Grocery Geek: Pantry Challenge One-Third Done

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This month, we’re eating down the pantry, trying to use up what we have, rotate stock, and maybe save some coin. I think we’re doing pretty well so far, especially considering that some months I’ve spent most of our grocery budget by this time in the month.

Just as a reminder: I’m feeding eight people. Five males: adult, 15, 12, 10, and 8. Three females: adult, 6, and 4. My grocery totals are just for food eaten at home. These numbers do not include meals eaten out, paper products, or cleaning supplies.

Here’s how our shopping had gone down this month thus far:

$2.50 – Walmart: snack bags for freezer cooking
$28.25 – Coffee shop: 2 pounds coffee
$52.78 – Trader Joes’s trip
$36.20 – Abundant Harvest Organics – produce pictured above
$16.75 – Sprouts – produce (apples, mushrooms, celery, green onions, onions)
$15.20 – Starbucks: 1 pound coffee
$12.96 – Ralphs: milk and cream

Total spent MTD: $164.64

I confess, I’m tempted to be discouraged. I know that in some families this is a lot of money. And even in our own family five years ago, this same amount would cover regular spending for a week and a half, not slimmed down spending.

We’ve grown in size and number in the last five years and food prices have gone up tremendously. Plus, we’re eating more real foods and more “healthy” fare, so it’s an improvement in many ways.

So. I’m not going to compare to others or to the far past, but simply look at today. Last year averaged a little over $800/month on groceries. So, this is quite good for 1/3 of the way into the month.

I have two more produce deliveries scheduled and I know we’ll run out of milk and coffee. Again. There isn’t a ton of meat in the freezer, so eventually, I’ll need to restock that as well, but I feel good overall about how this is going.

How’s your grocery shopping going this month?

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  1. Over 25% of your budget so far has gone to 3 lbs. coffee, and you mentioned that you still plan to buy more later in the month. I have to say that is a TON of coffee!! 🙂 We go through 1.5 lbs per month for me and my husband. If your family uses this much coffee, I bet you could find a good bulk discount to help save you even more.

    • Ha! Good math. But, this is a pantry challenge, not a picture of the norm. I don’t think we normally spend 25% on coffee, it’s just the thing that “we can’t live without” that we keep running out of. But I’ll keep my eye on it next month.

      Honestly, it’s one of our few luxuries. LOL. And we’re kind of coffee snobs. I tried lots of bargain brands when we were on a tight budget and no go. I came to the conclusion that for my husband a good cup of coffee is a mood booster. If that helps him tackle a hard day of work, I’m all for it.

      There are now three coffee drinkers in the family, something I only recently discovered. That plus the cold snap we’ve been having is making for more coffee drinking. I usually stock up when Peets or Starbucks go on good sale at Ralphs, but I haven’t seen a good sale in awhile.

  2. I have started eating more whole foods over the past 10 months as I am now eating the primal diet (no grains or added sugar) My budget went way up but my doctors bills went way down, and we qualified as super preferred for new life insurance plan so our rates were better. I went to the doctors once last year for a sick visit compared to many, many more in years past. You have to pay someone and I would rather pay the grocery store or farm for some great whole foods then pay a doctor for bill related to medical problems. It looks like the pantry challenge is going great to me! Good luck with the rest of the month.

  3. We are coffee snobs, too. But I haven’t had to buy any yet this month.
    So far I have spent $100 but $40 of that was on formula. I figure what the 9 month old eats counts too. 🙂
    There are 5 of us: two adults, a 3 year old, a 2 year old and the 9 month old.
    I do have to go shopping today though.

  4. Have you ever looked on-line or in Costco for Starbucks? We used to buy Starbucks at BJs since it cost less (3 12 oz ground bags for $20). Now I order coffee from I typically buy something that offers 100% rewards in store(I stock up when they have batteries for 100% rewards). I then use those rewards on-line at I try to stack the rewards with the $20 off a $75 breakroom purchase coupon. It’s a bit of work, but I only have to do it a few times a year and it’s reduced our coffee expense greatly. Whatever I gotta do to support the habit :o)

    • @Jessica, I tried the Starbucks at Costco several years ago and we were really disappointed with it. Usually, hubs buys his coffee at a local coffee shop. It’s one of the few ways we support local business.

      • @Jessica, We drink the $5 Cup o Joe from Trader Joes. It’s acceptable, not my absolute best, but we were spending $17/week on coffee (just for home!) when we got the awesome Intelligentsia coffee, and that wasn’t sustainable for us.

  5. Well, I went to the grocery store today, bought ‘necessities’ and spent $30.37. So much has happened since last weekend (traveled out of town and drove a LOT)! The guys at my house did pretty well considering I was not here to ensure they were eating at home 😉 This week should be more ‘normal’.

  6. I am so so happy with the results so far. It is almost half way through the month and we’ve spent $57.60 on food purchases (eaten at home) for the month so far. An additionl 30 on paper goods/cleaning, etc. .. so we’re well under what we usually budget. I will have to get some meat eventually, but we still have a good handful of pre-cooked meals in the freezer and a few packs of sausage so I think we’ll be good to go. Might even try to continue this next month and get some more “freezer” meals stocked back up if we find room after eating many of them this month.

  7. MTD spending so far is only 15% of monthly food budget. Nice! 2012 as a whole ended up being 20% higher than I wanted, though, so I need to sustain savings like this for a few more months to make up for it. Somehow, I don’t see that happening, but I’ll try for a few months of 50%. Goodness knows there really is enough food in the house to feed YOUR family for a few months, never mind just the two of us.

    • @Sandi, Ok, so that totally flipped on the geek switch, and I had to go play with my Quicken data. I only looked at the past 5 years. I discovered that my grocery spending is typically highest in fall (holidays) and lowest in summer (too hot to eat!) fairly consistently. Spring money was only slightly higher than summer and winter only slightly less than fall, but large disparities between the two groups. This is what I expected, although I was a little surprised how close the spring/summer and fall/winter average amounts really were. Except last year was the exact opposite! There were some extenuating circumstances that caused the higher summer bills, but not enough to have completely flipped the paradigm. I’m not sure how to use that data to prepare for this year now. Hmm. That was fun.

  8. Out of $164.64 , 26% of that is coffee and 32% is produce.. The remaining 42% if your spending is Misc and that also includes some produce and *drinkables*. It all comes down to what you prioritize. You are picky about coffee.. I would much rather see that you stand by that purchase and not apologize then see that you are spending that amount on liquor!

  9. Barbara Walker says:

    We have a budget of $200 for the month. We only have a family of three (husband, 8 year-old boy, and me). I have a spreadsheet and only limit myself to $40/week. We are at $78.24 for ending week 2. But I have gone into week 3 budget $20 because of some cheap deals we ran across at Target the other day but only plan to spend $19 next week. I need to get ahead of the menu and cooking for the week since I plan on having foot surgery next week and am fearful that might derail us. Any good vegetarian crock pot ideas?

    • @Barbara Walker, would love to see your menu!

    • @Barbara Walker, There are lots of things that can be made with a bag of dried beans, and those are obviously cheap. Soups and stews galore, of course. Indian foods use a lot of veggies along with some sweet potatoes that are filling and stretch it out. I don’t know if it is rude to mention another site on here or not, but have you looked at the crockpot lady’s site? I checked Jessica’s index first and most of her crock recipes have meat so I hope she doesn’t mind and she can always delete this post if she does.

  10. I’m $205 into the budget this month…was hoping to only be at $150 at this point. I calculated in the extra food DH takes to work (firefighter), I’m following Weight Watchers, and we’ve had unexpected company this weekend. I feel like this will be our norm though…groceries are so high! We are family of four (2 adults, 8yo, 4yo). When our youngest was in diapers and on formula, I only spent $300 a month! It seems difficult to get the budget below $500 now. 🙁

  11. We are a family of two (unless grandkids are visiting) and this is my 5th January clean out the pantry challenge. I have spent $10.64 so far this month, which includes $5.60 yesterday for fresh vegetables. We were totally out and I just couldn’t face canned and frozen for the rest of the month. Luckily we are tea drinkers so don’t buy coffee like some of you!

  12. I’m not sure how high our purchases are by now but I suspect they’re higher than I wanted but lower than usual. I did buy some things like cereal that were on super sale that I know we’ll go through, even though they weren’t needed. And we have company tomorrow plus company last week so that increases overall costs.

    But unlike some of you, I have two teenage boys. As those of you with teenage boys can attest, they inhale food.

  13. We are a family of five – 3 adults and 2 children 8 yr and 10 yr. We have spent $426 this month. After hosting the extended family for 7 days for the holidays we were out of meat, eggs and cheese. Additionally, while the pantry was still fairly well-stocked the freezer was nearly empty. Our monthly savings have come from eating at home and using the entire restaurant budget to restock. Every family has an indulgence or two. For my husband it is coffee; for me it is diet coke; and for my kids it is ice cream. We limit the expenditures on these indulenges, which are acounted for in our monthly budget. We have not bought any coffee this month. My husband received several bags for Christmas.

  14. I’m at $220 but that’s because I got some smoking deals on meat. I have enough to probably take me to the end of next month. I’ll most like average out my spending over the month and next to get a true feel of what I’ve spent.

    My grocery budget includes paper and cleaning products and all drinks (which consists mostly of 3 12 packs of some kind of diet soda, coffee, occasional beer for dh and milk). I’m soooo in love with Starbuck’s Pike’s Market blend. Bought some in Seattle this past summer and oh. my. goodness. I’ll probably splurge and order some online as you can only buy it online or at Pike’s Market or the Space Needle. Otherwise, we drink Folger’s or Kirklands. Strong and black please.

    If we eat out say at El Pollo Loco because or schedule is too crazy that night to cook, I count it in the food budget. Eating out on date nights comes out of our entertainment budget.

    Since I’ve been eating the 4 hour body way, I seldom get sick. My diet consists mainly of protein, veggies and beans or legumes (no dairy, fruit or grains during the week). On Saturdays I can eat anything I want.I’ve lost 40 pounds and feel sooo much better. My doctor and dentist say they would lose money if all of their patients were like me 🙂

  15. So far we’ve spent $19 but we do need to get a few things at the grocery store for under $20 (as that’s all the cash I have). We are a family of 4, 2 adults 2 boys 9&8 (on Monday). Tonight was tacos, I used venison burger, found some refried beans and home caned taco sauce in pantry, and the cheese and soft shells and sour cream in the fridge, and MIL gave us a head of lettuce.

    I haven’t bought coffee in years, but last time I got some it was mailed from Brazil to me. Oh and then their was the Italian blend from trader Joes also given to me (didn’t like it as much as the Brazilian stuff but friends like it better so its all gone now). I do buy tea once and a while, Stash or from Montana tea company ($2 for 6 tea bags). I got the Montana tea for Christmas for myself I spent $10 for 5 different kinds. Dh’s vise is Mt, Dew which he buys when its $1 for a 2ltr bottle.

  16. Well we spent $98.90 today at Sam’s. (We had taken $100 to spend 🙂 ) I think everything we bought was a perishable-meaning nothing for the pantry or freezer. Except one box of cereal.
    pimento cheese
    half & half
    salad makings
    pretzel chips (for humus)
    Fruit 2 O’s
    There are 5 of us (Hubs, me, 23, 19 and 12) plus 95 y.o. grandma that eats dinner with us every evening.
    We have not bought any meat or pantry items this month. I did spend $14 at Aldi last week so we are doing great with our food budget.
    (I should add that hubs can only drink 2 hours before and 2 hours after each chemo treatment every day. No food. He is tired of tea and water and stays away from caffeine. That’s why we bought the case of Fruit 2 O’s.)
    I am pleased with our spending budget so far this month on food.

  17. Aldi had some great deals on organics this week — so we spent $58 on dairy, tomato sauce, produce, etc. Our budget this month is $75- we bought some other deals at target and spent another $10. The remaining $7 needs to get us through Feb 1st.

  18. I’m aiming for as low a spend this month as possible on everything other than our regular bills (power, phone, etc.) that are on autopay. We just finished week2 & my total spend on food is $18 for milk + $22 for dh’s beer! I usually spend $250+ a week on groceries & I haven’t had to get any expect for the beer & milk. I’m amazed at how much food was/is in my pantry/freezer/garden. Making a menu plan, focusing on what I already have, has really streamlined my kitchen duties & saved almost $500 so far. My goal was to do this for January, but as my pantry/freezer/garden don’t look any emptier, I may extend the challenge through the end of February. I never thought I could do this especially as I am feeding 2 teenage boys as well as dh & myself. All the males in my house are very active physically, so are big eaters, but no one has gone hungry so far.

  19. yup with all those boys you have no need for shame! I’m sure the second breakfast for one of them is more calories than you and the girls eat all day LOL

    That’s how it is – you’re doing splendidly – looking forward to my personal ‘challenge’ month in February!

  20. Im taking my eat down the pantry/freezer into Feb as well, but I think I’ll find some great meat deals by then so I’ll be spending some $$ if i do.
    So far, I’ve only spent $15.22 at Aldi & $33.50 for organic Texas navel oranges which includes shipping. The oranges are pricey and my second box of the season (got one in Dec) but this is my super splurge. Nothing else will do. My total for the month is $48.72.

    I used to be super picky about my coffee & I am to a degree, but I find Im ok with regular Folgers coffee. I like better coffee for sure, and I do buy some specialty blends for my K-Cup but its pricey as well. A month or two ago I found a basket full of Newmans Own decaf coffee K-cups for $2.99 and I bought 20 boxes of them so that does me well for my second cup of coffee for the day and then I have subscribe & save on Amazon for a couple other brands.. M’honey drinks Folgers daily. When I first moved here, he was drinking generic swill that was horrible.. I thought I’d buy some one day and he mentioned that that was the worst coffee he had ever tasted.. I laughed & told him that was “his brand before me” and he shuddered.. haha..

    I too sometimes get coffee from… They often send me various breakroom supplies coupons and I go thru first and get a % off and always get free shipping. I’ve gotten some great deals from them.
    I also keep my eyes open for deals on coffee wherever I go.. That one store has had quite a few deals on K-Cups and I snap them up when they do.. Paying $1.99 or $2.99 for a package works for me.. Anything under 45cents per cup is a deal..
    I hear a lot of people buying Starbucks & other brands at Target and getting good deals.. I keep thinking Im gonna jump in on one of those deals sometime, but I just never get there.. Someday. 😉

  21. Two weeks in and I have spent $95, which surprised me because I didn’t think I’d spent that much. Fully half of it was a trip to Costco and about half of that was a 10 lb bag of chicken, but all those things last awhile so it’s okay.

    My family consists of 4 adults and 3 children in elementary school. Some of the adults eat some meals away from home and don’t pack a lunch. I have a huge stockpile and don’t serve meat at every meal, so I could easily do this through the month of February as well as January.

  22. So I guess I’ll ease up on my hubs about his keurig costs because you guys drop some coin on coffee!! ha ha!!

  23. Wow…was looking over her shoping list and saw she spent almost 50 dollars for coffee…YIKES!!! I could have bought at least 7 huge cans of coffe for that price!!

    • Ha! I make no apologies. We live debt-free, feed 8 people for under $1000 a month, and are acting our wage. If my hard-working husband wants a good cup of coffee, I’m going to make sure he has it.

      • I guess you right…I work two jobs and don’t come close to making 2000.00 a month and have to feed a family of seven on 700.00 a month very tough…..

        • @sarah, I didn’t mean to sound flippant. We have been in your situation before and our food budget was $400 to feed 7. So, I know exactly what you’re talking about and how weird it would sound that we can spend $ on coffee. We had to scrimp a lot to get where we are. My apologies for being defensive.

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