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Friday, March 27, 2015

Comparing my "old" grocery shopping to my "new"

I was browsing my old grocery journals, looking to see which month I made the biggest changes. If you've been reading my blog for a while, then you might remember that my husband's work situation changed in July of 2013, reducing our income by 30%. I couldn't find a July grocery journal in my files. It was a crazy month of adjustments, so maybe I lost track that month. But I did find June's for 2013. (I accidentally re-posted it briefly the other day -- hit the wrong button, oops!)

My thinking on groceries has changed very significantly. Here, I'll let you read it, but I'll edit out some of the commentary, to shorten it, just so you can get an idea of what I used to buy.

"June 4. Dollar Tree, bag of corn chips (to go with chili) $1

June 5. Trader Joe's, rice cakes ($1.49), almond milk, 2 qts. (1.69 ea), 3 pack 72% dark chocolate bars ($1.79), 1/2 lb almond slices (2.99), brown rice tortillas (2.69), bananas, 7 (19 cents each)  total spent $13.67

Produce stand watermelon (29 cents/lb), yams (69 cents/lb), small avocados, 2 (25 cents ea), roma tomatoes (98 cents/lb), whole wheat tortillas ($2.49)  total spent $8.58

June 7. Albertson's eggs 88 cents/dozen, limit 2, corn tortillas (1.69)  total spent $3.45

QFC marked down bananas 39 cents/lb, whole milk, gallon (3) - $1.99 ea, skim milk, gallon (1) - $1.99  total spent $9.75

Manna Mills Natural Market brown rice flour (2.05/lb), millet flour (1.85/lb), buckwheat flour (3.59/lb), GF hot cereal blend (2.69/lb)  total spent $3.94

June 11. TOP Foods -- bought gummy bears and turkey bacon, spent $4.49

QFC for markdown milk (99c for a half gallon, bought 3), spent $2.97

Country Farms produce stand in the afternoon for 2 small avocados, 1 cantaloupe and 1 tomato, spent $1.47

June 12. bought slider beef patties and 7 gallons of markdown milk ($1.89 for 1%), spent $24.22

June 14. Country Farms produce stand, bought 1 watermelon, a bag of cauliflower and a tomato. spent $4.97

Manna Mills Natural Market Bought arrowroot, tapioca flour, sorghum flour and cream of tartar. spent $2.15

June 17. QFC, found 1 gallon milk ($2.99), and 15 lbs of baking bananas, another bag of beef slider patties. spent $19.61

June 20. Cash and Carry wholesaler. Bought boneless, skinless chicken breasts, almond milk, 5 lbs carrots and a 10. lb bag of potatoes. Spent $15.93

Trader Joe's is just down the street, so picked up more almond milk, vegan mozzarella, cashews, almonds, GF hamburger buns, tofu and corn pasta. spent $21.72

June 21. Fred Meyer, bought more turkey bacon, breakfast sausage, 2 packs chocolate chips, an oregano plant (mine didn't do well over winter this year, so it was cheaper to buy a new plant than have to buy oregano at the store) and a good bar of chocolate. Spent $13.01

June 25. Dollar Tree. Bought 1 bottle of cranberry juice, $1

Month to date spent -- $151.93

It's June 28. I've got to go to Trader Joe's for a couple of items to get through the weekend and next week. I'm doing much better than I thought with the budget. I've been very, very busy. Staying out of stores helps with the budget, that's for sure!"

That's where my online grocery journal ends. My on-paper accounting shows that I spent more, bringing up the total of grocery spending for June 2013 to abut $190 for the month. While $190 sounds like very little, look at the items that I bought. I was in no way stocking up on staples, to carry us through future months. I was buying a lot of convenience items, to get through 1 week at a time, such as tortilla chips, rice cakes, tortillas, chocolate bars (a lot of chocolate bars, apparently, and some gummy bears), buns, and some meat items that are now simply out of budget for me, like beef slider patties and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I don't think I was caring as much about prices, back then.

To be fair to myself, however, this was the second month of trying to get my digestive issues under control. I had a cross-reaction to gluten in May, due to over-consumption of dairy. And so I was trying a GF lifestyle, which proved to be very expensive, and not wholly necessary for my body. I have since learned that if I limit my dairy, and use lactase enzyme tablets when I do consume dairy, I can have some high-gluten foods, like breads and pastas. I just have smaller portions of the wheat-based foods than the rest of the family, and I avoid barley, almost entirely (I have an intolerance to barley).

But, even taking this into consideration, my shopping had a different feel to it. I was buying impulsively, and not finding the biggest values. For instance, buying slider patties instead of markdown cuts of beef, or buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts, instead of whole chickens when on sale. I spent $2.69 per pound on a GF hot cereal blend. Meanwhile, brown rice is also GF, and I pay about 45 to 50 cents per pound for brown rice, bought in 50-lb sacks. Brown rice, either whole or roughly ground makes a nice GF hot breakfast cereal, at 1/5th the price of the special GF blend.

I had no idea that a major income reduction was coming. I was truly blind-sided by that one. So, I could afford to shop in a comparatively haphazard manner. Once the budget change took place, though, I was finding many, many alternatives to reduce our spending.

In place of a bag of corn chips to go with chili, I now always make cornbread. A pan of scratch cornbread cost about 60 cents, compared to $1 for the corn chips. Rice cakes are something of a "fun food". $1.49/ package at Trader Joe's, I have since seen them at Dollar Tree for $1 a package. But for me, now, I just don't buy them. If it's nutrition I'm after, a scoop of cooked brown rice has the same nutrients. A couple of mentions of buying nuts, then it was almonds and cashews. Now, I buy mixed nuts and peanuts, in large quantities, in November/December, and at the wholesaler in super large cans, when found on sale.

I'm satisfied with any of my produce purchases, as produce is definitely a dietary priority for our family. But even still, I could have found better deals by buying in bulk, such as larger bags of carrots and potatoes than what I did buy (5 and 10-lb bags).

Grocery prices began to sky-rocket, at about the same time that my budget was reduced, adding to my challenge. I think I was able to prove to myself that we can still eat great meals, have some treats, and continue with good nutrition even in such a financial squeeze. My grocery budget has been around $170-175 per month since August 1, 2013. I won't say it's easy. This is a difficult amount to keep to, even for me. But I'm glad to know that I can do it. If finances allow, I would like to increase this budget to about $210, where we had been for many years, but this time, spend that additional amount on more meat for our diet.

As a post script, the funniest line in the journal to me now is at the end, "I'm doing much better than I thought with the budget." My perspective has definitely changed, don't you think?!



  1. Lili, thank you for all your replies. You are so helpful. I nearly cried when I read your reply to my doubts about not having enough talent to do art. Yes, passion is what I have a lot of. Everyday, I have to work at my craft, so that must be passion!! Dabbling throughout the years, but not knowing where my efforts are taking me. I just have to trust my intuition (I know I've said this before) that one day all of this will make sense. We're so geared to think of the cost/reward on a short term basis, it is a test of faith to do so otherwise.
    I wrote a comment and lost it again. I don't know what key on my laptop I am hitting when I backspace, but the entire comment is wiped out.
    So I don't know if I can repeat myself again lol...but comparing how you shopped two years ago...what a change!! I would not have suspected you to ever buy chips and gummy bears ready made. Since visiting your blog, I have not been able to buy those types of snacks either. I seem to be more patient and have to think everything through before I do anything I like this new habit. It saves me a lot of waste and improves effiiciency. That's the difference I have noticed when i keep a strict monthly food spend. Before I thought it didn't matter, since I try to buy everything on sale. But I can see a lot of efficiency is gained, when you are accountable and have a set dollar amount goal. I have learned to have stricter stock buying rules, better use of the using my stock items (I am trying to simplify the amount and number of ingredients in a recipe, can always add more next time if not palatable), and I am watching the portions I eat (food diary starting two days ago).


    1. Hi YHF,
      My shopping has changed. Cutting out the junk, even if it was just a small amount of junky stuff, is what I had to do to get our grocery spending in line with a new income. Premade chips are now a special occasion food. I have made tortilla chips from corn tortillas, though, and those are quite good, and a fraction of the cost of bagged tortilla chips (if I buy the corn tortillas in wholesale amounts, but they keep for a long time, so not a problem).

      We make changes as we need. Good luck to you!

  2. Don't we all do that--think we are doing ok in an area until we have to stretch ourselves to be even better? Our income was a lot less about 7 years ago and I thought I was being really careful with my money--I have slowly learned to be even more mindful with my spending and I can identify soooo many areas where I could have tightened our financial belt a little more. But we seem to have survived intact--God has always provided--and I'm a little bit smarter with my expenditures now.

    1. Hi Kris,
      You know the phrase, "when you know better, you do better". I think that holds true for how much many of us have changed our grocery shopping. And even for those who can afford to relax their budgets (once kids move out, no longer cooking for ravenous teenage boys, etc), I think there's the tendency to at least be more mindful in spending than how we once were.

      Absolutely -- God does always provide! I need to keep reminding myself of that!

  3. We were cleaning out old files and I came upon some grocery receipts from 10 years back. Oh, my. Convenience foods, single-serve yogurt ... and I thought I was doing well. I'm more mindful of spending now .. but I still have much to learn.

    1. Hi DW,
      oh those must have been fun to find! Oh yeah, the single-serve yogurt. Even just 3 years ago I was buying that from time to time. I started making yogurt almost 3 years ago, and I have never looked back. There's always so much to learn, and relearn. Sometimes, I'll feel stumped about something, then someone else will remind me about a possible solution, that I had known, but forgotten. that's one of the values of these blogs -- we can teach and remind each other of the many ways to improvise or save!

  4. Wish I could credit this to whomever said it, but I can't. To do your best, find your limit and then surpass it.

    I think we can almost always do better, but we don't need to ever beat ourselves up for not always being our best.

    1. Hi Anne,
      You're right on that, our "best" can vary with whatever circumstances we currently face. I like that statement about finding what our best is.

  5. Once again you have proved that all things are relative! I recently watched a documentary about a group of college kids trying to live on a dollar a day in Guatemala to experience what real poverty feels like. It was eye opening, but I think you may have even them beat in the budget department! And your family is certainly eating MUCH better than they were.

    1. Hi Cat,
      That must have been interesting. Of course, they were just kids, and had no experience behind them to know much about cooking very basic foods. I know I didn't at that age. But I think that's a good experiment for that age group. Opens their eyes to how the majority of the world's population really lives.

  6. Interesting reading. What strikes me the most is when you said that you were buying impulsively before the salary cut. I have always perceived you as totally planned and the queen of buy-ahead-when-there's-a-sale since you have started posting your grocery shopping. As you said, it's all relative.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      In my mind, I've become much more controlled in my shopping. It is all relative. I was just surprised to read that I bought gummy bears and chocolate bars (not 1 bar, but apparently 4 in total that month). I was wondering to myself if I'd been feeling sorry for myself for not being able to eat all of the usual treats that I baked for my family in those few months of being completely GF. And maybe that's why I bought so much candy that month.

      Oh well, I guess my best take away with looking at old vs new spending is knowing that when I have to, I can cut spending as needed.


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