Grocery Revelations

February 17th, 2011 by Editor B

Cart on Grass

On the subject of our household finances, a consensus has emerged both in the comments of my recent post and elsewhere: Our grocery bill is out of whack, off the chain, out of control.

I agree. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice it myself earlier. In part, it might be an example of not seeing the tree for the forest. But mostly I attribute it to my general financial stupidity. I can think about numbers all day long, but put a dollar sign in front and I start getting sleepy.

In any case, I’m thankful to all those who brought this to my attention.

I’d reported spending over a grand on groceries over the last thirty days. That seemed a bit anomalous to me, but a weekly tab of $150-200 is not unusual. (Still high, I know. I’m getting to that, so bear with me.) If I had to guess I’d peg our monthly grocery expenses around $800.

But why guess? I checked my bank records and tabulated the numbers for the last six months.

August: $710.68
September: 617.94
October: $911.27
November: $976.98
December: $538.53
January: $1008.06

December was low because we spent a full week away from home, mostly living on my in-laws dime. January is actually under-reported, believe it or not, as I’m pretty sure I unloaded $100 worth of gift cards at the grocery.

The total comes to $4,763.46 for half a year. That averages to $793.91 per month, so it seems my above-cited guess was quite accurate.

I understand the average American household spends 9% on groceries. We are way over that. So, what’s going on? How is it possible that we spend so much on food? Do we have extravagant tastes? I don’t think so. We don’t buy a great deal of convenience foods or expensive meats or big ticket items. Occasionally I have splurged on booze, but I don’t think that accounts for the high receipts in this case. For the most part I don’t buy liquor at the grocery.

I’m tempted to blame the grocery. As a rule we shop at the nearest supermarket, which is the Rouse’s on Carrollton in Mid-City. (The totals above are exclusively from Rouse’s except for one visit to Dorginac’s in October and one visit to Winn-Dixie and another to Dorginac’s in November.) I’ve always felt good about shopping there because they are a regionally-based chain, and I’m generally happy with the quality and selection. But Xy’s often said their prices run high compared to other stores.

So, last Friday, Xy stopped at a Save a Lot on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. She spent $81.82 and I was knocked out by the sheer quantity of groceries she brought home. It looked like 50% more than we’d bring home from a big trip to Rouse’s — at half the price.

We realized there were some key items she missed, so on Sunday we made a joint venture to a Save a Center here in Orleans Parish. That ran us $67.76, but we are now pretty well stocked for the next couple of weeks. I anticipate we’ll only need to get a few perishables over the coming weekend. If I’m right about this, we might expect to spend less than $400 per month on groceries just by changing the store where we buy most of our stuff. Obviously that would be a significant reduction, cutting our monthly grocery expense in half.

Maybe I’m wrong to blame Rouse’s. Maybe our shopping habits are really to blame. If so, shopping at Save a Lot would appear to effectively constrain our behavior. That could solve our budgetary problems in one fell swoop, and we might even learn something in the process.

Unfortunately it seems this is a timely issue. Rising food prices fueled the unrest in Egypt, and that will be hitting home soon. American food prices are expected to rise as much as 29% this year. I hope that doesn’t erase the savings outlined above. I think we’ll be staying active with our community garden.

8 Responses to “Grocery Revelations”

  1. Carol Says:

    I just checked our January expenses for a comparison. We spent $575.00 on groceries and $200 on fast food and restaurants. We shop at Rouses and Sam’s and regularly feed 4 (3 adults/1 teenager). Most weekends we add another adult to that number. We purchase a lot of convenience food, such as rotisserie chickens, breaded chicken strips, Hot Pockets, packaged salads, etc. and we do not have a garden. Three of the four pack a lunch each week day.

  2. jack Says:

    I have friend who makes great money as an editor at WGBH in Boston. His problem is Whole Foods is 3 blocks away and the cheaper food coop is 7 blocks away.

    I told him he needs the exercise. It is so easy to go to the closest store or the one that is locally run or the one on the way home after work but food prices can really eat up your income fast.

    Good luck and stay away from Ramen :)

  3. David Says:

    It just occurred to me that your grocery bill might reflect your booze bill as well, because in NOLA you can buy all your booze at the grocery store. Most people elsewhere would have those expenses automatically separated. So you might not be that much higher.

  4. Editor B Says:

    For the most part I don’t buy liquor at the grocery.

  5. Carol Says:

    The Mid-City Rouses is probably more expensive due to the lack of competition in the area. Some items at the Algiers Rouses are actually cheaper than Walmart. BTW-I buy all my alcohol at Rouses so my January total above probably includes a couple of bottles of wine. :)

  6. chrissieroux Says:

    Man, it’s easy for me to go into super-preachy mode on the whole “how much money should we spend on food” issue, but one sort of simple thing we do is buy less meat. We don’t really buy much meat at all, and I think it does make a dent in our spending.

  7. Garvey Says:

    If your booze bill were several hundred dollars per month, then you’d have a different problem.

  8. barbawit Says:

    Yep groceries are expensive, living by myself I spend $200 to $300 dollars a month at the grocery store. That does include other household items. Paper products, clothes detergent etc. With three people in your house hold I am not surprised at what you are spending. I used to just throw stuff in the cart, these days I find myself comparing prices and passing up items that I might want but think are too expensive. I’m considering clipping coupons, my sister does it religiously and saves lots of money.

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