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. 

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  • Sounds like a great start.  You might consider signing up for a meal planning service as well.  Some will keep track of what is in your fridge and pantry and customize/optimize the shopping list to avoid redundancy.

    Like 1
  • 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:

    P.S. I moved this post to Join A Challenge just in case others want to join in!

    Like
  • 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!

    Like 1
  • 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( 

    Like 3
    • Yes I can 

      Yes I can said:
      I also draw the line at eating the same thing all week(

       Yes! Been there, done that. I will be in dire straights before I eat without at least a little variety.  The freezer has been my friend, here. It's cheaper and easier to cook in bulk, so I'll still make the huge pot of whatever (bolognaise, soup, a roast, lasagna, enchiladas, stew, etc), and maybe eat it 2/3 days that week. However, then I'll freeze it in individual portions, which gives me 2 to 8+ more days of meals out of it (that bolognaise recipe lasts forever, and it's so yummy!). 

      Then, when I'm meal planning, I try to plan only one or two meals a week that require a big cooking effort. The rest are a combination of using leftovers in different ways or eating homemade food out of the freezer.

      Like 2
    • Yes I can 

      Yes I can said:
      Plan how you're going to use every perishable ingredient

       And with this, I'd say get into the habit of checking the fridge every couple days with the intention of doing a quick mental inventory. That is my goal right now.

      I had a beautiful plan last week (week before?), but I evidently forgot a few items (both leftover and produce) in the day to day, so I was thinking I had to scramble for some reason. Then at the end of the week, I actually looked at what was there and was surprised at what was already prepared. Some waste occurred, but the bigger waste was the convenience meals I bought when I thought we didn't have food (why? Why? sigh).

      Like 1
    • Move Light Sound Life 

      Move Light Sound Life said:
      The rest are a combination of using leftovers in different ways

       I have never figured out how to do this. Possibly because most of what I make is one pot meals...

      Like
    • Fuzzball Meows Example: Bake chicken one night, but make enough for 4 meals. While the chicken bakes, stick some sweet potatoes in to bake as well. Feeling extra? Use bone in.

      Chop spinach for salads/cooking another time.

      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. Best case scenario, you only need to chop the chicken (chop it all! stick bones and skins in the freezer to make stock later) and saute the spinach (or use leftover). Sauteing takes 5 minutes while the other stuff heats up. 

      For the other two meals worth of chicken, use them in salads, sandwiches, pasta, tacos, a casserole, or enchiladas (I always layer unless it's company, then I'll roll).  It's so much easier to make the complicated dish when it's basically dump, mix, and bake.  Freeze half the casserole/enchiladas for later. 

      It's a good way to stretch the meat, too.

      P.S. I strive to be so super efficient with food and work so that the puzzle pieces fit beautifully together. However, it's a lofty goal that I still only meet occasionally enough to rejoice every time. 

      Even if it's not perfect, I think practice is making it get a bit better, which makes food a little better, easier, and provides more bang for the buck.

      Don't overwhelm yourself - just try one thing and play with it if you have the mental bandwidth. 🙂

      Like 2
    • Yes I can I love this SO much! 🙌You've really inspired me by making me think about Rule 1 from the opposite direction than I usually do...

      For example: instead of making a plan and buying only those things (my usual way, and a very good way of operating, but...), I'm thinking it might be a fun creative exercise to shop the farmer's market or store without a hard and fast plan. Focus on buying what's on sale/in season/super affordable. Then retroactively give every item a job! So many things to ponder... thanks so much for posting this! 

      Like 2
      • Yes I can
      • yesican2020
      • 5 days ago
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      Rachel An Australaian food blogger, Jules Clancy,  who is one of my cooking and meal planning inspirations (thestonesoup.com) taught me this approach of using what you have.  To be transparent, I have a subscription to her paid site (https://smp.to) which I got a few years ago at a lifetime rate. 

      She has a method of calculating 1 serve of protein and 1 to 2 serves of veges per meal per person.   I don't worry about this detail exactly, but the idea of buying 1 or 2 proteins and 2 or 3 perishable veges plus a few staples makes a lot of sense to me.   Over time I've also learnt which veges last and which are perishable - so you want to think about only buying a few perishable veges, whereas that cabbage or cauliflower will last longer. 

      She's all about substituting ingredients too ie. use mince instead of chicken or broccoli instead of cauliflower. And theme it thai or mexican or middle eastern to make a coherent salad or stew.

      I love your wording better "give every ingredient a job" maybe "give every perishable ingredient a job"

      Like 1
      • Yes I can
      • yesican2020
      • 5 days ago
      • 1
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      Move Light Sound Life This sounds a bit like what I do.  My freezer and my leftovers are my best friends....at least when I remember to follow the habit.   Fuzzball Meows I'll share some notes of other leftover ideas over the weekend - its definitely about an ingredient or two not just one pot meals. 

      There's definitely a YNAB-related food tip too in what Move Light Sound Life is saying. Its something like  "Don't try to pay all your debts / save for everything at once" becomes "Don't try and cook everything all once as this can get overwhelming, choose one or two ingredients and cook them.  Plan to use them in a meal in the next day or two".

      This could also be "Don't try and make too dramatic a change to a budget line item(s) too quickly.  Reduce it slowly eg. if your dining out is $200 a month, try reducing it to $175 or $150 next month".  This would become something like "Don't try and change your shopping and cooking habits too dramatically overnight.  This week aim to pick one simple recipe and cook that, with the intention of freezing a portion and/or having leftovers tomorrow."   

      Like 1
    • Yes I can Love it - thanks for the blog recommendation! 

      Like 1
  • I'm noticing my grocery bills going up but I think part of the issue is inflation.  I can't shop the way I used to without being shocked at the total.  So either I need to do what you're doing, be more mindful about my grocery spending, or budget more to groceries.  Hmm....

    Like 2
      • Yes I can
      • yesican2020
      • 5 days ago
      • Reported - view

      PhysicsGal I think there is some inflation going on in Australian cities too, but I think my groceries went up as I stopped paying attention to what I'd been doing and relishing the extra income and grocery money!!

      Like
  • 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.

    Like 2
    • Fuzzball Meows I did wonder if you were vegetarian from something you'd said before, but I couldn't remember for sure. 

      Could you do the same type of cooking with lentils or black beans? Cook a basic pot once, then use them in tacos, on potatoes, on a salad, or with another dish? Change up the seasonings each day? Alternatively, cook a bunch of your starch at once (pasta, potatoes, bread), then dress it up differently throughout the week with veggies/sauce/protein.

      Do you cook meat for your husband? I can give you a super awesome pulled pork recipe I just found. It's easier than a crock pot, super tender, and very tasty.

      I'm just throwing around ideas here. I know you've got a lot going on, so take what you will. I think about you often lately. 

      Like 1
      • jenmas
      • jenmas
      • 4 days ago
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      Move Light Sound Life I would love a super awesome pulled pork recipe. 

      Like 1
    • Move Light Sound Life Diet is... complicated. I'm not a strict vegetarian, but the roommate I mentioned above? I basically learned to cook from her, and she's vegan. 

      It's totally possible to do the multiple dishes meals with vegetarian fare, and probably what you mention. I just... don't. "Throw everything in the slow cooker" leaves so many fewer dishes to wash, and requires so much less overseeing.  Right now I'm having trouble doing even the one pot meals, but maybe someday I'll learn to do the individual dishes that can be mixed and matched. 

      Mostly no, to the cooking meat for P. Mostly because I'm worried I'll cook it wrong, and undercooked meat is more problematic than undercooked beans or vegetables. Also, he doesn't eat pork. Or bacon. Every so often I'll cook meat under his supervision, but not often.  He has a toaster oven that he uses for cooking frozen chicken patties and adult versions of nuggets, etc. (We basically have two separate kitchens. It's either hilarious or sad, depending on your perspective.)

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    • jenmas 🙂 

      Condensed Version:

      0. Heat pot to med/high on stove and preheat a300*F oven.

      1. Measure/mix spices and rub over 4-5 lb meat. Ingredients at link below.

      2. Sear. In oil.

      3. Add yummy acid liquid.

      4. Cook, covered, for 4-5 hours, until tender.

      5. Pull apart with forks and mix the juices in. 

      6. Serve as you like - on sandwiches, by itself, with bbq sauce, on a salad with SW flavorings (corn, black beans, tomatoes, peppers, onion, jicama, avocado, lime, bbq ranch, etc -be creative), or tacos, or on potato skins, or on eggs...

      Food safety: A food thermometer should read above 165 if you're concerned, and I can guarantee you it will be way above that!

       

      And here's the same thing, but with extra info. I usually appreciate the context if I'm trying a new technique.

      0. Heat the pot on the stove to searing temp (med/high). If it's enameled cast iron*, do it gradually. Preheat oven to 300*F.

      1. Cut meat into a small enough piece that it fits into a dutch oven (6qt pot). Or buy a roast that's already 4-5 lbs! Bone in is fine, and any of those tougher cuts (shoulder) are great.

      2. Mix spices for rub. Rub all over meat. I used this rub https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a58254/best-pulled-pork-recipe/ with plain sugar instead of brown sugar because I hate sticky rubs.

      3. Sear the meat on all sides. Tongs and a fork were helpful. 

      4. Pour 1.5 c (12 oz) of beer around the meat. Wine would likely work - maybe a Moscato? I've also used 1 c. hard cider + 0.5 c. cider vinegar for a stronger flavor. Avoiding the beer made it gluten-free for someone who needed that. I also poured a dab of molasses in to make up for the lack of brown sugar in the rub.

      5. Put the lid on and set in the oven for 4-5 hours. Optionally take the lid off for the last 1-2 hours, though I've never done that. 

      *A note on enameled cast iron: It's become a fad, and I've seen inaccurate info on many blogs. I shall now set the record straight. Cast iron does NOT conduct heat as well as most other metals we use for cooking. So, when someone says it "heats evenly," they're confused. It will usually have hot spots when used on a stove, though they can be lessened by using a conductive metal plate (usually aluminum or copper). 

      Now, since it doesn't conduct well, it does *retain* heat very well, which provides even heating for the oil if you're deep frying. Maybe that's where the confusion started?

      *Tangent story* When I made this this week, I found out we needed to leave the house for the last 1-2 hours of cooking. Because cast iron retains heat so well, I bumped up the oven temp for a little bit, then turned it off while we were gone, banking on the pot to keep cooking the meat on its own. When we returned, the meat was still above 165 (one day, it was 200)! Win! 

      *End tangent story*

      Especially if your cast iron is enameled, you'll want to heat it gradually to prevent cracking. 

      Oh yeah, and I always use the enameled pot for acidic things that will cook for a long time, like tomato sauce, chili, anything with alcohol/vinegar, etc. Metal+acid=chemical reaction, but the glass of the enamel is non-reactive.  You can use stainless steel for these things, too, but if you try to do this in a plain cast iron pot, you'll just strip the seasoning (and increase your iron consumption).

      Anyways, hope that was helpful. 😄

      Like 1
    • Fuzzball Meows If you want to give shredded beef a go, use the pulled pork recipe above, but find a tough cut of beef (shoulder). It's so easy, and no worries on under cooking. I would possibly omit the sugar or use a different rub mix. I'd probably just use salt/pepper/garlic powder/maybe onion powder, though the paprika and cumin wouldn't hurt, if P likes them.

      For the acid, broth is good, and red wine goes with beef, if you're feeling fancy. I simply don't know if beer or apple cider would go with beef. It might.

      My slow cooker is lame - everything comes out tough and overdone, which is why I've looked into oven methods. 

      Otherwise, maybe now isn't the season of your life where you play with these things. If you're up for it, go for trying something new. If not, you've already got a lot to focus on. 

      Simply cooking a meal when not in the habit is something to be celebrated. 

      Like 1
  • 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.

    Like 1
    • PhysicsGal Have him try a little of yours with all the goodies on it.  😉  This was the dish that changed my husband's mind on sweet potatoes. 

      'Course, I was raised to at least try all the foods, even if I thought I didn't like one.  We were also expected to eat an age-appropriate amount, if not actually finish the plate.  We discussed this expectation in raising kids well before marriage, so if he wasn't happy modeling the practice, he could have picked someone else. 😆 

      I mean, if we're going to have a food either of us detest (lima beans, asparagus...), I make sure there are other options on the table to provide nutrition after the realistically single bite. I'm not sadistic, here. More for the one who does like the food!  But, palates do change over time. Maybe one day, I will enjoy (or not gag on) lima beans. Until then, I will subsist on a single bite... every several years... It won't kill me.

      As for organic, well, we do the best we can. I figure if I make stock from conventional bones, it's better than buying non-organic, premade stock. 

      But I agree - organic, local, and I'm just starting to learn about regenerative farming. We've all just got to do the best we can on all fronts, realizing that perfection is likely an unrealistic goal.

      Like 1
  • 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.

    Like 1
    • Yes I can I find a weekly cadence works well for me, but that's mostly because Saturday/Sunday is when I have the time for cooking without trying to fit it in around work/social. So I do the shopping in the morning, then the cooking the rest of the day. 

      I also have a weekly/monthly budget - I have a target weekly amount, but will adjust that based on the previous weeks. And the whole number resets at the beginning of the month. I used to try to roll the monthly amount over, but a) I was never able to catch up from overspending and b) YNAB makes tracking that difficult on purpose.  (I've also adjusted the how much I budget for groceries since starting YNAB and finding out I grossly underestimated my costs, so now I roll over positive amounts more often than have to WAM from other areas.)

      Like 1
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