Grocery budgeting

When we first got into budgeting, my job was to look at our grocery budget and determine where costs were the greatest. I started by creating a spreadsheet with different grocery categories (e.g., meat/protein, produce, canned goods, cereal, frozen, snack foods, etc.). I categorized all purchases using grocery store receipts and entered total costs (minus coupons and store savings) into the spreadsheet after every shopping trip. It was pretty tedious, but within a month I got a pretty clear picture of what types of groceries were, percentage-wise, costing us the most, and the results were pretty surprising – even to me, the primary household shopper.
I used a spreadsheet function to display a graph of our total purchases by category. The first month I noted that nearly 20 percent of our purchases were going into the “beverage” category – that was almost $100 per month for juices and water! I could also see that we were buying far too many convenience and snack foods. These types of foods are often attractive purchases because they’re frequently on sale and coupons for these items are plentiful, making them appear less expensive compared to other groceries, and I often “stocked up” on these grain-based products.
When we took a good close look at our spending patterns, we admitted to ourselves that it wasn’t really necessary for us to have five types of cereal in the cupboard (no matter how cheap they were) or juice with our breakfast every morning. In fact, we noticed that it was much cheaper – and more nutritious and satiating – to have real fruits or vegetables with our meals instead of fruit or vegetable juice. One gallon of orange juice costs nearly $5 and can be slurped down in two or three days at our house, but a bag of oranges is only about $2.50 at our local vegetable store or on special, and can last us for more than a week, in addition to cutting out a lot of unnecessary sugars in our diets. By carrying re-useable water bottles, we could save another $10-20 per month.
Those weren’t the only surprises on our spreadsheet. I had always thought meat and produce accounted for the largest portion of our monthly budgets – we base our meals around the main dish, after all, so aren’t they the costliest? No! Our main-dish costs were actually lower, percentage-wise, than our snack-food costs! Something’s wrong with a budget (and a diet!) that allocates more resources to snack foods than healthy, filling meat-and-veggie meals. We had to make a change.
So, with a little help from some budgeting blogs we were starting to follow, we noted that we could save a lot of money by doing a few simple things:
• cutting out snack/convenience foods
• cutting out beverages (except milk)
• buying and freezing meat in bulk when on sale
• upping our veggie consumption – vegetables are cheaper than you think

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