In our household, January has become, obsessively, ” Grocery Budget Month.” With that in mind, I’d like to let you know how it’s been going — and note a couple of refinements I’ve made, as well as a few observations before giving you the final tally in a separate post at the end of the month.
Our budget was $15.00 per day for a family of four plus two dogs and 6 chickens, and I need to emphasize that this amount, while restrictive for us, was totally doable if you keep your expenses really lean.
Ok, whew. The coast is clear. So, let me give you the real scoop as I see it.
While, it is definitely possible for a family of four with pets to subsist on $15.00 a day—less than $465.00 per month— it is subsisting. I can’t recommend doing this for more than a month at a time. It’s really easy to take one month and use up your extra cans of cranberry sauce and Manwich and get by with what you have. I’d even go so far as to say that I think it’s a really good thing to do, for yourself, for the environment, and as a way of figuring out where you are spending your money. You’ll even eat less junk food.
But, for the long hall, spending only $15 per day on everything, (everything you can find in the grocery store, such as laundry detergent, toilet paper, etc.) is unrealistic.
There are a couple of grocery store items that don’t fall neatly into the grocery budget and for that reason, it’s best to budget for them in a separate budget or un-budget them. Before this sounds too fussbudgetty, let me tell you what I mean.
- Pet Food. Again, it’s doable—but only if you buy small bags of dog food at a time. The way we shopped this month—nearly every day, spending up to $15.00—gave us only enough spare cash to buy the smallest bag of dog food which is around $8.00. We have two dogs, one little chihuahua, and a larger Border collie and we pretty much always buy the same dog food from Ralph’s because it’s cheap, seems relatively healthy (for bagged dog food), and I usually have a dollar or more coupon for it. A couple of days ago, I just got sick of buying that tiny bag, knowing that it lacked common sense, and honestly, I had missed the budget that day anyway, so I bought the big bag for 19.99 and used my dollar coupon. The difference is about 12 dollars between the 4-pound bag and the 14-pound bag. Loosely calculating — including the $1.00 coupon—the 4-pound bag adds up to $1.99/pound, while the 14-pound bag, comes to $1.35 per pound. We all know this: it’s smarter to purchase the big bag (calculate first though, because sometimes it’s not cheaper). In general, this works across the board for everything that you buy in bulk and that does not spoil or expire. Of course, you have to be reasonable—you don’t want to buy 17 chickens in bulk because they’re on sale—even if you have a room-sized freezer, because they’ll probably get freezer burn, but, if you want toilet paper, it’s definitely best to buy a big bunch of it all at once, and then you can ride your bike to the store and save gas next time. So, the takehome for this is to take these items off the budget and adjust your daily or monthly budget accordingly. For us, it was just wiser to take the animal food (the same holds for our chicken food) off the grocery budget altogether. You’ll understand why next.
2. This month gave me a really good insight into our spending habits. The thing is, there are certain foods I insist on buying—areas where I ‘splurge.’ For example, we always buy organic meat. Once a week I buy a free-range chicken and bake it in the oven. I use it well—making at least three dinners with it and then making broth for soup. Still, I don’t know if you’ve priced those birds lately, but they are not the Foster Farm Floozies that come cheap. The same goes for organic milk and beef. Speaking of beef, I had a beef with the budget a number of times because I didn’t have enough money to buy juice—something I like to make smoothies with. In fact, I could barely afford canned pineapple at $1.00-$2.50 a can. Fresh fruit! Forget it—I was lucky to get berries on sale, but having a constant supply was like finding a local berry bush and picking my own. At one point I impulsively grabbed a very small plastic container of blackberries assuming they were $1.99 like the blueberries next to them and they were $3.99! I came this close to returning them but worried they would end up in the trash. You probably see where I’m going with this—I just couldn’t find a way to cut back without sacrificing my shopping choices. At the same time, I leveled the playing field—no more could I run into Rite Aid and pick up those little plastic portable cups of Oreos even if they were only $1.00. Ralphs’ prices are horrendous—a pack of M&M’s are over $1.00. I did eat healthier in some ways, but at around 4:00 p.m. my kids and began to look like the Donner party. Rationing out blueberries became an actual ‘thing.’ Not good for health. So, in number 1 above, I said that I was taking out the dog food. Well, that will probably include laundry detergent, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and anything ”like that” because I want MORE money for nutritious food. How much more? Well, I’m not sure yet. I’m going to add it all up and though I don’t intend to take an in-depth analysis on my grocery bill, I think I will definitely try to come up with a daily amount to stick to because that really, really worked for me.
3. So, this would not be complete without describing our last item that absolutely does not fit on the grocery bill: ice cream.
But, yes, we love Rite Aid ice cream and that’s just that.
(Picture above: One of the perks of shopping daily, and on a budget, is the small grocery bag that you need. It’s a little rough around the edges because it was found in a Free Pile, but it’s still cute and very sturdy. Plus it fits in my bike basket perfectly. 🙂