Our Grocery Purchases Revealed

Several weeks ago Ms. SE wrote a post detailing how our family managed to Eat Healthily on $200 a Month. The post was more popular than almost any of the things I’ve ever written and drew a tremendous response. The article was really designed as an intro and a starting point to figure out what you spend on groceries and what you eat. But the article also brought a slew of specific questions with it. Namely, do we really eat on $200 a month? Is that really possible? What exactly do we eat? Do we use coupons? (No) What do we consider healthy? So, what exactly did we buy?

April’s Grand total: $191

The quote that makes me cringe every time I hear it is: “Healthy Eating is Expensive.” I always found this to be an excuse but I never had any data to back it up. Was it true? Are healthy foods more expensive? Maybe I should look at what we buy and see if that is the case. To be honest, we don’t normally track the specifics of everything we buy. We have an envelope with money in it and when it runs out we quit buying groceries and eat what we have. But this got me thinking. It would be interesting to keep track of everything we bought and ate for one month.

So, we developed an experiment. We decided to track the food that came into and out of our house for one month. We categorized it and kept track of all the costs. We also kept track of our dinner menu every night and how much food we threw away. It is all available at the bottom of the post. At the end we put it all together and analyzed the results.

The Grocery Store Experiment – 30 Day Challenge

    • Keep track of all the food you buy
    • Write down when you go out to eat
    • Keep track of all the Dinner Menus
    • Keep track of all the food you throw away

The Results
I think for me the results really confirmed a lot of the suspensions I have been holding. Not surprisingly, the processed foods we bought were significantly more expensive (68%) and fresh fruits and vegetables were by far the cheapest. For full disclosure, because I knew we would be publishing this, we were probably slightly more selective than we would be on our average grocery shopping trips. Especially when it comes to junk food (we are still in transitioning process for eating minimally processed foods). We still have some unhealthy food that somehow makes it into our house via friends, gifts and holidays but we try to limit it.

The Pretty Analysis:

Convenience foods are expensive. And healthy convenience foods are some of the most expensive items in the store! But ironically, minimally processed fresh fruits and raw veggies retained the title of least expensive items. For the month, processed foods we purchased were 68% more expensive than unprocessed foods. We defined processed foods by 100 Days of Real Foods definition. About 8.5% of the food we bought was processed in some way.

I was actually surprised that diary was the most expensive. I had a feeling fruits and veggies would be the least expensive, but a few spices were pretty pricey per pound and cheese was the most expensive item we bought consistently.

We ate a lot of food! Most of the vegetables came frozen and we ended up freezing a lot of the fruit to make smoothies. I never knew how many pounds of food we bought every month! We ended up throwing away 6.1 lbs of food. We have a little kitchen scale that we measured when we threw edible food out (or into the compost bin). That has been a big part of saving money. Having a meal plan helps us not waste as much food. We purchased 120 lbs of food so about 5% of our food went to waste.

Our dinner menu for April:

Click to Download

Everything we purchased:
Click to Download

Additional Observations:

I’ve always wanted to have our grocery purchases consist mostly of fresh fruits and vegetables and I was pleasantly surprised to find that was actually the case for our family! I was happy to see that the fruits and vegetables were the least expensive items per pound as well. As a dietitian I frequently get the rebuttal from clients that healthy options are more expensive, but here we see the opposite which can be eye opening for many people. I enjoyed this exercise because it made me more aware of where our money is going and what foods we are bringing into our household. I hope to eventually weed out most (if not all) the processed foods we currently purchase. – Ms. SE

To start, we don’t really use coupons for grocery shopping. We have in the past but, for us, we ended up buying a bunch of processed stuff that would fill our tiny pantry. Our grocery budget is actually a lot more consistent without using coupons. We did eat out this month and ended up having restaurant food randomly at places like work, church or friend’s houses. We did eat out for dinner three times in April. We’ve already eaten out more than that in May and the month just started. Also, coffee was not included in this as we typically pay for it as a form of entertainment. We are actually not drinking any coffee this month as part of a 30 day caffeine detox.

We are still working towards buying primarily whole foods with minimal processing.┬áMore interestingly than what we bought, perhaps might be what we didn’t buy:

  • Anything Branded
  • Much Meat/Expensive Meat
  • Anything Processed (or very little)
  • Alcohol/Tobacco/Soda
  • Bread
  • Very few beverages
  • Candy or Sugar
  • Convenience Food

Groceries are really cheap in GA. I must admit, being able to grow crops year round is nice and the distribution center that is Atlanta/Savannah definitely helps keep our prices incredibly low. Are you up for a grocery store challenge? How do prices here compare to where you live? Are the prices here insanely low our about right? Do you buy organics or processed food? How much do you spend on groceries?

10 thoughts on “Our Grocery Purchases Revealed

  1. We spend nearly twice your amount, but we’ve also found the same that the processed junk is more expensive than you think. I suspect people feel fruits and vegetables are more expensive than they are because they throw so much of it out each week. We’re trying to get better about buying things in bulk (such as beans and rice) so it’s always on-hand and is cheaper.

    • Our habits have changed over the last few years. We lived in big place right after we got married and had tons of cabinets and storage. We typically ate mostly cheap processed food (primarily starches and pasta). Now we have switched to a much healthier diet. We moved into a small condo (< 400sf) and it forced us to be better planners because we didn't have a lot of storage. We don't have the stockpiles we once did but we do keep a fair amount in the freezer though.

  2. We are currently at $420/month for 2 Adults and 3 kids. It looks like it is going to have to go up a bit though as our kids are starting to eat just as much as we do, so each meal isn’t making it as far with left overs anymore. Cost of food I think is a bit higher here in DC than it is in GA as well.

    I havn’t settled on an approach yet but I tend to alternate between calculating cost based on calories vs lb. I think part of this is that Wife and I want to avoid gaining weight, while the kids seem to be insatiable unless they get a good amount of calories. I agree that fruit and vegitables are pretty good on the $ per lb scale, but they arn’t anywhere close on a calories per $ scale. Rice, flour, oatmeal, beans, oils, etc win out on that scale by a long shot. Ease of preparation is also a big deal for us with the age of our kids (so sandwiches get eaten a lot especially for lunch). We also tend to eat more meat for protien then would be as efficient cost wise. I would like to switch to more beans, but they do a number on our sons digestive system for some reason so we can’t do as much with that. Other than that our meal list is actually pretty similar to yours.

    • Forgot to mention that we keep close tabs on how much food we throw out as well. That is a big money waster for a lot of people.

    • That is pretty impressive! Our little one doesn’t really eat very much at the moment but I’m sure that will change as she ages. We do have the advantage in GA of being able to grow lots of food and it is pretty cheap even at the stores.

      I think you make a good point about cost per calorie. We have found that cost per calorie does lend itself to cheaper food. A lot of calories dense foods like fats, sugar and wheat are very inexpensive per calorie. It would be interesting to do an analysis with the cost per calorie in mind. We also experimented with the cost of consumable food ie: What is the true cost of an item like a banana where you throw half the weight away due to the peel. Same with bone in cuts of meat or baby carrots.

      • Hello! I am learning so much from your posts!!! Thank you! One thing, I can’t open your dinner menus and food list. That’d definitely help me get started on my food list. Thanks!

        • Thanks for the response. I just tested them and they are working on my end. They are saved in an excel file so it may be useful to open them with Google Docs if excel is not installed on the computer you are using. I’m glad you are enjoying the posts!

  3. Pingback: Healthy Eating for a Family on $200 a Month | Simple Economist

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  5. The prices of your items look close to Aldi prices in my area. We probably use more processed food than your family but i am able to feed mine for $100 a month for 2 people. We typically keep pasta, brown rice, canned beans, canned tomatoes, milk, bell peppers, and a few other items around mostly other meats and produce