Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Food Expenses Report: March 2016

I fed 4 people this month: 2 adults and 2 teens.

As a reminder, my planned budget for 2016 is $100 a week for groceries only.   Due to being fully stocked and sometimes making my own products too, I rarely buy toiletries or cleaning products so they get their own budget lines, as do pet food and cat litter.

My favorite grocery store is Aldi, and this is where I get the bulk of my groceries, but I also get great deals at Save A Lot, Target, CVS, Walgreens and Publix. I occasionally get a few groceries from the Dollar Tree as well.   I haven't shopped at Target in a few weeks though.

In order to reduce my food expenses at stores other than Aldi, I shop the weekly sales and clearances, and try to couple those with coupons, discount programs, customer loyalty cards, and rebates and, from time to time,  special offers on my credit cards.   I try to use the Checkout 51, Ibotta, MobiSave and SavingStar apps to earn some instant rebates on items that I buy, however, these days I tend to buy what I need and then check what rebates are available afterwards. It helps me otherwise I'd be very tempted to buy items that we didn't necessarily need right then just to take advantage of a rebate.  We have very stocked pantries and freezers so there's not much of a reason to really chase a deal right now. I should be using up what we have on hand! 

So my original intent in March was to try to stick to a $50/week budget, even though my official budget is $100/week. I had been able to (mostly) stick to $50 a week since February 2015 by shopping my pantry and freezer first and I wanted to see how much longer I could do this.  

So for March, my projected GROCERIES budget was $400 (since my plan has been to shop on Wednesdays, I count any week started on a Wednesday as part of the current month as long as at least 4 days of that week take place during the current month).  My actual GROCERIES total, after all rebates, was $307.53 (this doesn't include our eating out/ordering in food expenses, which will be discussed in another paragraph). This is significantly more than the previous month, when I had only spent $221.85.

I saved 37.88% of my overall grocery bill with coupons and in-store promotions only (this percentage doesn't include any rebates). A lot of my shopping took place at Aldi, where they do not accept coupons and seldom have store promotions (i.e. markdowns) on groceries, and also I didn't use as many gift cards as in the past since I pretty much stopped doing Swagbucks, so this lowered the percentage compared to the previous month.  I used $32.84 in manufacturer coupons and only $9.99 in store coupons which isn't much when you think about all the coupons that I print!  But I wasn't very motivated to chase deals this past month so that's definitely reflected in lower coupon usage.

I classify my groceries by categories every week, and here is the detail of how I spent that money: sorry for the small size, but if you click on the picture I think you'll be able to see it in larger size (at least if you're viewing this on a laptop, I'm not sure if it works on a mobile device but I don't think it does):

Here is what $307.53 got me this month:

Baking Supplies: $7.80

  • (1) canister raisins
  • (1) bag Mini marshmallows (the other marshmallows I bought ended up being eaten as snacks, whereas these were used to make Rice Krispies, so I classified them as such)
  • (1) evaporated milk
  • (3) 4-lb bags Domino's sugar

Beverages: $10.55

  • (1) jar Decaf instant coffee
  • (1) 12-ct cans ginger ale
  • (1) can Left Hook energy drink
  • (1) can Murphy Classic soda
  • (1) 20-ct Dunkin' Donuts hazelnut creamer cups
  • (1) bag hazelnut coffee

Breads: $11.93

  • (2) 20-ct small flour tortillas
  • (6) 12-ct Ortega flour tortillas
  • (5) loaves white bread
  • (2) loaves wheat bread
  • (2) loaves French Bread
  • (1) 8-ct hamburger buns
  • (2) Pillsbury crescent dough rolls

Cereals: $5.27

  • (2) value size boxes of Special K
  • (4) regular boxes Special K
  • (1) box Grape Nuts
  • (1) box generic crispy oats
  • (1) box generic crispy rice

Dairy: 63.51
  • (2) half gallons 1% milk
  • (2) gallons whole milk
  • (8) lbs unsalted butter
  • (1) lb margarine
  • (32) yogurt cups
  • (4) 4-pack Activia Fruit Frusion yogurt
  • (5) 8-oz block Cheddar
  • (1) 8-oz block Monterey Jack cheese
  • (3) American cheese singles
  • (1) Swiss cheese slices
  • (4) String cheese

Dry/Pantry/Freezer Goods: $20.50
  • (12) boxes Mueller Pasta
  • (1) 64 oz vegetable oil
  • (1) Better than Bouillon Chicken base
  • (4) cans ready to eat soup
  • (2) cans cream soup
  • (2) XL Five Cheese pizzas
  • (1) bag dry thyme
  • (1) jar grape jelly
  • (1) container salt
  • (1) jar Reese marinated artichoke hearts

Produce: $62.22

Fruit and Juice

  • (1) 64 oz bottles organic apple juice
  • (1) 64 oz bottle conventional apple juice
  • (9) lbs macintosh apples
  • (7) lbs strawberries
  • (6) lbs mandarins
  • (16) lbs navel oranges
  • (10.72) lbs bananas
  • (1) cantaloupe
  • (1) lb kiwis
  • (1.75) lbs grapes
  • (1) can pineapple chunks


  • (3.20) lbs yellow onions
  • (1) can No Salt Added spinach
  • (2) avocados
  • (2) Boston lettuces
  • (1) lb Brussel sprouts
  • (1) lb Roma tomatoes
  • (1) lb asparagus
  • (10) lbs Russet potatoes
  • (12) oz bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • (2) lbs dry pinto beans
  • (1) cucumber
  • (0.03) lb jalapeño
  • (2) lbs broccoli crowns

Proteins: $89.20


  • (12) dozens large eggs

Lunch Meats

  • (1) lb smoked ham
  • (2) lbs Black Forest ham
  • (2) lbs oven roasted turkey
  • (2) lbs Black Forest turkey


  • (1) lb tilapia fillets
  • (8) cans light tuna in water


  • (1.65) lbs skinless boneless chicken thighs
  • (7.05) lbs bone-in chicken breasts


  • (4) Butterball Smoked Turkey Sausage links
  • (5) lbs Jennie-O breakfast turkey sausage rolls


  • (4.01) lbs beef bottom roasts
  • (1.03) lbs bottom round steak
  • (10) lbs 80/20 ground beef
  • (1.99) lbs corned beef brisket


  • (1) squirrel (well, Greg does eat them and if I'm going to count the RaceTrac freebies and the veggies I harvest from the garden, I suppose I should be counting the animals he harvests)

Snacks: $36.44

  • (4) boxes protein bars
  • (3) boxes Swiss rolls
  • (5) packages PB crackers
  • (3) large bags tortilla chips
  • (7) small bags Taste Works Chips
  • (2) large bags wavy potato chips
  • (2) 13-oz jars Nutella
  • (1) 4-ct chocolate pudding cups
  • (8) bags marshmallows
  • (1) box generic red berries cereal bars
  • (2) boxes Special K Red Berries cereal bars
  • (1) box peanut butter bar cookies
  • (1) box nilla wafers
  • (1) box honey grahams
  • (1) box wheat crackers
  • (1) bag Trolli sour worms
  • (1) bag Haribo gummy bears
  • (1) large bag M&Ms
  • (1) small bag Skittles
  • (1) Cadbury crème egg
  • (2) Auntie Anne's Cinnamon Pretzels
  • (6) crème-filled donuts
  • (1) mini lemon pie
  • (1) large chocolate chip cookie
  • (1) large oatmeal raisin cookie
  • (4) glazed lemon coffee cakes


  • I already knew that we consumed a lot of dairy products but this total would have been higher had I not used up all the milk that I had frozen in past months (a couple of gallons)!  Greg eats at least 2 cups of yogurt a day and I think it's really helped his tummy.
  • Expenses were higher than last month because I stocked up on several items: sugar, eggs, proteins (always bought on sale and the vast majority was bought on 50% clearance), pasta and... marshmallows, lol.  I got them on clearance too.
  • I bought a lot of produce because the prices (mostly at Aldi) have been fantastic!  I stocked up on onions and navel oranges (I still have a 4-lb in the fridge and they're on sale again this week at Aldi, squeal!  I'm going to go and buy more!) and the strawberries have been on sale at Aldi so no need to go to Target to get Driscoll's because actually for once the Florida strawberries were pretty good :)
  • I bought a lot of snacks for convenience.  Keep in mind that the list also includes all the freebies that I got from RaceTrac (chips, bakery items) and SavingStar (individual candy bars/eggs) but I also treated us to donuts (on 50% clearance at Walmart), Aunt Annie's pretzels (BOGO), etc.
  • All in all, I'm very happy with my grocery expenses for the month. I think it's important to look at what I bought with the money because I suppose I could have spent way less but bought mostly processed foods and junk.  But dairy, produce (including fresh, canned, dried and frozen) and proteins (fresh, canned and frozen) accounted for 69% of my grocery expenses so I'm content.
  • However, our eating out/ordering in expenses were sky high: we spent the usual $20 in school lunches but a whooping $281.58 in restaurants!  That's insane. Yes, I do keep a running total of everything so I was fully aware and you know what? I didn't care. $79.07 of this was due to us being lazy and not feeling like cooking dinner or Greg not packing a lunch during Spring Break. $43.92 were various treats (snacks or lunches at fast food places during Spring Break and a $5 Starbucks gc for myself that actually gave me $10 worth on my Starbucks account) and $158.59 were us being social (celebrating our tax return being filed, taking my daughter out to dinner twice after she won various awards, treating a friend to lunch, my daughter going out to lunch with friends over Spring Break, Greg meeting a daughter for lunch).  We're usually total homebodies and, well, we did have things to celebrate and we tend to celebrate with food.  So the bad news is that my TOTAL FOOD EXPENSES ended up being $609.11 which is $209.11 OVER what I wanted to spend on food total this month ($400).  We've got to be better this month but once again we have lots of celebrating and socialization to do so I fear April won't be pretty either.
The Plan for April:

  • As always, my plan is to try to plans dinners with what I have on hand.  Most expenses really end up being for lunches and snacks, when I think of it.  I have tons of meat in the freezer so I really should be able to not buy any this month... yeah, I say that every month and then I hit the 50% off sales and I can't resist, lol.
  • As the Florida strawberry season fades away, I'll probably ramp up my Target shopping as I get the Driscoll's berries there with my $1 off coupons from the Driscoll's Consumer Panel.  I'll probably start going there again once I've used up that last Walmart Swagbucks gift card that I just earned.  I find it hard to shop at Target and Walmart on the same days, considering the other stores that I go to as well, and it's a waste of gas for me to go to Target just to get the berries.
  • I'm hoping to be able to harvest more lettuce this month but the garden won't be producing much else than herbs, I expect.
  • Eating out-wise, I already treated my friend to lunch last weekend to celebrate the end of her really busy work season and my daughter to dinner last week to celebrate her Art Award and last night because we were on a date together!  I'll be having lunch with a friend (but it's her turn to pay this month), my oldest son turns 22 so I'm hoping I'll be able to spend time with him and I have various competitions and concerts to attend out of town so that'll probably mean eating out as well.  Oh yeah, April is going to be BAD.  Good thing we got a tax refund!
How did you do in March?  Were you able to stick to your budget?  Any strategies you care to share?


  1. I think you did really well, Nathalie! You got a LOT of groceries- especially meat and produce! You should feel proud of yourself for how well you feed your family and save money! High Five to you!! :)
    I was able to stay within budget in March. I think I will be on track for April also, but I may end up cutting it close toward the end of the month. My plan is to be mindful of what I buy and what I am spending so we'll see how it goes.

    1. Thanks Dawn! I read your blog post very very late last night so I emailed it to myself so I could comment on it today. I'll get to it, I swear! You did extremely well as I recall and spent very little money, woohoo for you!

      I was very pleased to find all that meat on clearance, meat is so expensive and there's nothing wrong with the meat that I bought. It's been very tasty! I'm hoping that I can harvest some veggies soon but it won't be the bountiful harvests that northern gardeners get, I'm afraid. I really hope I can grow zucchini this year. They've been eluding me because powdery mildew is a huge problem with our humidity.

  2. I suggest budgeting separately for eating out. Settle on an amount you feel comfortable spending and include that in your monthly budget as a separate budget item. That's what I do. Eating out/take outs are included in my "entertainment" budget.

    1. The thing is I don't feel comfortable in spending anything for eating out, in theory! I really need to be better at minimizing eating out expenses because aside from the occasional celebration, we really could be doing a better job bringing our own food, going on picnics, etc. Food Expenses is really the only area in my budget where I scrutinize everything because I should be able to control that. For the rest, we spend what we spend, I'm not so obsessive about it. We are homebodies so our entertaining expenses are pretty much the same from month to month: Netflix and Gamefly subscriptions and the occasional deeply discounted video game that Greg might buy. I might, though, have to start keeping better track of it as I try to do more activities outside of the home, especially while my daughter is still here. But we could definitely have avoided eating out last week and last night, especially since we weren't particularly hungry both times.
      How much do you budget for entertainment, if I may ask, and what does it include?

    2. When daughter was living at home, I budgeted $50/month for the 2 of us (i.e., $25/person). It included going out to eat/take away, the occasional movie, etc. It doesn't include cable or internet, because I consider those as utilities (along with phones, etc.) We rarely go out to eat, but will buy take out occasionally. When daughter went away to college, I reduced my budget to $25/mo. for myself. I dip into the "$25 miscellaneous" if needed, when she's home on breaks, etc.

    3. I wouldn't go out to eat much either if you were my mom and cooked all the yummy foods you're always describing. I still need to put your fish curry on my menu. I don't buy fish very often now that I don't go to Publix anymore (they have a fish counter but my other stores only sell frozen fish and frozen fish doesn't appeal to me as much as fresh fish!) so I haven't gotten around to trying it yet. But I will.

  3. Interesting question. I personally don't budget for entertainment each month. My bills are paid by automatic deduction or on-line. Those bills include internet and cable TV, so that is basically our entertainment. I keep cash on hand for only two things....gas and household. So basically, when the cash runs out.....too bad, so sad. Household includes groceries, pet needs, toiletries, and any frivolous shopping (which includes clothing). Like Alison from Nova Frugal Family, (correct me if I'm wrong, Alison) I buy holiday needs (like Easter, Hallowe'en, special Christmas menu and birthday celebrations,etc.) from my household budget. That means I may buy some of these items during the weeks and months in advance of when I need them. Gifts are different. I budget for those and put the money into savings. Car repairs, vet services, home maintenance, vacations, etc. are also budgeted for and money placed in savings......a kind of cushion for the expected and unexpected costs of life. I would dearly love to pad that cushion even more, so I need to try harder.


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