Saving Money, My 2012 Grocery Bill Snapshot, & 2013 Changes

Money Pic

Thrifty Thinking

As far as saving money goes, 2012 was a disappointing year for the Sarr family.   Though we were able to squirrel away some money, it was nowhere near what we had hoped.  But I can say that we have aimed to be wise stewards of the money with which the Lord has entrusted us, and that really is what is most important.

For me it is really helpful to have some kind of tangible goal to help save more money or get rid of debt.  When we were going after our college debt (you can read here how we paid off the $38,000-$16,000 of it in 16 months), it was addicting and fun to watch the numbers dwindle each week.  Now our only debt is the mortgage, and currently we aren’t aggressively going after it because there is this thought in the back of our minds that we will be moving someday and should have liquid cash.  We have thought about buying about a half to a full acre to have some more room to grow food, run around, and most importantly to have easy access to a house (a house with WAY less stairs, as our current house has a whole flight of stairs to get into the first level and then more stairs to get up to the second level).

As is the case with most people, thrifty people prioritize their spending.  This year (besides our mortgage), our biggest investments have been private Christian education and whole foods.  Yes, whole foods.  We have spent much more on groceries in 2012 than we ever have before.

In the 2012 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Annual Letter, it is cited from World Bank 2009 that the United States, on average, spends less of a percentage of their household expenditures on food than other nations.  For instance, in 2009 the average household in the United States spent $32,051 on household items, and only 6% of that was for food.  To contrast in the same time period, the average household in Kenya spent $541 on household items, and 45% of that was for food.  Food really should take a greater percentage of our household budgets, so I need to continually remind myself that it is okay that I am spending more money on real, whole foods, especially as I am voting for good foods with my money.

All that to say I still do think that our grocery budget is where we have the most flex in the United States.  I was afraid we had spent a lot more per week in 2012 (since buying more organic foods is costly), but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had not gone up as dramatically as I had thought.  Part of that, I know, is from preparing more foods from scratch like granola cereal, yogurt, and broths, and then also buying fewer prepackaged foods like cookies and baking mixes since we are making our own homemade desserts along with waffles and pancakes.

My Grocery Receipts

On a Google spreadsheet I tracked all of our grocery receipts for 10 weeks starting September 2012 and ending in November 2012.  I approach every fall time a bit hesitantly knowing I am going to find out the reality of our grocery spending, as I was thinking it would be about $125/week which is way more than before as you can read below.  Because I typically pay cash for groceries, it’s the only category of our budget about which I really can’t tell you how we are doing…at least until I do this exercise yearly. (I have money going in and out of my wallet weekly with piano lessons and groceries.)  Yes, I do have an idea of what we spend on groceries (and I do keep track of my piano income), but to actually see the numbers is always humbling, and it is just plain eye-opening each year I do it.

Here is how much I spent each week on groceries this fall of 2012 for our family of five…with two adults, a 7 year old, a 5 year old and a 3 year old:

  • Week 1    $110.16
  • Week 2    $90.01
  • Week 3    $68.35
  • Week 4    $89.72
  • Week 5    $121.15
  • Week 6    $96.54
  • Week 7    $158.20
  • Week 8    $170.01
  • Week 9    $59.06
  • Week 10    $112.92

This average is $107.61/week on groceries.  If I treat this as I learned in school throwing out the smallest number and largest number, the average we spend on groceries becomes $105.88/week.

For a quick reference, here is what I averaged spending for groceries per week for the last 6 years, and then what I averaged spending for four weeks.

  • 2007: $ 42/week              =$168 for 4 weeks
  • 2008: $55/week               =$220 for 4 weeks
  • 2009: approx. $67/week=$268 for 4 weeks
  • 2010: $ 74.89/week         =$299.56 for 4 weeks
  • 2011: $84.25/week =$337 for 4 weeks
  • 2012 $105.88/week         =$423.52 for 4 weeks

You can see the change from 2011 to 2012 has definitely been the greatest.   There are a few reasons I can site as to why we are spending more money on groceries.

  • We are feeding growing and bigger kids now.
  • Food prices continue to rise.
  • We are buying almost exclusively whole foods.
  • We are buying more organic food.

Wise people are willing to look, evaluate and make changes if needed.  So in aiming to be wise, here are some changes for this new year:

  • I will be using more dried beans and lentils.  I started doing it last year, but really only ended up doing it a few times.  I want to be more regular with cooking beans, especially black beans, since we use them so often, they are frugal, and provide a great, filling source of protein.
  • I will continue to buy more organic items as we feel like this is good stewardship of our resources.  Oftentimes if I add a new organic item to our grocery list, it is hard to go back to the conventional one.  For instance every time now when I buy conventional strawberries I am disappointed.  I believe that organic strawberries actually taste better than the conventional counterpart and hesitate buying conventional.  Plus, I do see organic prices going down, which is really exciting!  Voting with our dollars is counting!!
  • I count health and beauty aids in our grocery bill, so to cut this bill even more and to get rid of the fifty different chemicals in each of these products I am currently looking into making our own facial scrubs and toothpastes, along with exploring shampoo and conditioner options.  I have only made a facial scrub at this time, but I am very interested in all the rest.
  • I am bringing back more steel cut oats to our menu.  Steel cut oats are such a frugal and healthy way to nourish ourselves in the morning.  I have made them once last week, and once this week, and they last two or three days.  For pennies I can feed the family breakfast.

I am sure there are other changes I will be employing, and/or can’t think of now, but those were just a few.

Do you know much do you spend on groceries per week?  Do you know the things on which you are spending your money?  Do you have a general idea, or do you REALLY know?  Do you track your pennies?  How do you track your budgets?

You can go here to read about my 2011 grocery budget synopsis.

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  1. amy says

    You have an amazing gift of sticktoitiveness! (Cool word, eh?) You have kept a tally for 6 years! Be proud! And that really is a dinky grocery bill, especially considering it includes non-food. And congrats on the debt free-ness!!! Did you go on Dave Ramsey and shout it out?

  2. Liane says

    My grocery bill is attocious! It is something I am working on! But we are debt free! Except for our house

    • says

      Hi Liane,

      That is so awesome about being debt-free besides the mortgage!!

      I like to change one thing at a time, that way it will stick better. I know you eat nourishing food. If you buy a lot of prepared foods, you could pick one to prepare yourself. I oscillate between buying organic baby carrots and organic whole carrots. The whole carrots are about half of the price (at Costco), so I am trying to buy more of those now and be less lazy. I also go back and forth buying organic boxed greens (lettuce, etc.) and buying a head of organic lettuce. I do like the variety in the organic boxed greens, though. I also don’t buy pre-packaged desserts, and I love my desserts. So if I want a sweet (healthier) treat, I have to make it. It really is so, so, SO much cheaper, let’s say for instance, making my own peanut butter cups as opposed to buying Newman’s Own PB cups.

      Persevere! Thanks for sharing, Liane!

  3. says

    Thanks for your blog post, I really enjoyed reading it! I found you on Frugally Sustainable’s Blog hop, and I will follow you on Facebook. I have had a lot more success using dried beans in our diet regularly, by canning them myself. I soak large quantities, partially cooking them (30 minutes), in two huge kettles, then can them in a pressure canner, in pint sized jar, ( you can use quart size jars if the number in your family requires it). The beans are tasty with a buttery texture that I have never found in a commercial canned bean. By canning, I only have to do the soaking overnight and cooking process once for a large quantity of beans, and they are ready at hand without having to remember to soak and cook them when it is time to prepare dinner. If you have no canning experience I suggest you purchase the Ball Blue Book; it will tell you everything you need to know about canning. A pressure cooker also cuts down the time spent on preparing beans. A counter top pressure canner is safe and easy to use. You can go from dried beans to on the table in 30 minutes. The best thing is the cost of making your own canned beans is pennies a jar! I buy my dried beans in bulk, at my coop for $12-15 a 25 lb. bag, but not everyone has a coop available so, Sam’s has dried black beans in a 25 pound bag for under $18, which comes out to 72 cents a pound. 1 lb. of dried beans will make 4-5 pints of cooked beans. If you calculate costs using 4 pints per pound then the cost is 18 cents a pint. Of course there is a little cost for the power spent canning the beans, but it is negligible and less power expended to can 14 pints in a canner, than it would be to cook one pot of beans using a conventional stove top method. If you are interested, I have a blog on homesteading and sustainable, simple living: http://www. or “like” and find the blog on Face Book.

    • says

      Hi Elle, Thanks so much for your tips! I really appreciate you taking the time to share, and thank you for visiting!

  4. says

    Oh my goodness, it sounds like you are still doing pretty great on your grocery budget! Americans generally spend a teeny tiny percentage of their money on food, compared to the rest of the world, so sometimes I think that cutting back in other areas so you can afford to buy really good quality food (like especially organic/pastured fats/meats) is a good idea! But I hear you about wanting to cut out the unnecessary costs.

    I’ve been making beans in my crockpot for a few years now, and it is so fantastically cheap and hassle-free (plus, we can sprout them before we cook to increase digestibility). If you’re interested, check it out:

  5. says

    This is my first time here and I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your post. We used to buy organic but things have changed and I count any food we get as a blessing. I’m not saying you don’t! I’m purely reflecting on my own tight budget. I do remind myself that God looks after his own too :) Will investigate beans and reintroduce chickpeas thanks to your post!

    • says

      Hi Lisa, God has put us all in different positions and in different places in different seasons in our life. I do appreciate your response, as it serves as a great reminder to be thankful and content in every circumstance. I have my pinto beans on my counter now to soak tomorrow to eat on bean burritos Monday!! Thank you for your encouragement and for visiting!

  6. says

    Hi, I found your site from the Barn Hop on and I am beyond excited to try so many of your recipes, especially the dairy free ones! Our grocery budget is $115 a week but I have had a hard time staying in that amount in order to buy the foods I want. And I don’t think my family is at the point to use more beans, they are still adjusting to the changes of a more whole foods diet so I think for the time being we will have to find a way to increase the amount we budget for. I agree with you it is hard to go back to buying conventional things when you know what is on them or in them. Thanks for sharing your budget!

    • says

      Hi Megan, Thanks so much for sharing, too. You are welcome. I hope you enjoy some of the dairy-free recipes. Blessings, and thanks for visiting!!

  7. says

    In my opinion, dried beans taste WAY better than canned. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, another quick way (not as quick as pressure cooking though!) to prepare dried beans without soaking is to cover with cold water and bring to a boil on the stove and boil for 15 minutes. Then, cover them tightly and transfer to a 250 degree oven for 75 minutes. You can cook any type of bean this way (though chickpeas take a bit longer).

    I sometimes cook my dried beans in the crock pot but you really shouldn’t cook kidney beans in the crock pot. Raw kidney beans are toxic and as few as 3 under-cooked kidney beans can make you seriously ill. It is possible to fully cook kidney beans in a crock pot but they are more likely to be under cooked when using that method than others. So, to be save I always cook them using the stove top to oven method I mentioned above.

    • says

      Hi Tracy, Thanks for the tips. I really appreciate you taking the time to share. I am making my first re-fried beans now as I write in the crock-pot. It smells so good. I hope it tastes as good. When I delve into kidney beans, I will take your advice! Thanks for visiting!

  8. says

    Hi, I came over from the Barn Hop and glad I did. We spend about $125 a week. $14 goes to 2 gallons of raw milk, $40 goes to bulk purchases such as meat through a meat co-op and ordering grain online and the rest goes to regular grocery store type shopping. I don’t include our household items in that total – I have another $20 a week for that. We have a larget garden and fruit trees so that really helps keep the budget in check.

    • says

      Hi Angi, You sound like you really have things in check and understand where your grocery money is going. Unfortunately, not everyone does. Thanks for sharing and for visiting!

  9. says

    Love your post! We too are debt-free, except the mortgage, thanks to Dave Ramsey (actually, thanks to God who put Dave Ramsey in our path!). Our meals are planned by the month and I utilize a spreadsheet that tracks every item we use and how many each month. This started 13 years ago when we hit a major financial speed bump and ended-up qualifying for public assistance for two years. Then it was a necessity…now it’s my mission and I love it! I am blessed to feed our family of 5 (two adults-3 kiddos 17-13-12) on $460 a month. We eat a lot of rice, dried beans, and purchase little ‘pre-packaged’ foods. It is a continual process of evaluating the plan each month as prices change. When I find a good deal, I stock-up! If one thing goes up too high, I find a replacement or one of our ‘luxury’ items has to go. Once the grocery envelope is empty…no more until next month!

    • says

      Hi Teresa, It is encouraging to hear that with your older kids (mine are 7, 6 and 3 1/2), that your grocery bill is as low as it is per month! I just made my first refried beans from dried beans yesterday! A smart person always is evaluating; you are wise! Thanks for sharing and for visiting!

  10. Kristy says

    I guess I will have to read through your other posts to find out how exactly you spend so little. What I wouldn’t give to spend only $100 a week! We are a family of 5 and I spend over $1,000 a month to feed us, buying organic produce, grass-fed meats, raw dairy and everything else gluten free for school lunches (digestive disorders in our house). Thanks for the encouragement that there is more I can do to dwindle that horrendous cost.

    • says

      Hi Kristy, We are buying lots of organic, but not 100%, as well as grass-fed. I have only started buying organic chickens this year. It’s quite a price jump, but we believe in it, so we are doing it. The biggest hing for us is to make dishes and snacks from scratch. I know that gluten free flours and the like can cost way more. Do you grind your own flours? I might start there. I have thrown real rice right in the blender to make rice flour. Same with almonds (don’t let it go too long or you’ll have almond butter) and dried chickpeas. We have a Vitamix Blender. I don’t know how it would work in a standard blender. Thanks for sharing and visiting!

  11. says

    I think you did very well, but your ideas for improvement sound good too. After all, every penny you save is one you can spend on something else–including helping others!

    I tracked our grocery spending for an entire year in 2010, not counting non-food items. We were eating pretty well at a pretty low cost, but still it was enlightening to see the amounts and how they varied over the year.

    We definitely save a lot by eating lentils and other beans! I have lots of bean recipes on my site. I love lentils because they are as cheap and healthy as other dry beans but much quicker to cook!

  12. says

    We are really bad about tracking our grocery bills. I need to get better at it. I am also working on getting my expenses down. One important reason I want to get our expenses down, is so my husband will be more accepting of us eating organic, whole foods. He wants us to eat healthy, but he is having trouble swallowing the expense of it. I need to prove we can do it and still keep within our budget. Thanks for the encouragement!


    • says

      Yes, it can be expensive if you eat organically, but it doesn’t have to be consuming. I don’t know if you are wanting to buy things in cans and boxes like soups and macaroni and cheese, but the more you can do from scratch, you will be able to save lots of money!

  13. says

    Great post, Sonja. I always save our receipts with the intent of keeping track of all our spending, but it doesn’t always make it into the budget chart! I constantly try and cut back, but hubby and I are both pretty committed to trying to buy as much local and organic as we can afford, so that hikes the bill up. My hope is that eventually if we keep doing it, it will come full circle, boost the economy, and send a message to the gov’t that subsidizes food producers, making local organic foods more affordable 😉 One day…

    I try to cook pretty much everything we consume, but sometimes you just get a little “beaned” out!

    Thanks so much for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday!

    • says

      Hi Danielle, Thanks for sharing. Yes, I am really hoping that buying the organic items will help make changes since this is the way we cast our votes.

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