Monday, January 13, 2014

The Groceries Problem

There's an unwritten rule I've noticed among people who write about personal things, whether those people are bloggers or columnists or Facebook-posters. The rule is: You're never supposed to talk about money.

Everything else, it seems, is fair game. Your politics, your gripes, pictures of yourself after working out, what you ate for breakfast - even really personal sex-and-love-related things are OK.
But we are all very, very private about our money. And although I understand it, I wish it weren't the case. I wish we could talk openly about money questions, because I have a burning one.

And it is this: How much do people spend on groceries/food every month?

I want to ask this question of smart, reasonably-normal, healthy people with families because the groceries problem seems to be one with no good solution, and I know that can't be the case. Somewhere, someone has to have the groceries issue figured out!

Here's my problem. We spend SO much money on food.  So much! And I feel like we are doing a lot of things right. At least I think we are, but how would I know because no one will TALK ABOUT IT!

We are generally very good budgeters, and most weeks I try to do pretty decent meal-planning so that every weekend, when we go to the grocery store, we're mostly buying only:
  1. Staples that get used up every week, like eggs, milk, cheese, bread, yogurt, breakfast sausage and fresh fruit and veggies.
  2. Ingredients for the lunch/dinner meals for that week, such as meats, specific veggies, any special seasonings or random ingredients (for example, I needed honey mustard for one meal this week and had to buy that specially).
  3. Snacks for the kids' school bags and for munchies around the house, such as goldfish, pita chips, cheese sticks, cereal/granola bars, hummus etc.
We try to stock up on things like rice, pasta, frozen waffles, oatmeal, chicken nuggets etc., so that we always have those things around. We don't buy coffee, syrup, ketchup and those kinds of things unless we are really close to running out.  And we buy our toiletries and paper goods during our (way-too-frequent) Target runs and our (not-as-frequent) Costco runs, so as not to pay the premium price for those items that the supermarket charges.

Lester shops once a week and on Sundays, I cook two- to two-and-a half big meals for the work-week's dinner and lunches. I try to make sure we do really well with leftovers before moving on to something else (even though I admit that, by Thursday, we all are pretty tired of what I cooked at the beginning of the week.)

We buy what we can from Trader Joe's, which helps, because they're cheap, but they don't have everything we need/want there - or even most things. So we almost always end up at Safeway or Wegman's or Harris Teeter. We steer clear of Whole Foods, because $$$$$$$!
But STILL -- we are blowing through money on food!

So hold your hats, folks. I'm going to break the unwritten rule and just put it out there, because I need to know if this is normal or not: For our family of five, we spend close to $750 a month on groceries, sometimes more. (And we have a separate budget for restaurants/take-out! And that doesn't include the WINE! Or the fun foods like ice cream and Pillsbury slice-n-bake cookies!)

Seriously, $750! That blows my mind.

It feels like a lot to me, but is that a lot?  Does that sound about right? What do other people do to keep their grocery bills in check? (Besides coupon-cutting, because we just aren't those people, no offense to those who are. We're just too lazy to do it.)

Our kids are not even teenagers, sucking down whole cartons of orange juice and eating entire boxes of cereal for snack yet! They're not demanding to buy expensive school lunch or bringing their friends over to rummage through our fridge after school. How will we survive?

Help us figure out how to feed these three sweeties and not end up in the poorhouse!
They're watching TV here and not the least bit concerned about food. Maybe we should just let them watch TV 24 hours a day.


Beth said...

Ummmm, $750/month for a family of 5 is not a lot, actually. (IMO) I spend about $600/month, but there have definitely been $800 months. If you shop at Safeway, make sure you're signed up for J4U. There's an app you download to your phone and each week, you check out the coupons and the personalized coupons. The personalized ones are huge because they're customized to the things you buy all the time. You just click on them to add them to your card and then use your card when you buy your groceries. It's much easier (to me) than paper coupons. AND you get points for $ off your gas at Mobile/Exxon stations. You could also make homemade waffles and pancakes and freeze them, instead of buying processed. And buy chips/goldfish/yogurt in big containers and dole them out, rather than individual serving sizes. (Better for the environment, too.) Also--Wegmans paper products are cheaper than Target. (I love Wegman's brand!) And if you know which items are the cheapest at which store, you'll know to stock up when you're at the right store. The sandwich meat I buy, for example, sells at Target for $3.75, but at Safeway for $5! I won't buy it at Safeway full price--only if I have coupons (on my Safeway card) that would make it less than $3.75. Really, I try not to buy anything full price. I pretty much stick to things that are on sale, or I buy it from wherever it sells the cheapest. Ultimately, though, you have to figure out your line between saving time and saving money. It's not easy!!! But to reiterate, I don't think $750/month is a lot, comparatively speaking.

Janna said...

We spend about $600 a month for groceries for two adults and two five year olds. We shop once a week at Trader Joe's and once a month at Winco (lots of bulk foods and it's cheaper than Safeway and has anything that TJ's doesn't have). Also, I don't eat meat and my husband and kids eat it a lot less than average, so I'm sure we're saving money that way. Another thing, we only drink water and milk, so we save money on soda, juice and bottled water. And we never buy name brand (except for the occasional Tillamook mud slide ice cream). Oh crap, now I really want mud slide ice cream. Do you even have Tillamook dairy foods in Baltimore? Tillamook ice cream is life changing...

DCAngel said...

You are a trailblazer, my friend! We just did our budget for the year, and because we want to move within the next couple of years, we're trying to save up and limit ourselves to $600 per month. $150 per week is a challenge for our family of 6, so we're attempting crazy things like shopping at Aldi (which owns Trader Joes, if you can believe that) and then at Giant (because those gas points are definitely helpful). But before we scaled back, I'd say we would probably easily spend $800 per month on food.

Fabulous Mari said...

Ok, well we are only a family of 3 so we spend maybe $100 per week on groceries. I go to Trader Joe's for 3/4 of everything we need and Costco for everything else. I went to an actual grocery store today (the first time in a looong while) and I was amazed by all the stuff they have! (So.much.stuff.) Wowzers! But since I am a label reader, I stick with Trader Joe's. I know nearly everything they have is good stuff, tastes good, and my wallet likes it plus TJ's is right by Antony's daycare so it's super convenient. Also, I cook every night and my meat loving husband must have some sort of dead animal on his plate every night otherwise our bill would probably be less than what it is. I didn't see you list Costco and I know you guys shop there . They have good quality generic brands (which is what we usually get. They have some good TP, fyi). If you ever want some budget friendly dinner recipes, just let me know! :)

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Tam said...

Tanika -- I think you're doing quite well. I spend way more than this. Based on what you wrote, snacks is where you can probably cut a bit of your spending. I don't buy individually wrapped or single size containers. For example, I buy 5kg (over 10 lbs) tub of yogurt.I buy cheese in bulk and cut out squares or slices for snacks, etc. Individually package stuff costs $$$. We also only drink milk or water. Meat -- I buy 1/4 to 1/2 a calf from the farmer and freeze. Hubby takes lunch to work. But we blow through much more than what you mention. But I'm a firm believer in putting good food on the table -- plenty of fish, meats, eggs, dairy, veggies and fruits. I believe if I skimp on this, I'll still pay the price later on in terms of Dr. visits and such.

LauraC said...

Personally we spend a lot of money on food because we want to buy quality products. I don't know exact numbers but I know when we were tracking every dollar (2013 was not my year to keep up with this) it was around that much, no matter what we did to reduce it. It hasn't significantly gone up as the boys have aged though, they seem to always eat a LOT of food.

And on the money front... Jon and I lived well below our means for many many years (and still do) and that is just considered plain boring to most people. Then when we reached the point of needing to diversify our assets and bought a beach house, everyone found that incredibly interesting. I guess what I'm saying is people want to talk about the FUN stuff about money.They want to hear about a beach house but they don't want to hear about the years not buying things to sock away the money needed to invest in a beach place.

Kelly said...

First of all: the price of food is too damn high! But honestly, I think you're doing great. We spend about $700 a month (Wegmans and Costco) and that's just for the four of us -- and one of those people is only 10 months old and just started eating solid food, but alas, he practically eats more than me, No seriously. He's a beast.

Anyhow, we could definitely look for places to cut, for sure. But I think we do all right considering neither Mark nor I eat out for lunch most weeks. So all the food we buy is stretched for dinners and lunches. We order pizza or do Chinese in Fridays and go out maybe once per weekend. And honestly, we really like to eat. And we like to eat good, healthy food. So of the overall family budget, this is a hard one to cut. And it's hard, too, because cooking is time consuming and we're all busy. It's so much cheaper to buy a big ole bag of green beans than to get the frozen steam in bag kind. But yo, rinsing and cutting and cooking greenbeans is one more thing to do. I love you steam in bag green beans! Sometimes, convenience costs. And I'm ok with that.

That said, some ways I've been trying to cut back:

Costco: I LOVE it in so many ways. Best prices on chicken breasts and meat. Just freeze what you don't need. And even better, a rotisserie chicken is 3 lbs and $5. We'll do that one night with some salad and rice. Leftover chicken for sandwiches the next couple days for lunch. We get all of our paper products, diapers, wipes there. I don't mess with Target no more. No ma'am. It's a trap!

We do a LOT of pasta dishes. Those are cheap and easy to make. Costco makes a great pesto and thankfully my kids love pesto. Lots of time we eat that with a little parm sprinkled on top and cherry tomatoes -- no meat. It's great, easy and fast.

Homemade pizzas: So easy and cheap and fast. And the kids love to help. Throw some veggies on there to make you feel less guilty. ;)

In the summer we do a lot of grilled meat and salad or some kind of veggie. Sometimes we'll add a starch.

And I know Wegmans can be expensive, but do you get their weekly coupons? There's always a $5 off one in there. With the coupons and avoiding the cheese aisle, I think the prices are pretty competitive.

Beth said...

I had to come back to comment on Wegman's. If you hit the bakery and prepared foods and cheese and fresh seafood (I die!!!)--yes, it's expensive. But their brand products--butter, cheese, milk, (their organic milk is way cheaper than SW or G), yogurt, frozen veggies, bagels, toilet paper, paper towels, canned veggies, apple juice--are almost always cheaper than SW or Giant. And I like the quality of their brand products way better than the chain grocery stores. Not sure about Costco, but there are websites you can go to to see if Costco deals really are deals. I don't know about you, but I hate paying more for something that I know I can get cheaper somewhere else. BUT, time = money and so does gas, so there's a balance!