Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Food Budget — Update

Posted in frugal by Kathy on March 29, 2008

In a previous post, I wrote about our food budget, and working to spend less on food. I’ve since found the USDA food budgets for every month (not just for the year 2007), which will help keep track of changing prices.

This month, I’ve written down all of our food purchases, and I’m doing this more in-depth now, too. A few months ago, I would simply record the bottom line in Microsoft Money and Excel (the programs I use to keep track of expenses and to budget). Last month, I started trying to write some more details about my food expenditures, but it was still mostly a “black hole”. Finally, this month, I’ve done it! I have written down, not just my total expenses, and not just broad categories like “dairy” or “meat” but every item, grouped by categories. I’ve uploaded a file, so hopefully you can see it well. (I did it in Excel, but transferred it to Word so I could upload it to wordpress.)

I finally realized that saying I spent $400 on “food” was just not good enough. What kinds of food did I spend money on, and how much? How can I decrease the amount of money I spend on “food” without realizing how much I spend in each category? After all, you buy an awful lot of vegetables for the same price as a package of meat, or a gallon of milk. It would probably be illuminating to find out how much I spent last year on each of these categories, but I can’t go back in time. I’ve also noticed about myself, that the more attention I pay to something, the better I am — I spend my money more frugally, eat less, or whatever the behavior is — so while this is a “snap-shot” of what I’ve done this month, it’s probably not a representative sample of what I spend most months, simply because I’m trying to pay better attention.

This is probably not a balanced perspective, since I found some good sales (like butter for $1.88/lb!!!) and stocked up, so we’ll use these things through the coming months. I was impressed by the Tightwad Gazette author, who by the end of her newsletter was only shopping for groceries one time a month. I’m still at the once-a-week (at least) stage, but maybe as I start paying better attention, and use more of what I have on hand, rather than deciding what I want to eat and then go and get it, I’ll be able to go less. I know that one of my “extra” trips was stopping by the store to get stuff my mom needed (and that was when I found some of the best deals!) when I was on the way to her house; and one of them was when my husband wanted something particular for lunch or supper when we were already in town, so we stopped for that (and that was another time I found some great deals!). I try not to make special trips, and only go to town when I need to get several things, and do everything at once (library, Wal-Mart, grocery store, post office), but some of these grocery store trips have been to “just run into the store because I’m already in town” stops, where I “might as well pick up X since it’s on my list.” And then I get a bunch of other stuff, too.

But, I have found a way to save myself some time and money! Both of our local grocery stores have their weekly ads online, so I can check them each week, see which one has the better deals (they’re usually pretty similar, but occasionally one will have a lot better prices on some stuff I need), and then I can go to just one or else to both for what I need or what is a great price. One problem I noticed before is that I would tend to buy something if it was a “good price” even if I didn’t use it much. I have to learn that it doesn’t matter how cheap something is if I don’t use it! My particular purchase was baked beans. Our salvage store had them for 25 cents per can, so I stocked up. Well, I don’t like them very much except for on occasion, and usually with barbecue; same for my husband; neither of my kids really liked them either. So then I was stuck with a whole shelf of baked beans that we simply wouldn’t eat. It was a waste of money, even if it was just a few bucks. (But we have lunch every Sunday at church, so I took a few cans several times, and they’re finally gone.)

Anyway, you can see from my document that I spent $250 on groceries this month (we also ate one lunch out, for $25; and we ordered organic seeds for our garden, which was another $25). It’s almost the end of the month, and I don’t foresee any more grocery purchases, but my husband may have other ideas! 😉


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  1. lisa said, on November 4, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I found your website while searching for the USDA list myself :)We are a family with 10 children and spend between 80.-150.per week on all of our food and other bare essentials. We are below even the thrifty catagory for the USDAs list but as I’m reading your article it brings up what has been on my mind more and more, that I need to find more healthy choices without spending more. I really like your idea of making breakfast from scratch and will try to impliment that soon. I think we all KNOW how to make better food choices,its just a matter of actually DOING it 🙂 Anyway,thanks for the website,I enjoyed my visit!
    Wow — that’s less than $600 a month for food and essentials for a family of 12! Way to go! Several weeks ago, I was listening to Dave Ramsey, and a mother of a large family (I forget how many children) said that they spend about $600 a month on food (perhaps less), and he gave this long pause, and then asked incredulously, “What do you eat?!?” She said that her sons are avid hunters so most if not all of their meat was acquired that way. I so need to do better on what I spend for food! -Kathy

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