Stay Connected

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

How the Month's Grocery Budget is Going

Here’s where we stand with the grocery budget for the month —

It’s a little past mid-month, and I’ve about depleted my allotted $125 for March. I went to Walmart the first weekend of the month, spending $29.81 for the items that I had determined would be least expensive in that store, including 5 dozen eggs, 10 lbs of chicken hindquarters, 2 heads of cabbage, some garlic powder, vegetable oil, and bananas. On March 5th, I shopped the Senior Discount Day at Fred Meyer, following the same game plan as Walmart, spending $57.01 and buying canned green beans, canned dried beans, canned tomatoes, 1 package of chocolate chips*, bread, frozen orange juice concentrate, butter, milk, and ground beef, with the ground beef as my stock-up item. On the 14th, I went to Safeway and bought 8 heads of green cabbage, spending $8.78. This last week, I went to Walmart to buy the Oreo-style cookies, a package of frozen French fries, and another bunch of bananas, spending $5.64. Finally, Monday morning, I was driving right by Cash & Carry, so I decided to stop and finish my grocery list for the month. I bought 10 lbs of carrots, 25 lbs of onions (my 2nd stock-up item for the month), 10 lbs of potatoes, 32 oz container of frozen apple juice concentrate, and a bunch of very green bananas (to get us through the last week of the month, I hope). I have now spent $123.13.

I am well-stocked on all of the food groups. I may not have lots of some particular foods, such as butter and flour, but I do have a large container of oil and enough other grains to get through the month. I did decide to buy loaves of bread instead of baking bread this month. I didn't have enough in the budget to buy the two 50-lb sacks of flour that I normally buy, getting the best price per pound and resulting in homemade loaves of bread that cost about 50 cents/loaf. Instead, I bought the cheapest bread that Fred Meyer sells, at 80 cents/ loaf. Next month, I'll have the money to buy the 2 kinds of flour that I use in bread. A similar situation with buying the canned dried beans. The canned beans were 45 cents each. I've been using them to quickly make a container of sandwich spread once or twice per week to substitute for the peanut butter that was out of my price range. The cost of bean spread using canned beans and other ingredients is about 75 cents per pound, while peanut butter was $1.40 per pound in a 64-oz container. Next month, I will buy a large sack of dried beans to cook for meals and make sandwich spreads.

On a very low budget, I find that I have to pick and choose which foods to buy in large quantities, and which to wait for another month or opportunity. The goal is to buy two or three basic items per month at a super low price and in quantities large enough to last for 3 or 4 months. By doing this every month, after a few months I should have enough of the basics that I can splurge occasionally on non-basic ingredients. It will all work out, and truly, we are being well-fed.

I still have $1.87 of March's grocery money left. Should we need a bit more fresh fruit, I will pick up one more bunch of bananas for 42 cents per pound at Walmart.

In the total food budget (including eating out), we have been exceptionally good. We haven't so much as bought a single burger out. My daughters had coupons for free birthday frozen yogurt and invited me to come, but I declined and sent them off together to enjoy their birthday treat. If I had gone, my frozen yogurt would have cost about $5. In addition, I had to go to the mall on a couple of occasions this month (birthday gift shopping and walking/exercise), every single time I brought my thermos of coffee and some sort of snack in my purse. On another occasion, I had a 3-hour wait in the city for one daughter. Not only did I find free, street parking, but I brought a book and my laptop for entertainment and a thermos of tea and my lunch plus snacks, avoiding the purchase of any food or drink while I waited. Also, our Sunday lunches have reverted to eating home-prepared, quick foods. We add interest by eating on the deck, on the grass, or at the mall. When we have warm, sunny Sundays, we plan on cooking hotdogs over the fire ring or taking sandwiches to the beach for our after-church lunches. Our original goal was to preserve a family time each week, where we all share a relaxing meal together. Eating out after church helped get that going. Now, I think we are continuing but without the restaurant expense.

*the chocolate chips sound like a money-waster on such a tight budget. However, I am using them to make homemade candies for our family several times this month. If you figure a regular chocolate bar weighs 1.55 ounces, then one 12-oz bag of chocolate chips would yield 7.74 candy bar's worth of chocolate. The 12-oz bag of chocolate chips cost just under $2. 7.74 candy bars would cost about $6.11, based on a price of 79 cents per bar at Dollar Tree. Maybe this sounds like rationalizing the purchase of a non-essential item. For us, having some treats sprinkled throughout the month may prevent some of the discouragement that can set in when you constantly feel deprived.


Kris said...

Amazing, Lili! You are so good at thinking through every aspect of savings--cost of electricity, food items, and so on. I'm absolutely with you on the purchase of chocolate chips. Food provides so much more than just nourishment for our bodies--a calculated "splurge" is a great way to head off unnecessary purchases.

Lili said...

Hi Kris,
Thank you. And I do think that having homemade chocolate candies has kept me from wanting to buy the occasional candy bar. Whatever else I have to forgo, I would really miss chocolate if I couldn't have it. Maybe it's my one thing that I've got to keep in the budget, just finding the least expensive way to get it.

Live and Learn said...

I'm all for keeping chocolate in the budget. It's not a splurge if it keeps your mental health and mood in tact. I'd say it's necessary. :)

What kind of sandwich spread do you make with beans?

CTMOM said...

I went back and read a few older posts of yours to try and get some background on your situation, which appears to be starting in 2 months, for an amount of time unknown. I assume it's tied in with DH's income. I do recall that this isn't the first time you've had to absorb a decrease in income. $125/month for a family of 4 is very austere. The USDA put the amount of $153.80 as the lowest level of spending for your family. This only accounts for food expenditure. My grocery budget also includes personal care, laundry/cleaning, paper goods but no pet needs. All inclusive, my rock bottom is $67/person which would translate to $268 for your family. Granted, prices can vary across the country. It's hard to do, menus are repetative. Like you, I do aim to toss in some treats to stop the feelings of deprivation. Go ahead and grab that bag of chocolate chips! I wonder if you have any resources for food such as leftovers from church socials (not sure what you call them), freecycle or facebook community postings, local food bank/pantry. You have repeatedly shown that you are an excellent steward of what you have, don't hesitate to reach out for help. Even if just a bag of grocery staples a month, it's enough to ease the burdeon. Are the girls out of college yet? My policy is that if living at home, the kids have to contribute to the monthly grocery budget. I retired and am on a fixed income, even with the addition of a modest income stream to access and pay for privatized medical insurance, I am taking in 79% of my former salary. Life is good, don't get me wrong, but I remain hyperfocused, in a reasonable way, as regards expenditures and my household budget. You are blessed that there are produce items starting to grow in your garden, which will supplement what you buy at the store. Until I finish the outside projects, I don't think that I will be able to garden yet. Once I do, it will be on a limited basis, due to my arthritis. I am thinking of building a raised bed on the Western side of my garage that does get a good bit of sunshine.

CTMOM said...

That's a WEEKLY amount set by the USDA, monthly for your family of 4 would be $673.50. You are alloting 18% of that amount.

Frugal in the USA said...

Your ability to stay within your budget amazes me! And I thought I was frugal. You put me to shame.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lili, you are so inspiring! We will also be on a reduced income by the end of the year...I'm taking notes :) Renee

Lili said...

Hi live and learn,
I'm so glad that you friends agree that chocolate is necessary!

I make a couple of types of bean spreads. Our two favorites are hummus and soybean spread. For the hummus, I had sesame seeds in place of tahini for my first batch of the month, but just garbanzo beans for the second and third batches. I prefer the sesame flavor, but I think the plain stuff was also a hit. The soybean spread is my rendition of Laurel's Kitchen's Zippy Soybean Spread (I think that's what it was called). I use cooked soybeans, either leftover marinara (vegetarian) or pizza sauce, or in a skillet I cook some onions in oil, add garlic, some sort of tomato product (canned, fresh, paste with water), herbs like basil and oregano, salt. I use the food processor to puree the tomato/onion mixture with the soybeans, adding additional oil until the right consistency and salt and/or garlic until the flavor is good. This is great on crackers, toast, or soft bread. If making a sandwich on soft bread, I spread a think layer of butter on the bread first then the soy spread. My kids ate a lot of this growing up as it could keep in a bagged lunch without refrigeration and it wasn't peanuts. We still love it, and it's so economical and heart-healthy. For those who are concerned about eating soy, this can also be made with canned white beans. I've also made a Mexican-style bean spread, using cooked pinto beans, cumin, chili powder, cooked onions, garlic, oil, and salt. It's good, too, but a lot like refried beans (which we already have often), so I don't make this as much. The canned, cooked beans may cost more than dried, but for convenience when making a quick sandwich spread or a quick pot of minestrone soup, they are worth it.

Lili said...

Hi Carol,
You're correct, it's my husband's income. Until we find a way to bring in more money, this is indefinite. I am hoping, that it a worst-case scenario, our food budget can rise a bit. We have some necessary expenses coming up this year that have been planned for, but not completely saved for. The continued savings for these expenses is eating up large chunks of the overall budget. We don't want to dip into savings yet or cut back on deposits into retirement savings. With that said, we're not destitute. We have options. For right now, our best option is to reduce spending on groceries, electricity, and heat. The good news with the heat situation is we are now in spring and can manage with the thermostat set very low, and keeping most of the lights off during daylight hours.
One daughter has graduated, the other graduates this June. My deal with all of my kids has been that they have 6 months post-graduation until they pay rent. The rent is a pretty good deal, but I think charging something helps them budget their money. Both daughters already buy any fun foods for themselves. Neither one has a car, but use our car when it's available. But they both pay their share of the auto insurance. Both are on our medical/dental insurance. The daughter who has graduated pays her own medical bills/copays. The other daughter will begin that after graduation. But they both know that if they had a medical emergency, we would help them out financially with it. Both daughters are on-board with us cutting back and are taking considerably shorter showers, turning off lights, getting a sweatshirt or blanket when chilled, helping in the garden, offering to pay more for what they use, or even offering to treat us to fun things.

For food -- the fund-raising luncheons, for which I used to volunteer, ended a year ago. That used to bring in some leftovers for us to use. I have a large yard with a large vegetable and herb garden, plus apple, pear, plum, crabapple, and cherry trees, blueberry bushes, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, huckleberries, and rhubarb. With just four of us here now, my garden can provide a lot of our food. We have a sunny streak going on right now and I was working in the garden this morning, planting snow peas. We use raised beds exclusively, and they are wonderful. If you want an idea that may work for you, check out this blog post of mine.
For the main body of our garden, we have used concrete blocks. We topped them with concrete pavers, so that I can sit on the edge of the garden to work, instead of crouching down. You may be able to locate some free concrete blocks through freecycle or craigslist. We originally built the beds 2 blocks high (16-inches high), but later decided for aesthetics, we wanted it just 8-inches high at the tallest spot. The whole thing is built on a slope, so the northern end of each bed is mostly buried in the ground, with the paver just above ground level. Anyway, this might work for you against your garage.

For our family, I have always thought the USDA amounts were on the high side. I couldn't imagine spending over $600/month on food. But then, I like simple foods that are scratch-cooked. Even so, I'm not sure $125 will be sustainable. We'll see. And if I find a good job or my husband's situation changes, we may be able to increase our grocery spending again. I think that you're doing very well with your own situation.

Lili said...

Hi Sandy,
That made me chuckle. I hope not to put anyone to shame! But seriously, you do what you have to do. And if push came to shove, you could do this, too. I know that.

Lili said...

Hi Renee,
Oh, good luck to you! I really don't want anyone to have to go through periods of struggle like this. But I am glad that by sharing what I am doing, that I can inspire someone else who is facing a similar scenario. Best wishes to you!

Lee Ann said...

I too need to trim our grocery budget. I’m not good at this. Our budget had been cut by over 50% due to me resigning from my full time job. Anxiety and depression. I do have a part time job but fear is creeping in. Please pray for me and I will pray for you too😀

Shara said...

It sounds like you have a good handle on things. I think that a few months of building up a stockpile of basics is a great way to accomplish your goal.

Your bean spreads sound delicious.

Anonymous said...

OK, ladies, there's a lot of you who need prayer right now. I'm thinking about each of you as you walk through your times of difficulty. I will pray for you too.

Lee Ann, I sometimes feel like quitting my job too, due to some anxiety that leads to a bit of depression. Also, my kids are good kids but as we transition them into adulthood, guiding them can be difficult which leads to a bit of stress. Only because I'm an involved parent.


Lili said...

Hi Lee Ann,
I just now said a prayer for you. Loosing a good chunk of income can be stressful, no matter what the cause. I understand the fear. I sometimes wake in the night worried about how we will make it without dipping into savings. You can handle this. I know it. Just start doing the things that help cut expenses. The night my husband came home from work with the bad news, I immediately went to the thermostat and turned down our heat a few degrees. Next, I partially unscrewed 3 of the 5 lightbulbs in the fixture that hangs above the kitchen table, and turned off any lights that we didn't absolutely need. My family has been through several income reductions and layoffs, so these actions are practically instinctual, now. And every time we have another financial event, I think we won't be able to make it, but somehow we do. So, I'll tell you a few things that we are doing right now with our groceries, meals, and snacks.

For my family, one of the things that is going to really help us is that this income reduction was announced just before spring vegetable garden planting. I had planned on not doing such a big garden this year. Well, those plans had to change. I was out this morning, weeding one bed and planting some early seeds. Are you in the Northern Hemisphere? If so, can you garden? Do you have a garden already, or a place in your yard where you can start a garden? Our garden will provide a lot of food for us this summer and next fall (and winter -- we're still eating pumpkin that I grew last summer).

The other thing that will help us a lot (and that might also help you) is cooking as much from scratch as possible. So, for the last couple of years, I had been buying snacky foods, like crackers, pop-tarts, as well as some packaged foods, like dry cereal, stuffing mix. This month, I reverted to cooking most foods from scratch. So, instead of buying dry cereal this month, I've been cooking a big pot of steel cut oats in the crock-pot overnight a couple of days per week. The leftovers carry us through the days that I don't cook any. I didn't buy any of the snacky foods this month, but instead baked cookies, or we have toast with hummus or cinnamon and butter. I am keeping some foods, ready-made in the fridge, so others can make quick lunches and snacks for themselves. For example, I peeled and trimmed a dozen whole carrots yesterday. Anyone who wants carrot sticks can grab a peeled carrot and chop into sticks. Today, I cooked a large pot of brown rice. This will go into the fridge for lunches, or quick suppers of fried rice. I make up egg salad or bean spread for easy and cheap sandwich-making. And I make sure that there is a lot of food every night for dinner. My family members know that if they aren't hungry for everything that I fix, they can have their servings later as a snack, or for breaks or lunch the next day. With the exception of the meat portion, supper foods are often cheaper than western snack foods. So, I am happy to make extra supper so my family can snack on rice, veggies, bean dishes, or fruit crisps later in the evening.

I'll keep posting things that I am doing to keep us within our budget. You can do this. I'll keep you in my prayers.

Lili said...

Thank you, Shara.
Do you have a copy of the cookbook Laurel's Kitchen? She had a couple of good vegetarian sandwich spread recipes that might interest you.

Lili said...

Hi Alice,
thank you for praying for all of us. I think that prayer is one of the most generous things anyone can do for me, so I am guessing that this is meaningful to others, as well. You are a blessing to have here.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed how much thought went into your planning. It is beyond what most people could imagine, yet it makes perfect sense to logically comb every detail, and not take prior conceived thoughts for granted, such as the common notion that peanut butter is cheap food when bean is even cheaper.

Today, I found out that not all natto (fermented soybean) is created equal. While most have very little calcium, one brand that we buy has 40% calcium per serving. Same price, but calcium lactate is added in the fermenting process, which therefore enrichens the nutrition content. Of course this means, we will stock up (freeze) when this brand goes on sale.

I know the focus is to save, save, save. But I recently read an article that talks about the need to switch gears from saving compulsively to spending a little, especially when the need to save is not dire. I think it is a valid point. While money is never to be wasted, there is such a thing as a bad habit. I'll be 65 this year. So I seriously should question why and when about switching gears. I told myself a few years ago, that I will not be frugal after 75 yo, unless it keeps my brain active. So even if I dip into savings this year, I think the adjustment I'll make is, so be it. However, I'll still be frugal too for now.


Belinda said...

Lili, I'm sending good thoughts and prayers your way. You've always handled your grocery budget very well and I know you'll continue to do so. You're already being proactive in your situation, which is the best thing to do right now. I'll continue to pray for you and as always hope the best for you and your family.

Live and Learn said...

Thanks for the info. Hadn't really thought about adding a tomato product to the beans for a spread. I might try that.

Matt Macduff Family said...

As always, superbly done, Lili. In times like these, it always amazes me to see how God works. Whether it's providing extra energy and creativity to make more foods from scratch or dropping off a box of groceries on your front door step. (This happened to us once when we were taking care of my sister & niece for a number of months. Someone anonomously dropped off the box.) Melissa

Lili said...

what a good thing to find about about the natto that you buy!

You know, I sometimes remind myself that money is just a tool and not a prize. When we need to use it, that is what it is there for. But when we don't really need it, splurging some of the time is nice, but for me at least, too much splurging makes it less special. I think there's a balance to be found -- enjoy what you've saved, while maintaining enough to carry you through the rest of your life.

Lili said...

Thank you so much, Belinda. I know that we'll be fine. I believe that this situation will be temporary. In some way or another, our budget will loosen up a bit.

Lili said...

Hi Melissa,
I know, isn't it amazing? Just a couple of days before I went to Fred Meyer I took out a sheet of paper, inventoried our meat supplies, and made out a plan to stretch all of our meat to get through 1 month. Well, lo and behold, at Fred Meyer I found the ground beef at a ridiculously low price, a price that I haven't seen in many, many years. And it was a lot of packages of ground beef. I took 7 3-lb packages and left at least 15 or so. I know this was God's hand in providing for us. The fact that we still have some money left in the $125 is His doing too. We may buy some bananas next week, or this may actually be leftover money. Now how is that possible on $125 for the month. Loaves and fishes, anyone? So, you're so right about His provision, when and how much we need.

Lili said...

Hi live and learn,
if you check out the link at the bottom of Thursday's post about peanut butter cost compared to egg salad, there's a recipe for the Zippy Soybean Spread that has the tomato product in it. The original recipe also has green pepper and celery. It's a little less bean-y than some spreads, I think.

share this post

Be a voice that helps another on their frugal living journey

Are you interested in contributing your ideas as a guest writer for creative savv?

Do you have a favorite frugal recipe, special insight, DIY project, or tips that could make frugal living more do-able for someone else?

Creative savv is seeking new voices.


enter your email below

Follow creative savv on Bloglovin'