Thursday, December 8, 2011

Grocery budgeting

Yesterday I mentioned that the biggest way I saved money in November was instituting a grocery budget. It all started, as most things here do, with the master, MMM, and his post about grocery shopping. Really good info, highly recommended. Jacob over at Early Retirement Extreme also had a grocery post and I internalized that too.

Here's what we do. Each weekend the girlfriend and I sit down and go over weekly specials. We'll see what meats and main course items are on sale and target three to four meals. Maybe a pasta dish, something with beans or lentils like lentil soup, grilled chicken with vegetables, that sort of thing. The other days and lunches are leftovers. Go through the flyer, look for specials, make a list of what we want to buy. Check the refrigerator and cupboards for staples we're running out of: milk, eggs, tuna, pasta, that sort of thing. Put anything that's running low on the list too. The grocery store we frequent often has this or that on super sale, like buy-two-get-three-free or buy-one-get-one-rings-half-off sales. We stock up if it has a long shelf life and it's something we would want to buy anyway.

We have a budget of $85/week. Why $85? Well it used to be $50/week (big round number), and we would get this CSA-like box of fruits and vegetables delivered once a week for around $35 (a bit expensive, but better quality produce than any of the grocery stores around here). But the vegetables built up too rapidly and since we can choose which weeks we want the veggie box and which weeks we don't, we just made it part of the weekly budget. I don't explicitly total the prices of our grocery list before we leave for the store — it's pretty easy to tell when your list is too long if you have it all written down in front of you.

We go together to the grocery store, she drives the cart and I navigate. Which means I read through the list and  call out a few items at a time corresponding to what types of things we're near. Like "onions broccoli chicken" when we start and "pasta beans cereal" in the middle aisles. Sort of like Rain Man if he went grocery shopping. And I'm writing down the prices of things and totaling them and crossing them off my list.

By time we check out I know to within a dollar or two how much we're going to spend. Here's a bit of advice: always always always check your receipt. Two or three times the specials didn't ring up correctly and we were almost overcharged. Vigilance will save you money.

We've been doing this for the past four weeks and we've come in under budget every time. And guess what? We still have a fully stocked refrigerator and pantry. I don't know what we were spending hundreds of extra dollars per month on before, but I don't miss it. During week #2 we even splurged on filet mignon — half price of course. Not strictly Mustachian but hey, I'll take it.

Where does this leave us financially? Here's our grocery spending for the past few months:
  • June - $973 684*
  • July - $606
  • August - $628
  • September - $807
  • October - $831
  • November - $372

These are ball-park numbers but they're mostly categorized correctly. But do you see that? What the hell were we spending money on? How are groceries that expensive? Well, they aren't, I was just being a wussypants. We spent an average of $769 $711/month on groceries from June to October. November's bill was less than about half that.

In all, a huge epic win for Mustachianism.

* Errata: I found some items that Mint didn't categorize properly, like a liquor store purchase and home supplies at Costco.

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