A Grocery Spending Audit

A grocery spending audit is a great way to analyze your grocery spending habits and to see if you can reduce expenses to save money.

As I mentioned on Saturday, I went over budget this month on groceries. I was frustrated because I didn’t feel like I’d been wasteful or extravagant or shopped at expensive stores. Quite the contrary, I had sought the best deals and made my purchases very intentionally.

I loved the exchange of ideas in the comments section of Saturday’s Grocery Geek post. You guys rock major big time. If you didn’t follow the conversation over the weekend, hop on over and check it out. I was both encouraged and challenged.

Some back story….

Four years ago before I learned about couponing, our monthly budget for food, cleaning products and toiletries was $800. This was well below the national average at that time, but we were desperate to pay off debt and in the ensuing months did all we could to cut it in half.

Yes, in half. Basically, I became a grocery/coupon addict.

My poor husband. There was no living with me. All I could talk about was the deals that I was getting or the cool coupons I had found. It was a wonderful means to an end. We paid off all our debt by the following spring, in part, thanks to shaving our food budget.

I am so thankful for that season. I learned so much — and not just about couponing. And the coupons themselves were a blessed means to an end. Saving money each time at the store gave me confidence that we could beat back our debt. If you think you can do something, usually you can. That adrenaline rush accomplished much.

Within the two years that followed, however, my life became busier. I had six kids instead of five. I was working part-time from home. And the grocery stores in California weren’t offering as good of deals as the grocery stores in Kansas had done. My coupon clipping slowed down a bit.

After we paid off our debt, we had more wiggle room in the budget and were able to spend more on food costs. Fun food, finally! And then, because we weren’t desperate to pinch pennies, I started reading nutrition books.

Now, I’m on a new journey to adjust some of my purchasing in order to feed my family better foods.

Until the American growers, manufacturers and FDA change some of their practices, I realize that it’s an uphill battle. I realize that it will cost more money to feed my family more nutritious fare. But, hell hath no fury like a mother scorned.

OK, that sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?

But, once upon a time we were $16,000 in debt and the future looked bleak. We survived that so I have confidence we can, Lord willing, figure this out, too. While I don’t want to go all Rambo about our food, I do want to make wise choices about the food I eat and feed to my family. The more I read, the more I realize that using “plain ingredients” may not be enough. I know, there’s great debate. And I could be wrong about some of my conclusions. But, something’s amiss. The pink slime debacle has taught me that.

It matters how those ingredients are farmed and produced. And I’m trying to figure that out at the same time as stay in the black.

Because we will stay in the black.

So, without a lot of political rhetoric or scientific explanations, just know that my struggle is not to spend less money on food. I know how to do that. Instead my challenge is to feed my family better food without spending a LOT more money than we would for conventional products with coupons.

Sounds daring, huh? (I am such a geek….)

The Grocery Spending Audit

I mentioned on Saturday that it must be time for an audit. If I spent more than I intended to, bringing our year-to-date monthly average over goal by at least $100, then it’s time to see what’s going on.

An audit on your grocery spending would entail looking at

  • who you feed
  • what you like to eat
  • how much you spend
  • what you buy
  • what you have stored for future meals
  • if you can lower any of those costs without paying more in some other way

With the price of gas these days, I think fuel costs need to factor in this discussion as well.

So, here’s my grocery audit.

Who I feed

Our family includes one dad, one mom, four boys (14, 11, 9, 7) and two girls (5, 3). Everyone is fairly active and healthy. This picture is almost a year old, so imagine everyone a head taller, except for me and the hubs.

We went out to breakfast the other day to innaugurate Spring Break. We feasted at a local restaurant, not a chain. Turns out their unadvertised special is the same price as the “kid’s meals”. The boys all gladly gave up having a drink in order to get two eggs, two pancakes or French toast, and two sausage or bacon. You should have seen the platters full of food! The pancakes were large and the french toast was actually four large “halves” which easily could have each counted for a “piece.” I figured we’d surely be wasting food.

But, no. They scarfed down every last bit!

So, now, I understand a little why I went over budget this month on groceries! LOL. Everyone can eat a lot. And as some of you intimated on Saturday, this is only the beginning.

What we like to eat

We tend to favor “gourmet” meals, including French cheeses, good coffee, and great bread. And we’re willing to “splurge” on those luxury items just for taste alone. Hubs would say that his wife is a big fan of froofy food.

I also prefer to limit our processed sugars, serve whole grains (like brown rice instead of white), and, as of late, buy organic produce and hormone-free dairy products. We have one child with allergies to nuts and eggs, so those proteins are kind of off-limits for family-wide meals. We still eat them, but if I make them for a main dish, I still need to feed her something else.

How much I spend

Last year, my monthly average hovered between $600  and $700/month. This year, I’m averaging around $914, a little higher than I would like. I feel comfortable at $800.

What I buy

Since I’m a total grocery geek, I have pictorial documentation of almost every shopping trip. Hehe. I scrolled through this month’s posts to review. I bought a lot of fresh produce, boxed cereal, crackers, rice cakes, bagels, breads, cheese, dairy, and sugar. I didn’t buy a lot of meat as we were using the meat from the freezer that I had bought in Feburary.

We didn’t waste much food this month, so I know that we ate almost all of that produce. I have a small stockpile of cabbage that I need to deal with. But, the pineapples, the cuties, the potatoes, the pea tendrils (sigh) are all gone. So are the bread, cereal, and snack foods, except for what I bought over the weekend.

I shop at stores based on their convenience to home, their prices, or the fact that I feel good about the ingredients in their products. For example, Trader Joe’s promises that their store brand products contain no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, msg, genetically modified ingredients, or transfats. This saves me the time and hassle of reading every stinking label.

I shop at Ralphs because it’s close to home, on a regular route that I drive, and offers great manager’s specials. Twenty-five cents for a K-cup? Yes! Sprouts is also close to home and a good place for “all natural” or specialty ingredients that I might want for a recipe.

We go to Costco for their great prices on dairy, produce, and bread. They also have the best price on non-sale meats. So, if there isn’t a store sale on chicken, I know I can get a decent price there.

I subscribe to a weekly produce box from Abundant Harvest Organics. It provides an abundance of organic produce at prices that are very comparable to conventional produce on sale. The only catch is that I don’t get to choose. This is a double-edged sword. I don’t like parsnips, but I’ve discovered a wealth of other items that I might not ever have tried otherwise.

What I have stored for future meals

I like to practice stockpiling, where I buy a lot of something at a great price and then use it slowly over time. In this way, I avoid paying a high price for something when I “need” it because I already have it on hand. Unfortunately, I don’t have a huge stockpile right now.

The freezer holds butternut squash and applesauce that I processed from the produce box awhile back. But, there aren’t too many freezer meals to speak of. Maybe a small handful. My last big freezer cooking session was in February and we’ve been enjoying that ever since. I don’t have a lot of meals left from it, so we’re due for another round of cooking this week.

The pantry is not bursting either. I have lots of evaporated sugarcane juice (25 pounds) as well as a few big bags of quinoa, rice and beans, some pasta and jars of condiments. We’re running low on oats and flour. I buy very few canned goods, though there’s currently a good selection of tomato products and canned beans.

What I can do to lower expenses

Considering the above situations, here’s my plan of attack:

1. Make more snacks.

Since the snack foods have the highest ticket price (about $2 each at Trader Joe’s) and I bought a lot of them last month, those are the items that I’m going to need to cut back on and fill them with cheaper, but just as tasty alternatives. My plan is to do a lot of baking in the coming week and freeze those items. I also want to make fruit and veggie dippers more readily available for the kids to snack on. I’ve been experimenting with a chewy cereal bar. A few more tweaks and I think we’ll be there.

2. Bake more bread.

It used to be that I baked a lot more of our bread. Not for nutrition reasons, but for taste and cost. While I love the convenience of sandwich bread, I guess it’s time to explore baking my own again. I know that it should save us money.

3. Do a mega freezer cooking session.

It’s time. Our school year has been so busy, I haven’t been able to do a full-day session of freezer cooking. But, I think we’re due. The time spent would probably be earned back in full bellies and a few more pennies in my purse. This week I’ve be making double (or maybe even triple) batches of granola, enchiladas, chicken pot pie, taco meat, pasta sauce, and baking mixes. It takes a lot of food to feed this crew and it’s time to get a little ahead of the game.

4. Consider once-a-month-shopping.

This idea was suggested by several readers over the weekend. It’s something that I used to do when I had to cart all the kids with me on shopping trips. Now that the older ones can babysit, I can usually shop by myself. However, the point of spending less gas and less time — and presumably less money — by shopping less often does sound like a good one. I’m not sure how this will work itself out, but I’m thinking about how to make it work for me.

We live in an area where there are five stores within five miles of home and probably a dozen between here and hubby’s work, so it seems unnecessary to buy milk to freeze. That’s an easy quick stop if we need it. But, I am thinking about making one stop per month at my stores of choice. There are certain things that I buy at certain stores. If I were a little more proactive in my list making and bought enough to last us until the next trip, I might be able to pull it off. We’ll see….

I do very little shopping for clothes or housewares, so I confess groceries are my retail therapy.

5. Shop the pantry.

While I think that I’m pretty good at building meals from what we already have, I am sure that I could practice my chops a little more. So, I’m going to try to keep the pantry and refrigerator organized on a more consistent basis as this really helps me know what we have and what we could use up instead of buying more.

6. Strike a balance.

Cooking for eight is a challenge in itself. Add into that mix an at-home job and a full day of homeschooling, and there’s just so many hours in my day. So, I can’t reasonably cook everything from scratch for every meal. I might go insane. Yes, I have a husband and children who help. But, they are busy, too. I don’t want to freak out over nutrition or pinching pennies.

I want a balanced budget as well as a balanced diet. And a sane mind wouldn’t be too bad, either.

Going into April and in an effort to bring my monthly average back down to $800, I’m going to try to spend less this month and offset previous spending. I don’t want to name a number, but I do have one in my head. I think that if I can work on one or two of the above solutions, that should really help.

We’ll see!

Have you done a grocery spending audit?

I’d love to hear your experience and what works for you to eat better but not break the bank.

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Comments

  1. I wouldn’t jump on the once a month bandwagon yet. Look at your evidence. You have a pantry that isn’t well-stocked. You haven’t wasted much food. You often purchase things that are on special or have been marked down. You don’t have a load of extra freezer space. You shop intentionally without tossing things in your cart.

    I might consider buying snack foods once a month since you’ve targeted that as an area to work on – give yourself a budget for it and when it runs out, time to bake.

    But for the rest, you’d miss out on specials, you’d spend time and energy planning out a month’s worth of purchases and storing them, freezing and defrosting. For someone who is not usually tempted to go off track and who lives so close to the stores, seems like a waste of effort.

    • Jessica says:

      @cherie, you make a great point about having a snacks budget. That is a great idea. And I can make that a family project. If they know what’s available and that there is an end to it, they might be more mindful of it. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Kirsten says:

    Jessica,
    I have recently started regularly reading your blog and what I have appreciated that I have not found many other places is your honesty about your weakness’ as well as your strengths. I love that there are times you overspend and there are times that you get the great deal. :) I am new to the idea of being concerned where exactly my food comes from. I attempt to buy foods that don’t have all the artificial stuff as well as the fake ingredients. But now to be watch for GMO is new. As with many things in motherhood I swing between what we can afford within budget and buying the best foods out there and the guilt that comes with choosing one over the other. All that to ask my question…we are currently in debt and working hard to get out of it. And other than our mortgage, food/groceries is our biggest spender each month. I have also started couponing to attempt to reduce spending but like others have said you can’t really get coupons on produce and the ‘good’ stuff. Would work on reducing debt before going full force on all organic/ all natural food supply. And then just ignore the quilt when I give my children crackers that are not organic? I look forward to seeing your granola bar recipe as I am trying to find more snack foods that I can make. If you have a cracker or a non-sweet snack food (preferably without cheese) that you have baked and frozen for later could you pass that along as well. THANKS!

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words.

      In answer to your question, I think I would say this: If I had to relive the last four years, I would buy less processed food and make more from scratch, but I wouldn’t worry about the organic part. If it were me (and everyone is different), I would want to be out of debt as fast as possible. That whole, “live like no one else so that you can live like no one else” resonates with me.

      I still buy lots of things that aren’t organic. LOTS of things. I’ve just chosen a few to be picky about. And we are “picky” about cheese, yogurt and coffee. But, I can go back and forth on other things. Rereading the list of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables was really helpful to me. There are still lots of “good” options even if you can’t swing “best.”

    • @Kirsten, I’ll second Jessica’s answer. Do the best you can by trying to avoid the complete crap, but getting out of debt is really important. If you spend your money on all organic foods, which causes your debt-elimination program to take twice as long, that is a lot more time to be feeling guilty about something. If you are putting in a concerted effort to get everything paid off, then you know that while you might have to settle for less than the best, it is for a certain period of time. The sooner the debt is paid off, the sooner you can upgrade more of the foods without straining the budget, and everyone is better off all around.

    • Jennifer Ott says:

      We eats lots of popcorn; organic by the 50# bag is really inexpensive. I can flavor a huge bowl with just a little butter and sea salt if we want. It’s a nice, filling, whole grain option. We also use a hot air popper. The kids don’t mind the left-overs when I bag them up! @Kirsten,

  3. @cherie, Cherie…I LOVE the idea of shopping once a month for snacks with a strict budget….I love the simple ideas we can share that arre such AHAs for someone else! I agree that if you are a good mark down shopper you loose a lot of opportunity shopping once a month- also that is more difficult when buying fresh food. I am still trying to figure out how to shop once a week and not end up with yucky limp produce by the end of the week!

    • Jessica says:

      I would suggest researching each of those vegetables that go yucky and find out the best way to store them. That can make a HUGE difference. Sometimes storing them with certain veggies can make it worse because they offgas each other.

      • @Jessica, one that I hadn’t known that works beautifully is wrapping celery in aluminum foil – no clue why it works – but it keeps it fresh for a long time!
        Funny – I could probably use a snack budget myself LOL – I didn’t really think of it till I was thinking through the negative’s of once a month shopping LOL!

  4. very insightful….i just moved here to virginia from canada 6 months ago, we were hoping the “cheap” and “amazing” food prices i’ve seen bloggers rave about would offset the medical insurance cost…HA>…yeah, didn’t happen….the eggs and milk that used to be pennies on the dollar to cnd prices….are the same…and potatoes are almost twice the price here…sigh….

    so we’re adapting…slowly, by doing like you and reviewing the month…yes the good deals..(alhtough i have tons of carb laden food in the pantry for pennies on the dollar…they are not a whole food..) i’ve noticed we have too much waste going on…guests who didnt want the meal we were going to prepare ..at least i was able to freeze the great steaks for later…and a house wide flu bug that let way too much food go bad. Also not being organized on a few shopping trips. so for april, eat the meat i bought on sale, and therefore plan ahead to thaw the darn stuff….don’t let what we have go BAD!!…use it up!!!! seriously what went bad meat and produce wise when we were ill could have fed a family for a week…and THAT IS SHAMEFUL……

    one step at a time and review…i think a monthly audit would be beneficial for the next while…THANK YOU for the idea….and sorry for the stream of consciousness as i worked through my own issues..lol

    • Jessica says:

      Ha! Stream of consciousness is my life! Glad you’re working it out. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

    • @celina, Nothing shameful about blowing it when the house is sick – we can all only do our best

    • @celina, I live in VA too and whenever my parents visit from MA my Mom can not get over how much more food is here. So, that’s probably part of why you are not seeing the cost go down like you thought it would.

  5. I like this: I want a balanced budget as well as a balanced diet. And a sane mind wouldn’t be too bad, either.

    Seems I’m on a never-ending journey learning to balance all those things:) It’s like a tight-rope walk sometimes! Regarding baking bread, have you ever tried the 5-min artisan bread? I almost always have a bowl of the dough in my fridge. I rarely use it for loaves, but I make all kinds of flatbreads from it, and it’s SO convenient and takes so little time.

    • @Anne, I would like to know more about this artisan bread. I’ve seen a few recipes that said they were for “easy” artisan bread, but haven’t tried any yet. Breadmaking is one of my unexplored areas of cooking. Not unexplored, but barely explored. It seems time consuming and I haven’t seen good results. I’ve tried the breadmaker too. I live in the mountains, so i’m wondering how much of it is the altitude. Anyway, if you could share this recipe, I would appreciate it. :-)

    • Jessica says:

      @Anne, I did a lot of the 5-minute artisan bread last summer. We go through two loaves in a sitting which made it really hard to keep up with the demand. Plus, the container that I mix it in has to be huge. I will have to figure out how to make it work better. That’s been in the back of my mind for awhile.

      • @Jessica, You mentioned you also like sandwich bread. You should totally try money saving moms whole wheat bread for beginners (not that you are a beginner). It is the only whole wheat bread machine recipe I have found that is fabulous for sandwiches and healthy too. I love throwing the ingredients in the bread machine to make the dough and do all the dirty work, and then put it in a pan to rise and bake in the oven. So easy, so delicious, and very healthy since it is 2/3 whole wheat.

  6. “I do very little shopping for clothes or housewares, so I confess groceries are my retail therapy.” <—- This is my problem!!!!!!!!!

    I do once a month shopping when things get busy for me (being or end of pregnancy, starting new schedules, etc.)…but I still must take all my littles with me so finding one day that DH can watch them helps me to go to all 4-5 stores that we regularly shop at (food allergies, ugh.) and get everything we need to a month. It saves my sanity. But, I don't always do it. I LIKE fresh raw milk so I generally go once a week. Maybe going every two weeks would be a better balance…? I find that keeping an inventory of my freezer on my freezer (we have an upright and I write on my freezer door with a dry erase marker of everything we have in there) has helped me A LOT in being organized and knowing and using what we actually have.

    You have inspired me! I think I am going to start keeping ALL of my receipts and audit our spending in 6 months. I seem to always go over our grocery budget by $100-$200.

  7. I really appreciate this post and the one from Saturday, on a number of levels.

    The number one thing I think is so key to this whole thing is that 1)staying in the black is the only option, 2) lowering the food budget by a ton is not the goal, and 3) good nutrition is worth the money. I appreciate keeping these three things in check while also understanding that this means sometimes things might cost more and sometimes they might cost less. There are times when rice and beans are the only option, but this isn’t that time for your family.

    We are a family of 2 young adults living in Alaska. Therefore, I have to be extremely cautious when I read about people’s grocery budgets. A gallon of organic milk in my town is about $8 for the store brand. So, for 2 people we spend about $400 per month on groceries. We also have a bulk food fund that I sometimes add extra money to, depending on the leftovers in the budget at the end of the month. The plus side is that we have a freezer full of salmon. The down side is that fresh fruits and vegetables cost an arm and a leg. Veggies can be grown here in the summertime, but fruits other than berries always have to be trucked in.

    The balance is difficult and we spend a lot on food. But we eat rice and beans in some form or another 2 or 3 times per week. We don’t have any beef in the house because of the cost. Sometimes you just spend what you have to and smile about it. Location can be everything.

    • Jessica says:

      @Alaina, you’re right. Location matters a lot. I live in a very moderate climate where fruit and veggie prices are very low typically. And I “could” grow my own if I were motivated. It sounds like you’re doing a great job given your circumstances!

  8. I have really enjoyed following your grocery geek series. I love finding new ways and sources to feed my growing family. I, too, have seen a huge savings in reducing prepackaged snacks. My kids now get super excited about the produce because those are their snacks. Finding time to process (clean, chop, and store) our produce does require some prioritization on my part. Time is money, right?

    My latest effort is trying to see if I can source my oats, coconut oil, and evap cane sugar from a cheaper source than my wholesale clubs. Some co-ops require fees or minimum purchases, and I sometimes struggle with the added costs. So I’ve found a family-owned business that sells bulk foods at co-op comparable prices (without the fees). I’m hoping that will work out. I’ve also been hinting to hubby that I’d like a grain mill to make higher quality bread at a lower price. Again, that’s a pretty big purchase.

    I know you’ve really struck a chord with many of us that want to balance quality food and our budgets. Thank you again for letting us share in your journey.

  9. I’ve done the once a month shopping before, and hope to be getting back to it again. For the milk and any fresh produce/fruit that does not keep that long, we swing by the store on our way home from church as needed (once a week or every other week). Any store is 30 min. from us, so it’s easy to stay home. :-)

    • Jessica says:

      @Miriam, we used to live in the sticks and I stocked up a lot more than I do now. The trouble with stocking up is that my kids would eat it all!

  10. I’m wondering if anyone buys grains in large bulk quantities as a cost-saving strategy. I know some people even grind their own flour, but I have never done anything like this. The only thing remotely close to this that I do is buy oatmeal and rice in bulk at the health food store from the bins where you fill up your own bags.

    • Jessica says:

      @Stacy, I’ve investigated that from time to time, but it doesn’t seem like the cost savings is there unless you buy A LOT. I opted not to buy flour from Azure Standard this month because the per pound price at Walmart was cheaper. Not exactly the same quality, but I haven’t moved “organic grains” onto my “must do” list.

      • @Jessica, Thanks for the info on the flour–I didn’t know if it would be cheaper or not. I don’t know what Azure Standard is but I’ll look it up. I have found that Walmart has been carrying some better quality flour lately and have bought some. I’ve read several times that the better the flour quality, the better the quality of the baked items. It has partly to do with it being high quality and/or organic and partly to do with how it is ground. The actual process of grinding matters. I’ve considered buying the gigantic bulk flour at Costco, but I am concerned about the quality and about whether it would go bad sitting around for so long. Plus, storing it seems like a pain.

        • Jessica says:

          @Stacy, Azure Standard is a health-food co-op. You have to sign up with a drop point and it’s fairly complicated. As for flour at Costco, my location does not sell unbleached or whole wheat which are the kinds I use. I have bought big buckets at Smart and Final to store my big purchases. And you can also store flour in the freezer to extend its shelf life. So, if you find a good deal, don’t hesitate to stock up.

      • @Jessica,
        for bulk whole wheat flour(regular not organic) U can also check if U have any Indian grocerry store nearby, they sell 20 lb. bags ranging from $7-11. They also sell big 8 lb. bags of different beans & legumes & even spices(if U use them on regular basis).

  11. I didn’t say thank you in my last post, but I wanted to say thank you here. Even for those of us with smaller families your posts are so helpful in keeping us mindful about both budget and non-monetary benefits our food brings us. :)

    I have a possibly impending move back to California and to be honest, I have to get OUR food spending in check before that happens. Course, we’re going to be eating out of the pantry a lot, because it could happen in as little as 4 weeks, which I was not prepared for! Hello protein shake stockpile, I am not moving you :)

  12. Margaret says:

    I am also due for a grocery audit, but thankfully your action steps are the same ones I usually take!

    On the monthly shopping strategy… just wanted to share some information. If you have read any of the books by “America’s Cheapest Family” (Economides is their last name, I think) they talk about this. The dad worked in advertising/marketing for a long time. One thing they said that really struck me was that in a typical grocery cart, 70% of the items are impulse purchases! This is because most people don’t shop with a list and the store is designed to get you to make impulse purchases. When I worked at a grocery store, the marketing strategy had two goals: 1. Get more customers in the store and 2. Increase basket size.

    So… the point is, if you shop less frequently, you have fewer opportunities to make impulse purchases. Of course, there are other ways to change your behavior. Always have a list (maybe a monthly list that you keep in your car?) and bring a calculator so you have a running total of your monthly spending. When you reach that number, maybe it’s time to cook from the pantry until the next month?

    Thanks for all the ideas! I get my best information from other moms!

  13. You have come up with a great plan. You mentioned the snacks being expensive. I was wondering about the K-cups. I know 25 cents is cheap for K-cups, but is it cheaper than buying coffee like you did before? I’m not a gourmet coffee person, so I haven’t got a clue what Peet’s costs. But, I do know I don’t spend nearly 25 cents per cup of coffee, even when 2-3 cups from a pot go down the drain. It might be worth exploring, depending on how much coffee you all drink.

    • Jessica says:

      @Sharon, you’re a wise woman to ask about the coffee. We do drink a fair amount of coffee. Hubs makes his really strong. It’s one of those non-negotiables. We experimented when we were in debt, but realized it was the one “helps you get out of the bed in the morning” thing if it were really good. So, yeah, we’re kinda weird about coffee.

      Peets has raised their prices, so that was what prompted my last two purchases of K-cups. I was experimenting to find a cheaper, just as tasty option. Prior to March, I was using Peets in a refillable K-cup. And hubs makes his one cup at a time in a drip cone filter that you put over your cup.

      I’m going to be on the hunt for some sales on Peets ($9 or $10 at Walmart for 12 ounces, regular price, more at the other stores). But, yes, you’re right. Coffee is one of our pricier items.

  14. I would also like to say thank you for the last two posts. I spend $400-450 a month on groceries for 3 (Los Angeles, maybe a little more expensive.) I completely agree with Margaret on the impulse buying. It happens to me every time I go to the store. The only solution: stop going to the store so often. I really have that problem at Target…

    Could you do two grocery runs a month? One to Trader Joes and then two weeks later to Ralphs/Kroger/brand name store? Stick to your grocery lists and bring cash. Don’t charge on your credit cards. When you need to buy milk/bread in between times, go into the store WITHOUT A BASKET (which encourages more buying.) If you have to hold two gallons of milk in your arms, you can’t buy much else and will save money.

    Good luck on baking bread. It takes me a long time. I only have one child. I can’t imagine how you can home school 6, cook dinner and make homemade bread all of the time. I love your blog. I am trying to reduce my own grocery spending but am starting by dropping all of the snack foods and prepackaged foods that are in the middle of the store. I work full time and have also started bringing my own lunch to work everyday (am saving around $40 a week this way.)

    • Jessica says:

      @Susan, yeah, the idea of keeping us in bread scares me to death. I’m not the grind-your-own-wheat, bake-your-own-bread kind of homeschooler. But, I’m guessing, I might be able to pull off more quick breads or teach the kids to use the bread machine — at least for breakfasts.

  15. Hi Jessica! I love your blog and follow you faithfully. I’m a personal chef and I just started my own blog yesterday…documenting trying to feed my family of four on only $400 this month. Wish me luck. Your tips have helped me to prepare for this month and I’m hoping to share my successes and challenges. I’ve done the once a month thing, I’ve done the run all over the place in one day thing, I’ve done the shop whenever you have time thing…have had pros and cons to each one. Thanks for being honest with your challenges and for sharing your experiences. :)

  16. I feel your pain. We are in a similar boat: 2 adults, 5 kids ages 12-9, 4 boys, 1 girl, dairy sensitivities, all of us very active. Since we are a blended family, I have the additional challenge of constantly changing numbers to cook for.

    Costco is my best buddy, as is my extra fridge and freezer. I generally buy my sandwich bread, milk, almond milk, eggs, cheese, fish, yogurt, greens, and snack food there. snacks are killing me. One box of regular granola bars lasts for one snack, and all the kids prefer Clif bars ($$$). We try to reserve them for “out of the house” food and rely more on homebaked goods and fruits and veg at home but even that is spendy. I just made a batch of maple nut granola and 2 days later it and the half gallon of yogurt I bought last week are gone!! I don’t know what I’m gonna do when they are teenagers.

  17. Oh, and coffee. Yeah, I hear you on the coffee. We spend 11 bucks a pound on organic locally roasted coffee. But it gets me up in the morning, soooooo . . . . .

  18. Our grocery spending has gotten a bit crazy lately. I need to get it back under control. (we are fine money wise but getting it under control gives us extra money to put away for vacation, savings or other such things) I’m not organic oriented but have started moving there for some things slowly. The pink slime business has pushed me too. I do like Trader Joes for the reasons you mentioned and their prices are decent. I am leaning towards buying more organic meats (chicken and ground beef since that’s what we eat the most of) but the prices are hard for me. But, my friends husband is in agriculture (fed gov’t end of things) and has talked about how the antibiotics stay in the meat and then we consume it and are getting to much antibiotics. That does not sit well with me.

    Oh, and I am impressed with how well you can feed your family for what you spend. We are a family of 4 and I can not imagine having to feed a family of 8 without passing out from the cost! I like the idea of a snack budget. If I stock up on snacks they just want to gobble it up. Thanks for the great discussion.

    • Jessica says:

      @Kris, it’s so hard to know how to prioritize stuff. I was never big on organics either. I figured “plain old ingredients” would be fine. But, I’d rather err on the side of safer, if I can afford it.

  19. I am enjoying these posts alot. It’s hard to balance the budget vs. quality food. The other day I went to pick up some apples (my 8 year old loves them… and eats at least one daily). Anyway, the cheapest apples were $1.29 per # and were looking sort of tired. So I spent $1.49 per pound…. I didn’t look what those 6 apples cost me :| but I love that my kids are eating fresh fruit.

  20. Lori Hurley says:

    Hubby gave me the news that this 2-week shop had to be really, really low because of some other things we needed. So… I went to 2 stores, shopped the sales, and stuck to my list. I had to make some hard compromises between food for my 5 kids (two teen boys) and my wish to feed them all-natural. This week, having food to feed them had to trump having all-natural food to feed them.

    Snacks are my families BIGGEST issue. I spend more on snacks then anything else… and they are always gone before the next shop. I even have my teens snacking on whole sandwiches, leftovers, fruits and veggies, and they can STILL eat an entire bag of expensive, all-natural chips in a single day. Heck, if more than one of them is in the kitchen, they can go through an entire bag of chips in about an hour.

  21. Samantha says:

    Love your posts!

    We require good coffee around here too, so I did lots of research to find a local roaster instead and I just have it shipped to me. Might be an option for you as well since I’m in the Bay Area. I have even ordered from place in Oregon/Washington.

    • @Samantha, I’ll check that out. This week I found coffee on great sale at Ralphs. Called hubby to find out his fave Starbucks flavor. And we’re good to go for the next 6 weeks. :)

  22. The dairy prices are putting me over budget in a big way. I just stopped nursing our now 14 month old last month so it’s a new mouth to feed organic milk. I decided to go with a local dairy milk delivery to see how that works. It’s actually slightly less for the 1/2 gallon from the local dairy than for the organic milk at the grocery store that came from halfway across the country. It’s not certified organic, but they don’t use hormones and it’s healthy feed. It’s one of those tricky questions, organic vs local….

  23. I feel like I am right in the middle of this “eating well but trying to spend less” challege. I have been trying to make much more from scratch and I am buying much less processed things these days. My question is how do you budget for just food? I have a weekly “grocery” budget of $140 for five people, but this is so much more than food. It includes all household items-cleaning supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, over the counter medicines, toiletry items (shampoo, soap), etc. My three year old twins are no longer in diapers but they do wear pullups at night still and this is also in the budget. I sit down to make my meal plan for the week and then write my grocery list, then I add all the items our household needs. I am having a hard time feeding my family well on our budget and getting what our household needs to run well. I guess I need to divide it up somehow but some weeks we need less household items and other weeks more. Do you have any advice in this area? I have loved reading your blogs. I have tried many of your recipes. I find encouragment in your “life” posts and I hope to start homeschooling our 5 year old in the fall.

    • @Kristi, now that we are out of diapers, our costs have gone way down. I make my own cleaners. I only use vinegar, baking soda and bleach occasionally. And we don’t use much in the way of paper towels, meds, or toiletries. I stock up on TP at CVS when they have sales on it. I guess I’m no help in that way. Sorry.

  24. Re: the growing family.
    I read something online once (thrifty fun, I think) about hungry growing boys. The author had her son eat a baked potato or a bowl of oatmeal in the afternoon before he could eat anything else. He “got” to have those things, and they filled him up cheaply.
    Perhaps a “first go to this” cheap snack would be helpful?

    • @Molly, thanks for the reminder. We’ve done that from time to time, and I’m trying to be better about the veggie tray. It’s all in the prep work it seems.

      • @Jessica, Ah, then they need to learn to chop veggies. I learned how to chop a sweet potato “correctly” last week. And by “correctly”, I mean my husband got tired of me bending the knife when I just chopped down instead of slicing.

  25. With living in California and produce being cheaper you could learn how to can or if you know how to start canning more. Canned tomatoes is so much better from a jar and homemade spaghetti sauce is always a welcome. Going to garage sales you can find jars and sometimes new lids for fairly cheap. Good luck in your quest.

    • Susan T says:

      @Wendy,
      Wendy, something interesting is that I go to a lot of garage sales ( we live in the Los Angeles area) and we never see canning supplies at garage sales. Produce is still not dirt cheap and if you drive for 2 hours, you still see city so a farm or u pick place is like 1 1/2 or 2 hours away? at least the ones I have heard from. I really only know a couple of older ladies that used to can but no one else I know has ever done it. I wanted to ask someone about it but I think the prices would still need to be cheaper or from your own garden to make it worthwhile. It does sound like a great idea though if it would work in our area.

      • @Susan T, I agree on the dearth of canning supplies in more urban areas, but I do think that sale produce is “dirt cheap” in comparison to other places in the country. ;)

    • @Wendy, I have done some canning in the past, mostly jams. I am hoping to can tomatoes this summer. And I always make my own sauce and freeze it. But, as Susan commented, CA is not the canning mecca that other places are. It’s hard to find jars on good sale. And usu the selection is mehhh.

  26. When we lived in Oklahoma the church we attended had a group of ladies that made their own bread (because they had such large families). They found a source of local wheat (bought in 5 gallon buckets) and ground the wheat using a Whispermill (I don’t think they make them anymore) and then used a Bosch mixer that was large enough to make 5 loaves a bread at a time.

    The bread dough was used for bread, monkey bread and pizza crust. It was delicious! I jumped on the bandwagon only to quickly discover my daughter was gluten intolerant! Ack!

    This summer my goal is to master gluten free bread making…since DH has now decided he’s going gluten free as well. Those $5 loaves of Udi bread only make 4 sandwiches!

    • @Jane, I knew lots of moms in Paso Robles who did that same thing. I’m just not up to the grinding and baking thing. But, we’re working on the Artisan Bread thing. Gonna use that for pizza tonight.

  27. Cheri A says:

    Jessica,

    I remember a while back that you were discussing the basic membership and the executive memberships at Costco. My Sam’s Club membership will expire next month, so I’m thinking about trying Costco this year because of all the great things I’ve heard and because their ground beef doesn’t contain pink slime, but the membership is higher. I am still on the fence about which membership would be best for us. Are you still happy with the executive membership?

    • @Cheri A, we got enough back last year to pay for the upgrade. But, we didn’t “make” any money off it. We also had at least one big ticket item there, so I’m not sure it would always be worth it. Though, it is nice not to be accosted at check-out.

  28. Jessica says:

    Thanks for this post! I consider myself a bit of a grocery geek too. Over the busy holiday months/winter, I shopped once a month for all our pantry/freezer items. I did it mostly for time savings. Our weeks of homeschooling, my part time job, and the kids activities are so full, I really didn’t want to spend a couple of hours every week grocery shopping…especially on Saturdays when I MIGHT get to sleep in! I used regular runs into town to pop into the store for extra produce or milk. I think it did trim a good bit off our budget, just not going into the stores as often. But lately, I’ve gotten off track. Plus, it seems with the new options of fresh produce in the spring, we are emptying the crisper drawers in just a few days. Time for our own audit around here to get the spending back down!

  29. LOVE the snack budget idea! As a domestic engineer who home schools 3 of 4 daughters, we tend to go through the snacks. The funny thing is my girls will eat raw bell peppers & grapes & other fruit/veggies if I have them readily in reach, but if chips & other “bad for you” choices are easier to get, they’ll eat those. We can go through an HUGE amount of food in a short amount of time. (I thought boys were big eaters. . .my 3 year old could put some boys to shame!) I shop once a week since we eat lots of perishable goods, I don’t think I could do a month at a time (besides we go through 3 gallons of milk a week). I do try to shop for meat every other week or every 3rd week but will pick up good deals in between if I find them. Thanks for all the good tips. So happy I “stumbled” across your site through where else, Pinterest of course!

  30. I haven’t done a grocery shopping audit, but I may have to :) My grocery budget is $100 a week for my family of five and lately it’s been harder to fit everything in. Prices are definitely rising at the store and I am nervous to see if that happens at the farmers markets as well, this summer.

    One tip I have that might help is to look for reduced produce. Some stores have a rack, or you can ask the produce manager if they have anything in the back. Yesterday I got around 12lbs of strawberries for $6 from my store’s reduced produce rack :) I eat a green smoothie for breakfast every morning and strawberries are the most expensive part of them. Getting them cheap is a huge help with my grocery budget.

    Also, be careful when you’re at Costco-that place can suck you in and spit you out with an empty wallet lol. I recently let our membership expire. I loved their organic items but I always ended up with a bunch of stuff that wasn’t on my list, that magically appeared in my cart. In the end it wasn’t really saving me money.

  31. I’m just discovering your blog! I’m a bit of a foodie myself and we deal with allergies. Food is a huge expense for us and, frankly, I suck at planning. But I want to get better. I’m going to try to do an audit!

    Also, parsnips are awesome. Have you tried roasting them in olive oil, a bit of thyme, and sea salt? Candy.

  32. We have cut back on the cereal we buy. My husband and 5 year old actually enjoy making waffles almost every morning! Also I have been baking my own brea the last few months. My husband prefers the “no knead” crusty bread, but if you ate looking for a good sandwich bread recipe this recipe is good every time: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/white-bread-for-the-bread-machine/ I make the dough in the machine but bake in the oven (350-375 for 25 minutes). I have used up to 1/3 whole wheat with no problem. This recipe in its simplicity is superior to the sandwich bread in “the bread bible” in my opinion.

  33. Hey, I just found your site and I know I am slow to chime in here, but this is what I used to do for snacks. In fact, dh and I were just talking about going back to it.
    I set a monthly budget, bought what I could on that amount and put them in a sealed plastic box out of eye sight of the children. I would bring those out interspersed with homemade snacks. The kids thought it was great that I could find things “hidden” in the pantry and because I knew what was in the box I was able to plan the snacks out.

  34. A few months ago I had to go gluten, dairy and soy free. Boy was that a change! And a pantry clean out, replaced with gluten free options? Talk about expensive!

    We used to get by on about $70 a week for my husband and I, even when I was pregnant. Now my little one is here, I am eating way more than I ever did while pregnant, plus eating GFCF soy free, we spend about $100 a week on groceries. I came across the link about average food budgets from one of your commenters here, and according to that we are doing rather well – $100 is their cheapest thrifty plan, and we eat organics and gluten free!

    It still hurts though, so I am working on reducing it more. I now shop in season only. I have a price per pound limit on veggies. Interestingly, at the store where I shop, organic is not much more expensive when it is in season, and the lemons have been about $1 less per pound! I don’t buy store made mayonnaise, bread, cookies, snacks, canned beans etc. Everything that can be made at home, is.

    Here’s what I want to do but can’t; Buy nuts, seeds, beans and legumes from bulk bins. We don’t have that option here. When we get out to the big town we try and buy these from Whole Foods, but we run out before we can get out there again. Make meals, blanch extra veggies and freeze; our freezer is tiny and freezer burns things in 24hrs.

    There is no way we could do a once a month shop. Produce would go bad way before then. As it is, I have to make sure that we are eating all the produce before we go out and buy more, or else it goes off and we have to throw it away. This has actually been a great money saver to focus on, as you end up having a good meal on less when you are running out of produce.

    We really cannot afford hormone free meat most of the time. So the other big money saver has been to just not eat it. I’m still working on convincing my husband that this is a good idea. I would love to buy a pastured organic free range chicken once a month and have that be it.

    I am considering buying chickens to raise for their eggs. We have a vegetable garden that I would like to expand. I want to make connections with some local farmers and get out to the farms directly for things like lamb that is just not available in the stores here.

    We also do not have a reduced section in our grocery store. When I was little, this was the only place my Mum would shop! We also bought things like packages of broken biscuits – hey, they still tasted the same. I don’t understand why things like this are not available here, and it hurts my budget considerably.

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