Grocery Geek: Something’s Gotta Give

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This week I ramped up things at home. We’ve got four weeks of school until our Christmas break. I don’t want it to be a lackadaisical month. Instead I want to finish the year with a bang.

That meant that I had to reconsider some of my priorities: namely, how I spend my time and money.

Homeschooling has been one of the most important and life-changing experiences for our family. I know we spend less on school than we would if we sent the kids to private school. Once you count the cost of school uniforms, extra fees, and commuting costs of hauling six kids to preschool and public school, I’m even going to venture that it’s a wash between public and home education. I don’t think we spend more at home than if we were sending our kids to the schools down the street.

Time is money.

Homeschooling does take a lot of time, however. I realized this week that there isn’t enough time to cook from scratch (the cheaper route) and still get all the school lessons done. At least not in a timely manner.

So, something’s gotta give. And that something… is the grocery budget.

Hubby and I talked about it and decided that it’s worth the investment of spending a little more money on convenience items. For us, convenience means cold cereal and sandwich bread. I’m not buying TV dinners, but I’m gonna break with a little more cash so that I can stay sane.

This is probably a discussion for my own benefit more than it is for yours. I was feeling guilty buying a box of Joe’s O’s this week because I had spent November’s grocery budget already. It’s not like we don’t have extra cash. Thankfully, we do. But, it was the principle of sticking. to. budget. that rubbed me. I had to justify it to myself.

In case I needed to justify it to you, too, there’s my argument. 😉 We’ll see how the numbers crunch at the bottom of the post.

Here’s how we ended November:


milk, beans, coffee, salsa, tortillas, buns, yogurt, clementines, bananas

Total spent: $36

Trader Joes

unpictured: cereal, bread, apples, milk, half-half, sunbutter, vitamins, fish oil, yogurt, rice cakes, crackers, frozen fruit, oil, butter, cream cheese, coconut milk, almonds

Total spent: $118

Abundant Harvest Organics

apples, kale, lettuce, spinach, dill, cilantro, potatoes, radicchio, pears, persimmons, squash, radishes

Total spent = $52

Weekly total = $206

Monthly total for November = $1036

Looking at the big picture

So far this year, our grocery expenses have bounced all around! But since we buy things in one month to use in the next month, it makes sense to average our spending over the course of a year. Here’s how the numbers are crunching:

  • January = $442
  • February = $800
  • March = $1142
  • April = $615
  • May = $820
  • June = $940
  • July = $595
  • August = $912
  • September = $982
  • October = $668
  • November = $1036
Total spent year to date: $8952

Average monthly spending for 2012: $813.81

Well, that wasn’t so bad after all. I can scrape a little pride together and walk away, can’t I? We’re not too far over our monthly goal. Maybe this will work after all. I’ve got most of our December dinner meals planned and in the freezer. I’ve got breakfast and lunches and holiday stuff to work.

Wish me luck!

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  1. Sometimes it is easier to give everyone else grace and then beat ourselves senseless.

    Give yourself grace, this was a wise decision for the health of your family.

  2. Oh Jessica,
    I’m right thre with you. We use an online school, there are only 2 kids in the house and I sruggle with cooking from scratch and completing all the lessons for a first grader. Not that you need my approval but I don’t blame you one bit for giving a little with the bread or any other ready made product needed to help you continue teaching your children at home. In reality I might be the one looking for your approval because I’ve been leaning more toward ready made products for the same reasons you are and in my head you just let me know that’s okay and I’m not a failure as a mom because I can’t do it ALL and keep a cool head.

    • @NIA, well, I hate the way it sounds. It’s not like I baked all my bread before. It’s just that I felt GUILTY when I didn’t. I guess I’m telling myself not to feel guilty.

  3. Life isn’t all about money; I think you’ve got your priorities right.

    And if you’re going overboard on the convenience food budget, get the kids to cook a meal or two a week. Mind usually start with breakfasts at 8 years, and by 11 years they’re doing a supper a week. It’s great for them and great for me.

  4. as with your choice to spend more on healthier food this is just another example of reprioritizing once you actually have extra money to spend – where to put it? i’d say healthy convenience items to save mom’s sanity is an excellent choice LOL

  5. It adds up so fast, doesn’t it? Even for basics!

    Yesterday I was doing “quick” grocery shops (for our family of 2 adults + 2 cats). $80! And I wasn’t even too far off the list! (I grocery shop with a list, but if, say, good cheese is on sale like it was yesterday, or seasonal baking goods I can buy cheapest right now and they’re not available the rest of the year, I buy it. I’m sure you understand.)

    But you know, I was thinking, too – I want my family to feel safe and never hungry.

    • @Molly, well, that’s the thing. I know no one’s going “hungry” in the true sense of the word, but I don’t want them to feel like they are always ready to eat. Easier said that done with boys, but still.

      • @Jessica, Ooh thanks for this reminder about boys! I wonder why my boys are always saying they’re hungry and we eat wholesome foods too. It’s a boy thing.

  6. I just went through my savings tracker – we’re half your size family; 2 teens, so $500 a month for all groceries. We’re about $470 a month YTD average. Last month was over budget, but I also decided to buy double the amount of fruits and veggies to help offset pre-packaged snacks that seem to disappear in a day. It’s an evolving process – we’ll see how we end up for the year, but I think I’ll be bumping my budget another $50 in the New Year for even more fresh foods. Thanks for the honesty – some months it comes out well, others over budget. In the end, I’m like you – it pretty much averages out over the year.

  7. I have an off topic question – what are you going to do with the persimmons? I have two sitting in my kitchen now and they are a new fruit for us. Just eating them is ok I think we aren’t used to their taste. I’m wondering if your kids will just inhale them or will you make something with them?

    • @Jamie, lol, I’ve been giving them away. We don’t care for them. But, the friends I give them to LOVE them, so it’s a fun thing to share.

    • @Jamie, I recently got some persimmons from a coworker. She said she likes to make a persimmon cake and persimmon cookies. I’ve had them before and they’re pretty awful by themselves. The one way I’ve tried, from a suggestion, was to let them ripen on the counter for a long time, until they’re really really really ripe, soft and almost leaking, then freeze them. After they’re frozen, you can cut them in half and eat the insides like ice cream. I’ve tried it and it’s pretty good that way. Speaking of that, you could also make ice cream, I suppose. More sugar would help them.

      • @Stacy, there are actually different kinds of persimmons. The ones in the picture are for eating fresh like an apple. The taller ones are supposed to ripen as you describe and then used in baking.

        • @Jessica, I guess I got it all wrong. I used the ones from our box in oatmeal .Chopped in food processor as fine as possible and ate with oatmeal. Should’ve peeled them first though, got a few tough bits and some fine little crunchy seeds from the middle, even though I sliced off the middle of the fruit.

    • @Jamie, which kind do you have? That will make a difference what you do with them.

      • @Jessica,
        I have the ones your supposed to eat fresh and I’ve let them ripen to the point of being very soft as your supposed to they just have quite a different taste from anything we’ve had before I might try freezing them as suggested above for a frosty treat! Thanks!

        • @Jamie, Maybe after you freeze them, put a little honey or something on them. I’m hoping the baked goods will be interesting. I just like the idea of figuring out how to use something I’m not very familiar with. You discover some interesting foods that way. I’m leaning toward the persimmon cake–I guess I’m imagining more of a quick bread, though, so maybe I’ll look for something like that.

  8. You haven’t been buying cold cereal and sandwich bread before now? I didn’t realize that. Wow! If are one hard working, homeschooling mama. You don’t have to justify yourself to me one little bit. I have been buying those for ages without giving it a second thought, and you shouldn’t give it another guilty twinge. I read once that someone asked a mom who had homeschooled with terminal cancer if there was anything that she regretted about how she’d spent her time. She said that she wished she’d made less bread and spent more time with her children. ‘Nuff said.

    • @Ellen, not in the quantities that I am now! I would buy 1-2 loaves and 1-2 boxes a week which would only do up to 2 meals for my people. I’d try to cook the rest because of the costs, NOT because I’m all “I bake all my own bread.” Now, I’m ramping it up a lot more.

      Thanks for sharing that story. That helps.

  9. I think you do an amazing job feeding as many as you do on your budget, but your muscle is well flexed in that way. When I had 4 kids at home, I worked magic too but there have only been 2 of us who eat at home regularly for a while.
    I was layed off mid-month and while I qualify for unemployment & received a nice severance package, Im gonna have to tighten my spending constraints as tight as they’ve been in 14 or 15 years.. Planning is indeed the name of the game when you live on a budget..
    Thanks for sharing all your great ideas, large & small, & giving others vision of a well balanced budget.

  10. I’ve been following both your blogs for awhile now and for what it’s worth I think you’re doing an amazing job (with or without sandwich bread and cold cereal.) You’re feeding 8 people a mostly whole food, healthy diet and homeschooling, wow! As along as you can afford it and it fits within your food philosophy go for it and give yourself a break. We Moms are way too hard on ourselves aren’t we! I love to bake bread, but there isn’t always time. Sandwich bread I find particularly challenging, not to bake but to slice thinly and evenly enough for sandwiches. And other than making massive quantities of granola (which my kids don’t count as cereal) there really isn’t a substitute for cold cereal is there! Thanks for your blogs, especially Good, Cheap Eats, definitely makes my job as a mom a little easier.

  11. Sanity is worth a lot. I really don’t think you’re going to be in your 80s or 90s one day and wishing you’d made more bread. Like the person above said, you’ll be valuing the time spent with your kids. Maybe you can teach the kids to make bread. It’s a life skill.

  12. How is your 2012 spending comparing with 2011? Do you include items like cleaners and paper goods in your grocery budget or is it strictly for food?

    • @angela, we’ve increased a smidgen over last year, but not much. I used to count paper and cleaning in the groceries, but I don’t anymore. I wanted to be able to compare my numbers with the national average on food costs. Since I went to all-natural cleaners, that cost is minimal, though.

  13. I’m homeschooling 3 and a part time worship leader at our church. Needless to say, December is rather crazy with all the extra stuff expected at church. So we buy bread and some snacks from the store this month. It keeps me from burning out and short changing otherwise important items. I have one with really specific food allergies, so buying those gluten free/dairy free/ corn free stuff is rather expensive. But this year I asked God to help me to be okay with not “doing it all,” and He has.

  14. I just had the same conversation with my hubby. My convenience items are frozen veggies, Frozen broccoli makes such an easy side dish and TJ;s frozen hash browns are on stand by for Saturday morning breakfasts around here. Oh and applegate farms roasted turkey makes a regular appearance on our big monthly shopping day. We all compromise somewhere:)

  15. Good for you, Jessica! You do a fabulous job feeding your family lots of whole foods on a very small budget, especially for the # of people in your family and the area you live in (my SIL lives there and is always talking about how much more expensive groceries are there!). The last year has been slightly crazy for me, so I’ve had to cut corners in some departments too…and I’m slowly becoming OK with it 🙂 Thanks for your honest update, and best wishes!

  16. It is so nice to see someone be completely honest about their food bill. I used to feel like such a loser when I would hear about how people feed their family on $40.00 a week. It’s impossible if you want to feed them healthy. Well at least it is where I live. I spend as much as you do for a family of 5 and I cook from scratch 97% of the time.
    Now I just need to get back on the meal planning wagon.
    Have a lovely day

  17. Does your grocery budget also include household supplies and paper goods? Cleaning products? I am trying to re-work my grocery budget and I think these items are killing mine. Thanks!

    • Not anymore. I used to count toiletries, cleaning, etc, but that made it hard to compare to the USDA’s food cost numbers. Those always make me feel better about my spending. So, ours is just food.

  18. I found your site by Googling something about buying groceries and raising teenage boys. My oldest has just recently moved out on his own (19) but lives just a few miles away and works at a local supermarket. I have a 13 year old and a 16 year old that have hit the stage of eating us out of house and home. Last week I stuck to my budget, this week not so much. It is good to hear what a family with teens spend. It helps me to realize that we are not too far off. I see too many blogs of women who have small children and how low their food budgets are. (I always just imagine that they have eaters that are picking and eat like little birds and husbands that don’t eat much!) My hubby is full on Dutch and we have big hungry boys. So all of this to say, thank you for sharing your reality. I hope it will help me to loosen up about the $$ amount I spend. I now think if I budget high and can keep under that a wee bit then that is my new way of finding success, well also if all can stay feed and happy! Blessings and may God bless your food and make it last longer than you think it should!

    • Hi Deanne! Glad you found me. That post is a little old. Now my kids eat even more. MORE! Our current budget with six kids aged 6 to 17 is $1200 a month. It kills me, but that’s what it is. My family doesn’t want to go meatless and we don’t “have to” so there we are.

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