Monday, 2 March 2015

Grocery Shopping on a Budget of $200: 6 Lessons Learned

In January we decided to stop eating out and our grocery bill ski-rocketed as we transitioned off fast food. Our usual budget for groceries for our family of three is $303/month (that's $70/week). Because of our overspending in January, we'd be grocery shopping on a budget of $214 in February.

We decided our best course of action to get back on budget was to eat what we already had as much as possible.


The Challenges


I was expecting this to be a tough challenge for us for several reasons.

  1. I consider our usual budget to be pretty tight. So, I wasn't sure we'd be able to get by on less.

    In January we spent $392 grocery shopping to wean ourselves off fast food.

    We'd need to almost cut that in half in February to make it through the month and get back on budget.

  2. To make our budget easier to track, our grocery budget includes food, paper supplies, cleaning supplies, beauty supplies, personal hygiene products, and diapers.

    We were hoping to not need to buy diapers anymore, but the Little Miss still needs them at night.

    Because our grocery budget is all inclusive, we couldn't play with categories to sneak more money into the budget.

  3. Our toddler can be picky with food. Sometimes she has expensive tastes. Sometimes she just asks for toast and butter. Sometimes she inhales everything on her plate. Sometimes she doesn't eat anything.

    So, it can be a challenge to figure out in advance what she'll want to eat to avoid expensive food waste.


The Cheats


We do have some things working in our favour to knock this challenge out of the park.

First, we're spoiled and get fed at the in-laws twice a week. Usually we get to take home leftovers for lunch too. So, we have less meals to cover with our budget than most families.

Second, even though we don't stockpile now like we used to, we started the month with a house full of food. Because we've been slowly buying extra groceries at sale prices, our freezer was packed and our cupboards were full too.

Third, we had an awesome meal plan for the month that was focused on the food we had on hand. At the start of the month, I looked through the fridge and cupboards and figured out what meals it could make. This meant we only needed to replace the basics when we ran out.

February Eat the Pantry Meal Plan



6 Lessons Learned


  1. Fear is a great motivator to stay on budget.

    I'm not going to lie.  Because I'd made this challenge public and knew that I'd be reporting back to all of you, I felt extra pressure to succeed.

    Simple Cheap Dad ended up spending about 20% less on his shopping trips than I did on mine.  So I think he was even more afraid of me than I was of you.

  2. We're not as addicted to our treats as I thought.

    I've never tried to pretend that we eat healthy around here. We do eat junk food.

    At the start of the month we bought some generic cola, which wasn't great. We made it through the rest of the month without buying any more.

    Usually we'd pick up a couple bags of chips each week for snacks.  We cut back to one bag of wavy chips each week that everyone enjoyed.

    Grocery shopping on a budget so small meant that we gave up a lot of the little extras we usually pick up.  But we didn't really notice after the first week or two.

  3. We got more into the "make do" mindset.

    Our coffee maker started leaking this month.

    I continued to make coffee in my travel loose tea mug and Simple Cheap Dad switched to tea.

    We probably will replace the coffee maker. But we're not in any rush to go out and buy a new one just yet. So now we've made some time to shop around or to look into fixing it ourselves.

  4. We've been overlooking some foods we love.

    We picked up a bag of tilapia fillets a while back and they ended up on our February meal plan once a week.

    Even though tilapia is not my favourite fish, I was happy to have fish on the menu so often.

    If we hadn't challenged ourselves, the bag of fish would have probably stayed in the freezer for too long.

  5. It's trickier to buy things on an "as needed" basis.

    I remember one morning I got up and thought I could skip the grocery shopping that day. Maybe I could push it for a few more.

    Within half an hour I'd discovered we were out of milk, bread and butter.

    Usually we're proactive and stock up on basics. Because we were grocery shopping on a budget that was much smaller than normal, we were only buying food when we actually needed it. We aren't used to keeping a close eye on our food levels, so we were surprised a few times through the month.

    The only time we broke down and did a second shop for the week was on Valentine's Day. We'd planned to make crab poutine and realized we hadn't bought any curds. We made it without milk for a couple days, but no curd is an emergency.

  6. We've been stocking up wrong.

    At the end of the month we still have a bunch of food left and I'm not really excited to eat it.


    Freezer - Yes, that's a bottle of Stoli.


    Anything left in our cupboards now is probably stuff we don't need to stock up on again.

    Yes, the pantry was full, but I didn't always feel prepared. If guests popped by unexpectedly, I don't think we'd be ready. When we host play group, I feel the need to go out and buy special food.

    Don't be surprised if you see posts about a new pantry system soon.


Conclusion


This was definitely an interesting month for us. It was amazing to realize just how much food we already had on hand and how little we actually needed to buy to make it to the end of the month.

We actually ended up spending just $175.99 for the month.

In January we broke our fast food habit. In February we've managed to get back on budget and declutter our cabinets. I think in March we'll keep eating through the food we have left on hand so that we can have a fresh start for spring.

We're not prepared to permanently reduce our budget, but it's good to know that we can rise to the challenge when needed.

Grocery spending is one of the biggest budget items for most families. If your budget is extra tight one month, take a look through your cupboards at what you already have. You too might be surprised at how far that food can get you.


What About You?


Were you eating through your cabinets this month too? How did it go?

Is there anything in your cupboards you know you'll probably never eat?

Anyone know what to do with canned asparagus tips?


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