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Thursday, January 31, 2013

January Grocery Money Journal -- month-end

Trader Joe's -- one of my favorite stores.
I love that their tofu is the cheapest in town, and it's organic to boot!
(First half of January grocery money journal is here.)
Jan. 16. Eggs advertised at Bartell's Drugs for $1.49/ dozen extra large. I stopped in to pick up a few dozen, and some more Tully's decaf French Roast (hey if Dr. McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy is going to be the new owner of Tully's, I'm buying his coffee! Just kidding, I had Tully's in the house before that news.). As we've kept our grocery spending fairly low in recent months, I've been splurging on good decaf coffee. It's a frugal splurge, really. I blend the good decaf with regular coffee for a reduced caffeine brew. The French Roast is very good. Anyways, Bartell's was out of the eggs, but I got the coffee. Spent $7.99. Here's the rub, though. I got home, picked up the store flyers for the week, and Tully's coffee, the exact same that I just bought, was on ad in one of our stores for $5.99! I missed out on a sale by just a few hours of notice. I may still pick up a bag of the sale Tully's, if I make it to that store. For the eggs, I asked for a rain check.
Total spent today, $7.99, for a month-to-date total of $80.70

Jan. 19. We were about out of milk, so I got up early to check QFC for marked-down milk. I hadn't checked their flyer, but as it turned out, milk was on ad just for the weekend for $1 for 1/2 gallon. I got lucky! I bought a total of 14  1/2 gallon containers (some 2% for drinking, and a few whole milk for yogurt). Also checked their mark-down produce section and found bananas for 39c/lb. I bought a few bundles. With 5 of us here, we'll go through all of these by the end of the long weekend. Spent $15.27 at QFC.

Also, just down the street is Albertson's. I wanted to make a stop by there, as avocados were on sale for 50c each, and they had the decaf coffee that I like for $5.99 bag. I also needed whole wheat tortillas for the week (2 for $3, bought 2 packs), and I found 2 large canisters of dark roast Maxwell House coffee (28 oz.) on clearance for $4.99 each. I think we're more than set for coffee for the next few months! Spent $20.97 at Albertson's today. Total month-to-date spent -- $116.94

Jan. 22. Stopped in at the Cash and Carry after school, bought a gallon of vinegar, 5 lbs of carrots and 3 quarts of soy milk. Spent $8.42.

Also, stopped in Albertson's for shortening, and household supplies. Spent $5.99 for shortening. Total spent for the month, so far $131.35

We managed to acquire 2 dozen eggs this week for free. My son volunteers at the local food bank a few days per month. If they have items that are about to expire and can't give out, they pass these on to the volunteers. So, lucky us. Just as we were running out of eggs, 2 dozen come our way.

Jan. 29. Dozen eggs on sale at QFC for $1. I stopped in on way home and picked up 6 dozen. (Spent $6) The sell-by date is March 4, over a month away. In addition, the eggs should still be good for a few days past the sell-by date, I'd guess until about March 10, if they last that long. I'm done shopping for the month. My total for January -- $137.35. My budget was $210 for the month.

I'll have $72.65 to carry forward into next month's surplus. If I look at prior year's expenses, month by month, I can see that my expensive months are later in spring through early summer, as my freezer empties out.

In the second half of January, I made 6 stops at grocery stores, and spent $64.64. I expect next month I'll need to restock several items, such as margarine and butter, peanut butter, soy milk and others.

I'd like to cut back on my stops at the Cash and Carry and Trader Joe's, to just 1 or 2 stops per month. Neither of those stores have weekly ads. Their prices reflect what they paid for their stock, and are not used to entice shoppers to come in, then spend significantly more. So there's no real benefit to my stopping in weekly or every other week. I just need to plan better, and I could save myself some time.

Stores I shopped at this month:

Bartell Drugs (in Lynnwood), sometimes drug stores have good deals on food products. I especially like this Bartells for its exceptional customer service, and it's on my way home every day.

QFC (in Mukilteo), QFC is a regional chain, sort of known for being pricier than many other grocery stores in the area, but they have great prices on milk and eggs when on sale. And they mark down their packaged deli and dairy sections every couple of days, so I almost always find bargains there.

Albertsons (in Mukilteo), fairly good prices for when I need something that I can't find on sale, and they're the closest grocery store to our house.

Cash and Carry wholesale (in Lynnwood), big warehouse-style restaurant supply that sells to the public. I first heard of shopping at a restaurant supply from the Tightwad Gazette, about 17 years ago. We've been hooked since. Another restaurant/institutional supply store that often sells to the public is Smart and Final. Cash and Carry  and  Smart and Final have the institutional version of a store brand, sometimes Smart & Final brand, sometimes First Street brand. I can find name brands there as well, but the store brands are much cheaper and similar in quality. I use Cash and Carry for a regular supply of basics, when I can't find them on loss leader sales.

I didn't go to Trader Joe's in the second half of this month, but I do like their products. Many of the regular products I buy there also happen to be organic, and I'm not paying a premium for the organic version. Most everything there has the Trader Joe's label. They're especially good for natural-style peanut butter, dried fruit, nuts/seeds, whole grain pasta, tofu, soy milk, cocoa powder, bananas, nitrate-free hot dogs, and some vitamins and supplements. If you've been wanting to try more organic products, and have a Trader Joe's nearby, stop in and check their prices and products.

Grocery deals to look for in February:
  • Superbowl Sunday, the first weekend of the month, look for chips, dips, sandwich fixings, soda pop
  • Valentine's Day, if you just have to have strawberries before they're in season locally, this will be the first sale of the year on strawberries, but still much more per pound than later in spring, also, steaks, lobster and chocolate on sale
  • Valentine's Day Clearance- beginning Feb 15, boxed and bagged chocolates marked down
  • National Canned Food month-all month long in the US, various canned foods featured on sale
  • National Cherry Pie Month-in US, Cherry Pie Day is Feb 20, expect to find canned cherry pie filling on sale just before. If you don't want to bake a cherry pie yourself, wait until about Feb. 24 and check your grocery store bakery clearance rack 
  • Chinese New Year begins Feb. 10 (it's the year of the snake)-expect to find Chinese cuisine related items, such as soy sauce, canned bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and chow mein noodles on sale the week before
  • No. Hemisphere produce remains much like January, except tangerines no longer considered in season. You'll find cabbage family vegetables, avocados, oranges, leafy greens such as chard, kale, collards and spinach, root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, parsnips and potatoes
  • So. Hemisphere produce -- still peak summer veggies and fruits, apricots, plums, melons, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, corn and eggplant, later in the month the early apples come in. This is a good time of year for So. Hemisphere for great deals on produce, to can and freeze.

So, how did January spending go for you? Did you also find that it was easier to be frugal this month? 
Have you ever shopped in a restaurant/institutional supply warehouse store? Is there a particular store in your town where prices are predictably lower than the other stores around?


  1. I continue to be amazed at the low price of milk in your area. Also, I usually don't buy extra large eggs because most recipes are calibrated to the size of large eggs. Do you ever have problems in your baking with extra large eggs?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I take the size of the eggs into account, but only for things like cakes. A large egg should equal 1/4 cup, but they don't always. Most of the time the size doesn't seem to matter.

      If I were a professional baker then I be weighing the eggs to be precise. But since most of my cooking is just for the family, I let that slide. And I've never noticed a problem with using the extra large eggs instead of large. Strange. Because you're right, the size should matter some.

  2. You did great this month, Lili! :)
    I spent more than I thought I would, but I also stocked up some as well. And I did go to Sam's club this month as well. I have a lot on hand going into February, so I'm happy about that. :0

    1. Hi Belinda,
      You did find that really great deal on beef this month, and really stocked up. that will definitely add to spending, but it's spending that will pay off down the road. I didn't find very many deals this month. Maybe that will change for this next month. And I was noticing in the pantry that I will have to restock some things like grains/flours.

      Sounds like you should be set for February, which is always a nice feeling!

  3. I'm continually amazed at how low you are able to keep your budget.

    We did very well for January, even counting a few times we had guests and I picked up special items. Of course, to be fair, we were participating in the Eat Down the Pantry Challenge. We have enough to carry us a little further into February and then I'll have no choice but to hit the stores.

    1. Hi Shara,
      Call me strange, but I love the idea of eating up everything in the pantry and seeing just how long we could go. I personally would love that sort of challenge.

      February will see me spending more, too. I've just been noticing how many things we're starting to look low on. And I've made a commitment to eat more fish this next month, and that will cost us, but be worth it.

      Our budget is greatly helped by a large garden and many fruit trees. Our frozen fruit should last us through next month and perhaps a bit into March. And the veg garden is beginning to come back to life. If we don't have any more hard freezes, I should be able to harvest kale and mustard greens soon. Plus we eat vegetarian so much.All those things help keep our budget low.

  4. We are so fortunate to have Aldi's in our area. I don't buy everything there but I typically get over half of our groceries there.

    I've been clearance shopping for clothing this month. It always seems funny to me that fall/winter clothing goes on clearance while we are still getting snowstorms (like today!) but it's a great time to stock up on coats/snowpants/hats, etc., for the following year and beyond. Which is good news since I had hoped to get 2 years out of my daughter's winter coat but I've already repaired a ripped sleeve and it's only January (if we lived in a warmer climate I wouldn't worry but, well, we don't, and that's an area in which I don't believe in being "too" frugal).

    Superb grocery budgeting, Lili! I wish we had a Trader Joe's.

    1. Hi Kris,
      and I wish we had Aldi's here. I read so many positives about their stores.

      I totally understand needing good winter clothing for your area. For us, it's rainwear. We moved here from a very dry climate and I went a couple of years without a decent water-repellant jacket. I was miserable. So getting your daughter a good winter coat will ensure her comfort, and may last through next winter as well.

  5. Lili, You put me to shame. I spent $76.
    As a single person my grocery expences should be a tiny fraction of what it takes to feed your family.
    I've been shopping at Cash & Carry for 20+ years.
    Safeway & QFC (Quality Food Center)are my GO-TO stores. QFC is across the parking lot from my work. Safeway is only a few blocks from home. I like Albertson's but its not as convenient. I can find good deals at Grocery Outlet but I think some of their products are not the best quality. After some trial and error I know what to buy there and what not to.
    I've never tried TJ's. Maybe I'll make a point of it.

    1. Hi frugal spinster,
      Well, being a family of 5 gives us some advantages. Right off the top of my head I can think of man-power, for doing all sorts of things like helping with gardening, harvesting, processing our fruits and veggies, and then there's the real big saver -- I can buy those super large institutional sizes of everything. I buy brown rice in 25 or 50 lb sacks. That size would be ridiculous for just you, unless you favored rice in your diet on a daily basis. Same thing with sugar, you probably wouldn't want to be eating a 50 lb bag of sugar for yourself. Whereas, our family goes through a couple of those per year. So, it's not quite an equitable equation when comparing a single person's budget to a family's budget. It's just not the same as dividing what we spend by 5, to get a single person's budget.

      I've wondered how we will handle our grocery shopping when we're empty nesters. Will I buy much smaller packages of everything? Or will I continue with the 25 and 50 lb bags of foodstuffs, and maybe co-op with friends, or encourage my kids to come shop at Mom's kitchen?

      I do think there are challenges to shopping and cooking meals for a single person.

  6. Thanks for the reminder, I will be stocking up on summer fruit over the next few weeks to eat over the winter :) I found out this week that frozen mango slices make a great snack.

    Well done on your grocery shopping for the month :)

    1. Hi Economies,
      frozen mango sounds like a treat! Do you have any sort of freezer aside from what's attached to the fridge? You're in peak freezing canning season right now. You could also dry (fruit leather?) or can fruit for winter, as well.

  7. I've said it before - I'm a bit like the Queen and rarely carry cash. Pretty much everything goes on credit card - which of course is paid off! And we get cashback - bonus! It looks as though I've had a low spend month, despite paying for 2 x Paloma Faith Gig tickets. A great start to 2013! Yay for conscious spending!

    1. Hi Jo,
      too funny about being like the Queen. I was just telling my kids about how Prince Charles never brings cash with him, and about how Princess Diana wanted her boys to pay their own way, so insisted they carry some money with them when they went out. My kids couldn't believe that the Prince wouldn't pay for his own anything. Different world some of us live in.

      We almost exclusively use our rewards credit card, and pay each month in full. We earn some lovely travel rewards with it. But I do use cash for gas. It's cheaper per gallon here, if you pay with cash. There are rumors that merchants might start charging a "credit fee" in the US, if you use a card. And the credit fee may be as much as 4%. Ouch! We'll have to see what happens.

      Great job on a low-spend start to the New Year! It always feels good to start a year with a little extra in the bank.

  8. I always like to read your grocery posts. You have quite a technique of "doing the rounds" to get the best deals. It sounds like you have a nice selection of stores, each with their own special deals. Do you find it worthwhile to go to a farmers' market?

    1. Hi anexacting,
      We do live in an area with a good selection of stores to choose from, and that is a big help in keeping our grocery spending down. We have a couple of kinds of farmers' markets here.

      We have the large Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, that's open year round. I think of that as more of a tourist destination. But we go about once a year, and it's a lot of fun, and we see and try new produce.

      Then there are the seasonal farmers' markets in our own town and the town to the north of us. These are local farmers, and most of what they carry I also grow in our garden. Their prices are high, but the produce is very good and mostly organic. I think for someone who doesn't keep a garden, this is a very nice way to support the small farmer, without having to drive out of your way.

      Then there are the farm stands on farm property, in an area about 20 minutes east of us. We do go out there several times a year, and pick at the u-pick farms, or buy from their stands. The prices are excellent, it's a fun outing, and you just don't get any fresher than that, unless you grow it yourself.

      And then there are the highway produce stands. I have one in particular that I frequent late March through early November. It shuts down for winter. This is my go-to place for fresh produce that we can't grow in our own yard. I stop in at least once a week, sometimes twice, as it's on my way to my daughters' school. The prices are exceptional, it's convenient, and the produce is very fresh. Not everything looks "pretty", as it does in a large commercial supermarket, but produce isn't perfect in nature, and I don't expect it to be so when I'm buying it.

      If I did not have a garden, then I think shopping at the highway produce stand would be the way to go to save money and have fresher produce. I would still have to subsidize this with some supermarket and wholesale produce during winter.


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