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Friday, January 31, 2014

January Grocery Money Journal

Jan. 1 So, we're starting out the month with $158.15 for groceries. It looks doable. I'll need eggs, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and a few fruits and veggies. I've been experimenting with various egg substitutes. Right now, I've got a batch of egg-free muffins in the oven. I like this recipe because the leaven comes from vinegar and baking soda, and the moisture from applesauce. So, very affordable for an egg substitute. We'll see how the month goes.

Jan. 3 QFC -- I had a coupon for a free package of bath tissue. I knew I'd use the coupon the next time I went to the bank, as the two businesses are right next door to each other. While there (you must know by now, that I'm going to mention checking for markdowns), I checked the dairy case. If only I'd had more freezer space, because they had a lot of marked down milk and eggnog.  I bought 1 quart of eggnog for 49 cents (we're about done with all the treats, so 1 quart will be enough), 2 gallons of whole milk, for making yogurt (1.89 each), and 5 gallons of 2% milk (1.79 each). Spent $13.22

Trader Joe's -- they have the lowest regular price on eggs in our area, but still I only bought 1 dozen, as $1.89 feels high to me, compared to the usual sale at Walgreen's for 99 cents/dozen. I'll make this dozen last a few weeks if I have to, and hope to find eggs on sale for less, someplace in the meantime. I also bought 13 bananas, for lunches next week, at 19 cents each. Some of these bananas are huge, and this is truly the best deal on bananas in our area. When I got home, I weighed a few, and the price per pound worked out to 34 cents, on average. That's a great price for here. Spent $4.36

Wholesaler Cash and Carry -- just down the road from Trader Joe's. I read their ad online earlier today and saw they had 1 pound packages of butter for $1.85. Worth my time to stop in and pick up 4 pounds. We went through a LOT of butter during the holidays, as my girls love, love, love to bake. So, 4 pounds will extend our current supply of butter another 6 weeks (I still have 4 pounds in the fridge from fall sales, so in all we have enough butter to get through March, barring a baking spree of my daughters'). Spent $7.40, for a total month to date of $24.98

Jan. 4 -- Dollar store for 2 quarts of soy milk. spent $2

Jan. 5 -- Walgreen's. I don't get their ad in the mail, so I check it online on Sundays when it comes out. Eggs for 99 cents/dozen. Woohoo! I bought 12 dozen eggs, with the plan of freezing 3-4 dozen, to use later, while waiting for another sale on eggs. spent $11.98, for a month to date spending of $38.96

Jan. 9  Dollar Tree for soy milk, white flour macaroni noodles (24 oz bag -- We eat whole wheat pasta for everything but mac and cheese. I just can't get behind brown mac and cheese.), 6 packets of veg and herb seeds. Total spent $3.65

Jan. 9  Albertsons cheese and whole wheat pasta on sale. 2 lbs medium cheddar for $3.99/limit 2 with coupon, and boxes of whole wheat pasta (13.25 oz) for $1 each. I bought 14 boxes of an asst of spaghetti, thin spaghetti, penne and rotini. This price works out to about $1.20/lb, which beats Trader Joe's whole wheat pasta price by 19 cents/lb. Also, I cruised the dairy case and found half and half creamer for 75 cents/qt (bought 1, I'll freeze in small amounts for adding to coffee, soups and sauces), and 1 qt of pumpkin spice soy eggnog for 99 cents. The rest of the family gets their fill of eggnog over the holidays, I get mine on the clearance sale. I'll freeze in single portions to have as treats when I want. Spent $23.72, for a month to date total of $66.33

Jan. 14 Cash and Carry restaurant supply for all-purpose flour (50 lbs for $13.49), whole wheat flour (50 lbs for $12.48), ground mustard (10 oz. for $3.39), and raisins (2 lbs for $4.59). Total spent $33.95, for a month to date total of $100.28

Jan. 27 I have to take my daughters to the transit center in a nearby town twice a week. Fortunately, the transit center is near a couple of stores where I make grocery purchases. Today, I stopped at the Cash and Carry, and picked up carrots (25 lb bag for 8.48). I wanted to just buy the 5 lb bag for $2.21, as I didn't want the hassle of re-bagging into smaller packages, or the crowded fridge. But after doing some math, I realized that buying the larger bag would be like paying for 19 lbs and getting 6 pounds for free (as compared to buying carrots in the smaller bag). And I also thought about our family's eating habits. We went through the last 25 lb bag in about 2  1/2 months. So, our fridge would not be overly crowded for all that long. Total spent $8.48

Also stopped by Trader Joe's, just down the street and bought several bananas. 13 bananas at 19 cents each. Total spent $2.47

Stopped in QFC to check for marked down milk, and use a coupon. I bought 3 gallons of skim milk ($1.99 each), and got 6 full-sized candy bars for free, with coupon. The candy bars are put away for something special. QFC has been sending a sheet of coupons every few weeks, this winter. IN with the coupons is a freebie each time. Last time around it was for a 6-pack of bath tissue. This time 6 free candy bars. Not bad! Total spent, $5.97

Also in the area is Dollar Tree. I picked up 1 box of baking soda (16 oz for 59 cents), a bag of pretzels for a special occasion coming up, and 2 packets of vegetable seeds (25 cents/packet). Total spent $2.09.
Month to date spending -- $119.29

Our budget for the month of January was set at $158.15. This includes the carry forward of our overspending from November and December, so we're now completely caught up, and have a surplus of $38.86, going forward into February.

Our pantry is beginning to look like a dent has been put into our stock. And I was able to easily find room in the freezers for this week's bread-baking. But I can see that we have enough grains, meat, fruits and vegetables to get through February.

I've been asked a few times how we're managing to keep our spending so low.

  • making almost everything from scratch
  • buying the inexpensive fruits and vegetables, and not buying the more expensive ones
  • skipping the treat items. Around the holidays, instead of buying crackers (even from the dollar store), I made crostini regularly. I haven't bought any specialty coffee (like bags of Starbucks or Tulley's) since some time last spring, but instead we're just drinking whatever I find on sale.
  • if the price is too high, I just don't buy. I'd have loved to have bought some oranges in January. But I didn't find any in my price range all month. I'll be able to buy them at 50 cents/lb at the produce stand in late March, so we'll wait. Until then, I do have some frozen orange juice left, and lots of tomato products, all have good amounts of Vit. C. Fresh cabbage will go on sale in early March, again, good amount of Vit. C. Plus all of our frozen strawberries, and the greens and parsley in the garden are coming back, which also have Vit. C. 
  • when I find a good deal on a staple item, I nudge myself to buy even more than I would have in the past. I bought 12 dozen eggs when I found them at 99 cents/dozen. This should be enough to last us through March. And hopefully I will find them on sale again near that time.
  • finding substitutes for foods that I'm not finding on sale. Mayonnaise at over $3 per quart seems ridiculous to me. Instead, I'm using Greek yogurt in place of mayo in all our cooking. Mayo will eventually go on sale, then I'll stock up. My price to look for is under $2.50 per quart.
None of these points sound like extraordinary money-savers, but when you combine them all, it has resulted in us reducing our grocery budget by about 20%, since August.

There's a certain amount of stress when you know that you can't just buy whatever you want. I look at my pantry, fridge and freezer, and realize that this stress is all in my mind. I have to keep reminding myself, that sticking to this low grocery budget is part of the overall plan to keep our daughters at the university, to save for retirement, and be prepared for any unseen emergencies looming in the future. 

We're still able to do a lot of fun things on our small budget, including some travel (using miles, points and reward dollars), and a special meal out later this spring (using a gift card). We're well. We're comfortable. We're provided for. I even have a little bit of birthday money from last year to spend. (I did spend some of it last week, on a new shirt and sweater -- Penney's clearance rack). When I'm feeling deprived, I just need to remind myself that it's really all in my head.


  1. It's always interesting to take a peak into your shopping. 10 oz. of mustard powder seems like a lot. Do you use it for a lot of different things?

    1. You can keep mustard powder for a long time.

    2. Hi live and learn,
      I'll be making mustard later this month. At least that's the plan. I've wanted to make some for quite a long while, and we've just now run out of prepared mustard. I'd love to make some specialty mustards. We'll just have to see how this goes! And yes, now that I have mustard powder in the house, I find I add it to a lot of dishes. It adds a nice zest to creamy or cheesy foods, especially.

    3. Hi Brandy, that's good to know! When I buy spices in extremely large containers, I keep most of it in the freezer. I think it helps.

  2. I think what's amazing to me about watching your money management is your continued consistency in sticking to your budget as well as how you always seem to keep your financial goals in the forefront. You are right, a lot of my stress (not just financial) tends to be all in my head. Kudos.

    1. Hi Kris,
      You know, there are times when being ultra-focused on our budget and goals is helpful, and allows me to "see" that we're doing okay. And then there are times when being so focused actually creates more stress, I think. Balance is what I'm hoping to stumble into, someday!

  3. I like these posts! Have you posted before about how you freeze eggs?

    1. Hi anexacting,
      Yes, I posted, in the fall on freezing eggs, here:
      I follow Joy of Cooking's instructions, basically. What's great about freezing eggs, is you can freeze just the last two in a carton (especially helpful when going out of town for a week or two, and wanting to clear out the fridge), or if you find a good deal, you can freeze a whole batch. And it's extremely easy. I froze 4 dozen last week, to use in March.

  4. Lili, you've done a great job keeping your grocery expenses low this month. I really enjoyed reading your list.

    Speaking of needing eggs or not, I can get away with leaving them out of the cornbread, but salmon patties and meatloaf definitely require eggs. I've used less eggs in cake mixes, like 1 instead of 3 for example, and did not notice any difference in the finished product. Great price on those eggs at Walgreen's, definitely a better price than the grocery store.

    1. Hi Belinda,
      Thank you.
      Yes, I think something like meatloaf or patties, really need a binder. When I make bean burgers without the egg, they're still tasty, but they fall apart.
      That same week that I found the eggs on sale at Walgreens, I read on several other blogs that Walgreens in other parts of the country had the same special on eggs. At 99 cents a dozen, that's half the price of the lowest I can find eggs in a regular grocery store. It's interesting the items that can be found at a better price at a drug store, than a grocery store.

  5. Goes to prove that the little things do add up! I'd love to find your markdowns on milk!

    1. Hi DW,
      It's just the one store nearby that has fantastic milk markdowns. I'm not sure what the other stores do with their milk that's near the sell-by date. Anyway, I know we are fortunate to have that source of milk on markdown. (I have milk markdown on the brain this week. Last night I dreamt that I found whole milk on markdown, and I bought 4 gallons!)

  6. Wow, eggs are cheap in the US! Even the cheapies here are $3-4 a dozen. Free range are around $5-6 and organic are $8 a dozen. It definitely makes me want chickens!

    I also don't buy things if I can't find a good enough price on them. Have you ever tried making your own mayo? I wonder how it would compare in terms of cost.

    1. Hi Liz,
      I've been reading some recipes for a cooked egg version of homemade mayo. I get a strange choking feeling in my throat whenever I think of eating anything with raw egg in it (unless it's cookie dough or cake batter :-) ). I have been very happy with Greek yogurt as a substitute for mayo, though.

      Being able to find eggs so inexpensively is what keeps me from keeping chickens here. It would simply cost way too much to keep the chickens, compared to the cost of eggs. I can find free range eggs at Trader Joe's for about $3/dozen. But if egg prices someday skyrocket, I've got a spot for a coop all plotted out in the side yard of our house.


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