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Saturday, June 1, 2013

May Grocery Money Journal (I came, and I shopped, and I spent!!!)

So, for the month of May, in a nutshell -- I came. I saw. And I spent. I guess that's what happens when you follow a month with extremely low spending.

But seriously, yes there were things that we needed to restock. But also, there were items that I'd been wanting to buy for a short while, such as the vodka for making more vanilla, and the almond milk, as another alternative milk to have on hand, and all the peanut butter so I could thrill my two peanut fiends in the household, and there's the seafood, which was an addition to my usual monthly spending (not super expensive seafood, just some shrimp and several cans of tuna).  All these extra items added up to more spending than usual. But I'm fine with that. (Although, of everything I bought, I am still scratching my head over the purchase of a packet of nori. It took forever for us to use up the last batch of nori! Go figure -- my brain was on pause after several hours of babysitting that morning. Shopping when tired and hungry is never a good idea with me.)

I've been wondering, is there a right size for a grocery budget? Is there a flat percentage of income that would be the right amount? Or a dollar per person? I don't really believe so. I think the right size budget is the one that:

a) suits your cooking style (do you enjoy cooking from scratch? do you have time to cook from scratch? do using a few convenience foods to prepare meals at home keep you eating at home instead of dining out regularly?)
b) reflects your eating choices (are you all organic/free-range, are you vegan or carnivore, those sort of choices),
c) allows for dietary restrictions (some dietary restrictions make keeping to a budget down-right difficult),
d) embodies just how much work you want to put into obtaining your food supply (gardening, foraging, bartering, shopping many stores, etc)
e) takes into consideration the cost of living in your area and availability of shopping options
f) and still fits within your income

And a grocery budget isn't static. Prices fluctuate. Needs change. Families grow and households shrink. A "right" budget, for my family, is the one that provides us with high nutritional content, pleasurable, but still simple, at-home dining experiences, and a small amount of preparation convenience. I am at home most days and I do enjoy cooking from scratch, as well as keeping a kitchen garden. Your "right" budget may be larger or smaller than ours, and still be the right fit for you.

Just some random thoughts on grocery budgets in different households. Now, here's how my May's spending went.

May 1. Funny thing about April's lack of grocery shopping, you'd think I'd be chomping at the bit to buy, buy, buy! I went to the dollar store and the produce stand today, and found myself rather discriminating in my shopping. Oh, I still bought, but I was selective, read labels and price compared a bit more than usual for me.

What I bought -- Dollar Tree (gotta start at the cheapest place for my restocking) soy milk at $1 a quart ( I actually was enjoying my own homemade rice milk, so I'll likely do a half and half batch of soy milk and rice milk, but the convenience of the boxed soy milk is hard to pass up), salt for 50 cents, peanut butter 10 oz./$1 (this is the kind with hydrogenated oils, I know bad stuff, but it makes the best peanut butter cookies), graham crackers $1 for 10 oz box, marshmallows $1/ 10 oz. bag. This weekend will be the first warm weekend of the year and we're planning a cookout, which means s'mores, hence the graham crackers and marshmallows. Spent $11.50

Produce stand -- bought another 10 lb bag of oranges ($3.98) and 4 small avocados (4/$1). Everything else seemed too high in price to me today. I told you I was discriminating. Spent $4.98

Fred Meyer -- I had the oddest looking selection of items in my shopping cart here. I actually felt self-conscious about what I was buying. Milk, on mark down -- $1.99/gal, 1 can coffee and 1 can 1/2 caff, then the odd one (for me) -- a fifth of vodka. I was making vanilla extract with my free vanilla beans, so needed the vodka -- that stuff is expensive here, with all the taxes! Spent $29.98

Cash and Carry restaurant supply -- 10 lb potatoes ($1.33), 25 lbs onions ($8), 5 lbs. carrots ($1.89), 50 lbs sugar ($22.25 -- so glad to see the price down on sugar, it was close to $30 this time last year), 1 gal vegetable oil ($8.39), 2 lbs raisins ( $4.58), 1 box cornstarch (99 cents). Spent $47.43

Total spent today -- $93.89

May 3. Stopped in at produce stand before getting girls from school, to check their markdown bin. Bought 2 bags of green peppers (4 peppers each bag -- 99 cents/bag), 1 bag green peppers/broccoli (3 peppers and 1 large piece of broccoli -- 99 cents), 1 tomato (22 cents), 1 banana (18 cents), 1 small bundle celery (49 cents), 1 cucumber (33 cents), 5 avocados (5/ $1). Spent $5.19.  I'll chop and freeze most of the peppers, and use the rest in meals for the next few days.

TOP Foods -- needing shrimp for salad tonight (trying to eat seafood more often), also picked up 1 gal of whole milk on sale for $1.99 (making yogurt this next week and whole milk works best for me). Spent $5.16

Total spent month to date -- $104.24

May 8. Trader Joe's for a few basics. Bananas (19 cents each, bought 13), cocoa powder (8 oz. $2.49), roasted almonds (1 lb. $4.99). Spent $9.95 (I also picked up frozen croissant dough, 8 count for $3.99, these are for Mother's Day, and will come out of holiday/celebration budget.)

Total spent month to date -- $114.19

May 9. Albertson's after babysitting and I was tired and hungry, not a good idea, but I did okay in the end. 1 pouch nori ($3.79), 10 cans albacore tuna (88 cents each), 2 dozen eggs (99 cents each dozen), 1 package turkey franks (cookout this weekend -- $1.99), iodized salt (69 cents), small bag of flavored decaf coffee ($3.99 -- I was needing a treat that wouldn't have calories), 30 oz jar mayo ($2.50). Spent $23.74

Dollar Tree now carries peanut butter. It's in tiny 10 oz jars, and it's the junky stuff (comparable to Jif in ingredients and nutrition info). My daughters were sad that we were about out of peanut butter, so we stopped at the Dollar Tree near their school (the one near us had sold out this week). We were in luck, 14 jars left. We bought 10 jars. Spent $10

Total spent month to date -- $147.93   I can see our grocery bill creeping up, and really want to stay within out budget this month. The extra money that we didn't spend last month will go into our daughters's university fund. I don't want to tap into that. I'll have to be creative, and limit my purchases to absolute necessities for the rest of the month.

May 10. Stopped by produce stand and picked up some celery, 2 eggplants, a yam and some seed potatoes for the garden (Yukon Gold and Purple). Spent $4.07

Total spent to date $152.00

May 16. Albertson's for 1 gallon milk ($2.29), 1 dozen eggs (79 cents), 2 lbs. butter ($1.99 ea), stevia ($2) -- Spent $9.06

Produce stand for 3 Roma tomatoes -- 57 cents

Total spent to date $161.63

May 22. Dollar Tree for 4 qts soy milk, 1 bag corn chips, 1 can olives -- $6

Target for turkey kielbasa and non-stick cooking spray -- $4.96

Cash & Carry wholesaler for 10 lbs potatoes( $1.33), bananas (52 cents/lb), 3 pack of celery ($3.92), 5 lbs carrots ($1.95), 5 lbs. shredded cheddar cheese ($10.48), 2 lbs powdered sugar ($1.89), 50 lbs white flour ($13.29) total spent -- $35.34

Total spent month to date -- $207.93

May 24. QFC for milk ($1.59/gal), bought 4 gallons, 2 of which are whole milk, so I'll be making more yogurt next week, milk (99 cents/half gal), bought the last 2 half gallons, turkey franks 99 cents, Hebrew National franks ($3 each), bought 2 packages, baking bananas (39 cents/lb) -- spent $17.85

Albertson's for 1 watermelon at 29 cents/lb. Spent $3.92

Produce stand for weekend dinner produce, corn on the cob (5/$1), a tomato and 2 avocados. Spent $1.73

Month to date spent -- $231.43

May 26. Husband and one daughter went to Dollar Tree and bought 10 jars peanut butter. Spent $10.

May 28. TOP Foods for turkey bacon ($2.99), sausage ($2.49), sweet potatoes ($1.61), apples ($1.65). Total spent here -- $8.74

May 29. Trader Joe's, bought almond milk ($1.69/quart), toasted almond slices ($2.99/8 oz), rice cakes ($1.49). Spent $6.17

May 30. Produce stand, found several marked down items that fit my list, cantaloupe at 25 cents each, mushrooms for 59 cents small bag, cauliflower for large bag at 99 cents. Spent $2.58

Total spent for month of May -- $258.92

I was over our budget by about $60. However I still had surplus money from my low-spend months of Jan and February (I put all the surplus from last month's "eat down the freezer" into our daughters's education fund, so that money is no longer available for grocery spending). I am now right about even in budget vs. spending for groceries for the year.

Our freezers are looking even more bare this month. But that's a good thing. I need room for summer produce. Some of the tastes I'm most looking forward to this summer -- fresh cherries, bruschetta topped with vine-ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, rosemary potatoes, fresh strawberry pie, a bowl of blueberries, and barbecued chicken. I'm hoping for more feast days and no famine ones for this summer!

How about you? What tastes of summer are you most looking forward to?


  1. Did you get around to trying the TJs frozen croissant dough? I have always been interested in that product.

    Summer tastes... definitely cherries and in-season watermelon. Also a recipe from Cooking LIght which is a grilled chicken with a tomato-avocado salsa. I don't even bother making it until the tomatoes really taste delicious!

    1. Hi Jen,
      Yes! These croissants are my indulgence. I am a snob about croissants. I like them crispy on the outside, and with a good butter flavor. Trader Joe's are really pretty good. The package of 8 minis is a fair value. They work out to 50 cents a piece. And while the dough looks tiny when you set them to rise, they get quite big. I buy these a couple of times per year, usually for Christmas breakfast, and Mother's Day or my birthday.

      That recipe for grilled chicken with tomato-avocado salsa sounds yummy, and so fresh!

  2. Your produce stand sounds wonderful! Is it a farmer's market type thing with locally grown stuff, or just an independent produce operation?

    I'm laughing at the coffee, milk & vodka trip. Sounds like you were gonna make spiked latte!

    I think I might end up with a bit of a big spending month in June too... I fear I might go crazy next time I hit the produce section, we'll see! I think you showed great restraint!

    And I totally love your thoughts about the "right" grocery budget. There are just so many different factors that come into play.

    1. Hi Cat,
      It's a family-owned produce stand. This time of year at least half of what they're selling is from California or even farther away (like the pineapples and bananas). They have some produce from Washington state, and will continue to carry more and more local produce as the season wears on.

      Yeah, my trip to get milk, coffee and vodka was a funny one. The cashier asked me what I was going to do that afternoon and I explained I'd be making vanilla extract, hence the vodka. She didn't know you needed vodka for vanilla extract-making, and asked if I was going to be drinking the vodka while I was making vanilla. She and I both laughed as I explained how to make vanilla.

    2. So, how do you make vanilla?

    3. It's so incredibly easy. A lot of people just shove whole beans into the bottle of vodka. That works, but it does take more beans that way, to get maximum flavor. I split and chop my beans, then add to a jar of vodka. I shake up the jar once every couple of weeks. You can begin using it in about 2 months, but you'll have better flavor if you wait 4 to 6 months. After 6 months, the vodka has pretty much extracted all the flavor it can from those beans. But you can then add those used beans to a new batch, along with some new vanilla beans. And when you're sure you've gotten all the flavor out of the old vanilla beans, you can dry them, and grind to add to coffee grounds, sugar or salt (vanilla salt is amazing!)

  3. I bought some cherries this week - expensive but very tasty. I can't wait for August's free blackberries. Last year I loaded up but this year I would like to freeze twice as much as I ran out of them in January and only have blackberry jam to keep us happy. I am currently enjoying corn on the cob. Love corn season although right now our corn comes from California as Island corn won't be ready for a while.

    1. Hi Cheapchick,
      Our corn is coming from California, too. I think we have to wait until August for local corn here. Cherries -- I can hardly wait. We are down to our last 2 containers of blackberries. My daughters want' me to use them to make a blackberry pie. Just a couple more months and it will be blackberry season all over again!

    2. I'm jealous. I tried planting a blackberry plant last year, but alas, it didn't make it through the winter. Sigh.

  4. I only read through this once, but did you buy 21 jars of peanut butter this month? Also, was the corn on the cob fresh and locally grown? It will be another month or so before we can get local (4 hours away) corn. And as always, I can't believe how low your grocery prices are even at the "regular" store, Albertsons.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I guess we did buy that much peanut butter. My two daughters put it on everything, literally, everything. We had hot dogs tonight, and one of them wanted to save her hot dog bun (eat the hot dog separate), so she could put peanut butter on the bun. In our defense, on the quantity of peanut butter, they're 10 oz jars, pretty small. But we do go through a lot of it. And it's hit or miss at the dollar store. They seem to sell out of the peanut butter quickly, so we grab it when we can.

      If you think our prices are low, you should hear what prices are like in some of the southern or southwestern states. My sister in law and her family were in Arizona for a few years, and her prices were unbelievably low. And when we first moved here from Utah, I thought everything was expensive. Utah's prices were pretty good.

      The corn here is still California corn. It'll be August before Western Washington corn is ready. In fact, it's in September that we usually visit the corn patches for u-pick.

  5. I feel like you would fall over in shock at our Canadian prices - $5.69/gallon for milk, $3.19/dozen for commercial eggs, $2 for celery, $6 for 4 lbs oranges!

    1. Hi anexacting,
      I just might! I know your milk prices are much higher than ours. that's in the news from time to time, living up against the border here. BC-ers cross the border and clean out Costco's supply of milk on a regular basis. Our dairies get farm subsidies from the gov't, keeping the price per gallon somewhat steady and low.

      But I bet you can buy maple syrup much cheaper than we can here. I buy a tiny bottle from Trader Joe's for special occasions for $5-6. It barely lasts 2 meals of pancakes for us.

      Makes sense on the oranges, as they have to be shipped from so much further away. Living on the west coast has its advantages for us. We get so much of our produce from California, and there is still a lot of agricultural space in CA.

  6. Vodka is quite expensive here as well, even the cheapest one I use to make vanilla essence. It still works out a bit cheaper than buying it though.

    I finished up my $21 Challenge month this weekend, and I did look forward to shopping on Saturday morning. I also spent more than I normally do, but I bought a whole organic chicken as a treat. I still come in under budget on the averages, so I'm happy :)

    Enjoy the summer bounty :) Strawberry pie sounds delicious.

    1. Hi Economies,
      making vanilla extract is one of those things that while not the most lucrative frugal activity, it does make very lovely gifts. And if the vanilla is done well, then it's a more flavorful vanilla than what you can buy in a store.

      I don't know if you'll also find this to be true, but for the month following my own month to not buy groceries, I still found I was using up quite a bit from the freezer. It's nice to be able to see things in there again!

      With meals, I find there's something to look forward to both winter and summer. While here in the No. Hemi we'll be eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies, there's something to be said for the comfort foods of winter that you'll be enjoying in the So. Hemi for the next few months.


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