what's goin' on and it's my blog. {grin})


I mention in my 2009 Resolutions that I want to keep my weekly grocery bill under $125 (that's $25 per person each week). There are many frugal bloggers out there that are able to maintain a budget of around $15 per person each week or less... I think that's spectacular, but I'm just not there.

When I say "grocery" budget here is what I am including:

  • food and drink, obviously
  • diapers & wipes
  • cleaning supplies
  • OTC medications, vitamins, etc.
  • Paper/plastic products
  • personal hygiene items
I do a large amount of couponing, shop at Aldis, try to "work the drug stores", and shop several stores for their advertised and unadvertised sales. Finding discontinued items that I also have coupons for is a real find and quite exciting! :)

So, how is it that with all this work I still save such a "high" grocery bill in comparison? I've been racking this over and over in my brain and here are a few things I've come up with... call them excuses if you like, but these rationalizations make me feel better. :)

Rationalization #1: "Milk"

First of all, we can't buy regular cow's milk. Our dairy alternatives cost $5 - $7 a gallon. We go through 4 gallons a week on average, so $20 - $28 of our weekly budget immediately goes to "milk".

Now, you might be asking why I don't offer more juice, lemonade, tea, or even water. Well, last summer both Witt and Nathan were diagnosed with toddlers' diarreha. The basic BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) does nothing for this condition. The recommendation for this diarreha is to up their fat intake, push "milk", and remove all juices and clear liquids.

So, the two little boys only drink "milk". Will doesn't like "non-dairy milk" and prefers juice. He will drink one glass of "hot chocolate" in the morning and then purchases a carton of milk at school to go with his snack. To make sure he is getting enough calcium, I buy him the fortified orange juice... which obviously would not the cheapest juice available.

Rationalization #2: Diapers

In the beginning of the toddler's diarreha, Witt was averaging 9 - 13 dirty diapers a day and Nathan about 5 - 8. That is a lot of dirty diapers, folks. A LOT. It also put a huge damper on potty-training Nathan.

Witt is now down to 5 - 7 dirty diapers a day and I would venture to say that Nathan has almost outgrown it (usually happens by age 4). Still... that's lots of diapers. I do see that the diaper & wipes portion of our bill will be reduced, though, as Nathan is now 90% of the time in big boy underwear! Way to go, Nathan!!! :)

Rationalization #3: Nutrition

I have really been focusing more on nutrition lately - using more whole wheat, trying to buy more organics, and substituting more coconut oil for margarine. All three of these are more expensive alternatives.

The boys also love fruit and I keep plenty on hand not only for snacks, but for green smoothies as well (a healthy, but expensive breakfast).

Rationalization #4: We rarely eat out

While this is good for our pocketbook overall, it is the single area that makes it difficult for me to compare grocery budgets. If one family eats out more than mine, of course their grocery budget is going to be less, but their Eating Out Budget may be more. Not that it really matters what everyone else is doing, it's just interesting to compare. ;)

So because we eat out very little (like one lunch per week), we buy more groceries... making my budgeted amount a little more than a family's that eats out more.

Make sense??

Rationalization #5: The US Government says we're on the THRIFTY PLAN

Based on this 2008 chart (and if I've done my math correctly), we're considered thrifty. I don't know whether to be pleased with myself or saddened by the standards... but there is always room for improvement:

Improvement Objective #1: Paper/plastic Products

We no longer use paper plates at our house! Go us! :) Our paper towel consumption has also decreased to approximately two rolls a month... PLUS, I got some really pretty cloth napkins for Christmas that I want to start using at supper! *I'm so excited! Seriously!* However, I'm not willing to switch to cloth hankies instead of Puffs. I love my Puffs with lotion! :)

As for the plastics... I'm stuck on my zippered bags. I'm trying to use more washable containers, but I'm not about to start washing out bags. I'm just not. Unfortunately, zippered bags are not cheap... even at Aldi's.

The majority of the zippered bags go in Will's school lunch box. I'm really tempted to purchase a Bento laptop lunchbox, but the upfront cost is higher than I'm willing to pay right now as I think Will could accidentally throw away pieces of it. However... if I do purchase this, it would save money in the long run, so I'm still undecided.

The other plastic zipper bag "hog" is the freezer. I freeze a lot of stuff in bags. What do you use to freeze foods safely? I'm willing to find better/cheaper alternatives here.

Improvement Objective #2: Reduce Meat

While the younger boys do need more fat in their diets, upon more research I found that increasing bean intake is also helpful for their condition. I've been experimenting more with lentils. I made spaghetti with half the meat I usually do and also added cooked lentils to keep the texture more "bulky" like we like it. Everyone ate it, no one complained... Will even had two helpings. I also made taco soup the same way - half the meat, with lentils for extra bulk. It was great! I plan to continue to substitute lentils for ground meat in more recipes. Maybe one day I'll just be making lentil spaghetti! Baby steps, though ...

Gayle at The Grocery Cart Challenge gave a very helpful tip one day: When a recipe calls for 1 pound of meat, use only 3/4 pound. The difference in the meal itself is unnoticeable and it stretches 4 pounds of meat to 5 meals. Genius! I've been doing this easily with ground meat, but need to remember to take this to heart with chicken and other meats, too.

Luckily, we also have two deer in the freezer. This will help our meat bill tremendously!

Do you have any meat reducing secrets?

Improvement Objective #3: Only buy free or almost free personal hygiene products

Last year, I STOCKED UP! I hit CVS, Wags, and Riteaid almost weekly. I have enough shampoo, conditioner, Johnson's Buddies, and baby lotions to last me the rest of 2009. Seriously. To keep my stockpile up for 2010, I will only "purchase" these items if I can get them for free or less than $0.25.

I have a decent stockpile of razors for Jeff and myself. I really need to keep an eye out for these. I'm willing to spend $0.50 per razor.

There are a few items we are not willing to change brands on that rarely have coupons, so I really need to find a way around this one...

Now, with all this said, I still struggle with the following:

In the long run, is it cheaper to stock up and buy in bulk or is it cheaper to stay within your budget, buy for the week only and bypass some of the deals?

Buying in bulk adds more to the weekly budget, but *usually* has a lower unit price. However, if I decided that not going over my budget is more frugal, that means bypassing some good deals and possibly spending more overall.

For instance, just yesterday I was in need of something for Jeff that averages $7-$8 each. I found them on 1/2 price at Publix. They had 6 bottles and I bought them all because it won't expire before they get used and it is something that I've never seen coupons for and isn't a regular sales item. I'm pretty certain that purchase is going to put me over my $125 for the week, but I think it was a good deal in the end.

Does this make sense? I don't know if I'm explaining it well... What do you think and how do you handle this type of situation?

I'm going to make myself a little more accountable by placing my weekly spending on my sidebar. Feel free to chastise me when I overspend! :)

And if you're willing to share your family's grocery budget, I'd love to know!

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Nowheymama said...

I instructed Katherine to keep all of her trash in her Laptop Lunchbox and that I'd throw it away at home. She hasn't accidentally thrown away any pieces, and this keeps her away from the milk-covered school trashcan.

Vanessa said...

Thanks for the tip on Target coupons, I didn't know. I love all the new tips I have learned from wonderful bloggers like yourself.

reprehriestless warillever said...

Thank you for all of this detail. I have also been tryingt o figure out how other families keep their costs down.

I am trying to put together a price book so that I am really sure what a "good deal" is. I just can't keep this stuff in my head like other people seem to. Stores in my region are never listed on frugal blogs, either.

Once I have some data I will post an update.

Dana said...

I use the glad/ziploc containers for the school lunches. I couldn't stand the bags being thrown away and me wasting money on them. Like you, I just couldn't do with washing them. It easy for them to open and I was worried that they may throw it away. If they did, I wasn't too worried. One small step towards being green.

Laptop Lunches Bento-ware said...

Very informative post! Glad to hear that you're thinking about purchasing one of our Laptop Lunches! Just wanted to confirm that they DO save money and often pay for themselves in just 4 weeks. Also thought we'd let you know that we've not yet removed the 20% discount that we offered over the holidays. It's scheduled to be removed on Friday, Jan 23, so if you do decide to purchase, this is the absolute best time to do so. (Use discount code holiday2008 when checking out.) If you do decide to move forward, we'd love your feedback on how Laptop Lunches help you reduce costs.

Happy eating (and saving!)

Amy Hemmert and Tammy Pelstring

Anonymous said...

Hi Becky, Ok one of my resolutions for this year was to spend less on food. That seems to be where ALL of our money goes. So any tips and advice would be greatly appreciated. We also have 3 deer in the freezer any new recipes or hints for this?

GreenPunkMama said...

I bought Gavin a bento box to take with me when I took him to school with me and it was lovely.
I also bought myself a fit and fresh lunch box set from target, they even have reusable ice!


Anonymous said...

I definitely do the stock up when I see a go-to item on major discount. Since you mentioned coconut oil, I get Nutiva coconut oil on Amazon whenever they have an instant rebate on it. You can get the very large containers of coconut oil from them this way at a very great price.

So, one week I might spend over $100 for the two of us, but the next week just $20-30.

Plus, our local store does daily markdowns on meat, veggies, bread, etc., so we try to get there when they open in the a.m. on our shopping days. If the getting is good, we freeze (but our freezer is small). I guess you would say I am an opportunist shopper :)

Good luck, your goal is impressive!

Anonymous said...

Blogger was "out" earlier so I am not sure if this is a double post ...

... but, thank you so much Becky! It was wonderful to read such a glowing review! I hope that you continue to enjoy the book and the recipes, many of which are budget-friendly :)

Anonymous said...

Okay, I posted that last comment to the other post on Go Dairy Free .. I am not sure what happened and why it sent me back here!Sorry about that, anyway, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's FEEDING6 .... I left a comment for you on my blog...
BUT my comment on this posting...
I think your budget is GREAT! You are spending FOOD money on other things! We spend $150 a week on FOOD! I know we could cut that down and that is what my blog is trying to do... BUT I want quality foods for our bodies... WE ONLY GET ONE BODY, WE SHOULD TAKE CARE OF IT!!!!!!!
I think you are doing great and I can't wait to follow your blog more!

Anonymous said...

We own 3 of the Laptop Lunch boxes. We love them! My children have never thrown any of the containers away. They were an investment since they were so costly. They are well worth the money.

Anonymous said...

Hi again - I just wanted to put my two, okay, five, cents in...

I think your budget is great! :) We have a budget of $500 a month as well, and that does include things besides food as well. Our best way to keep in a budget was to put the entire amount on a Visa gift card... it's accepted everywhere, even online, and we can reload it each month. That way, I HAVE to stay within the budget - when it's gone, it's gone! (Obviously, we have an emergency fund, but we've never dipped into it the entire time we've done this.) Anyway - just a thought!