This is a three part series where I put my grocery bill under a microscope for a month.
I’m spending too much money at the grocery store. I know I am, not only is the budget telling me that, but I can feel it. I think since I’m not struggling financially like I was when I started YNAB, I’ve let myself get too comfortable letting that part of my budget grow unnoticed. So I end up wasting food. I buy stuff, forget what’s in, buy something again unnecessarily, and some food dies a painful death in the back of the refrigerator.
I became really horrified back in January when I spent $575.86 that month on groceries. It makes me cry a little just to type that. I am feeding one person – me. What was that even for? I have no idea. I’m just not paying attention.
Now, to be fair that does include some pet costs (and I have a collection of them) and non food items, but it’s still too much. So I made a goal to get it under $400. In February, it was $403.75 and in March it was $375.85. Better. I did that just by paying closer attention to the category balance when shopping. There’s a lot of power in that.
But recently I came across Budget Bytes, a fantastic cooking blog my good friend Dave steered me to. She analyzes her grocery budget by calculating cost per meal. But more importantly, her recipes are fantastic and it’s made me realize that I can and should be cooking more at home, because it’s healthier and cheaper.
So how low can I get my grocery bill and still eat well? How many dollars can I free up for other jobs – like paying down my mortgage. I’ve decided to put my grocery budget under the microscope for a month or two and find out. I thought I’d share the journey and plan to update as I go along.
In the past, anything I purchased at the grocery store, I just assigned to groceries. And by the way, if you’re a newbie, we strongly recommend that. The type of minutiae I’m about to explain is an advanced technique. If you’re just starting out, keep things simple and just get good at entering all your spending.
So, today I made a master category called “Grocery Project” and broke out some smaller categories:
The MAX is the amount I’ve been budgeting for groceries, and for now I’m going to keep that at $400. This will help me keep track and make sure I don’t spend more than that. So when I started April, it looked like this:
I just want to track during April to see where specifically the grocery dollars are going. Then I can take the information and set some goals for May.
Yesterday, I went grocery shopping (yes, it was March and I cheated the transaction date to April 1st. Don’t judge me.) After splitting everything out, it looked like this:
So now I need to move money from the MAX category to cover the overspending in the other categories. First I’ll just budget for the other categories:
Now the total for the grocery project master category is up to $558.39 because I added $158.39 to those other categories. But that’s not really accurate. So I lowered the MAX category by that amount.
Now the total for the grocery project is back at $400:
$241.61 is what I have left for groceries this month. The next time I make a trip, I’ll go through the same process.
So on first glance, veggies looks low, but I have a ton of veggies in the freezer, so that’s fine. I plan to do some cooking and freezing of meals, so I bought some supplies for that (Ziploc baggies and containers). You might notice I don’t have a bread category. I make my own bread, so that’s essentially under cooking ingredients.
If I subtract out the non food items, so far I’ve spent $138.04 on food. I’d like to get my total grocery bill for food and non food items down to $250. Possible? I don’t know. This will help me see where the dollars are going and I’ll have to decide what’s worth it and what’s non-negotiable. For instance, good fresh fruit is really important to me, so while I might shop for better prices, I won’t sacrifice quality.
I think a lot of us struggle with the almighty grocery bill, so I thought I’d share my process as I work to get this part of my budget under control.
Quick Update: I don’t plan to maintain this level of focus forever. I’m hoping after a few months I’ll have learned some things and implemented some sustainable change. By summer, I’m sure I’ll have moved back to a much simpler structure.