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.
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.