Back when I was talking about how 2023 was probably going to be “The Year of Frugality” for us, I had several readers who were interested in me posting our grocery spending report each month, especially because by most counts, it’s pretty low. For some background, we’re a family of five consisting of two adults and three children ages 3 to 7.
I tried to break this down to be both (somewhat) detailed but not exhaustively so, and I hope you’ll find it useful. If you have any suggestions on how I can add/modify this series going forward, please drop a comment below and let me know! I’m always up for creating whatever will be the most useful and interesting for you.
Just a note — our “grocery” budget each month also includes household essentials, personal hygiene items, and any makeup I buy (which isn’t a lot or very often). I’ll try and break down the spending in different categories below. We also have an “eating out” budget, which is separate from our grocery budget. On average, we usually spend around $100/month on takeout, fast food, and restaurants.
Note: If you’re looking for ways to save money on your groceries but lack the time and energy to do all the planning, check out the Master Your Money bundle that’s on sale right now. In addition to tons of other financial resources, it includes a huge section of 9 resources all about meal planning (with some including detailed menu plans for you) and lowering your grocery costs. You can check it out HERE.
Total Spending + Category Breakdown
In January, we spent a total of $536.80 on groceries and household essentials. My goal was to keep it around $500, so I actually went quite a bit over, but considering that my budget is usually $600 per month, I felt really good overall with this number. Our budget was stretched to the max in January due to a lot of one-off expenses coming due, so that’s why I wanted to cut our usual number down a bit.
In full disclosure, the only reason we were able to keep this number so low was because we have a pretty extensive food storage/freezer/pantry to choose from, which we had to utilize a LOT this month. One of our biggest priorities in 2021 was to aggressively build up our food storage, and we’ve been so glad for that decision because it’s helped to offset the much higher cost of groceries the past year or so. We will need to build it back up again, but we’re thankful now to at least have it as an option to draw from during tight months like this one.
Here’s how the spending in different categories broke down:
- Produce: $67.76
- By far one of our biggest categories we spend on is fruit, since our kids would subsist solely on fruit if we let them. During this month, we exclusively favored cheaper options like apples, oranges, bananas, and pears. For the vegetables/savory side, we chose avocados (soooo cheap right now!), a couple salad blends, cucumbers, mini sweet peppers, carrots, onions, and potatoes. Oh, and several packages of frozen vegetables.
- Meat: $21.02
- Like many people I’m sure, we’ve cut down drastically on our meat consumption since the prices have just been skyrocketing. We happened to have several pounds of frozen chicken (which I think we used up this month), turkey sausage links, and fish, which we dipped into quite a bit this month. We also used some canned chicken, as well. The meat we bought this month was ground sausage (4 lbs.) hamburger meat (2 lbs.), and one medium container of lunch meat (ham).
- Dairy/Eggs: $95.62
- Our chickens stopped laying in late November, so December was actually the first time we ourselves have experienced the sticker shock of eggs lately. Considering we’re ALSO paying quite a bit for chicken feed…it’s a bit of a shock, indeed! (FYI, we have a separate budget other than groceries for food for our animals.) This month, this category consisted of buying milk, cheese, butter, eggs, and yogurt.
- Bread/Bakery: $28.14
- Since we make my daughter a pb&j nearly every day for her lunch for school (in addition to using it at other times), we go through a decent amount of bread in a month. For the two people with celiac in my family, I’ll often make homemade gluten-free bread since it’s way cheaper to do it that way, but I was actually pretty busy this month, so I mostly just relied on the store-bought loaves, which run about $6/loaf at our local Walmart. For the rest of us, I buy twin packs of our favorite bread from Sam’s Club for $4.34.
- Pantry: $174.60
- Definitely one of our bigger pantry expenses many months is breakfast cereal ($21.76 this month). I know I could go far cheaper in our grocery budget if I just switched us over to having oatmeal most every morning, but I’ll admit I rely quite a bit on the convenience of cold cereal since my daughter starts school pretty early (we try to have her out of the house by 7:55 a.m.). We also had to buy a big bag of rice ($10.78 for 25 lbs.) since we’d gone through most all of it in our immediate food storage (we have unopened long-term food storage that includes rice that we’re not planning on touching unless there’s a true emergency), and I took advantage of some gluten-free cake mixes that went on closeout ($11.37). I also had to do a huge stock-up this month on gluten-free pasta (which is the only kind I buy because it’s not worth it to me to make two separate meals for our family), which is something I do once every three months or so ($41.38 this time). Other bits and pieces in this category include snack items for the kids (yogurt and applesauce pouches, peach or mandarin orange cups, etc. for $50.12) and any canned goods or shelf-stable items I might need to purchase for meals, like the salsa verde I purchased twice this month and some cans of gluten-free cream of chicken soups, among other things.
- Frozen Items: $23.86
- It’s unusual I buy almost anything in this category (except maybe ice cream or popsicles), but with pregnancy, I do indulge myself in a few convenience foods every now and again so that I’m not as tempted to go out to eat because we have super easy options. For one of the first times ever, I bought frozen chicken nuggets for the kids (rejoicing that they also had a gluten-free option for Mathias), and I also bought a couple gluten-free cauliflower crust pizzas to have on hand. Note: I did buy frozen vegetables, but I included those in the “produce” section.
- Household Essentials: $97.14
- This month, our household essentials included toilet paper, diapers (hopefully for the last time since we’re potty training soon), AA batteries, a new hand-washing dish wand (especially essential now that we currently have no dishwasher), and hand soap refills (which I talked about specifically in one of my latest weekly frugal wins).
- Miscellaneous: $28.66
- At the beginning of the month, we took advantage of some Christmas clearance sales and purchased some new Christmas lights and discounted wrapping supplies for next year, and Matt had a moment of fatherly weakness and let the kids each pick out a Christmas stuffed animal on clearance 🙂 I also took in a meal to a friend who had surgery, so I bought some disposable Reynold’s cake pans so I could put the dinner in that and she wouldn’t have to worry about returning dishes.
What We Ate
Breakfast is cold cereal probably 80% of the time, with the remainder being made up of oatmeal sometimes and the occasional yogurt and granola. Bananas will also frequently make an appearance.
Matt takes leftovers from our dinners the night before to work every day, and I detailed what Raven takes every day in her school lunch in this deep dive post I did on school lunch vs. packing a home lunch. For my boys, I’ll often make various gluten-free pasta dishes for lunch, or I’ll do something simple like oatmeal or yogurt and granola. For myself, I either also do leftovers from the night before, or I’ll graze here and there in the afternoon on things like cheese and crackers or a piece of fruit.
One dinner on frequent rotation this month was fried rice, which I made with some turkey sausage links I had in the freezer already. Rice made regular appearances in other meals as well, such as sweet and sour meatballs over rice and Korean BBQ over rice. Other times we did mashed potatoes as a base, such as when I made Swedish meatballs and gravy. Many meals were simple and meatless, such as creamed eggs over toast or gluten-free waffles or pancakes. I also had a massive craving this month for a chip dip that I used to make, which just consists of 8 ounces of cream cheese mixed with one pound of ground pork sausage and one can of Rotel tomatoes. We made that three times, I think, which Matt and I enjoyed while we gave the kids things like the frozen pizza or chicken nuggets. Other things we enjoyed were this chicken sweet potato skillet meal with green salad one night and salmon with a large side of vegetables another.
The kids are allowed to choose three snacks per day, which will vary widely. Sometimes they go exclusively for the pantry choices (pouches, individual cups of fruit, nut bars), and sometimes they go for things like fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, string cheese, or toast. If I snack, it’s usually on fruit or cheese and crackers, with the occasional handful of chocolate chips or Tootsie Rolls thrown in. I also made cookies a few times.
One thing I had to factor in to January’s grocery budget was our trip down to Southern Utah. Since we rented a Vrbo for the exclusive purpose of being able to prepare nearly all of our meals there, we decided to just include the cost of the food we’d bring down in our regular grocery budget. Since my mom and stepdad joined us on the trip, we split who prepared dinners and shared food, which also helped.
One nice bonus was that I had a friend bring me a whole bunch of homemade tamales on two different occasions, which have provided many a meal. We also have eaten out for a handful of meals as well, some of which came out of our eating out budget and some of which were treats by my mom and stepdad on our trip.
Since I’ve never itemized our groceries like this before, I was actually pretty surprised to see that we really only spent about $400 on actual food, which seems crazy to me. Granted, we used a lot of things from our pantry and freezer, but I was still pretty proud of how low we were able to keep the grocery bill this month. Also, we even made a little bit of money back, since I used Rakuten on the two online orders I put in and Ibotta and MyPoints on every receipt I could.
Finally, you might be confused as to why I’m posting a final report on our spending on the 20th day of the month. Well, that’s because my habit has nearly always been that I spend 99% of our grocery budget during the first part of the month and *maybe* pick up just a couple gallons of milk and a bunch of bananas for the last 10 days or so. Therefore, while there’s a possibility I might be adding around $10 to these totals, that would be about it.
I’d love to know any thoughts you might have, and as always, don’t hesitate to drop a comment with your questions!