Tuesday, April 1, 2014

March Grocery Money Journal

Starting out the month, we have $170 budgeted, plus the running surplus of $73.88 from the last two months. I'd prefer not to spend into the surplus, but build a bank to fall back on or use to stock up on extremely good buys. We'll see how the month goes. March of 2013 was an expensive grocery month for us. I hope not to repeat some of my mistakes from last year.

March 1 Walgreen's for 2 last gallons of milk, on sale all week for 1.99/gal. Spent $3.98

March 7. Fred Meyer for whole wheat pasta (13.25 oz boxes), 79 cents/each, limit 4 w/ coupon, store brand coffee 31 oz cans $5.99, bought 2, found some items in markdown, Hormel bacon (1 lb packages), $2.79, bought 2, 16 oz containers of cottage cheese (containers a bit squashed, but seal still good), 59 cents, bought 2, 16 oz containers sour cream (same situation with containers as cottage cheese), bought 2, 59 cents/each. Total spent $23.08

March 10. Making my biweekly (fortnightly) run down the main highway and back. Usual stops, Walgreens, gas, Trader Joe's, Post office, other Walgreens, Cash and Carry restaurant supply, and sometimes the fabric store. This week, just the gas station, post office, Trader Joe's and Cash and Carry.

Trader Joe's for 22 bananas (yep, exactly 22 each time. That's how many we go through before getting sick of bananas.) spent $4.18

Cash and Carry for some "special" produce, as we need a break from carrots, onions, potatoes, kale, pumpkin, raisins, dried cherries, frozen blackberries and plums, bananas, and canned tomatoes. Bought 4 pounds of strawberries for $6.48 (that's $1.62 per pound), a 3-pack of celery for $1.92 (that's 64 cents a bunch/head), and 1 head of Romaine lettuce for $1.27. Spent $9.67, for a month to date spending of  $40.91.

March 13.  Milk is on sale at Walgreen's again this week for $1.99/gallon. I stop in and get 4 gallons (2 whole milk for yogurt, and 2  2% for drinking). Spent $7.96

March 15. 2 more gallons of milk at Walgreen's. Spent $3.98

March 15. Albertson's. I buy 3 heads of cabbage at 49 cents/lb and 7 lbs of butter at $2/lb. Spent $17.83

March 17. My daughters's birthday. I head down to the Cash and Carry for mozzarella cheese, $13.35/5 lbs (birthday pizza) and 4 lbs of strawberries for $6.48. Spent $19.83

Also near Trader Joe's so stop in for 9 bananas (19 cents/each) and 1 large head of cabbage (99 cents -- it weighed about 3 pounds, so a good deal for cabbage for our area). Spent $2.70

March 18. Whole chickens on sale at Safeway, limit 4, at 79 cents each. I buy 4. Spent $17.20

March 23. Dollar Tree -- I pick up 4 jars of peanut butter. Spent $4.

March 24. Chickens still on sale at Safeway. We stop by on our way home and buy 4 more, at 79 cents/lb. Spent $17.11

March 27. Today's the day the produce stand opens for the spring. Their prices are better than supermarkets or the wholesaler on many items, so I make a point of going there. Bought 25 lbs of carrots ($7.98), 10 lbs of small oranges ($5.99), 3 small avocados (3/$1), and 1 head of green leaf lettuce (69 cents). Spent $15.63

Trader Joe's for 11 bananas (19 cents/each). I had hoped to pick up some cocoa powder, but they were out of stock. Spent $2.09

I've been rather nervous about grocery spending for the last half of this month. It just seemed like I was buying more than usual, and would run out before month's end. So far, I've spent $149.24, leaving $20.76 plus last month's surplus.

I found ground beef on sale for $1.99/lb and didn't know how much I'd be able to buy. Now it looks like I can afford 10 lbs.

March 28. It turns out that no cocoa powder at Trader Joe's was a good thing. I needed that every penny of that money to buy ground beef. Safeway has ground beef on sale for $1.99/lb. My hope was to buy 10 lbs. But as the packages worked out, the closest I could find was just over 11 lbs., for $22.33.

Total spending for the month -- $171.57. Just a tad over my monthly budget of $170, but I left most of the running surplus in tact ($72.31 in surplus going into next month).

My big stock-up items this month were whole chickens and ground beef. I also continued buying and freezing milk early in the month, when on sale at Walgreen's. And I picked up 7 pounds of butter this month. We go through about 1/2 pound of butter per week, baking and table use. So, the 7 pounds with what I have here, will last a couple of months. Our freezers are packed with meat, now, with 1 whole turkey, 2 10-lb hams, 7 whole chickens, several packages of hot dogs, and now 11 pounds of ground beef. This should get us through the summer and into early fall, for meat.

Sometime in the next few weeks, I'll need more pantry staples, like vegetable oil, flour, and beans. I'd like to stock up on cocoa powder in the near future, as well, as prices on cocoa are expected to rise due to global demand. I'm making my packaged yeast last for as long as possible, by making sourdough bread on a weekly basis. And as you may have noticed, I'm sticking to buying the basics, and skipping items like chips, crackers, bakery items, and boxed and frozen dinners.

Snacking consists of popcorn made on the stove, toast, nuts, fresh fruit, celery/carrot sticks, and homemade yogurt. I set out an afternoon snack for the family on weekend afternoons, so we don't plow through the more expensive items (like the nuts). In my meal planning, I'm carefully balancing the more expensive meals (with meat or cheese) with dried bean and grain meals. And I've taken to writing out a daily menu for breakfast, so everyone knows what's available to grab each day for breakfast. Oatmeal is on the rotation 3 days per week, as oatmeal is easy for me to make, and a low-cost breakfast item.


Some thoughts on markdowns -- Keeping my price per unit in mind, sometimes a markdown is not a great deal. I found broccoli slaw, 12 oz bag, marked down for 99 cents. That worked out to $1.32 per pound. I can do better on the price per pound of broccoli and make my own broccoli slaw. I often find quarts of milk on markdown for 79 cents per quart. That works out to $3.16 per gallon. I can do better than that, buying milk in gallon jugs, at the regular price, let alone the markdown  or a sale price.

Here's an interesting vocabulary item I found out at the Cash and Carry this month. A bunch/head of celery is correctly known as a stalk, and a single stem from a stalk is correctly known as a rib. But recipes are far from consistent on this and commonly call for a stalk of celery, when what they mean is a rib. I guess a little common sense can be our guide here. Adding an entire stalk or two of celery to a batch of soup could be a bit overwhelming!

That's it for last month! I'm hoping April goes well, grocery spending-wise.

20 comments:

  1. Lili, you shop like I do!

    One thing that I have found helpful is dried celery. I have even dried celery before, and there was very little of it. I found it was less expensive to buy a #10 can of dried celery and use that in soups (about 1/4 cup for one rib). I don't have to worry about not using all of the celery before it goes bad, either. I purchased #10 cans of dried celery on sale for $8.95 and they last me for years.

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    1. Hi Brandy,
      Oh, I've never seen dried celery in cans. I'll have to look for it. Thanks for the great tip!

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    2. Look at online bulk places. The last time I stocked up I got a great deal from a little place out of state (they don't have a website) that a woman in my town buys from. She made a bulk purchase order from the place, and knowing that I needed celery, she added it to the list of things she was ordering (she had several people go in on the order with her). She drives that way on a regular basis, so she worked it out with them, and enough people ordered celery that they gave her a bulk discount. I haven't checked prices lately but I think it may be closer to $12 a can now. I think the freeze-dried celery that I purchased was superior to what I dried myself (and it was certainly less money than when I dried it myself, even getting it on sale at Thanksgiving). I had had dried celery before and I had used it all while living from the pantry for over a year, so I knew I needed more. I LOVE having it and since I primarily use celery in soups, it really cuts back on waste.

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    3. Thanks for the info, Brandy! I'll check online.

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  2. Too bad we can't trade our garden-frozen "regulars" with each other! I'd love your frozen blackberries and plums, and I bet your family would think our frozen peaches, blueberries, and cherries would be a treat. :)

    Our prices on dairy have really taken a jump in the past couple of months--I'm amazed you have gotten such good prices. Likewise, your ground beef and chicken prices are better than what I can find around here.

    Good job with your grocery budget.

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    1. Hi Kris,
      Yes, we would love your frozen fruits! Especially the peaches. Peaches are a rare treat for us, here. We tend to take blackberries for granted, as they grow wild everywhere. But I have a few friends in other places who think we're very lucky to have all the blackberries we care to pick. I have some blueberries, but I ration them out, mostly for pancakes and muffiins. I love blueberries!

      Regular prices on dairy products have gone up, but not significantly, for us, yet. (I do expect both butter and milk to really jump in the next few months, though.) The ground beef and chicken will likely turn out to be the lowest prices of the season, for us here. I feel fortunate to have as much as I do right now.

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    2. I think blackberries cost about a dollar a berry for us!!!!!!!! OK, maybe not QUITE that much, but I never buy them. We do grow some raspberries but it's really only enough to eat out of your hand--and I love raspberries. My in-laws have a peach tree and they freeze a lot of peaches for us, but we also get some from the farm market and freeze them as well. For some reason, we never seem to tire of peaches. Sometimes my in-law's pear tree has a good year and we will get some canned pears and those are a treat for us! A few people grow plums around here, but we don't get a lot of them locally. One time someone brought extras from their tree to church and my daughter ignored the cake and gorged on plums! Smart girl!

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    3. That's a real blessing, the fruit that you receive from your in-laws!

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  3. Even though I know you work very hard on finding the best prices, I am always amazed with how low food prices are where you live. I have never heard of dried celery either. We also use it mostly in soups and it would be a good thing to have on hand. I'll have to look into that.

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    1. Hi live and learn,
      I'm always envious of prices on fresh summer fruit, in other areas. One of my sister's-in-law was living with their family in Arizona for many years. the prices she would quote me, that she was able to find were just astoundingly low in comparison.

      But I do understand that in many places, especially the East Coast, grocery prices are so much higher than here.

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  4. OK... I want to know about freezing milk. I don't drink much milk because I have lactose problems, and I don't really care for the sweet taste of the lactose free variety. But occasionally it's nice to have in coffee. The problem is that the lactose free kind (which I can use more of because I can have more than a few tablespoons at a time) only comes in half gallon containers, and the regular kind only comes in 2 pint cartons - either way I have trouble using it all before it goes bad. So can you really freeze milk? Does it come out "normal" when defrosted or is it only suitable for cooking with at that point? I'd love to hear your method on this one!

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    1. Hi Cat,
      Sometimes milk separates from freezing, but not always. And not always enough to notice. Anyway, try freezing some milk overnight, in a small container. Let it thaw in the fridge one day, then see if you like it's texture. If it works well enough for you, when you buy a half gallon, open it, and divide into 1-cup or 2-cup containers and freeze all but one. There's nothing special you need to do, except leave headroom for expansion. And you could also freeze milk in quantities that you'd use in cooking, with excess milk, when you first open the container, then use the rest for fresh use.

      But also, years ago, Lact-Aid made drops to add to any milk, to reduce the lactose. I'm not sure if they still make those drops. It's what I did for years. I would pour a cup or two of milk out of the family's milk, and add the drops to the milk I'd be using. It worked very well for me. If those drops are still available, you could buy the smallest container of milk sold in your market and add the drops yourself. I'm guessing that's all that Lact-aid milk is anyway, regular milk that's had lactase enzyme added. I don't know if you care about this, but Lactaid milk is ultra-pasteurized, so it will keep longer at the grocery store. I avoid ultra-pasteurized milk for us. There are some indications that it's not very good for some folks, and so far, no one has proven otherwise.

      Did you know that the higher the fat content in milk, the lower the lactose? I can use half and half or heavy cream in my coffee with no effects at all. And when we have whole milk (4%) in the house, I'll use that in baking/cooking instead of 2%. For granola or oatmeal, though, I either eat it dry or use soy, almond or rice milk. And I use those lactase enzyme pills for when we have something like ice cream. When it comes to cheese, the more aged, the less lactose. When I make pizza for the family, I like to use Parmesan or Asiago on my share. Much better for me than mozzarella.

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    2. My S-I-L uses a lactase tablet before drinking milk or eating ice cream. She is an ice-cream-aholic so it must work well!

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    3. Thanks for all of your suggestions! I think I'll try freezing a small bit next time I buy milk and see how it comes out. I had the same thought about the lactaid drops, but I couldn't find any at the store last time I looked - they only had the pills. I'll have to check online and see if I can find them.

      That's very interesting about the fat content... hmmm... I generally only buy full fat milk to begin with - I drink it so seldom that I figure it's not worth sacrificing the flavor to go lower fat. But it could get dangerous if I decided to go half & half or even full cream in the coffee! But what an excuse... it's for "medicinal purposes!" :-)

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    4. And Kris - I've tried the pills with mixed results. I think the trick is to figure out the correct dosage because if you don't get enough you end up with cramps and gas, and if you get too much... well, you end up with other problems that are too disgusting to put into print! I think I just don't do it often enough to remember how much I need to take for which things.

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    5. Cat, I don't like to use the pills that often, because they lead to "other" problems. But I thought I was alone with that. For me, it just works better to find alternatives that are either naturally lower in lactose, or lactose-free altogether. But I keep a pill or two in my purse as I never know when I'll find myself faced with challenging eating dilemmas at friends or other places.

      I found lactase enzyme by another brand at Amazon. I don't know if they contain the same amount of lactase as the Lactaid brand did. Good luck with finding the solution that works for you and your budget.

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  5. I always enjoy seeing how much food you got for that $170 or so. Great job as always!

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    1. Hi Cat,
      Thanks! You know, it's not all work, for me. I kind of look at each new month as a treasure hunt -- just what will I find this month on sale?!

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  6. I really like these grocery sum-up posts. I hope you find a great deal on cocoa!

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    1. Hi anexacting,
      The chain Trader Joe's in our area, usually has the best price on cocoa powder, even better than in large bags at the restaurant supply.
      Don't we all enjoy looking into other folks shopping carts while at the market? I'm always curious what others are buying and serving in their homes. I guess interest in grocery posts runs along the same lines.

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