Spending less on groceries
A new personal challenge
I'm at a new stage of my budget with a new contract over the last two months giving me three times the income I had during lock down last year. But I've noticed that I'm spending a bit more on groceries and spending over the budget.. Initially I stuck budget, but now I'm stretching it a little bit or buying the groceries a day or two before the new pay cheque (ie. new budget).
I've also noticed that I'm buying a few too many vegetables and I'm wasting a bit more - I used to pretty good at this.
I'm also thinking that one way to allocate more to Dining Out for some summer socialising (I'm in Australia) would be to use my Takeaway budget,
So I'm setting myself a challenge for the next 34+ days (next paycheque is Friday so two pay cycles ) to spend a bit less on groceries and takeaway by shopping my fridge.
1/ No more than once a week for takeaway or to buy lunch when working from home
2/ Limit purchases mid fortnight (ie during the two weeks) to milk, butter, dog food, onions, tomatoes etc. and no more meat or perishable veges when there are some left in the fridge - need to refine this
I know I can do this if I keep on top of my meal planning and plan a bit better for nights when I have meetings or am likely to be tired.
Appreciate any thoughts or tips, or if you'd like to join me.
PS. I haven't put this in the 34 day challenge as I don't want to stop all unnecessary spending. @Support please feel free to shift to Journals or Join A Challenge as I couldn't decide which category this went to.
Awesome challenge! I appreciate how you're honing in on one area in which you're seeing an opportunity for fine-tuning. It's a pretty powerful way to make yourself more aware and change any habits you'd like to change.
I, too, find that those moments when I'm most tired are the ones in which I choose to spend more on take-out or run to the local grocer for craving foods. Selfishly, I'm excited to hear about how you handle that! ;)
Here are a couple YNAB resources that could be helpful:
- Did you ever take our workshop on Saving Money On Groceries?
- Ashley also has a few videos on the YNAB YouTube, like How to Save Money on Food!
P.S. I moved this post to Join A Challenge just in case others want to join in!
I can't speak to food prices in Australia specifically, but global supply chains have been disrupted and unit costs of foodstuffs are likely increasing - just because you are spending more on food compared to the past, doesn't necessarily mean that you are buying a higher quantity of food. So it's not necessarily lifestyle creep if you are spending more.
That being said, the optimism of buying lovely fresh produce with the good intentions of using it only to be faced with wilted and withered vegetables in your fridge is a real thing. So good luck with that aspect!
Applying YNAB's Four Rules to Meal Prep
Its a week and a half later and I have been doing well. Only one order of takeaway and a small grocery order. There's also lots more space on the fridge shelves - although I did have to throw out half a bag of spinach leaves today.
I'm beginning to remember how I used to plan my meals and minimise grocery waste. It got me wondering how to apply YNAB to grocery purchases and day-to-day cooking and eating
Here's my draft of the new YNAMP (meal plan)
RULE ONE: Plan how you're going to use every perishable ingredient OR Plan your shopping list
Both work. A list really helps to reduce your spending in store or online.
But the plan to use perishable ingredients matters. Don't just buy a bag of chicken thighs or a whole cauliflower. Plan to make a curry or some crispy oven fried chicken and to roast some of the cauliflower when the oven is on. And then plan to make a salad from that cauliflower for lunch tomorrow.
I do wonder if this should be about planning what you're actually going to eat - but its not close enough to YNAB. I also don't like it to be too strict.
RULE TWO: Embrace your real food costs
Don't penny pinch by not replacing ingredients that you use regularly which aren't perishable. This means buy a new favourite sauce or pack of spices or tin of tomatoes when you use up the last one. If you regularly buy things you'll use as you run out of them eg. another bag of frozen veges. And make sure there is always onions, garlic, milk, butter etc. that you use.
I think this was why my grocery bills increased so much initially as I had a backlog. Now I buy another bag of pecans when I make blondies with the other bag, even if I won't use for another month (its okay the nuts are in the freezer).
RULE THREE: Roll with the punches
This rule works as is. Don't freak out if you'd planned to make crispy oven roast chicken and you're home late. Have yesterday's leftover pasta and make the chicken topping while you're waiting for it to heat up.
RULE FOUR: Live on the food you've already bought
This is the big one to reducing food waste and grocery spending - shop in your fridge and plan meals based on what you already have. Its also helped by Rule Two - much easier to make that soup recipe I saw if I already have a tin of coconut milk and all the relevant spices.
It also means use up what is open and perishable. eg. the other half of that jar of baby bocconcini (cheese) in the sandwich instead of some sliced cheese or opening a block of feta.
Feel free to jump in with any suggestions or tips along these lines. There is definitely more YNAB wisdom to apply.
(PS. I see meal planning as quite different from meal prepping - as I plan what I'm going to eat over the next few days / week instead of preparing it all at once. I also draw the line at eating the same thing all week(
Yes I can said:
This week aim to pick one simple recipe and cook that, with the intention of freezing a portion and/or having leftovers tomorrow.
This would be how I got started on one-pot meals. I also used to share cooking with another roommate, so making two to three one-pot recipes a week was a good volume. P doesn't eat what I eat - he prefers carnivorous stuff to my vegetarian/vegan fare, and he doesn't cook, so it doesn't work quite so well anymore. I'm trying to work on smaller volume cooking. Well, right now I'm trying to work on cooking at all. But in general.
Move Light Sound Life said:
Bake chicken one night, but make enough for 4 meals.
Move Light Sound Life said:
The next night, have sweet potato rafts: slice the sweet potatoes (halves or circles work), top with cheese, chopped chicken, sauteed spinach, and ceasar/honey mustard/garlic sauce.
That sounds amazing! My fiance hates sweet potatoes though, but I guess they'd also be fine with regular potatoes for him and sweeties for me.
I also try to use the bones for broth. Although I tend to only do that when the chicken is organic. I can't always splurge for organic but for some reason I hesitate to use conventional chicken to make bone broth. I've been making bone broth for years (since 2011), and now you can buy it in the store from Swanson, I just saw it the other day, that's pretty crazy. Was much harder to find 10 years ago.
Two Week Spending
I made an onine grocery order today for $55.84, which brings my total for the 2 week period to $158.24. Probably more like $150 if we took out the donuts I bought, which I should really categorise to Fun Money / Treats or the extra cost of the milk I bought last week at the convenience store instead of the supermarket...they also have the good donuts.
I observed an interesting mental process for me in making the order.
On one hand I wanted to keep my spending as low as possible. This would have meant no steak or a top up tin of tomatoes or replacement pair of gloves for dishwashing. It also would have meant waiting another week for sultanas which I like for an occasional snack with an apple or oatmeal (?raisins in the US). I could have also gone without another four pack of the ginger beer I like to drink as a treat - I'm cutting down on alcohol for various health reasons.
But on the other hand, I don't want to create a false sense of scarcity and $150 ish is better than the spend of $200+ for the last few two week pay cycles. I also don't want to not buy more tomatoes and other fresh salad ingredients to enjoy with a treat steak (plus one for the freezer or a guest one night this week).
I could have just spent $10 to $15 on vegetables and catfood or just one tin of catfood to creep through to next Friday. However, might have meant less fresh green veges and a couple of very starchy simple carb based meals (pasta with parmesan and butter anyone). It could have also meant takeaway.
I think the point here is to find the right balance for me. Some things I note from the above:
- I know that healthy, fresh and delicious is also important to me. And those non-perishable veges like cauliflower are more delicious when eaten with fresh salad ingredients.
- Similarly buying expensive meat like steak, when I ate mince (ground beef) and chicken thighs this week and a few meals without meat at all, feels like a good occasional treat. And $10 for two steaks is less than a home delivered pizza or thai food.
- Not replacing the ginger beer could lead to more convenience store shopping or a trip to the bottle shop to buy some wine instead.
I did hold off on replacing the bocconicini cheese I like on home made pizza as I already have a block of feta in the fridge which I could have with the salad and olives left over from last shop. I also have some grated pizza cheese in the frezer.
I also only bought two highly perishable items - the steaks and some green beans - which I'll eat on either Monday or Tuesday night.
What is the best grocey shopping rhythm for me?
I'm also pondering the question of whether I shop weekly for groceries with a fixed budget or aim for every 10 days. I'm not sure which would be simplest in terms of the extra thought process on an ongoing basis. I don't want to overthink every order.
Cost wise, the number of deliveries isn't important as I bought an annual delivery subscription from an offer from the big supermarket chain I usually shop at. Its unlimited free delivery on orders over $50 which I should easily be able to do. It used to be a $100 limit, so the cost of the subscription was marginal for me.
I watched one of the recordings of the YNAB Savings on Groceries course which talked about the idea of a weekly budget, which I've read about before in YNAB articles. Maybe $70 or $75 an online order would work?
Weekly would also avoid running out of milk or catfood and make it easier to eat fresh salads and herbs.