Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April Grocery Challenge Review

OK folks, so my little food stamp grocery challenge continues. This is month two of a long term challenge where I'm seeing how difficult it would be to keep my spending down to the level of the average SNAP benefit in my area, which works out to $137/month.

So the April totals are in...

I spent $137.78! Yes!

OK, so I haven't decided if I should quibble about the $.78 or not, but any way you slice it, I did better than last month when I spent $197.

I finally came up with a price book that seems to be working for me. Many thanks to Debbie for giving me the idea. It's basically just a bunch of scraps of paper held together with a binder clip with colored paper clips marking the start of each section.

It's small enough to fit in my back pocket so I can easily bring it with me, it's easy to add more pages when I need to, and it has the added benefit of being free!

I fear I'm not terribly consistent about writing everything down, but I'm mostly just aiming to write down best prices instead of every price... and I'm getting MUCH better at recognizing a good deal when I see one!

I also made a great discovery. Sprouts, which is the store with some of the best prices on produce, has a double deal day on Wednesdays. It's not that they double the discounts or anything, but the sale prices for the previous and upcoming weeks are both in effect.

This is a great development since there isn't a Sprouts in my neighborhood, so it means I can go less frequently but still take advantage of the sale prices. But wait... it gets better...

I also discovered that they do have a store that's closer to me than the ones I knew about, plus, it's very close to the Costco. Soooo... if I play my cards right, I can combine trips and go only once or twice a month and still take advantage of the great deals!

Aside from getting a better idea of what is and isn't a good deal, I'm really learning a great deal about my shopping and eating habits.

Trying to limit my shopping to the loss leaders and other great sales has helped me to be a bit more creative in the kitchen. It's been fun and refreshing to get out of some of my food ruts. Many thanks to Judy for the wonderful suggestion of chicken cacciatore... it totally rocked!

But I've also discovered that I have a bit of a hoarding mentality when it comes to food. I'm not exactly sure where this comes from... maybe it's a lingering compulsion from the eating disorder of my youth, or anxiety leftover from the days of being extremely broke. But I seem to have this strange urge buy WAY more than I need.

While I did do a better job of not buying ridiculous quantities of things unless it was a great deal - chicken for $0.59/lb, cream cheese at $1/package, pasta at $0.69/lb... I still found that I had this inexplicable guilt about eating things that I'd recently purchased... like it's somehow wasteful or gluttonous to eat something that I just bought.

Hmmm... should I be saving it for the zombie apocalypse or something?

I'm not quite sure what that's all about, so to help myself get over it, instead of "saving" the incredibly cheap frozen peaches, blueberries and pineapple that I got at, of all places the Dollar Tree, I made a delicious fruit salad. I must say it was quite yummy!

So, I think my goals for the month of May are gonna be to do less stocking up - unless, of course, there's a really, REALLY good deal, to try to eat through some of the reserves from the freezer and pantry, and to thoroughly enjoy and use the things that I do buy right away!

If you'd like some inspiration on the freezer/pantry front, go check out Lili's April grocery post. Holy Moly! She fed a family of 5 on $22.54!!! Maybe I'll get there someday...

So how about you? Anybody else have any great grocery revelations this month?


  1. Wow! You did really great! And what a fantastic thing to find out about Sprouts, one closer to Costco and their overlap in the ad sales. Shopping less is always a win for me.

    I did discover that I am indeed a food hoarder. And I have this "save this for something special" compulsion. And well, you know what I ended up with, a freezer so full the drawer wouldn't close all the way. This last month I really learned to let go of the "saving for special occasions" mentality. After all, it's just food, and there will be more.

    1. "...there will be more." I have to keep reminding myself of this fact!

      I think this is gonna end up being "the month of the squash" because I've got a TON of it in the basement! And I really, REALLY need to get that freezer defrosted before the garden starts to produce...

      Of course, the way things are going this year, that may not be a problem. They're saying we're due for another 4-8 inches of snow overnight! It's crazy! We had over 20 inches in April and now more's on the way. At least I haven't planted any of the cold intolerant stuff yet!

  2. Congratulations :) I am also a food hoarder - so in May I'm going to concentrate on eating up what I have. It will also help to balance out how much I spent in April!

    I wish we had a Costco - they do exist in Australia but the closest one is a 10 hour drive away!

    1. 10 hours... yikes! I think the food would have to be free to make up for the cost of the gasoline! Don't feel too bad though, their prices aren't really that great, especially if you cook like we do. The vast majority of what they have is name brand packaged food. I don't think I'd do it if I had to pay for the membership myself, but my parents put me on theirs so I go every now and then. They do have good prices on butter, eggs and cheese, but not spectacular prices.

      Anyhow... here's to cleaning out the pantry!

    2. I'm a big Costco fan. I don't buy food there because it's the cheapest, but because the quality is so good and everything is guaranteed.

      But, I have found that my membership in Costco has more than paid for itself with the purchase of other necessities (eyeglasses, medicines) and regular purchases (stellar skin care products).

      Certain food things are a deal though -- especially quinoa, organic carrots, cheese...

    3. Interesting... I do find that I tend to buy non-food things more often than food at Costco. Batteries, furnace filters, water filters, etc.

      I think it totally depends on what sorts of things you buy and use. Plus, I'm sure it's a better deal if you're shopping for more than one person!

  3. I too tend not to eat what's in the freezer--saving it just in case. However, I've been working on that. I'm trying to eat things before they get freezer burn, etc. While things will keep a long time in the freezer, they do deteriorate in quality over time. This has been one of the practices I have been working on since I started participating in Food Waste Friday.

    You're doing great with your grocery cost lowering exercise. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I'm thinking that maybe I need some sort of inventory sheet for the freezers, because it's so, SOOOO easy for stuff to just get lost in there, especially when you're an out of sight out of mind person like I am!

  4. No revelations except: it looks like you have figured out a tab system using multi-colored paper clips to help you go right to the type of food you're looking for. I'm going to try that.

    Oh, also, I found a couple of things that are cheaper at Puritan's Pride than where I usually get them.

    Oh, I just walked by a dollar store today and forgot to check out frozen fruit prices!

    I wonder if the SNAP benefit is use-it-or-lose-it. If so, it would definitely engender a hoard mentality. If you could live mostly off what's already in your pantry and fridge one month, you'd still want to spend that money in case later you didn't qualify even though you still felt poor, or the government reduced the benefit or something.

    1. looks likey they can get rolled over: http://www.themonitor.com/news/local/article_5432c4c6-8859-11e2-b86e-001a4bcf6878.html

      But with such a small amount of money, I can totally understand why the deprivation via fear of running out could make anyone want to hoard food, ED or not. Which I would think just makes it that much harder for anyone struggling with those issues on top of being in poverty.

    2. Thanks for the research!

      I totally think that fear of not having food plays into an eating disorder BIG time! Mine really spiraled out of control in college, and while there were a number of factors, one big one was having to eat in the dining halls at certain hours, and not being allowed to bring food out of the dining hall.

      I'm not sure how big of a deal it was for people who had money, because they could just order pizza or go to the student union for a snack if they wanted, but that wasn't an option for me. So I developed this crazy fear of being hungry, and that really made everything sooooo much worse.

      I wonder if anyone's ever done a study on eating disorders among the poor. Sounds like a fascinating research topic to me! :-)

    3. Hi Debbie,

      The colored paper clips make it much easier to find things quickly, plus they're also easy to move around - but thanks for the idea of dividing it out into sections because that makes a big difference in terms of being able to find things quickly.

      And the Dollar Tree stores have been quite surprising in terms of prices on a few things. The frozen fruit is MUCH cheaper than at the grocery store, and they have good prices on popcorn, nuts and a few other things that I buy. Who knew?

    4. I don't have an eating disorder (well, maybe stress eating), but I definitely find it easier to eat a reasonable amount at restaurants if I bring a take-home container. Then I still get to have it all even if I don't eat it right then, plus I don't feel bad about all the styrofoam or whatever. If it's extremely tempting (like enchiladas), I may have to put half in the container right away before I start eating.

      I would read an article on eating disorders in the poor.

      I'm buying more and more stuff organic, which is unlikely to be at dollar stores, but I should still check it out. And last I heard, all popcorn is still GMO-free, so that could be on my list from a dollar store. And I'll have to research nuts again--I heard that peanuts are much better organic, but I'm not sure about tree nuts.

    5. Sorry if my responses got confusing there... I kinda forgot that Blogger doesn't allow more than one level of nested responses.

      Anyhow, the only nuts I can eat are peanuts and cashews, tree nuts are on the no-no list for me. But certainly, I don't think you're gonna find anything organic at the Dollar Tree! :-)

  5. $137 a month, wow! I'm looking forward to being ready in the future to do a challenge like this. You hit on a great point, that this had the potential to be an ED trigger in one way or another so I don't think I'm ready yet. But I do need to pare down our eating out, at least. In March we spent $300 on groceries and $300 on eating out! Ouch!

    1. Well, for two people, $300 isn't really that much for groceries, sounds like you're already doing pretty well. And the eating out... well, I think you have to decide if that's part of the food budget or entertainment. I used to love, love, LOVE to eat out, but the food allergies took care of that one for me! Sigh.

      Anyhow, if I were you I wouldn't worry too much about trying to reduce your food spending at this point. I think you've got bigger fish to fry, and what's most important is for you to work on your healing. I mean, consider the cost of a few dinners out vs. xyz more years of therapy or another treatment program! :-)

  6. Congrats! You done good! (this is the anti-grammar version of praise).

    I noticed my hoarding tendencies about a year ago--you're not gonna see me on a tv program or anything, but really, we can't eat through THAT many boxes of pasta THAT quickly. I've gotten better and our grocery budget has come down, oh, maybe $10-20/month or so. Just being aware of these little quirks helps you to change them.

    1. Ha! I'm all for anti-grammar!

      I have such mixed feelings on the stockpiling of food. I always kept a backlog, but after watching what happened to the people of New Orleans during hurricane Katrina, I sorta went a little crazy with it... hurricanes are such a big problem here in Denver, don't you know! :-)

      But seriously, I'm trying to do a better job of striking a balance. I mean it's not an infrequent occurrence here to get a big snowstorm (like, ahem, today) and I can't see myself ever becoming one of those people who religiously empties their fridge each week... I think that would make me feel forced into a shopping/cooking schedule, and I wouldn't like it. Plus, you never know... I think it's prudent to have some food reserves on hand.

      BUT... I'm striving to be more reasonable in my stockpiling, and not to keep things for more than say 6 months! :-)

    2. One thing that helps me not go overboard with the stockpiling is watching things get destroyed. I had a couple of bad moth invasions. Even paper towels can go bad if there are any holes in the packaging and then something spills or floods. The other thing is noticing how often I change my mind about what kind of thing I want to consume--when I switch to organic or whole-grained or recycled or find something that's yummier, easier to work with, or a better taste/healthiness compromise.

    3. Oh yea! Been there, done that! I had to toss two huge boxes of canned goods that went bad after my little Katrina meltdown, and I'm sure I'll find more when I get to the bottom of the freezer.

      I've never had a moth infestation, but that sounds horrible! I did, however have a toilet paper disaster. I had two big packages of TP stored under the sink in the spare bathroom. When the kittens adopted me I kept them in that bathroom for the first month or so, and to keep them out of trouble I decided to screw that cabinet shut so they couldn't get in there. Then I totally forgot about it...

      Fast forward a year or two and a HORRIBLE smell started coming from that bathroom. I thought it was sewer gas, and was even ready to replace the toilet down there. Finally, one day I decided that I needed that toilet paper, and when I took the screw off and opened the cabinet I found the source of the smell! Apparently the pipe under the sink had leaked and the TP was completely drenched and black with mold! OY! That'll learn me!

  7. The snap challenge sounds like a good idea. I'll have to look it up. I mostly hoard pet food. If I find it on sale I will clean it out. I also have a problem with rice. I love it so much that I have 3 buckets of it. I should work on that. I love how informative and fun your posts are!

    1. Oh... you saw my cat food pantry pictures a few posts back didn't you? And none of that stuff was even on sale!

      Anyhow, most people who do a SNAP challenge just do it for one week, but since I just don't shop/cook that way, it didn't make any sense to me to try doing it that way. I was much more interested in seeing if I could bring my "normal" level of food spending down without sacrificing in terms of health and nutrition.

      So far it's been a fun and eye opening experiment, and not nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be!

      Anyhow, if you're interested in trying it, this link lists the average benefit per person per state:

  8. You did great! I kept a price book for a few months until I learned our average local prices and could reliably spot a deal. I have stopped stocking up on most things, but sometimes it's counterproductive if you know you will be using it up anyway!

    1. I'm trying to limit my stocking up to things that I use regularly and KNOW I will use up without having to make it into a project. Trust me, I am NEVER again buying a 25 pound bag of pinto beans! :-)

  9. I really need to do this challenge - I spend a huge amount on food every month, & I waste too much. I got laid off, but can last quite awhile without a job if I can further reduce my spending. I'm sure I could last at least a month without grocery shopping (not counting cat food), so that will be my goal for May. I will definitely check out Dollar Tree, as I notice that frozen fruit is getting very expensive, & I use a lot of it.

    1. I'm so sorry you got laid off, that must be a bummer. Although, CatMan says things like that are a reason for celebration because as he puts it: There are two things that will ruin your life, work and school!

      I doubt I'll make it the entire month without shopping. I'm sure I'll need to pick up some eggs and other fresh stuff. But I'm gonna do my best to keep it low.

      I'm actually quite surprised that this challenge hasn't been more difficult. It does require a bunch of small shopping trips to a variety of different stores though. I'm fortunate that I've got 6 different grocery stores within easy walking/biking distance so I'm sort of using it as an excuse to get better at running errands on foot or bike. I think if you had to drive all over town to hit a bunch of sales it would be a different story.

      Anyhow, I spent the day yesterday cooking beans and rice, making chicken stock, and, of course, cooking squash. I think squash is gonna be my staple this month since I've GOT to use it up!

      Let me know how it goes! I'm actually finding this whole little thing a bit empowering.

    2. I was not unhappy to leave that job! Learning to be frugal is kind of fun and satisfying - and I have too much stuff anyway. It's just as well that I like beans and rice and cooking from scratch. Too bad the cats will not accept any food but Fancy Feast.

    3. Consider yourself lucky! My spoiled fe-lions won't eat anything that's cheaper than about $1.50 per can!


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