What Does a Month's Worth of Groceries for $55/Person Look Like?

Were you surprised with how little was spent on groceries in our household last month? Because transparency is important to me I thought I'd give a rundown of what our grocery spending looked like. For two people we managed a total of $108.91. We're going to look at the prices of the individual items, areas where we saved, areas where we probably should have saved more as well as techniques we use to shrink our grocery bill.

First, lets get what we didn't buy out of the way. As part of this challenge was a pantry clearing challenge I want to list what we used from the pantry. You may thing we stocked up on more expensive wares to make it through the month but what we had in our pantry was definitely on the frugal side.

Our pantry items were: Pasta, rice noodles, couscous, frozen bread, rice, peanut butter, jam, mayonnaise, bouillon cubes (gifted by a friend), beans & lentils. That's it. Nothing extravagant. The jam and peanut butter made for some emergency pb & j sandwiches for my partner and I feel like we barely put a dent in anything but the frozen bread (which we finished) and the mayo (which I used to replace butter once my dairy issues became apparent). 

I'm happy to say we got most of our veggies at great prices. Looking back at the month we stopped shopping for veggies at our local grocer IGA which used to be our only stop. We started favouring the Farm Market half a block up. They aren't great for dairy products but produced significant savings for our vegetables. 

Why not an ethnic grocer?

In all neighbourhoods I've lived in in Canada there has been an ethnic grocer. These have often been my go-to's for fresh veggies. There are some great ones within a 15-20min walk from my house. I could save more money by going to these shops. If you are on an extremely tight budget, I highly recommend sticking to these. My personal gripe with these stores is that because they sell discounted vegetables they often don't list the source, we don't know if these tomatoes are from BC, Mexico or even China. The selection of organic vegetables are also almost nonexistent. My Farm Market offers both local and organic fruits and vegetables as well as imports but clearly lists the source of their products. 

What about Organic? That must have driven up the price!

Yes, for some of the products, but not all. The jury is still out on the benefits of organic over conventional, most science says there's no significant benefit personal benefit to buying organic, however if you're buying it for the sake of improving the environment where the produce is grown then you are making a better choice by buying organic. For our household, I'll always buy organic bananas. Yes, bananas have thick skin so they are well protected against the pesticides. However bananas are extremely heavily sprayed, harming both the people that work on the plantations as well as the precious monkeys. Conventional bananas run about 0.69/lbs versus 0.99 for organic. At IGA the organic bananas run 1.09/lbs for comparison. In other cases it actually saved me money. I've frequently seen conventional broccoli for $1.99/lbs and then organic broccoli priced at $1.49/lbs. I haven't asked why yet, maybe it's because they tend to keep the longer stems on the organic broccoli? Fine by me as I tend to use it all anyway.

Buying slightly bruised produce

Produce is selected for how it looks, not for how it tastes or how good the quality is. This is because we as consumers look at the groceries and heavily scrutinize every lump and bump. We throw away perfectly good produce just because it doesn't meat our high standards. Most independent grocers often have special deals on this kind of produce. Some have pre-packaged bags for a mere dollar in order to get rid of stuff they couldn't usually sell and in some cases you can haggle a little in order to drive down the price of a product that doesn't look quite up to par. In my case my store brought in some "2nd Grade" Organic Butternut Squash. The thick skin is damaged but the flesh is still perfectly fine. I stocked up and made some delicious and cheap butternut squash soup. 

Room For Improvement

By taking a look at the purchases I've realised some room for improvement. Obviously we've already concluded that butter can be mostly completely erased from the shopping list. I might buy a half pound if I deem it necessary. We also definitely need to work on a better coffee solution. Maybe we can get someone with a Costco card buy us a bulk bag every now and again. Garlic is such a small thing but I'm not sure if it's worth the price difference between buying 3 Chinese garlics for 99 cent and buying 3 California garlics for $2. Had they been local that would have been different however I'm suspecting I'll buy the Chinese ones in the future.

Looking at your repeat purchases for the month it's also a great way of figuring out what you should be paying for each item. For example celery will be avoided until it's less than 99c/lbs. It's not very nutritious anyway, but it makes for good flavour in soups and stews. It's obvious from this list that there's a lot of variation and nothing except for milk and coffee is really necessary. Waiting for a better price is a good option here. 

The importance of eating what you buy

I'm happy to say that we didn't throw out any of the produce purchased this month. There's still an acorn squash hiding in the pantry but those last for a long time. Nothing was left to rot in the fridge and when the celery started to wilt I quickly threw it in a veggie and mushroom risotto. Maybe I'll re-visit making stock from scraps soon.

Overall I'm excited about the thought of keeping up the good work for the future. Supposedly grocery prices are set to rise and I'm interested in seeing how this will challenge the budget next.