Lessons From Grocery Tracking

For the last two months I’ve been keeping a Price Book of my grocery spending. I put my receipts in a spreadsheet that includes where I bought the item, how big it is, the price, and how much the item cost per unit.
Here’s a screenshot to give you an idea:

I’ve been doing this for two months and intend to do it for longer, at least 6 months. So far, my spending dropped $50 from May to June. The price book allowed me to see ways I was wasting money and correct it, which naturally led to saving $50.
For example, I was buying my son fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt for $1.29 a container, or $.22/ounce. Since I was doing it regularly, I bought a big tub of plain yogurt instead and mix homemade jam or fruit in it, for about $.10/oz. This simple change saved me about $10.
Here are other changes from 2 months of looking at grocery spending. I:

    * Stopped buying baby food meat ($.33/oz, and questionable quality) and started making my son pureed soups using a variety of vegetables and meats for much less money.
    * Discovered it’s not always cheaper to buy dried beans in bulk, and that sometimes canned beans cost less.
    * Realized which stores have the best deals on what items. I should never buy produce at Whole Foods or juice at my local store, for both stores gouge on these items.
    * Started making desserts. I was in denial, thinking we weren’t eating sweets, but we were buying expensive chocolate bars too regularly for me to continue to claim that’s the case. Since those bars cost over $1/oz, I started making the occasional cake or pie to compensate. Mr. Savvy doesn’t seem to mind.
    * Saved the most by buying loss leaders, markdown produce, and bulk cooking ingredients. I knew that, but it was good to see the numbers.
    * Am considering making candied nuts. I like them in salads but they are expensive.
    * Might start buying bigger containers of cream, as I apparently go through more of it than I thought.
    * Always lose out when I don’t think ahead.
    * Have to find a cheaper way to get spices. They are costly.
    * Consistently buy fancy food for celebrations–picnics, Mother’s Day, my anniversary, etc. I should think ahead for these events so I don’t do a lot of last-minute impulse buys.
    * Am encouraging Mr. Savvy to make more beer, since it is the cheapest way to drink quality beer.

Overall I don’t spend all that much on groceries. The June bill was $513 for the three of us. That’s not too bad… but we can do better.

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8 thoughts on “Lessons From Grocery Tracking”

  1. I think it’s great that you do this. I haven’t taken the time but I do know that not planning ahead and not shopping with a list costs me too.
    I make my own yogurt in a crockpot (easy!) and save quite a bit there. I can drain it so it firms up into greek style or make cheese.
    I buy my spices in bulk at either the natural food market or in packets at the import store. The advantage of the natural food store is that it tends to be fresher and I can buy just what I need.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. I buy my spices at a local ownedhealth/wellness store (NOT a chain). They sell herbs & spices by the ounce from bulk containers, you bag. Typically less than half of what you pay at the grocery store. My nearest one is an hour away, but I make every Trip to the city count!

  3. Yeah, if you have the time to make it, home-made yogurt is both cheaper and much much more delicious.
    Also, you can make yourself candied nuts right in the microwave. I used to give them away at Christmas. They’re really easy; just google yourself a recipe, there are loads.

  4. Thanks for the spice advice. I will have to poke around and see what other options are in my area.
    I’m curious about making my own yogurt. I’ll have to try it!

  5. How did you compare canned vs. dried beans? When you purchase canned beans, part of what you are paying for is the water that the beans absorbed in processing. To get the most accurate comparison, I looked at the price per cup of cooked dry beans vs the price per cup of canned beans, and have always found dried to be cheaper…

  6. Maggie, I compared the price per ounce of cooked beans. I found that it depended on the situation and sometimes canned was cheaper.

  7. I pay about $360 per month for groceries, for a similar sized family as yours (two adults, one toddler) with a much smaller urban garden (in Chicago). This does not include toiletries, booze, etc.–just food. I did a price book for a few months, including not only the prices of foods I bought but advertised sale prices for the kinds of things we buy from stores’ flyers we get with the mail. I don’t have time to shop at all of those stores, and I have little patience for coupons, so I figured out which were generally the cheapest for different categories of foods. Aldi weekly special prices are consistently the cheapest for produce and pantry staples (our local one is decent: good quality fresh produce, some organic stuff, and some locally made items). I usually plan our menus around their weekly sales. Outside of a crazy supermarket sale, Costco is cheapest for liquor and meat/fish, olive oil, good coffee, rolled oats, and a handful of other staples (I shop there about once a month). I hit Trader Joe’s once or twice a month for stuff we like but can’t get at Aldi or Costco. I very rarely go to Whole Foods, unless it’s for something specific from their bulk foods or health sections. Penzeys is a good source for spices; we have shops here, but you can also order from them online. The quality is excellent, and the prices are fair considering the quality.

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