My Grocery Bill is Out of Control

grocery budgetSometimes I feel completely out of control… when it comes to the monthly grocery budget that is.

I’m almost embarrassed to share the monthly number, it’s that freaking ridiculous.

Before we go there, I should say that our family includes my Wife and me, and three kids, ages 7, 5, and 3. But even though we have 5 humans in our house, it’s not like our kids are eating us out of house and home… yet.

But our grocery budget is still WAY out of control. It’s at the point that I feel like Ms. BMG and myself need to have a serious coming to Jesus moment.

It’s that bad.

Here’s a little more background – we are both vegans and try to eat as much organic food as possible. We steer clear of trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup. So our Jif “natural” peanut butter cost’s a bit more than the typical jar of peanut butter.

But considering that PB is about all our kids will eat (with the exception of Mac and Cheese and pizza), you wouldn’t think our budget was that bad. (Only partially kidding there… partially).

But it is.

So far this month we’ve spent $1,442.26 on groceries. And that doesn’t count household goods (another $125, not that bad actually).

We go through the budget every Friday evening, and when I told my wife that we only had about $300 for groceries this weekend (we do our shopping every Saturday morning), which would bring our monthly total to $1,742.26 with one weekend to go in the month, she about freaked.

And not because the number was so high… she freaked out because I said we might have to limit our grocery bill to $300 this weekend.

I mean, how did it get to this? At what point do you say that we can’t sustain a $2k per month grocery budget?

Last month we spent $1,800, and my Wife and I agreed that THAT was too high. At our current pace, we will EASILY exceed $2,000 this month.

How Did Our Grocery Budget Get So High?

Our bill got this high for one reason, and one reason only. Our typical price per meal was way too high. Whether we were buying $30-40 worth of produce for a casserole that nobody (meaning our children) liked (this happens a lot when you are constantly experimenting with new meals), spending $5-8 on a snack that could be eaten in one sitting, or buying expensive “faux meat” dinners (which the kids DO like) which run around $10 or more per meal, we just really weren’t paying very much attention to our per meal cost.

Let’s do some simple math. There are 30 days in a month on average. Assuming a family of 5 would each eat $250 worth of food in a month, that equals $8.33 per day of food per person, or about $40 per day for the entire family. This to me seems reasonable.

But our family has been eating approximately $57 worth of food per day, or $11.40 per person.

It doesn’t seem like that much of a difference, does it?

Here’s where I think we ran into problems. We would spend $300-350 every Saturday on groceries. But then, come Wednesday, (sometimes Tuesday), my Wife would call me up in the afternoon and tell me to stop at the grocery store on the way home because we don’t have anything to eat.

WHAT? How can that be? We just stocked up on $350 worth of groceries on the prior Saturday!

So I, being the dutiful husband that I am, would stop at Wholefoods and pick up some things to supplement, spending $50-80 in the process. This would typically tide us over until Friday, and then I would need to spend another $30-50 to make dinner Friday night.

All this adds up to spending $380-$480 per week on groceries – and that is how our grocery budget ballooned to over $2,000 per month.

If I had the receipts or was willing to spend another $2k next month to see where our money really goes, I could dig deeper into our grocery spending and give a better analysis of where our money went. But I don’t keep receipts, and I’m not willing to spend another month without doing something about this, so we are going to have to do some forward thinking analysis right here, right now.

Vegan on a Budget… The Plan

So clearly, something has to be done about our monthly grocery budget. And whenever I need to find a way to fix a problem that involves money, I do what most rational people do, I open up an excel spreadsheet and head over to Google.

Just kidding, kind of.

costco grocery budgetI did do some Googling and what I found was a magical place called Costco. As vegans, my Wife and I have always been hesitant to try Costco – their vegan options are “lacking” to put it mildly. But after some discussions and reaching out to other vegan friends on Facebook, we concluded that we would give it a try.

So we went online, signed up for a membership and got a Costco Visa Card. (Our debit card and other credit card are both MasterCard, so this was our only option – Costco only takes Visa).

I recognize that this is at odds with our debt pay down plan, but hear me out. I did a survey of the Costco store yesterday without buying anything (they said it takes 24 hours to process the membership, so we wouldn’t have any way to pay until this morning). We found a number of items (mostly vegan snacks, produce, frozen fruit/veggies and bulk dry goods such as nuts, rice, beans, pasta, etc.) that our family will eat over the next several months and that will help to reduce our overall grocery budget.

Then today we marched out to our local Costco, grocery list in hand with deals on our mind.

Our goal by hitting up Costco today is to “prepay” for some of our groceries on this Visa card and then pay the card off next month with the savings we recognize from our normal grocery budget.

That’s the strategy anyway.

I’m hoping that by adding Costco into our lives, we can drop our grocery budget down to $1,000-$1,200 per month, or $200-240 per person. We are always going to spend $50-100 per week on fresh produce (we eat a LOT of fruit), but most of the other food we eat that is non-perishable or frozen and could be purchased in bulk at significant savings.

I’ve seen other blogs that boast grocery budgets of several hundred dollars per month for a large family, but unless you are eating rice and beans every night (which I’m not opposed to, but I can’t seem to get the rest of the family to agree to), or are on food stamps, this is pretty much unrealistic.

But is eating beans and rice a couple of times a week that unrealistic? This Dad doesn’t think so…

Parting Thoughts on Our Initial Costco Outing

Our initial Costco outing had some ups and downs. Here are some of the highlights.

  1. We typically buy a 6-pack of Pirates Booty for our children’s lunches. This costs $6 at the store, $1.00 per bag. We found a 36 pack at Costco for $9, or 0.25 cents per bag. This saved us $25 from what we would normally spend at the store.
  2. Boxes of Annie’s Mac and Cheese is $2.29 per box at the grocery store. Sometimes we can find it on sale. At Costco we found a 9-pack for $1.50 per box, saving us approximately $7. Not much, but still something.
  3. I love apples. They are crunchy, always taste good, and last a long time in the fridge. At the store, they are typically $1.99 per pound. I found a 10-pound bag for $10, a savings of $10.
  4. I don’t know how much my wife saved on dental floss, but we bought a 6-pack and she says we won’t have to buy any for at least a year.
  5. My Wife and I are both addicted to SkinnyPop. A 4.4-ounce bag costs $4.49 at the store ($1.02 per ounce), and we typically buy 2 per week. At Costco, we found a 14-ounce bag for $5, or 0.36 cents per ounce. We bought 2 bags. Total savings = $18.56.
  6. As we were leaving, we filled up my Wife’s car and spent 15 cents less per gallon than we would normally spend on gas. With a 20 gallon car, that’s another $3 per fill-up.

So that’s a total savings of $63 on these six items, in one trip to Costco!

There were additional savings than this on things like toilet paper, salsa, hummus, pita chips, more snacks for the kids, peaches, frozen strawberries, and more. Unfortunately, my Wife threw out the receipt before I had a chance to put it away for further analysis.

And in case you were wondering, the total tab was $373, not unreasonable for a trip to Costco (not including the $60 membership fee, which I paid for through my law office to take the tax deduction).

The biggest thing I can honestly say that has come from this revelation about our grocery budget is that both my Wife and I are much more conscious about how we are spending our money on food. Going forward, our target budget is going to be closer to $1,200 per month, and our weekly trips to the store will include the essentials, fresh produce, milk, and other perishables that we can’t buy in bulk. The expensive snacks and other related products will be minimized.

How Do You Save On Groceries?

I’d love to hear from you on how you save on groceries. Do you shop at Costco or one of the other discount warehouses? Do you eat rice and beans every night? Do you find another way to save money?

Please leave a comment below and let me know!