Grocery Challenge- Week 1 Update

In a previous post, I talked about my monthly ‘life challenges’ where I focus on one area of my life each month. For the month of April, I am focused on trimming my grocery budget from $140/week to $100/week.

Before I get to how I did this week, I want to highlight what I learned first, then the details.

Here were the behavioural changes I started to notice:

  • I started adding the cost of each item going into my cart. I didn’t carry a calculator, but I would round up the item to the nearest dollar and add it to the running total I kept in my head. As the amounts started to increase a few things happened:
    • I became more aware of what I was putting in my cart and whether there were an cheaper substitutes. Brand loyalty was not as important as the bottom line, which allowed me to discover cost effective options for eggs, milk and salad dressing
    • I actually stuck to my grocery list. I carry a list all the time when I go grocery shopping, but at times I find myself getting everything on the list and a little extra, especially when my husband joins me. Kitchen supplies, fancy desserts, different spices to try out. This time, nothing that was not on the list got into my cart. If anything, there were a few items that I decided to not get as they would put me over budget and add little incremental value (see list).
  • I became aware of which grocery stores sold which items for less. For example: Shoppers Drugmart sells eggs $1 cheaper than other stores (weird I know), ground beef and most meats are cheaper at Walmart than Superstore (by a few cents to more than $4).
  • Red peppers are significantly more expensive than green and yellow peppers and Superstore sells their red peppers for a ridicously high price ($3.87/each compared to $1.67 at Walmart).
  • I was excited about meal planning as I knew I needed to make this food last for at least 6 days before the next grocery shopping run.
  • I became aware of how much money we are letting slip through our fingers by not bringing in our bottles and containers to the bottle depot for a refund.
  • I also noticed one brand of yogurt we purchased not only charged us $0.32 in ‘container recycling fee’, but an additional $0.80 as a deposit refund fee we never went to redeem.

With a goal of not spending more than $100/week, I actually spent $114.29 this week, going over by $14.29 but still below our budgeted amount of $140/week. I got a majority of my grocery items from Walmart, but opted to get my fruits from Safeway because they are fresh.

These were the steps I took to trim my budget:

  • Implement a meal plan for the week: Before I knew what I needed to buy, I had to figure out what I wanted us to eat for the upcoming week. Meal planning is not only beneficial for time management, it also helps you stay on budget. I tried to structure my meal plan so that:
    1. There was a balanced diet and food from all 5 food groups. I am not a nutrionist, but I tried to make sure that I have foods that provided protein, carbs, some fats, vitamins, fibre etc.
    2. I used some grocery items multiple times. I bought two large packs of chicken thighs from Walmart. They were originally going for $10, but some were 30% off because they were expiring in 2 days, so I grabbed 2 for $7/each. I also got 2 packs of extra lean ground beef.
    3. I used dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. Some nights I would use the leftover from the previous night to pack for lunch the following day.
Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
Breakfast omelette with turkey bacon & juice cereal with banana or strawberry topping and tea omelette with turkey bacon &  juice Bagel with phillie or jam and tea pancakes with tea and juice omelette with turkey bacon &  juice
Lunch chicken thighs, half a baked potato, yogurt & granola bar tortilla wrap with lentils and ground beef; yogurt & granola bar chicken thighs, half a baked potato, yogurt & granola bar

 

tuna sandwich, yogurt and granola bar tortilla wrap with lentils and ground beef; yogurt & granola bar jasmine rice, beans and chicken
Dinner jasmine rice, lentils and tilapia chicken thighs, half a baked potato and salad jasmine rice, lentils and tilapia pasta with ground beef and Caesar salad jasmine rice, beans and chicken pasta with chicken and Caesar salad

 

  • Make a grocery list based on the meal plan. Now that I had a meal plan in place, it became easier to create my grocery list. Writing out your meal plan, and then making the list is beneficial because you can:
    1. Reduce spoiling of food. If you develop a grocery list without knowing what you will use all of the items for beforehand, there is a higher chance more food will be thrown out by the end of 1-2 weeks. This is especially true if you buy an excess of fruits, vegetables and breads.
    2. Avoid buying foods items just because they are on sale. If you like saving money (like me), you may be tempted to browse online, or check the flyers for coupons and discounts on groceries for the week. Avoid doing this before creating your meal plan. I will explain the reasons for this a little later on this post.
  • Write out your grocery list. I quickly wrote out my grocery list on Excel based on my meal plan and then searched online to see how much each item would cost. I did this to make sure that I stayed within budget and to confirm that my meal plan was realistic. If it wasn’t, it would be easy at this point to substitute certain food items on my meal plan for less expensive alternatives and update my grocery list accordingly.
Name Actual cost
eggs (2) $6.06
orange juice $5.77
bottle refund $0.10
apple juice $3.97
container recycling fee $0.12
bottle refund $0.25
turkey bacon $4.97
green pepper $1.00
red pepper $1.39
yellow pepper $0.00
bananas $4.53
strawberries $2.97
pancake mix $0.00
millk $2.00
bottle refund $0.10
cream $2.97
container recycling fee $0.12
bottle refund $0.10
chicken thighs $15.00
red potatoes $1.46
granola bars $0.00
yogurt $4.47
container recycling fee $0.32
bottle refund $0.80
ground beef $14.00
tortilla wraps $4.07
bagels $4.99
phillie/jam $0.00
lettuce $2.98
salad dressing $2.47
crouttons $2.29
white onions $0.91
fish fillet (talapia) $0.00
paper towel $0.00
mushrooms $1.27
cleaning sponge $3.97
Proscecco $11.89
EHC $0.09
Deposit $0.10
green, red & yellow pepper combo $5.99
Taxes $0.80
Grand total $114.29

Bottle refund total: $1.45

  • Check online and in your mail for flyers and deals. Once I knew the items I wanted to buy, I browsed online for coupons and deals and looked through flyers. I found that browsing for deals after creating my grocery list was beneficial because:
    1. It cut my couponing review time by more than half. Because I knew exactly what I was looking for, I can skip through lots of pages quickly.
    2. It helped me to stay on budget and avoid buying items just because they are on sale. There are certain instances where I would spend more because there was a deal that I just can’t pass up, but I find this is rare for groceries. Many times, sales and deals on grocery items happen weekly, the only difference is which grocery store is offering the deal. I try and avoid feeling pressured to grab more than I need when shopping for groceries. This does not include household supplies like toiletries.
  • Go shopping with your list and keep a mental tally. There are benefits to this which I mentioned at the beginning of the post. After keeping a mental tally for some time, it became second nature.
  • Review your receipts at home. Whether you are doing a grocery challenge, or you just want to know how much you spend on groceries, it is important to review your receipts afterwards. Regularly reviewing your receipts will help you determine where you might be overspending on your groceries and give you an idea when the general cost of food is going up.
  • Use the weekend to cook your meals in advance. Using the weekend (or whenever you have time off) is a great time to get a lot of the bulk and time consuming meal preparation out of the way. Between work, family life and your personal goals, time becomes limited. To speed up the time needed to tend to the cooking:
  1. Implement crock pot meals in your recipes so you can do something else as your food cooks.
  2. Prep the fruits and vegetables that you’ll need for the meals you will cook.
  3. Make sure your kitchen is not cluttered and you have plenty of counter space. Wash and put away any dishes before you begin.
  4. Focus on cooking and nothing else. In the past, I use to have motivational podcasts, audio books or the television going in the background as I cook. I found as useful as this was, it also divided my attention, taking longer for me to finish cooking. With ALL areas of my life, I am implementing a new approach of focusing on one activity at a time, doing it with a focused mind, quickly but well. This frees up time, which is the most important asset I (we) have.

Was I dissapointed that I didn’t reach the $100/week goal this week?

Not at all. Actually, given that we live in Calgary, Alberta I am pleasantly surprised to that I was able to feed 2 grown adults on just over $100 including meats, fruits and vegetables. As most stores will sell some items cheaper than others, this week helped me realize which items those are.

It is also helping me realize that maybe a $140/week budget is not too much as I had thought previously wrongfully comparing Ontario prices with Alberta. However, we will see at the end of the month. I have unused grocery products from this week that I will use for week 2. Not sure if that will mean we might end up spending less in week 2.

Categories: Budgeting

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9 replies

  1. You can get closer to your goal and healthier by avoiding juices. They are heavy on sugar and expensive. You lose track of how much sugar you are ingesting because you lack the fiber that fruits contain. Instead, you can add lemon to water to make it fresher, or have tea. We don’t make rice anymore, instead, we put coliflower on a blender and heat it with butter and salt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Edith. I will probably try and cut back but I am not sure if I can get rid of them all together. When I turned 30 last year I significantly cut back on high carb foods like rice, pasta and potatoes. Mostly because my metabolism started going down. I still buy them for my husband and eat very little. I mostly load up on protein which helps me when working out.I have heard of the cauliflower blend you recommended but I need to try it out sometime. Thanks for the pointers.

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  2. I started to eat carrot french fries recently (home made). It replaced my low-carb bread which is actually quite expensive. The carrots are also so much cheaper. Just chop the carrots into thin slices, spray them with oil and put them in the mini-oven.

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  3. People may not like the multi store visit, but learning the differences in grocery store pricing can save an enormous amount in food expenses. Congrats on a job well done.

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    • Thanks Jordan. I actually don’t like to run around town shopping for groceries by I do have certain grocery stores I prefer for certain things like fruits and vegetables. Unless there is an amazing deal I can’t miss, I am usually okay with shopping between 2 stores to find everything I need.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Pamela! I can implement some of these strategies right away.

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