Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What I learned tracking my grocery purchases for a year

Well, I learned that we shop a lot more than I thought we did. ;-) When you are tracking every purchase, that becomes painfully clear.

I've always tracked "grocery" spending, but never what we were spending our grocery money on (i.e. fruit, dairy, etc). I decided 2016 would be the year where I would track all of our purchases. It was no small amount of work, but I'm happy I stuck with it*. It was really enlightening and gave me ideas on areas to cut back in 2017. (*and, disclaimer, M lost a few of the receipts when I was traveling, so this represents 95% of our spending, but not quite all, for those of you who love math. :-)) Also, I'm cutting this short by a week, as we'll be at the beach next week & I won't be tracking in any detail.

How many meals do we eat (or make) at home?
Breakfast - Our family eats breakfast at home (x4 people), every day. M makes eggs & fruit for the kids. The adults have a more varied breakfast.
Lunches -  The boys pack lunches every school day, and M & I get free lunch through work. If it's a weekend, we all eat lunch at home.
Dinners - Dinners are always eaten at home (x4), unless it's a meal out.

We tend to average about one meal out a week So, breaking the math apart a bit, for 2016, we ate 3,890 meals at home. Given our grocery spending, this averaged to a smidge under $2/per person/per meal. I think this is high, but. . .

What do we eat?
A lot of produce! Fruit rarely/never goes to waste in our house. There's the occasional bag of broccoli or cauliflower that starts to turn before I notice it, but we are good at minimizing fresh produce food waste.

Oh, and we drink a lot of coffee! Coffee was a huge line item in our budget that I wasn't prepared for when I started this tracking.

How did we spend our budget?
Our categories, ranked by spending (rounded):

  • Fruit - 30%
  • Meat - 20%
  • Vegetables - 17%
  • Dairy - 15%
  • Pantry (this is where we track the coffee) - 11%
  • Grains - 7%
  • Snacks - 3% (includes snacks for classroom events, soccer snacks when it's our turn, etc)
  • Prepared food (i.e. frozen pizza & the like when I travel) - 3%

So, what conclusions would I draw from this?
  • With fruit being our biggest spend category, finding cheaper sources for even a few of our regular items would be huge.
  • We should take better advantage of fruit we can grown on our own (oranges, lemons, mandarins, etc), to minimize what we're buying.
  • We should stock up on coffee when it's on sale. It varies in price around $5/unit, so stocking up when it's on sale would be a sizeable savings.
  • We consume significantly more dairy than I expected. There is an opportunity to better monitor portion size. 
  • We've started to buy a few things at the produce stand vs at Costco, and price watching, so this has helped decrease our vegetable budget.
  • We do a great job minimizing snacks & prepared food. So, hurrah for this one! :-) 

A few next steps for 2017:
  • It was a fun experiment, but not something I'm interested in maintaining regularly. I'll go back to my standard tracking in 2017.
  • I'm going to track our inventory of coffee, and watch for sales & stock up when we're low. 
  • I'll look for sales on fruit at our local grocery store & produce stand, to see if we can ever do better on pricing than Costco. Costco's pricing is pretty low, but I'll still look for options.
  • I can do better with dairy. It's much higher than expected, & I do think we can look for options to reduce our consumption & spend here.

That's it for me! How do you spend your grocery budget? Do you know what the biggest outliers are? Do you have a plan to reduce costs in 2017? Any tips you want to share? 


  1. wow that's so cool that you were able to keep such detailed tracking. I think groceries are the bane of most people's budgets. Everything on the news says that costs for fruits and veggies are going up here in Canada in the new year. Costs more to ship them from the southern US.

  2. Costco can be low but definitely worth shopping around. I regularly find prices lower than Costco on certain things, although it definitely is my go-to meat place due to quality (price is higher but worth paying for). My stepson was shocked this week as he worked their during college and totally believes Costco is always the lowest price - I set him straight :) He is 22 and making decent money and more interested in managing it now.

  3. I am not sharing tips, but am gleaning them instead. I had never thought to break down my purchases like you did, but what a brilliant idea. I am going to try to do this. It should work except for my husband who loves to stop at Publix on his way home from work. It is a part of his workweek recreational activities. I will definitely give it an honest try.

  4. You have incredible discipline to track for a whole year, but with bulk buying, seasonal, vacations etc. I suppose a person would almost have to to really understand where opportunities are to reduce. One month wouldn't be enough and prone to over or under count a category. I'm just looking to keep reducing the reliance on prepared and semi prepared foods like pre-made sauces and boxed or frozen meals. In doing so, I might increase our budget actually-hard to know if I don't track well. I rarely buy pops, and generally only for myself, and I savor one, rather than mindlessly drink multiples. That has saved, as well as DD bringing lunch at least a few times a week.

    1. It was a bit of a pain, but I really wanted to track for a full year to understand variance as you mentioned. We had a couple of weeks in the summer where we were spending $50 on fruit alone! M really likes the berries, when they are fresh & in season.

      Should have noted, we don't buy any drinks (other than coffee & milk for the kids). Neither of us drink soda, juice, etc. I haven't priced either lately, but I imagine that saves a chunk.

  5. Love this! I feel that we've spent more this year on groceries and eaten worse - more unhealthy snacks foods. Will be doing the tally soon.

    1. Can't wait to see! You inspired me last year with your tracking.

  6. I don't have really anything to contribute to your post but would love to ask a few questions. What software if any do you use to budget? Do you have a snapshot of how you itemize things such as groceries? The categories that you listed, is that how you list them out in your budget/spending to keep track? I recently started on YNAB and am having a somewhat difficult time with it as it doesn't have bank that I can attach to it so I have to literally input all data and it's a tad exhausting! Just trying to see if there is a better software out there or if I should stick to what I have. I budget initially on paper but then use the YNAB to input what we spend to track everything. =-) These are all great posts to think about!

    1. I've used both Excel & Google spreadsheets (very similar to Excel). I built a tracker myself & then just entered each receipt manually by category. It was a bit of a bear (especially after a bigger shop!), but it allowed me to cut the categories any way I wanted.