Grocery Geek: Ending Out the Month Under Budget

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I scrimped in some areas this month in order to come in under budget for grocery spending. I also found some math errors. This means our average for the year is more in my desired range!

This week’s shopping basically rounded off the month. Monday I’ll be doing another round of freezer cooking, so it’s time to start looking into next month. I ended last month on a downer note, what with my going over budget. However, this month, I think I made up a little for lost ground.

If you’re late joining the party, my target budget is $800/month to feed a family of 8. This figure includes toiletries, cleaning and paper products, and groceries following a slightly healthier bent. You can read about our food goals here. Last month I went grossly over budget. So, this month, I’ve been trying to make up for lost ground, based on the grocery spending audit I did at the beginning of the month.

Does anyone else feel like the month just disappeared?!

I’ve continued to bake bread almost every day this month, experimenting with the dough recipes in  Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes. I love the Olive Oil Dough! It’s fabulous for pizza and focaccia.

We have also eaten less meat over the past month, particularly at lunchtime. Lunches have been more difficult without sandwich bread and roast turkey breast, but omitting those things for a few weeks has saved us some coin. I’m still looking for the best meal ideas that everyone loves that also give us the biggest bang for the buck.

For example, homemade granola is much cheaper than boxed cereal and we like it almost as well. Oatmeal doesn’t rank as high on the list, unfortunately.

With all the  peer pressure to make my own yogurt, I gave it a try, using both the crockpot method as well as the heating pad method. Honestly? I didn’t love it. More next week on my yogurt making adventure…. I have lots of thoughts on the process and the cost analysis.

So here’s how my spending went down on this week’s groceries:


I went for the express purpose of buying pizza cheese. I thought we had more in the freezer, but no. I was in a hurry, otherwise, yes, I would have gone to Costco which has the best price.

Ralphs instead, where most of the brands of mozzarella had RBST in them, one of the things I’m trying to avoid if I can. So, I bought a block of Tillamook Monterey Jack which we like just as well on pizza as well as a lump of fresh mozzarella which I had never had. It’s hormone-free — and a buck or two more. Seemed like a splurge until….

I found great deals on a lot of other items. Pepperoni on sale. Italian sausage was marked down, and minus a coupon, I paid $0.99! Organic baby salad greens for $0.99 each. Kettle chips for $0.99 after sale and coupon. Flour on sale for $2/bag. Nice,  eh?

I ended up spending $58. Seems like a lot, but it just adds up, doesn’t it? Some things here were uber-cheap and some were splurges. I figure it all balances out.


We cruised through Sprouts on date night and picked up apples ($1.49/pound for organic) and protein powder for the teenager. (Sorry, no picture.)

Spent $28 at Sprouts.

Abundant Harvest Organics

I picked up the produce box which held an abundance of organic produce, locally grown in California. Lemons, oranges, tomatoes, lettuce, snap peas, English peas, chard, spring onions, spinach, dill, kale, radishes and the smallest head of cabbage in the world.

That whole lot was $37.

It doesn’t seem like I bought a ton of food this week, but the grand total was $123. Things are shaping up. I didn’t exactly hit my goal for the month’s spending, I did come under budget which helps offset last month’s expenses. Our grocery spending for the month: $615

And the good news is that my math was wrong last month! I don’t know what I did when I calculated our monthly average, but I was wrong. Our average year to date is not as bad as I thought. (I was a literature major, remember?)

But, thinking that the average was high made me spend less this month, so our average is even better. Yeah! That is a nice kind of mistake to make!

January = $442

February = $800

March = $1142

April = $615

Monthly average for the year to date: $750

I’m feeling kind of dumb that I can’t do math. This time, I recalculated about ten times to make sure my math was right. And so, there we are. Under budget and right on track for the year. Who knew?

How did you do this month?


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  1. Here’s my philosophy: I have a monthly budget and I usually stick to it, but some months you just need to spend more for whatever reason. I find that the following month, I usually spend less, so I think it all evens out. I like how you average it out! I’m the opposite; for April, I’ve gone over budget, but I think I’m in a good position to stay on track for May.

  2. That’s awesome! Wow! You are doing a great job!! Another question for you ( from another mom of 6), inquiring minds want to know…. how much does your family spend eating out each month? We really have tried to cut back on the eating out, but with so many activities and sports events to attend these days, it starts to add up. Plus, I like to eat a lunch out 2 times a month with girlfriends. We spend about $150 / month on eating out 🙁

  3. I need to do this. I’m trying to keep better track. I upped our grocery budget this month and I need to make sure I stick to the new budget! I normally buy groceries with cash, but didn’t do a great job at sticking to cash this month which makes it harder for me to track. Money or no money is a pretty good indicator of how I’m doing each month. Receipts — not so much. 🙂 Good job coming in under and I agree that averaging is a great way to go.

  4. I love the idea of an average – I had the same thing last – last month over budget, this month under – I tend to just carry forward the remainder as a reserve since I don’t use cash envelopes but keep a budget online

  5. I love how the Kettle Chips bag is opened. It’s had to delay eating them;)

  6. I make my yogurt using a maker. The kind that makes 2 quarts. I do not find other ways of making it reliable. Also… do not use too much starter. I use about 2 T of yogurt to make a half gallon of milk into yogurt. i throw it in overnight, and strain it in the morning.

    • @brandy, What kind of maker do you have? Would you share your exact recipe? Also, how do you strain it? I’ve heard cheesecloth and also metal coffee filter.

      • @Stacy, i heat half a gallon of milk in the microwave, about 15 minutes, stirring once in the middle. then i let it cool to between 110 and 120 degrees. while it’s cooling i scoop some starter yogurt into the yogurt maker vat (yogourmet, bought at costco online) and get that set up. when the milk is cool enough i mix some with the yogurt to thin it out, then pour the rest of the milk in. i do this at night and then let it yo all night. in the morning i strain with a ridiculously expensive matfer strainer ( but i use it all the time and it’s worth it for us to get it to the consistency we want. about 2 T starter to 1/2 gallon of milk. too much starter = lumpy, sour yogurt. if you do not let it yogurt for long enough it won’t strain nicely. if you have done it properly it strains very quickly without loss of solids. and if you have used the right proportions then your yogurt will taste right (not too acidic). the more yogurt you make, the more yogurt you eat. we have been going through a quart a day (of strained yogurt) for 3 adults and 2 kids. my son drinks a mango lassi every morning for breakfast! about half yogurt, half mango nectar.

        • @brandy, Thanks so much for all of the specific details. I’m copying this to try it. I heard you can use some yogurt to start it–does it make a big difference to use the actual starter? I’ve never done it at all, so I don’t know much. I’ve become very attached to Fage Greek style yogurt, but it’s way more expensive than I want it to be for as much as I enjoy it. I’m hoping to be able to get to something I can like making it myself. Thanks again.

        • @brandy, Also, what type of yogurt maker do you have?

      • @Stacy, the brand is yogourmet. Also I start my batches with kirkland greek yogurt as a starter then just reuse the resulting yogurt for starter. Once I’ve had to rebut the yogurt. Sorry for confusion on the term starter! The Fage [kirkland greek, too] is ridiculously expensive, which is why it’s worth it even to buy the maker and the strainer (for us!).

  7. Well, we were about the same as usual this month. I did finally make a meal plan one week, then had a major family emergency and ended up forgetting about it. I haven’t gotten back to it, but I’ll do so this week. Thanks for sharing your shopping trips–it gives me ideas of where to go for things. I have almost never been to Sprouts because it’s far from us, but I do have one close to work and could manage to go through there every week or two. Same with Ralphs.

  8. I just had to accept that homemade yogurt is a different food than store bought. For a long time I tried various methods of making it thicker and they either didn’t work or were a huge pain. But the bottom line for me is I couldn’t keep buying so much commercial yogurt in plastic containers that until recently couldn’t be recycled in our city. Not saying everyone should make that choice, of course. My family’s yogurt eating habits changed after I stopped buying it but we get plenty of probiotics in homemade kifer so that’s ok.

    I’m curious why you don’t make sandwich bread? The 5 minute Artisan sandwich bread recipes are ridiculous, IMO, but there are others available. I highly recommend the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book for whole grain recipes. Their buttermilk bread is our favorite to make in the bread machine (baked in the oven) and I’ve been using it for years.

  9. Let’s just say the annual spending indicates we’re halfway through May. 🙁 I did well this month except for my Easter snafu – the lamb we bought was accidentally left out and spoiled, so I had to buy another one. (much to the delight of the dogs who got to eat the first one) The night before Easter, all that was left was the monster pieces… I did get the butcher to cut it into thirds, so we have some for later in the year now in the freezer… but it was a huge $$ chunk that blew the budget. On the plus side, 65% of the money spent this month was purchases from 4/1-4/8. I did really good the rest of the month. As long as I maintain that spending rate for May, I should be back on track. Fingers crossed! Pantry shopping, here we are!

  10. This was my first time analyzing every food cost for the month and it was a lot of fun. We are a family of four which includes two sons (7 and 2) who can really eat at times. This month was one of those times! We celebrated a b-day and I try to feed my family mostly clean foods. We ended up spending $397 which was great. Thanks for the inspiration! I love your blog and love your post where you walk past your newly clean closet just to admire it. I thought I was the only one:)

  11. It looks like you do pretty well grocery budgeting for your large family. That said, I am just amazed at how much people spend on eating out! On the one hand, complaints are loud and clear about the costs of food, and then people spend $150-200 or more eating out each month! A whole lot of wholesome food can be bought with that eating out money. When we were raising our four children, eating out was a rare treat, maybe twice a year. We made our own special meals at home like pizza night, fajitas or a build-your-own sundae for a special dessert treat. Even now, with just hubby and I, we still only eat out a couple times each year on special occasions. With grocery prices rising, I think many young families really need to take eating out (so much) out of the equation or else stop complaining about food prices! 🙂 (My 2 cents!)

    • @Kiki, I have to agree. When we are talking an average grocery budget of $100/person/month, spending $150-200 a month on eating out seems disproportionate. That would buy one good restaurant meal per month or fastphude once a week for our family of four where we live, and is equal to nearly half our current grocery budget. I’d rather buy better groceries.

      • Jessica says:

        I get you on the number crunching. And when we were getting out of debt, this certainly wasn’t our M.O. But, now that we live without credit cards, car loans, and other bills, it’s one of the little treats we allow ourselves. If you have the money, I don’t see anything wrong in eating good food at home as well as dining out once a week. (Even when we dine out, we economize with coupons, shared plates, etc.) It’s more about the experience than the food sometimes.

    • Jessica says:

      For our family, dining out is a thing we do to experience as a family. It’s rarely just for sustenance. One of the reasons that I try to keep our grocery budget down so low is so that we can enjoy the restaurant experience, trying new things, going out together — always a daunting image with six children in tow. We go about once a week which is a treat that we all look forward to.

      If I am complaining, it would be about my own actions, not the price of food.

  12. I just started making yogurt a month ago with this method:

    I never would have had the nerve, but this looked so easy and the yogurt looked really good texture wise. I tried it once and I’ve done it #4 times since. My daughter goes through 4 quarts in 11 days! She loves it! I save about $9 every time I make a batch. And I think it’s creamy than store bought and tastier.

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