If you didn't already know, both my husband and I work from home as freelancers. And this means that every month our bills are the same but our income fluctuates. It's continually a learning experience, and we always have to tweak things.
Money has been a bit tight for a few months, so I decided to dig into some of our financial choices and see where new changes could be made. After a chat with a friend of mine, I wondered just how much we were spending on groceries. We never set a specific budget, but I was sure we were fine - I use coupons! I shop sales! I'm vegetarian! I don't buy a lot of processed food!
I went into my files and did the math and...no. We were not fine. We spend way too much on groceries. And we've consistently been overspending for months.
I do shop carefully. I do shop sales. I do use coupons. And my family shops at a range of stores to get the most bang for our grocery buck...and there is what we realized is one of our downfalls. Every time we go to a different store (ahem, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods being the biggest culprits), we get the deals and the items on our list - and then, somehow, we also throw in special items that we can only get at that store. Even if those special items are on sale or inexpensive, they rapidly add up. I admit it - I was in deep denial about this. (Also my husband throws ridiculous things in the cart every time...ahem.)
I still believe that spending more at grocery stores on special treats keeps us out of restaurants and keeps us from stopping for treats (we're surrounded by amazing donuts, cupcakes, popsicles, gelato...). While we overspent in this area for sure, we also dramatically cut back on our purchases of prepared food of all kinds. So that worked. But right now we need to cut back even more. Treats? I've been making multiple batches of these amazing baked vegan apple cider donuts and I'm eyeing a recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies next. I'm working on it!
So where am I going with all this? We're trying a new experiment. For the month of October, we're going to only shop at Your Dekalb Farmers Market (YDFM) for food - or at least 95% of our food. (As I've noted in the past, YDFM is a warehouse sized grocery store that's full of organic vegetables, bulk spices, and a gigantic wine selection. It's an amazing store, basically.) I started listing the things that we can only get at a mainstream grocery store and it was very short. The prices on a few things at YDFM (which is cash/debit only and does not take coupons) might be higher than the prices at Publix, Kroger, TJs, Whole Foods, but I think that the general pricing will balance that out.
Better, we'll buy mostly vegetables and basic ingredients if we shop at YDFM. The store does carry treats and snacks, but they're higher quality and easier to avoid as well. One of the best deals is a fresh-refrigerated pizza - far cheaper than going out for pizza and much healthier (and handily beats any general grocery store frozen pizza in all ways). And I won't be swayed by sales or deals because there aren't any. I think this could work.
I will need to shop at Publix or Kroger on occasion - there's a big sale on laundry detergent coming up, for example. If there's some amazing deal on something specific, then we'll run in - and only buy that thing. Yes we will. We will! (Sidenote: I am very disappointed that Kroger has stopped doubling coupons and claims to have "lower prices" that are, in fact, not so much.) This isn't a strict challenge or a game, it's a process. It's about being more mindful.
I'm trying really hard to think of what else I might need from one of the larger grocery stores. Well...YDFM doesn't carry string cheese and I might go get that elsewhere (or skip it, haven't decided). While it does carry the almond milk I drink every day, I can get a much better price with a coupon at Kroger, so I'll probably buy it there. Or maybe try making my own. YDFM carries organic cow milk but it's not homogenized and, well, I prefer that, so we'll have to get it elsewhere. And don't get me started on YDFM's bananas....
There's also a bread issue (oh fine, I'll confess - the preservative-free fresh-made bread sold at YDFM is so much better/tastier/healthier than shelf-stable bread, and I just read Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal[that's a referral link, FYI] and I know all about the junk in grocery store bread, but the good stuff goes bad so quickly unless I freeze it and I know it is because it's supposed to but...it's one processed food I got used to! This will be a change), but I might be able to make that work, and my entire family would be healthier if we only buy bread from YDFM.
But we'll skip TJs (we just did a giant run there anyway...oops...) and WF for the month. And also for the first time in possibly ever, I have a dollar figure that is our entire grocery budget for the month, and we are going to stick to it.
This is new territory for me - I prefer coupons and sales and "I saved 50% this week!" - but it's not working. So this is a step. I'll keep you posted on how it goes. Could this turn into "Every month I pick one store and only shop at it?" Maybe. But I actually think YDFM is the answer and the clear winner. We'll see.