Spreadsheets are fun: our food budget

One of the things we’ve had to get real about since having Ellie is our food. I wish I were more of a budget person because I’d love to know where the heck all the money was going before we had to pay for daycare, because MAN it is expensive.  We’ve never really tracked our spending that carefully, just paying bills when they came up and moving money into savings whenever there were chunks leftover (I know, we are financial GENIUSES).

We decided to start tracking all our food purchases at the beginning of January.  We didn’t have a target number in mind, it was more just a loose plan to collect receipts, enter them into a spreadsheet, and see if there was anything we could cut back on.
food list

Mike was awesome about setting up the spreadsheet in nice little categories (price, food type, store) so when I say “we’re tracking our food spending” I pretty much mean he’s doing all the dirty work.

A few things jump out at you when it’s all laid out like that.  One, we really like our cheese and butter.  Two, AVOID the “make your own six pack” shelf at Whole Foods ($21 dollar six pack? oopsie).  Three, We spend a TON on produce.  A TON.  I’ve definitely started noticing that some things are cheaper at Whole Foods while others are a better deal at the Farmers Market.  We try to buy only organic produce (and local as much as we can) but it is not cheap!

Now, how can we cut costs?

– I’ve cut way back on tofu and processed soy in our meals and haven’t really used any in the last couple weeks.  We still have a bunch of big jars of dried beans that I’ve been working through, and that definitely means less money spent.

– We stopped buying dairy milk.  The kind we bought came in glass and you return the bottle to be refilled (no waste except for the tiny top, yay) which is awesome, but we realized that Ellie doesn’t drink milk and we don’t really use it.  We started making our own almond milk instead because it’s SUPER quick and seems to be pretty cost effective, plus that cuts back on packaging a lot.

– I started baking our bread.  It’s really not that time-intensive to bake two loaves of whole wheat bread on Sunday afternoon, and it costs a fraction of the cost of buying it, plus no plastic is involved!

– Mike is now brewing our beer.  Still not sure whether this is going to end up saving us money, but it’s a hobby he loves and so far, the results have been fantastic.  The start-up costs weren’t exactly zero, but our alcohol spending has gone way down now that we have a whole bunch of home brew ready to drink.

– I’m being way more careful about using up all our produce.  I go a little crazy buying greens sometimes, and they don’t always get eaten.  But at $2.49 for a bunch of organic chard, I’m making sure to put extra greens in my morning smoothies when they start to look a little limp.

– We’re prepping WAY more food.  It’s amazing how much more likely we are to use produce when it’s already washed.  I’m trying to get in the habit of washing everything as soon as it comes in the door, before going into the fridge.  I’ve also started making big batches of dried beans and freezing them so I can use them more quickly than having to wait for them to soak and cook (plus dried beans are cheaper and have lest waste than cans!)


Tonight I made a batch of these bean burgers to put in the freezer, so now we have those and tamales in case we need last minute dinners (why didn’t I do any of this when I was pregnant with Ellie? Who starts stocking the freezer when they have a one year old?)

– I’ve cut back on baking.  I don’t NEED to have cookies lying around, and when I bake cookies, I eat way more dough than I should.  Plus, buying all that chocolate adds up.  I do still have all that butter in the freezer though…

One of the things I’m not willing to do is switch to non-organics or buy things that have more packaging.  I’m trying to keep our food spending in check, but I’m also really concerned about waste.  The less plastic that comes into this house, the better, so I’m doing everything I can to make sure that what I buy doesn’t come with any.

And now for the obligatory end of the post question: Do you keep a spreadsheet of your groceries? Any food budget tips?


20 Responses to “Spreadsheets are fun: our food budget”

  1. 1 Naomi January 29, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    This is a great idea! I feel like all my money goes to the grocery stores. I’m going to give it a try in February and see where things go.

  2. 2 branny January 30, 2013 at 3:14 am

    I love posts like these. Naturally these data vary throughout the nation but maybe my tips will help somebody.

    1) I get my eggs from the high school where I teach. You don’t have to teach at the high school to get the eggs, but $1.50 for free range, organic eggs can’t be beat. Plus the agriculture students love on the chickens every day.

    2) I make my own bread and when it gets stale, I make my own bread crumbs.

    3) I do buy from COSTCO even though we’re a two person household. Butter freezes wonderfully, I’ve found.

    $) buy in season!

  3. 3 Stacy January 30, 2013 at 7:16 am

    We do a weekly menu in our house. Everyone picks what they’re going to make by the night before shopping day, the ingredients go on the shopping list (if they’re not already here in the house), and then we only buy what’s on the list.

    Yes, there are some incidentals that have to be added while at the store (“Man, I forgot to put XX on the list.” quickly scribbles it on), but for the most part we stick to budget.

    I’ll have to say, this probably works because we have 5 adults living on one house, so everyone picks a night to cook, with two people getting double duty, and I’m not sure how it would work in another household.

    Also, we bake our own bread here as well. It just tastes better than the store bought stuff. And I’ll second the previous statement that butter freezes wonderfully. So does bread. We tend to bake four loaves at a time and freeze them till they’re needed. But we got through a -lot- of bread here.

    And that’s my 2 pence.

  4. 4 Cate January 30, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Branny – I’m so jealous of your egg source! Our local high school has no chickens 😦 Someday I hope to have our own hens, but we’ll see if/when that ever happens!

    Stacy – That’s an awesome cooking rotation set up! I should start making extra bread and freezing in case the weekends get busy

  5. 5 AmandaE January 30, 2013 at 7:52 am

    I don’t have a spreadsheet but I do have a weekly food budget that I’m very strict about. I write out our menu on Saturday and try to pick meals that build on each other in order to prevent waste, and end the meal with fridge clean-out dinners like curry and pizza. I’ve also started going to the local Asian market – much better deals on grains and dried beans as well as larger sizes which cuts down on trips.
    Also big on making my own bread, we got a bread machine a few years ago and it gets used at least twice a week. The smell of fresh baked bread is a great incentive to get out of bed! Have also started making my own pasta, which I then dry for future use. I got the flour in bulk so each batch comes out to around $0.25 a pound – much cheaper (and healthier) than the store!
    Our big expense is orange juice, my husband drinks about a gallon a week. We have tried doing fresh orange juice but that wound up being more expensive.

  6. 6 Amber January 30, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I don’t keep track of our budget that well, however I do watch what we spend.

    I am courious about how you prep and freeze dried beans!

    • 7 Cate January 30, 2013 at 8:23 am

      I soak them all day while I’m at work, then drain them and cook in a few inches of water until tender (1 1/2 – 2 hours). Then I just ladle about 2 cups of liquid + beans into freezer containers so each is equivalent to about 1 can.

  7. 8 Michelle January 30, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Thank you for this post! We are having a baby in May and have already discussed that the one area we need to cut back on is our food spending. Not everyone has this luxury, but we save a ton on produce in the summer from my in-laws garden. Also, its a pain, but we grow our own herbs and dry them and mix them to use for the year. Oh, and we process tomatoes for sauce, which tastes better, is better for you, and is delicious.

  8. 9 Emily Malone January 30, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Funny – I’m planning a similar post soon, as we’ve just started tracking all our spending too. Food is definitely an area that we have to watch closely each month, or else it gets OUT of control.

    One thought — have you considered joining a CSA? We have friends that used to live in SF and they raaaave about how amazing the CSA’s there were. I’d imagine some of them stretch into the Oakland-ish areas, and I’m sure there are others based closer to you. We do one here – all organic, $39/week and we get a TON of food! I love it! Also – zero waste. We put a reusable tub out on our porch each week.

    Will you consider sharing your bread recipe? I’m intrigued. We buy a lot of bread, and I wonder if I should give it a try at home!

  9. 10 Kate January 30, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    We should probably get better about food spending too. I need to take better advantage of farmer’s markets again. I’ve gotten out of the habit and it means spending more on produce.

  10. 11 Cathryn January 31, 2013 at 12:13 am

    I keep coming back to this post and thinking about our food spend. We spend too much. I don’t regret spending any money on fruit & veg, we eat LOADS, but I know we waste some at the end of every week. And I’m going to start baking bread too when I get back from the UK. There’s too much rubbish in it!
    I DO want to cook beans etc but it takes SO long…I’m considering a pressure cooker to do it quickly.

  11. 12 Cate January 31, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Emily – Thanks for the reminder! We talked about joining a CSA before but kind of forgot about it. I definitely need to check that out. I’m also working on the bread recipe. I use one from a cookbook but I’m not 100% happy with it, but if I can tweak it a little and make it better, I will post it!

    Cathryn- I hear you on the beans. They do take forever! I sometimes do them in the slow cooker while I’m at work so I don’t have to think about them, but if I end up running late, I come home to very mushy beans, which I don’t love. I’d definitely be interested in looking into a pressure cooker!

  12. 13 Angela January 31, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I don’t have any great food budgeting tips, but you are so right about many of these things — they are easy, not super time-intensive, and save money. I also definitely go over board with the produce & end up throwing stuff out, so I need to figure out things I can do with it when it’s on its last legs.

    Making big batches of beans is something I definitely want to start doing — we have so many, and we never eat them because we don’t think about it ahead of time & all the washing & soaking is off-putting.

    Homemade almond milk??? I buy so much of this stuff. I will have to look into this!

  13. 14 lauren February 1, 2013 at 8:23 am

    we keep a spreadsheet as well. We have a certain amount we allot each month for gas, grocery, and misc. If we go over in one of the categories, we can use some from the other allotments – but our goal is to not go over our total allotment each month. January’s totals came in $75 under our monthly total allotment!

    We shop locally at the farmer’s market. I also have a co-worker with chickens, so I buy them for $2/dozen. I also freeze any item i can that I know we won’t use before it goes bad (bread, etc) – it’s easy to pull it out & make an overnight french toast with it.

  14. 15 Page February 5, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    So I have to ask a question that I feel everyone wants to know, but no one really knows: what does the average, California household who eats as you describe above spend per month in food? Josh and I have this talk all the time because he’s still stuck in “I eat top ramen” budgets and I’m coming from somewhere else. ACK!

    • 16 Cate February 6, 2013 at 7:49 am

      I would LOVE to know that. For two people I’d guess the average is in the $500-700 range, but I’m not sure if that’s totally accurate.

  15. 17 Katie February 7, 2013 at 9:14 am

    So do you enter all of your expenses manually into the spreadsheet, or is there some program you used? We keep a loose budget of our grocery expenses, but I think this is a good idea to see exactly where we are spending our food money. But it also seems like a lot of work. 🙂

  16. 19 Cathryn February 8, 2013 at 10:04 am

    If it helps, we spend about $150 per week for 2 adults and a toddler. It’s a lot but it’s 70% fruit & veg and they’re not cheap. I don’t begrudge spending money on food in order to eat well.

  1. 1 How I Successfully Achieved My January Goals…and new goals for February Trackback on January 31, 2013 at 8:26 am

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