Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lessons learned: Month One

When you go on a diet, the experts always recommend you keep a food diary, writing down everything you each day to look for trends, and places where you can eliminate things.

Since I'm hoping to put our grocery bill on a diet, I decided to do the same with the foods I buy for this family of nine, keeping every single receipt for the month of February.

To be honest, I actually started my project in mid-January by cleaning out the pantry. First I got rid of stuff that I was not likely to use. I checked expiration dates, threw out packages that had tiny bits left in the bottom and made the executive decision that anything that had moved twice was making a final move to the trash. I focused my meals for the end of the month on using up whatever was left, and by Feb. 1 the cupboard (and the freezer) was bare.

And now, here we are a month later. I've been to the grocery store 19 times (11 times to Food Lion for quick things and 8 times to Giant for the larger lists) and purchased 406 items. While I always kept an eye out for sale items, this was the first time I really used coupons. And I will admit, there were times when I could have done that better. But that said, here's some of what I learned from my one-month experiment:

Value of groceries purchased: $1,135
Actual amount spent: $815
Total savings (coupons and in-store deals): $320
Percentage saved: 28 percent
Total spent on meat: $130

I have to stop there, because I think that number is a bit deceiving.

This is a family of eight meat eaters, and I typically prepare about two pounds of meat for each dinner. All of the meat I purchase is of the pink sticker variety -- meats being sold at a deep discount (I rarely buy if it isn't at least 50 percent off) because they are about to expire. I bring it home and either cook it that night, or repackage it and freeze it. But since it's been repriced, the original price does not show on the receipt and the value is not reflected in the total value of groceries I purchased in February (I estimate that would bring the total value up to about $1,300).

Other things I learned:

Boxes of cereal: 19 (luckily you can always find cereal coupons, and while my kids do have favorites, they will eat pretty much whatever I bring home).

Crackers: 13 boxes (here again, they have favorites, but will eat anything. So anytime I see a cracker on sale that I also have a coupon for, I snatch them up).

Chips/pretzels: 7 bags

Pancake mix: 4 boxes

Gallons of milk: 30
It costs me $3.89 a gallon at Giant and $3.69 a gallon at Food Lion. But I can get the same gallon for a savings of $1 or more if I buy it at BJs. Now, BJs is about a 20 minute drive, whereas I can walk to the Giant and Food Lion. But we go through milk so fast, and we will soon have a spare 'fridge in the garage. So I think it will be worth my time to go to BJs once a week and buy milk for the week. I wouldn't do that to save a few pennies. But that little effort four times a month will save me about $350 a year.

Laundry detergent: 1 96-load bottle ($10)
I do two to three loads a day, and we do go through a bottle of this stuff a month. Since it's such a high ticket item, it was one place I looked to see if there was some way to spend less cleaning our clothes. And I found one. About two weeks ago, I experimented with making my own laundry soap. For about $3.50 I could make enough powdered soap to do the same number of loads, saving me $6.50 a month. I quietly started using my homemade soap two weeks ago, and since the clothes are clean and no one noticed, I figure I received the seal of approval.
Want to try it yourself? It's simple:
3 bars of Ivory (or other mild) soap, grated on a fine grater
3 cups 12 Team Borax
3 cups Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
Place in a heavy sealed container and shake to mix well.
Use 2 T per load

I'm going to keep looking at what we spend. And am hoping to do even better in March. I'll use more coupons. I'll find new ways to cut back. It's already looking good: so far this month I've saved more than 36 percent of my overall food bill thanks to coupons and in-store deals, up from 28 percent in February.

1 comment:

  1. You did great, even without counting in the retail value of the meat. I think for a family of 8 meat eaters $130 for a month worth of meat is fantastic!!