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Surprise Grocery Budget-Buster

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I have always, always tracked my spending. Even before I had imposed a budget or started trying to tackle our debt in a serious way (heck, even before we had any debt at all!), I have always tracked my spending.

So I have known – for years – that one of the biggest black holes of where our money disappears is….food. Whether its groceries or eating out with the family, food is one of our reliably largest monthly expenses. Wouldn’t we all save so much money if we could just stop eating? I joke, but seriously!

Part of my Money-Envelope May challenge has been to really examine where our grocery budget is going so I can try to reduce it further, particularly in light of all the things I have switched to making home-made for much cheaper than store-bought (e.g., tortillas, bagels, bread, pizza dough….lots of bread products!)

And you may be surprised what I discovered.

Many people suggest that meat is the biggest cost in most people’s food budgets. I will admit that meat can be costly. However, I am really good about shopping sales. I always look at the sale fliers that are circulated each week for our neighborhood grocers and stock up on sale meats. Here are some of the sales I buy on the regular:

  • Whole chicken, .88 cents/pound
  • Split chicken breasts, .99 cents/pound
  • Bone-in pork chops, 1.29/pound
  • Boneless pork loin roast, 1.77/lb
  • Pork spare ribs, 1.99/lb.

We buy a lot of chicken and pork because I can find it for cheaper than beef or fish and the cuts I buy often last several meals (e.g., I make a whole chicken as a rotisserie, then use leftover chicken to make chicken salads, chicken enchiladas, chicken tortilla soup, etc etc etc.).

In fact, I’ve gotten pretty good at spending $2/lb or less. The exception is ground beef (which I can find for as little as 2.88/lb for 93% lean). In case you’re wondering how I can spout off these prices – I track prices (and highly recommend it! Then you always know whether the “sales” being advertised are actually good prices or not and you can track patterns of sales).

So meat wasn’t a huge issue for our family. Guess what is……..CHEESE!

OMG, Cheeeeeeese, how I love you!!! If cheese were a man I would run away with him in a heart beat (sorry, husband!)

The problem is, I’m a little sketchy about my cheese selections. First, I don’t like to buy anything labeled with “cheese product” (aka: not real cheese). Second, I prefer to buy rBST-free cheese. I generally buy our cheeses in big blocks from Sprouts Farmers’ Market (they have a different cheese on sale each week). But, even bought in big blocks (often cheaper than pre-shredded), the cheapest I can find is 2.99/lb (that’s for “regular” cheese). Whenever their rBST-free cheeses go on sale I always STOCK UP (the sale price is 3.99/lb, regular 4.99/lb). I can buy 3-4 lbs in a single trip and freeze the extras. BUT, that means I’ve used $16 of my $95 weekly grocery budget on just CHEESE (that’s 17% of the budget!). And sometimes – gasp – I splurge on a special cheese, like brie (6.99/lb)! Talk about eating the budget up QUICK!!!!

Have I mentioned I love cheese (pssst….it’s even in my author bio)???? Just about every meal I make includes cheese in some form or fashion.

So I guess I’ve discovered one of our grocery budget-busters! Looks like we’ll be cutting back a little on cheese around here (not eliminating it…just cutting back a little. I don’t want to go through withdrawal and end up binging, you know?)

Have you ever had a surprise budget-buster??