Smarter grocery shopping

If you’re a member of any mom’s Facebook groups, you’re probably very familiar with the “what does your family spend on groceries each month?” posts. Usually, the original poster is hoping to figure out if they’re spending more or less than the average household, or for tips on how to make their dollar stretch further at the grocery store.

The amount that other people say they spend at the grocery store is nearly useless. Here’s why:

  • Most people don’t track their spending, and will underestimate what their spending
  • How much they spend eating out impacts their grocery bill
  • You’re not comparing apples to apples – you don’t know how much of their cart is taken up by non-food items such as toilet paper, cleaning supplies, flip flops, magazines, etc.
  • Their family size and eating habits (meat every night versus a more vegetable-focused menu) impact grocery bills dramatically

I can tell you that our family of five has spent $11,914.30 on groceries in the past year. That’s $992.86 a month. We spent a further $2,752.20 eating out, or $229.35 a month. We eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and only eat meat once or twice a week. We entertain a lot, for big groups of friends, and our grocery bill includes all toiletries and cat food and litter for one cat.

Fortunately, there is something you can do to decrease your grocery spending.

I’ve been keeping a grocery price spreadsheet for the last ten years. I’ve listed the non-perishable or freezable items we buy on a regular basis. I take this list with me each time I shop (and it’s on my phone in case I forget). The prices listed are the best prices I’ve found on a specific item. It’s the “buy a few” price – or in the case of shaded items, that’s the “only goes on sale twice a year price so buy lots and lots” price.

If we need bagels and they’re $4.79, we’ll buy them a single bag at a time until they go on sale again for $1.00. Then, I’ll fill the freezer with $1 packages, saving us $3.79 per bag. Since we go through two bags of bagels a week, that’s roughly $30 a month. And that’s just bagels!

Feel free to download the spreadsheet and customize it for your needs. I don’t track much of the fresh fruit and veg prices, since we generally buy in season and just deal with whatever the price is. We may have an apple and banana heavy month, or it might be all cantaloupes and romaine lettuce up in our house.

I’m lucky enough to live close to a No Frills and Superstore, and have found they consistently have the best prices that most closely match the prices on my spreadsheet. While occasionally Walmart, Co-op, Safeway and Sobeys might have door crasher specials, their typical sale prices is usually still twice the best price elsewhere.

Do you track your grocery spending down to the penny? Let me know in the comments.

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