Sunday, September 21, 2008

Frugality and grocery spending

Like most people, I have noticed the increasing cost of groceries. In fact, my last grocery trip, half of my spending allocation went to meat and dairy products. I love my milk and cheese! Part of the reason for the large purchase was I would be hosting my family for dinner. However, until this most recent trip, I did not realize how great a share the meat, cheese, milk, sour cream, butter and cream cheese take up in my grocery spending. I can certainly see how people insist going vegetarian is not only green, but may help the pocketbook. Being the woman I am, I will not be changing my omnivore habits (heavy on the dairy) any time soon.

In my various postings on my monthly grocery trip, planning it, what my allocation is, and the tools I use, I realized I never discussed how I kept my grocery spending fairly steady. Yes, I occasionally exceed the amount of money in my spending plan for groceries (this month is one of them). However, as I became more aware of the cost of items, I adjusted my purchases to give me the best value for each dollar. For example, I used to purchase shredded cheese for use on pizza and in recipes. However, using a bit of elbow grease to shred my own cheese resulting in lower spending for the yummy dairy product and a bit more room in my grocery spending for another item that may have increased in price. As I did more of my cooking and baking, and purchased fewer convenience foods, I could keep the amount of money for groceries the same but without decreasing the quantity of food.

Most frugal and personal finance bloggers would say to bank the money not spent. In fact, this would have been the ideal use for the extra cash my behavioral changes freed up. However, I have only increased my grocery allocation by $5 in the last three years of using my spending plan. Even with the price of food rising astronomically, I have no plans to increase the money for groceries. I have been able to occasionally buy in bulk (I have enough dried milk for a couple years), buy larger quantities (purchasing 10 pounds of bread flour saved me more money than purchasing 5 pounds) and occasionally buy items at farmer's markets.

As I take a look at what I eat and my grocery spending, I can see as I took on more of the baking and cooking myself, I was able to leave more cushion in allocated amount for price increases. Baking my own bread, experimenting with new recipes, discovering the joy of making my own freezer jams, and growing my own food make it easier for me to keep my grocery spending steady without sacrificing the items I do want. Yes, I do crave highly processed foods (potato chips and soda!) and have five or six frozen entrees for lunches if I have not cooked something with leftovers to bring to work. However, my efforts at being frugal coupled with my desire to live a greener life by minimizing plastic packaging mean I stretch my grocery dollar a bit further and learn to be just a bit more independent. Now if I could only learn to cook and enjoy eggplant and peppers...

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