August Grocery Spending: How Do I Avoid Making So Many Trips to the Supermarket?
My grocery-shopping concern is about the time I spend at the store, not the money.
I’m at the supermarket so often that I am mildly embarrassed when I greet a cashier I just had a conversation with the day before. There are a few reasons for the frequency of my shopping, mostly related to the fact that my boyfriend and I live in New York City:
- In our current apartment, storage is limited to a half-size fridge, half-size freezer, and two cabinets to store dinnerware and any non-refrigerated food
- We’re limited to buying only what we can carry home in a single trip
- The store is a two-minute walk from our apartment, so when we are walking around the neighborhood, it’s just as easy to pop in for one or two things than it is to add those things to the grocery list
- We often make an additional trip to Whole Foods for better deal on a few staples, since some items are much more expensive at our local store (like my favorite yogurt and frozen fruit)
I generally enjoy grocery shopping — it’s even one of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling — so this isn’t a huge problem. But recently the number of trips has seemed excessive, and I’ve wondered about how shopping less often would affect my spending.
Our approach to grocery budgeting
My boyfriend and I are both pretty budget-conscious, usually opting for bagged lunches and dinners at home instead of takeout or restaurants.
Since moving in together five years ago, we have split rent, bills, groceries, and toiletries evenly; he keeps a spreadsheet of all the purchases he and I make that are for both of us, and, based on how things add up, one of us Venmos the other at the end of the month. (It takes about ten minutes per month to update the spreadsheet; it might be slightly more work than paying shared expenses out of a joint account, but both of us like the mental freedom of having separate finances.)
Using the spreadsheet, I pulled together information on our grocery spending over the past year. (Yes, I’ve wondered about our grocery spending for a while. Yes, I’ve always had access to this information on the spreadsheet. Nope, I didn’t look into it until this month.)
As you’ll see below, our spending varies a lot month to month — what happened in March? — probably depending on how much we eat out or whether or not we travel. Overall, though, I feel pretty good about the average monthly cost of our groceries. I feel less good about the average number of shopping trips.
|Grocery spending — last 12 months|
|Month||Total||Per person cost||No. trips|
A close look at August’s grocery spending
I expected our grocery expenses to be a little lower than usual this month, since we were on vacation for a week — while we planned to eat a few meals a day in our Airbnb, we would inevitably eat out more this month than we normally do. Some other dinners with friends and family in early August drove our restaurant budgets up even more: this month, I ate out 14 times, way above my usual average of 4-6 (based on a look at my credit card statements and the spending tracker).
Other than our week away, August grocery shopping was similar to any other month. We tend to eat the same things over and over: oatmeal or eggs for breakfast, some kind of simple dish for lunch (recently it’s been couscous, chickpeas, and tofu), and some kind of chicken, pasta, or quesadillas for dinner.
Here’s a summary of our August grocery spending:
|Grocery spending – Aug 2018|
|Other (e.g., condiments)||$12.16|
|Total (incl. tax)||$333.82|
I also created a more detailed chart of our individual grocery purchases, breaking our purchases down by supermarket trip and specifying how each food item was used. The chart is below; here are some notes to consider as you review it:
- I only tracked food purchases at the grocery store this month, but the monthly totals listed in the first table also include the occasional household item. I don’t have a line-item breakdown for past purchases, so am unable to strip them out of the total at this point.
- In this month’s tracker, I assigned meal categories to each grocery item based on its primary use, but of course some things are used in more than one capacity — Greek yogurt and almond milk go into my overnight oats and also into our smoothies.
- The unit-cost column contains either the cost of a particular item or, in the case of produce, the price per pound.
- I counted coffee as breakfast, rather than a beverage. I think of beverages as things that can be cut from the shopping list if the fridge is too full to accommodate them or if I don’t feel like carrying them home. But coffee will always be on hand.
- This list doesn’t show you who — my boyfriend or me — ate what. Sometimes we eat the same things, sometimes we don’t. We split groceries evenly because it’s easy and it will probably work out fairly in the end: he eats more peanut butter sandwiches than I do, but if a watermelon makes it home with us it’s up to me to eat all seven pounds of it.
|Grocery breakdown – Aug 2018|
|Trip||Item||Unit cost||Total cost||Primary use||How used|
|1)||Coffee beans (13 oz)||$4.99||$4.99||Breakfast||daily|
|Whole Foods||Fage Greek yogurt (35 oz – 2)||$4.99||$9.98||Breakfast||overnight oats 8/6-8/9|
|8/3/2018||Frozen pizza (pepperoni)||$4.99||$4.99||Dinner||dinner 8/3|
|Frozen pizza (veggie)||$3.99||$3.99||Dinner||dinner 8/16|
|Frozen berry medley||$3.79||$11.37||Breakfast||overnight oats 8/6-8/9|
|2)||Milk (36 oz)||$1.25||$1.25||Breakfast||daily|
|Associated||Seltzer (12 cans)||$5.16||$5.16||Beverage||daily|
|8/4/2018||Half & Half (1 qt)||$3.39||$3.39||Breakfast||daily|
|Almond milk (64 oz)||$2.99||$2.99||Lunch||daily|
|Peanut butter (40 oz)||$4.99||$4.99||Lunch||daily|
|Frozen yogurt (1 pt – 2)||$3.49||$6.98||Dessert||1/2 pt for dessert 8/4|
|Blueberries (1 pt)||$1.99||$1.99||Snack||dessert 8/5-8/6|
|Bananas||$0.99||$2.11||Breakfast||overnight oats 8/6-8/9|
|Discount||Nature Valley bars||$3.39||$3.39||Snack||occasional snack|
|4)||Apple Cider Vinegar||$1.29||$1.29||Irregular||daily use; irregular purchase|
|8/5/2018||Chickpeas (16 oz – 2)||$0.75||$1.50||Lunch||lunch 8/6-8/7|
|Pasta||$2.59||$2.59||Dinner||dinner 8/16; leftover|
|Broccoli||$3.74||$3.74||Dinner||dinner 8/10; half spoiled|
|5)||Pasta sauce (2, BOGO)||$2.99||$2.99||Dinner||dinner 8/16; leftover|
|Chickpeas (16 oz – 2)||$0.99||$0.99||Lunch||lunch 8/8-8/10|
|8/11/2018||Salsa (14 oz)||$3.69||$3.69||Irregular|
|Beans (16 oz – 2)||$0.89||$1.78||Dinner|
|Grape tomatoes (1 pt)||$2.00||$2.00||Snack||snacks 8/12-8/15|
|Brown rice noodles||$3.19||$3.19||Lunch|
|Seltzer (12 cans)||$5.16||$5.16||Beverage||daily|
|Half & Half (1 qt)||$3.39||$3.39||Breakfast||daily|
|Milk (36 oz)||$1.25||$1.25||Breakfast||daily|
|Frozen kale||$1.79||$1.79||Breakfast||daily use in eggs|
|Ground turkey (2)||$2.99||$5.98||Dinner||stored; spoiled|
|Target||Yogurt (1 pt – 2)||$3.00||$6.00||Lunch||daily; some leftover|
|8)||Milk (36 oz)||$1.25||$1.25||Breakfast||daily|
|Associated||Black beans (16 oz)||$1.00||$1.00||Lunch||lunch 8/12-8/14|
|8/15/2018||Tofurkey sausage||$5.99||$5.99||Lunch||lunch 8/12-8/14|
|9)||Almond milk ice cream (1 pt)||$4.99||$4.99||Dessert||dessert 8/25|
|Whole Foods||Sandwich bread||$2.99||$2.99||Lunch||sandwiches on vacation|
dinner in Airbnb on vacation
|Kind bars||$3.99||$3.99||Snack||snacks on vacation|
|Pretzels||$2.49||$2.49||Snack||snack on vacation|
|10)||Ground coffee – on closeout||$1.49||$1.49||Breakfast||daily use on vacation|
|Hannaford||Peanut butter (16 oz)||$2.69||$2.69||Lunch||
sandwiches on vacation; daily use of leftovers
|Milk (36 oz)||$2.19||$2.19||Breakfast||daily use on vacation|
|Mozzarella cheese||$2.22||$2.22||Dinner||dinner on vacation|
|Oats||$1.79||$1.79||Breakfast||daily breakfast on vacation|
|Store-brand Cheerios||$2.29||$2.29||Breakfast||snack on trip; daily use after|
|Ice cream (1 qt)||$4.99||$4.99||Dessert||nightly dessert on vacation|
|Ground turkey||$3.99||$3.99||Dinner||dinner on vacation|
|Bananas||$0.39||$1.02||Breakfast||daily breakfast on vacation|
|Avocado||$1.49||$1.49||Breakfast||daily breakfast on vacation|
|Strawberries (16 oz)||$3.49||$3.49||Breakfast||daily breakfast on vacation|
|11)||Water bottles (17 oz – 3)||$0.89||$2.67||Beverage||for hiking on vacation|
|Hannaford||Clif bars (2)||$1.25||$2.50||Snack||for hiking on vacation|
|12)||Cottage cheese (1 pt)||$2.49||$2.49||Breakfast||not yet opened at end of month|
|8/26/2018||Chickpeas (2 – 16 oz)||$0.89||$1.78||Lunch|
|Fage plain Greek yogurt (35 oz)||$7.99||$7.99||Lunch||smoothies|
|Milk (36 oz)||$1.25||$1.25||Breakfast||daily|
|Peaches||$0.99||$1.11||Snack||daily; most spoiled|
|Black beans (16 oz – 2)||$0.89||$1.78||Dinner|
|Cilantro (1 bunch)||$0.99||$0.99||Dinner|
|13)||Frozen berry medley (2)||$3.79||$7.58||Lunch||smoothies 8/27-present|
|Whole Foods||Frozen strawberries (2)||$1.99||$3.98||Lunch||smoothies 8/27-present|
|8/28/2018||Almond milk (64 oz)||$2.99||$2.99||Lunch||daily|
|Fage Greek yogurt (35 oz)||$5.99||$5.99||Lunch||not yet opened at end of month|
|Coffee beans (13 oz)||$4.99||$4.99||Breakfast||daily|
|14)||Frozen spinach||$1.99||$1.99||Breakfast||breakfast 8/27-present|
|Associated||Frozen peppers||$1.79||$1.79||Breakfast||breakfast 8/27-present|
|8/28/2018||Milk(36 oz)||$1.25||$1.25||Breakfast||breakfast 8/27-present|
|Cholula hot sauce||$3.89||$3.89||Irregular||—|
|Half & Half (1 qt)||$3.39||$3.39||Breakfast||breakfast 8/27-present|
|Seltzer (12 cans)||$5.16||$5.16||Beverage||not yet opened at end of month|
|Associated||Milk||$1.25||$1.25||Breakfast||not yet opened at end of month|
|8/30/2018||Eggs (12)||$1.50||$1.50||Breakfast||breakfast 8/31-present|
|Sweet potatoes||$0.99||$1.01||Dinner||dinner 8/30-8/31|
|Brussel sprouts||$3.99||$1.88||Dinner||dinner 8/30-8/31|
|Per person total||$166.91|
All in all, I am unsurprised by our spending total, and pleased that fewer things went to waste than I anticipated. I don’t think we need to alter our budgets in any meaningful way. There are, of course, a few places I could cut spending:
- Seltzer. I probably don’t need to spend $15/month on it. (But I’ll probably continue to do so.)
- Sale items I don’t need. I bought the ground turkey that we occasionally eat because it was at its sell-by date and marked down to $1.99. We didn’t have a plan for it, so froze it; when we thawed it a few weeks later, eating it didn’t seem like a good idea.
- Extra items when I only need one. Given my relative lack of space and frequent trips to the grocery store, I could stop buying two almond milks when I only need one, and it would probably reduce waste and save me money in the long run.
The main aspect of my grocery shopping I expect to pay more attention to is, as discussed, the number of times I go to the store. I’m not sure how I’ll do this, or if it will save me money, but it may save me the embarrassment at the check-out line.
How many trips to the store do other Billfolders make in an average month?
Ally G (not her real name) works in research in New York City.
This piece is part of The Billfold’s grocery budget series.
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