Friday, November 2, 2007

Reducing the Grocery Budget - Part Two

This is part 2 in a series I'm writing on how I reduced our grocery budget. If you haven't already seen it, you might like to begin with part one.

Reducing the Grocery Budget-Part One

How did we go with keeping track of what we spent this week? Any major surprises, pleasant or otherwise?

I want to give you a couple of warnings this week (okay, well 3 actually which I guess is 1 more than a "couple" but you get the idea right?).

1. Be careful that you're NOT reducing your grocery spending by simply eating out of your cupboard and pantry without replacing it. You might keep your spending low for a few weeks but you won't have made any long term changes. I know when it's all new and exciting you want to see results STRAIGHT AWAY. Just be aware that reducing the grocery spending is a LONG term project. It has taken me 3 years to get to the point I'm at now. On the other hand, don't be too discouraged for now if your spending doesn't go down straight away. The most important thing right now is that you KNOW what you're spending on groceries so that we have something to work from.

Now, using on your reserves/stocks/whatever you want to call it is NOT a bad thing in itself. If you're a chronic hoarder like me, it could actually be a GOOD thing. It's just important to realise that you may not have actually reduced your spending all that much - instead you're making use of money spent in the past. Of course, if you're a chronic hoarder like me then you may also find that what you spend on groceries is actually *too much* which gives you room to move down a little without too much hardship. :-)

I found when I first started out doing this that my grocery spending went down for a short time (because I was using up on stores), then it went back up again and I wondered what I was doing wrong. Then for a while it stayed the same - and that can be very frustrating. Rising food prices and growing children can really put a dent in our efforts to reduce the grocery spending. Understand that keeping your spending the same IS actually reducing your grocery budget. I found for a while that all my efforts were doing was keeping up with inflation. In other words, as I learnt new ways to trim the grocery budget, those savings were eaten up by price increases.

As I continued to learn new ways to cut my spending and developed new habits, eventually my efforts started to show. My savings started to outweigh those price increases and the spending gradually started to come down.

2. Beware the news articles blaring "food prices to increase". I *hate* these kinds of reports. What do they really do to help the consumer? In my opinion, nothing. It gives supermarkets some leeway to increase prices without consumer backlash AND it causes people to spend unnecessarily. If you *expect* your grocery spending to go up - believe me, it will!!! To me spending is like an untrained puppy. Let it off it's leash and who knows where it might end up.

Yes, price increases are a fact of life. Yes, the drought *has* to have *some* effect on our prices. BUT, I think if we were to look back through history at the changing grocery store trolley. I think we would see a lot MORE than simply "a loaf of bread has gone from 10c to $10" type scenario. PART of the increase in grocery spending has to do with WHAT is in the trolley - not simply inflation, effects of drought and so on.

So, allow *some* leeway in your budget and expectations of what it is going to cost to feed your family. But be aware that "food prices are on the rise" isn't an excuse to simply cut loose and spend more money.

3. There is a HUGE temptation when you're trying to cut your grocery spending, to want to compare what you're spending with what everyone else is spending. I know because I've been there done that many times. :-) It's not that is doesn't have *some* merit in giving you an idea on what is *possible*. It's just that it is very hard to compare apples with apples. Everyone's situation is different. Things like amounts of food consumed, whether or not they have a separate take away budget, do they eat at grandparents house once a week, do they have an Aldi, do they live on a farm and get very cheap lamb..... The variations as so endless that it really is hard to make an accurate comparison.

If you feel the need to *compete* (as many of us seem to lol), then compete with yourself. And compete AGAINST the grocery stores. I once read a great article about grocery shopping being a game. Unfortunately I can't remember where I read it or who wrote it so I can't give them appropriate credit. Instead, I'll just steal their idea, paraphrase it and write it here so you can all think I'm an absolute genius. LOL. No-one gets a choice as to whether or not they'd like to play the game. If you EVER buy anything, then you're already a player whether you like it or not. It's quite a simple game really. You keep money in your pocket and you WIN. You spend all you've got and then some and the grocery store WINS. So next time you're doing the grocery shopping, make use of all that competitive energy and KEEP some of your money. :-)

Having said all that, I am now going to give you my grocery spending figures for the month of October. LOL.

My total spend for October ended up being $472.73. With 5 Wednesdays (my usual shopping day) in October, I needed to keep it under $500 in order to maintain my $100 a week average spend. So on the surface it looks like I've done well this month. But I've chosen this month to make a few faux-par's, just for educational purposes of course. ROFLOL. Not really, it was fluke but it sounds good, right?

Bear in mind that I have been tracking and analysing my grocery spending for 3 years now (does that make me sound like an analy-retentive, obsessive-compulsive, has no life looney-toon?????) so before I even looked at my figures I could tell you a few things about our current position:

* I've overspent on treats (made evident by the fact that my jeans are too tight at the moment)
* I bought very little meat and what I did buy was "chuck in the oven cos you can't be bothered cooking" crap (for a very good reason of course - DH is busy with harvest or he would be if the weather were right).
* Fruit and veg spending will be up a little because I've bought fresh pineapple (twice), strawberries and grapes (both not really "in season" quite yet), more than normal amount of frozen veg (see comment about "can't be bothered cooking" above) and my fridge is currently still full of fruit and veg.
* I can't have done *too* badly because well, there IS food in the cupboard, fridge and freezer.

So, let's look at the nitty gritty's of my spending for October:

Fruit & Veg - $118.08 That's good. Up on what I've spent some months but still well below budget and I *know* we've been eating a fair bit of fruit and veg. Gotta love those cheaper fruit and veg stalls (when you can get to them). We have started to eat more out of the vegie garden so maybe that's starting to show a little in the spending. Now I just need to make some choices about whether I *want* those savings to be eaten up by buying a few of the more expensive items (a very valid choice as long as it is a CHOICE and not just something happening that I'm not paying attention to) or do I want those savings in my pocket.

General - $297.31 As I said in my last post, I no longer track meat separately but I did have a quick look through my receipts and I *think* I spent just over $40 on meat. Which means this figure is a little higher than I would like it to be for the month. We've been using on our stockpile of meats and there isn't really anything left in this category to cover that.

Treats - $38.33 Well up on what I usually spend and definitely overbudget.

Non-Food $15.73 Most of that was toilet paper. LOL. No, we don't spend $15 a month on toilet paper but I do stock up when it's on special and it just so happens there were a couple of specials this month.

Now for any of you "maths scholars" out there (do any maths "people" actually *read* blogs? wave if you do).... my figures don't add up. There is a $3.28 *gap* cos I spent $3.28 from my hospitality category. I wasn't going to admit that as I thought it made me look really "inhospitable" to spend such a measly amount. LOL. But then the perfectionist in me couldn't let it go in case *someone* happened to notice.

So, have you had a look at your spending figures? Do they reflect where you want your money to go or is there some tweaking that could be done? This week, keep writing down what you're spending on groceries (yeah, I know last week I said you only had to do it for 1 tiny little week....I lied, okay? You still only have to do it for 1 week.....just 1 week at a time. :-) ).

What are you thinking right now? Will, she hurry up and get on with revealling the *secret formula*? Or at least start making suggestions on how I can buy $500 worth of food with just $50. LOL. (no, that aint gonna happen).

Okay - here's the "secret formula" (or at least *part* of it). When you build a house you start by preparing a good foundation. If you don't take the time to build a good foundation, at the first sign of stormy weather, you might find yourself in a little bit of trouble. Building a "you beaut" house without first preparing a firm and solid foundation is really not a wise idea.

Dealing with something like the grocery budget is the same. I could give you a whiz bang list of ideas on how to get more for your money. But if we don't start by taking the time to build a good, solid foundation, at the first sign of stormy weather, your grocery budget may well fall in a sodden heap. :-)

Next Friday I want to talk about how to figure out the "right" budget for your groceries. Until then, happy shopping (and eating) everyone. LOL. Don't forget to keep recording what you're spending.....I promise you it'll all be worth it in the end. At least I hope it will...........

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to post in the comments section. Or you can contact me via email if you prefer some privacy/anonymity - just click on "view my complete profile" about half way down the left hand sidebar (currently under the little green "technorati" button) then click on "email" near the top of my profile on the left hand side.

Australian Money Saving Tips


fitcat said...

Great post, as is Part I (which I just read). We have a $40 a week grocery budget (for 2 people) and at the beginning of each week I take the cash out and put in a little plastic coin bag and that pays for groceries from Woolies/Coles, the fruit and veg shop and the bakery. What's left at the end of the week gets rolled over to the next week. We never go over but after reading your posts, I think I might start writing down what I spend in the different categories to see where I can cut down so that I can start taking better advantages of sales. :)

Lil said...

I absolutely love reading your posts! You're a very inspiring woman and give me lots of ideas when it comes to saving and living frugally, yet happily. Keep up the great posts! I'm following the $21 grocery challenge this week (which was an article from That's Life) - The idea is to not spend more than $21 on groceries for the whole week and draw from supplies that lie lurking in your cupboard/freezer etc. I haven't bought anything for about 6 days now. I know I will need to shop eventually (and the challenge recognises that) but its fun using up supplies I had totally forgotten existed (and saving money too!)
Luv Lil xox

Marita said...

Great info there. We've been spending on average about $400/fortnight on groceries (2 adults, 2 children). Ever since my youngest was diagnosed with Autism back in May I've been looking for ways to save money so we can pay all the extra therapy bills.

I love the budget idea. Being that I'm trying to limit my daily computer time to 2 hours I might go the low tech budget option. Too easy to get caught up in other things when trying to do my budget on the PC.

Thankyou for all the helpful posts and please keep them coming.

lightening said...

Fitcat - that is an AMAZING budget. I shake my head when I think of DH and I spending $80 a week over 10 years ago. Although that did include take away as well back then. I think I could possibly get ours down to $50 a week if there were just the 2 of us. I think you do very well!

Lil - thank you so much. :-) I'm glad you're finding it at least somewhat useful. The $21 challenge is a great idea. It's so wonderful that Penny Wise is writing those columns now (she's a part of Simple Savings of which I am also a member). The good thing about using up what you do have on hand occasionally is that you're less likely to throw things away.

Hi Marita. I'm really glad you're enjoying the posts and thanks for the feedback. :-)

Ali said...

another geat post lightening!!!!

I've never categorised my food shopping though I know since I started cleaning with bicarb that's a huge saving instead of those headache giving commercial products!!!

p.s. thanks for the parcel which I recieved today, it made my day :) ~ how generous of you and I love what you wrote!! I'll be posting about it tomorrow........

Anonymous said...

Thank you for pointing out how frustrating it can be to compare with others! It can be so discouraging when you don't do as "well" as someone else. It's nice to be reminded that there are a lot of factors that go into a grocery budget!

Having said that, I still need encouragement not to give up and say, "Well, it's so much harder for me than for them so I'll just have to SPEND MORE!" : )


lightening said...

SarahMay - It is always about finding a balance isn't it. I always liked to know what others were spending so I could *compete* but ended up just frustrating myself at times. I've been doing much better since I've been competing against myself (which I will talk a bit about in next Fridays post)

Ali - glad you received the parcel okay. :-) Chemical based cleaning products are pretty potent. I'm too sensitive to be able to use them myself.