How do you stay on track at the grocery store?

On Friday, Jacq from Single Mom, Rich Mom asked me a terrific question.  She said:

This envelope / jar thing confuses me.  Wouldn’t it be best to leave out $20 or something just to buy the “essentials” at the end of every month?  You’re budgeting $170 per person / month or close to $6/day per person – it must be possible to bring that down if need be.  You’ve got me really curious to see how to figure this out.

I guess the short answer is, I don’t really have a very good strategy for this, if I have one at all.

At the beginning of the month, I take out $510 in cash, and stick it in the cupboard. That’s the whole monthly grocery budget. I’m not sure how much better I’d do if I pro-rated the money by the week instead – or even a half month. Perhaps worth a try.

Often what happens is this: by the end of the month, supplies of things are at least getting down, and we start to deplete our stores of the every day stuff. When I get our month’s grocery money, I go and stock right up again. Usually this means that I spend more of the money at the beginning of the month than the end. There is no strategy here, just confessing my habits.

I’ll also admit that at the beginning of the month, I think we’ve done without some ‘treats’, and I may buy a tin of hot chocolate, or a carton of frozen yogurt. Not always – just sometimes. I think I have to switch my thinking to add those things to the end of the month rather than the beginning.

In November, I shopped a lot more at Loblaws than I have all year. Why? That’s where my Saturday morning Weight Watchers meeting is. For a couple of weeks, I took my little bundle buggy to my meeting, and shopped after. I felt like I had my Saturday afternoon back. Instead of coming home and then making one or two more trips out with the bundle buggy to shop in the more discounted grocery chains near my house. While I didn’t succumb to any of the extra temptations that a big Loblaws has to offer, their prices are certainly higher. That didn’t help me stay on track in November. I’ll have to shop the bargains at Loblaws when I’m there, and save my everyday shopping to my local Food Basics.

Yes, the youngest and I are Weight Watchers members, and the eldest is a type 1 diabetic.  All of that means that we eat a lot of whole, and fresh foods. Sometimes (not always) that’s costlier. In my neighourhood, I’m surrounded by about five independent fruit and vegetable stands. There’s one that’s my favourite. Normally I can get bananas for .49/lb (the grocery store usually starts at .69/lb). About every third day I’m making a trip to the fruit stand for apples, grapes, celery, spinach, bananas, lettuce, etc. Usually each trip is about $10.

The eldest has also started seeing a personal trainer and nutritionist to try and get her weight down a few pounds (her nickel, not mine). She’s not overweight, but she did gain a few pounds over the summer and she’s finding her clothing is very uncomfortable. As a recently diagnosed diabetic, she’s still finding her way with fitness and blood sugar management. Her nutritionist has made some suggestions for her daily intake, which means I’ve bought a lot of prepared hummus, and All Bran cereal that are now regular additions to our kitchen.  Note to self: learn to make your own hummus.

The final kick for my grocery budget, I think, is the kitties. I take the cat food out of the grocery budget, perhaps stupidly. I spend about $60 a month feeding three furry faces. Two bags of cat food at $27.95 each, add tax and you’re at $60.

In January, I’ve upped our grocery budget to $600. I’ve also eliminated the “booze” budget line in my spreadsheet. I’m hopeful that if I think I’m drinking the grocery money, I’ll do it far less. Good for me, and good for the budget.

What I do reasonably well is check out the flyers, I may stock up on an item that’s a really good deal (like toilet paper last week, for instance). I go out of my way to buy milk at Shoppers Drug Mart for $2.99 rather than pay $4.19 at the grocery store. I clip coupons and order specific coupons online for our frequently purchased items. I’ve also got the day marked in my calendar that my local independent pet store is celebrating their one year anniversary and offering 20% off everything.

How do you guys manage your grocery budget. What tricks do you use that you think I can use or do better at?


12 responses to this post.

  1. We do pretty well with our grocery budget as it stands today. For our family of 5 (and sometimes 6 – stepson visits every other weekend), we have a grocery and personal care/household care items budget of $875/month. I separated out the “diet coke” money so I took $20/month out of the grocery budget to finance the diet coke. I also took $25/month out of our entertainment budget for the diet coke fund so we have a monthly diet coke fund of almost $50/month which is WAY more than we need and the leftover money is building up. Now we can take full advantage of pop sales and stock up for a month or two at a time because the diet coke fund is “fully funded” at all times without biting into our grocery budget.

    Okay, back to the grocery budget… I split the grocery budget into two 15 day amounts – $440 each. For the first two weeks of each month I have $440 to spend, and for the last two weeks I also have $440 to spend… thus avoiding the BIG SPEND at the beginning of the month to make up for the scrimping at the end of the previous month. Try splitting your grocery fund $300 for 2 weeks at a time and see how that works for you.

    We settled on 2 week’s worth of money at one time to allow us to take advantage of stocking up when sales present themselves. If we were restricted to $220 a week, we wouldn’t be able to stock up when the meat went on sale, for example. This way we CAN spend $250-300 in one week if we want to, knowing the following week will be meager at $140-190. It works for us.


  2. Hummous is very easy – olive oil, chick peas, garlic, food processor. (Some people swear tahini is necessary, I don’t like it that much.)


  3. I budget weekly, so every Thursday I take out $200 for the week, myself, hubby, & 4 kids. I always have $$ left at the end of the week, and this does give me $$ to stock up on food too. That being said, I buy very little in the way of processed foods, I don’t eat *ANY* processed foods, and my family doesn’t eat much of it either, so that definitely helps. Also menu planning from what’s on sale always helps too! Good luck!


  4. I get paid twice a month so I divide my monthly grocery budget in two – $250 twice a month. I still have problems though in that if I buy two weeks worth of produce at once it’s difficult to store as some things obviously don’t last 2 weeks and also the fridge bins get too stuffed. So I am trying to just buy a week’s worth of produce and keeping money back to buy more in the second week. It’s still a juggling act and not perfected yet by any means. I would say however, that since I budgeted a certain amount I am much more conscious of what I am buying and resist temptations a lot more. (Much less of that frozen yummy stuff:(


  5. I jumped here from Janes blog and I hope you won’t mind me stepping in. I shop once a week using the flyers to try to get the better prices. I stock up a bit when sales are on even if we don’t need it right then. Meal planning is a big thing. I hate to cook but have found if I plan a couple of meals ahead I’m less stressed about cooking. I won’t buy things if I feel they are too expensive even if we need it. I’ll find a substitute or do something else. We manage to feed 5 of us on a bit over 200 a week. I’m trying to cut it down to a little under 200 but so far no luck especially with 2 boys hitting the hollow leg time:) my girl doesn’t eat me out of house and home but I think the boys might:)
    Good luck to you


  6. You know what Tracy? You’re doing great. Sometimes I get this little “how low is it possible to go?” tendency that monks and money hoarders have and it’s kind of creepy. 🙂

    Where I do things maybe a little differently is to try to get everything down to its “rawest” form. So that usually means stuff like not buying a 2 pound bag of frozen hashbrowns for $2, but the 10 pound bag of potatoes for $2 and make my own. Not really having boxed cereal but to make oatmeal or homemade bran muffins. That’s more to avoid preservatives / “old food” that’s been sitting on the shelf a long time. Like your hummus, I’m going to give making refried beans from scratch a shot myself as I never have and the cost is about 10% of buying canned here.

    Sometimes it’s hard to find recipes that contain these whole ingredients. My favorite slowcooker recipe book (Fix it and Forget It) usually has canned beans, etc. and it’s easy to just substitute some homemade beans (I cook them ahead and just freeze them) and a bit of molasses. Canned soup is pretty easy to make too. Here’s a recipe but I usually make it with real milk:

    In the winter, I tend to stock up on frozen fruit when it goes on sale as I really like frozen berries and vanilla yogurt (no, don’t make my own but sometimes do make my own ice cream or frozen yogurt) 🙂 for dessert more than ice cream. Little things like that really help, but I’m still fighting the desire to be a pantry hoarder, so am still trying to keep it under $20 every time I hit the grocery store. That allows for about $10 of fresh fruit and veggies and a gallon of milk every time I go (about twice a week) and not much else, which is good. I’m keeping the costs down this time also due to picking up 1/4 of a beef – grass fed at that! – for $2.54/lb from my local butcher a couple of months ago. We’re STILL eating the cheese that I brought up from our trip down to the states this last August (I crammed my RV fridge/freezer full of it – expiry date of Jan, 2011 :-P), and when we go down south skiing in February I’ll stock up again. I also brought back far cheaper dried beans, tortillas, dried chiles and other Mexican foods as well since they have a Mexican population down there that we don’t have.

    I’m very fortunate to live a block away from No Frills which is quite a bit cheaper than Superstore across town – which makes no sense since they’re the same company. I like it because it’s nothing but food – so no temptation to pick up anything else.

    Usually on the weekends, Sunday is a major cooking day (which I love). I make my own “lean cuisine” type of meals to bring for lunch because I like to go heavy on the meat and veggies and sparingly on the sauce and rice/noodles. My youngest is fussy, so he often will take chili or similar in a thermos. Some baby carrots and a couple of pieces of fruit and he’s good to go. I have “cheated” this month by buying a few ‘lunchables’. I’m a bad mom…

    One question I had for you was on the diabetes – whether your nutritionist follows ADA guidelines or something like this?:


    • Jacq, I’m totally interested in the “how low is it possible to go” question! I see other people make do on less per person per month than I seem to be able to manage, and I wonder how they do it.

      I think I’m going to visit my single mom’s commune idea, and sell all my assets and buy a big, multi-room house and invite single moms and their kids to reside there. The rent will be cheap, but we’ll use our skills to support each other. For those who love to clean, they’ll clean. For those who love to cook – well, you know.

      The answer, for me, about why I can’t seem to eek down the grocery budget any further, is I can’t commit to spending hours in the kitchen every Sunday prepping stuff. I do it often, but not consistently enough.

      Gosh, sometimes don’t you just get the “I work all the time” feeling and just want to sit on your duff? I must say, the girls are getting to an age where they’re doing more, and I don’t often ask for help with this stuff, and could learn to ask more often. It would, in fact, be irresponsible of me NOT to ask for more help.

      One day, perhaps within a few years, they’ll be on their own and wonder how all that food got prepared.

      In terms of my daughter’s nutritionist, I’m not familiar with that particular book you referenced, but I’m not unfamiliar with the author. In the nutrition world, one can call themselves a “nutritionist” after a few weeks/weekends of training. (I know this because I took that certification myself a number of years ago). Often, those folks who work in fitness facilities have that kind of certification. My daughter, who graduated from a health and wellness program at College likely has more education on nutrition than this gal at the gym. But still, my daughter is wanting a second opinion. In addition to all that, she has a dietician to consult with at the medical facility that helps her manage her diabetes.

      My daughter was eating a pretty steady diet of cheese over the summer. Your stash wouldn’t have lasted around here! I was blowing through about $40/month on cheese alone. She ate it because it didn’t have any carbs, and it didn’t impact her blood sugar. Of course, this didn’t help her waist-line. She’s never had to worry about such things before, but now the jig’s up.

      The nutritionist at the gym has her focussed on lots of leafy greens, low fat dips/dressings, lots of veggies and some fruits. She tries to focus on the low glycemic starches (which she’s always done – not always easy, but she should get a B+ most of the time). She’s also beefed up her fibre intake quite a bit.

      Still, her sugars are on a bit of a roller coaster since she started working full-time and visiting the gym regularly. She works different shifts, so she’ll just have to keep up the battle to learn how her body will react to certain things.


    • Posted by joanne on November 30, 2010 at 8:37 am

      FYI; if you are bringing cheese across the US/Canada border there is a 300% tax levied on it if you bring more than – 20 kilograms (kg)/person and the value of which cannot exceed $20 Canadian.


  7. Posted by Jacq on November 30, 2010 at 9:08 am

    LOL – I can see it now. Stopped at the border… Do you have any guns, liquor, cigarettes… Cheese?


  8. Posted by Jacq on November 30, 2010 at 10:08 am

    I have to admit, the crockpot is my BFF. But I agree with you, kids have to learn how to cook. My mom did all the cooking, just let me bake. When I left home I had to phone her to ask how to boil an egg. (For real). The oldest is just getting it now – when in doubt, put the oven at 400 degrees. 🙂
    When we went to the Caribbean a couple of years ago, the oldest didn’t realize there were alcohol limits and brought home 5 26’s of Caribbean rum. We reported it, but they just let it go. I don’t think they’re as bad as they used to be and nor should they be. That blackmarket cheese could be a real money-maker though…


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