Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Great Grocery Project - One Year Recap

Shazam!  Just like that.  One year is over.  I started this project a year ago, knowing that we were heading into a period where my income would be reduced by 60% (also called Maternity Leave).  Many unexpected things happened during this time - I became very ill and was largely incapacitated for about 8 weeks pre-birth of son #2, we had to do a massive unplanned renovation on our house, etc.  But all is well.  The kids are good.  I've always used a rough budget amount - but this is the first time I have tracked exactly what the money is being spent on as opposed to just saying food in general.  This has been very useful.

So let's get to it - between September 1 2016 and August 31 2017 we spent:
$5006.76 on groceries.  This works out to about $417.23 per month.

What does this mean?
Well Stats Canada has lots of data that can put this amount in perspective.  According to them, in 2015 the average family in Ontario spent $8475 on food (this includes eating out, which we rarely do).  In addition, analysts were predicting that in 2017 the average family in Canada would be spending an additional $420 on groceries - bringing the average family spend to $8895.00.  A more recent article in the National Post suggests that Canadians spend $200 per person per month on food, even increasing to $240 per person per month depending where in the country you live.  Given this data, I would say that we are coming in well below average.

A few notes: Our children are very young and don't eat much food, I know that when kids (especially boys) hit puberty and the teenage years they tend to eat quite a bit more.  As an anecdote, a friend of mine has three sons.  A few years ago they were all between 16-20 years old, living at home for the summer and working very physically demanding jobs in landscaping.  She told me she was spending $1500 a month on groceries.  Now, I think this probably could have been cut back, but I can see how someone could easily spend this much on groceries every month with three very hungry, physically active teenagers.

The other thing to remember is that I have been off work for essentially this entire year.  I find it easier to have something small and quick for lunch when I am at home.  When I am making lunches for work it requires more planning and strategy and food savvy.

Regarding the food categories - I include milk (which we drink) in Dairy not under beverages.

OK.  Let's get to the good stuff.

What did we spend this money on????

Produce - $1296.64.  This was hands down our biggest category.  We eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.  I also have a stand-up freezer that is FULL of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and grapes for the year ahead that I use in smoothies, baking, for snacks, etc.  The cost of the "freezer fruit" for the year ahead is included in this total.  The most expensive fruit I buy are grapes.  If I were to cut out the grapes it would cut this amount back.  We planted a blueberry patch at our house two summers ago, but at the moment we are working on growing the bushes as opposed to yielding fruit for them.  My dream would be to grow more of our own fruit by adding a small orchard to our property - but dream is the key word here.  It is something we are considering for the future.

Dairy - $1089.08  This amount is high, but not much higher than the Ontario average of $783.00.  We are milk drinkers.  We are also cheese eaters.  It is a cultural thing for us (both of us are from French/European backgrounds).  And you might be surprised to hear that I very much restricted the cheese we bought this year.  Very much so.  There were no such restrictions on milk in our house.  If you are wanting some perspective on dairy prices in Canada - it is $4.27 to buy 4L of milk - and that is a good price.  One 444g block of plain old cheddar cheese can be purchased for $4.44 or sometimes $3.97 on sale.  Butter, on sale, is $3.50-$4.00 a pound.  Canadians pay a lot for dairy compared to our American counterparts.  If I had to significantly reduce our grocery spend, I would have to cut way back on milk and cheese.  But I love milk.  I really love milk.  I also really love cheese and I have really missed lots of cheese this year.  I digress...

Pantry - $770.27  This includes all pasta, baking supplies, peanut butter, etc.  We make everything from scratch (almost) so I am not surprised at this amount.

Meat - $387.25  This is far below the average household spend of $1079.00.  I knew that I could reduce our meat spend significantly by making a few changes.  I always stock up on frozen turkeys when they are on sale and use them for many recipes.  I bought almost no red meat this year, aside from ground beef on sale.  I did not buy any fresh fish - instead I bought frozen fish from Costco.  I only bought chicken two or three times.  I bought large pork roasts on sale or from Costco which last us for many meals.  We are more eggs than we normally would (egg salad, poached eggs, fried eggs, omelettes, lots of quiche).  We did not purchase any lamb at all (normally we might have it a few times a year).  I bought lots of meat Reduced for Quick Sale and immediately put it in the freezer to use up as needed.  We ate more beans (which I included in the pantry budget).  I only purchase meat when it is on sale (except for frozen fish).  On a final note - although I love fresh fish - I really like the frozen trout from Costco because the fillets are individually wrapped inside the package.  This stops them from getting freezer burn when you are opening and closing the bag.  It is a really nice feature and I was more than impressed with this product.  The frozen scallops at Costco are also great, but I did not purchase any this year.

Bread - $297.09  I thought I was spending more than most in this category, but it turns out I am about average (the average is $315).  The bread issue I go back and forth on.  My son loves toast.  He also loves really healthy sourdough grain breads.  I can get these at Costco in a 3 pack for $6.99.  They immediately go in the freezer and are used for toast.  The factory for Stonemill Bread is not far from where we live - I went there one day and even in their "outlet" the prices are not as good as at Costco.  I am not willing to cut the bread budget when this is something healthy my son likes to eat for breakfast (but I would obviously if we had to).  It is definitely cheaper to make your own bread if it is an All Purpose Flour using recipe, however the price of grains here are such that when you get into some other specialty type breads it is not much cheaper (if at all) to make your own.  I do love making Challah.  This coming year I want to try making my own Naan bread and Tortillas.

Prepared Food - $257.28.  This amount is much more than I think we would typically spend on "prepared foods" at the grocery store.  The big spend in this area was largely due to health issues at the end of my pregnancy.

Beverages - $234.89  When I look at my data, about 80% of this was spend between September and December, when I was ill and was on Doctor's orders to be drinking certain things like cranberry juice and tonic water (disgusting by the way).  However I am not afraid to admit that I do really love the occasional Pure Leaf Iced Tea.  I really love it and get it when it is on sale for $3.00/bottle.

Frozen Food - $199.50.  This category for us typically consists of frozen vegetables, pie crusts (my vice), and emergency frozen pizzas.  If you are wondering about the pie crusts - here are my thoughts: I love making my own pastry but it makes a big mess that I don't always have time to clean up (when I'm working, not so much right now...).  I buy these when they are on sale for $3.00 or sometimes $2.49 for 2 crusts.  Now, flour can be purchased pretty cheaply - butter not so much.  I have done the calculations and most double pie crust recipes call for about $2.00 worth of butter alone.  So it literally only costs about twenty to thirty cents more to buy the premade frozen crusts.  Why do I buy these?  Because when I am in a rush, or in a jam, or feeling lazy, or just life, I know that I can pull these out of the freezer and in 10 minutes of thawing they are ready to go which allows me to quickly whip up things like quiche, fruit pies, Chocolate Cream Pies, meat pies, etc.  And - I do not have to make a huge mess on the counter.  I like making messes when I cook - but I also like having time to do other things - especially when I am working.  So there are my thoughts on the frozen pie crusts and that is why I buy them when they are on sale.  Tenderflake can thank me for the spike in sales by sending free pie crusts.  Do you hear me Tenderlfake?   Hello???

Minor notes -  I also spent $30.84 on dips and sauces (mostly hummous) and $8.37 on baby specific foods.  There you have it.

That is it.  
That is what I spent on groceries last year.  Every penny.  The only distinction I did not make in this data is that I did not spend all of this in cash.  Some of it was in points redemptions but that was just getting too complicated given all the other tracking I was doing (I also tracked what I spent by store, and what I spent in each store by category but I will not bore you with all that data).

So where do we go from here?
I am finishing this year with a freezer FULL of food and a well stocked pantry.  The next few months will be very tight as I am finishing my mat leave and starting a one month infant care leave (which will mean zero income).  Following that, I will be back at work in December and paying for preschool as well as childcare.  I am extremely fortunate to have a wonderful job that also pays well, so yes, if you are wondering, even with the cost of childcare it is still worth me going to work - although that changes with every child we add to the tribe.

I am planning to run this particular series for one more year - because I know things will look a bit different when I go back to work.  After that, I will not be tracking everything so precisely and will go back to my more general food budget.

Thank you so much for following along with us over the past year - I look forward to sharing more and learning from all of you in the year ahead.  If you are looking for additional ideas or ways to save money on your food spending I highly recommend that you follow The Prudent Homemaker, here you will find a great community with loads of ideas on how to reduce your grocery spending.

Finally, I will leave you with a little recipe share, because I love recipe sharing.  Earlier this week I purchased a 500g tub of Krema Lemon Balkan Style Yogurt, Reduced For Quick Sale for $0.99.  These tubs are normally $5.99.  I was going to use the yogurt for smoothies, but then I found this delicious recipes for Lemon Scones.  I made two batches and gave half a dozen to my son's preschool provider.  They are delicious - and you know what - I bet you could make these using plain greek yogurt as well because you would still get the lemon flavouring from the rind.

Here is the recipe.  Smother them in strawberry or raspberry jam.  You will not be disappointed.



  1. I've loved your Great Grocery Project! Am very impressed with your numbers, btw!

    1. Thanks Margaret! I did my best (the health issues at the end of pregnancy did not help the budget - but of course it was worth it for the end result).

  2. Thank you so much for this summary - it really helps to see a post using Ontario costs. I live in Toronto and take out $200/month for groceries - and non food items so I am well within the norm.
    I do keep a pantry but the only freezer that I have is the top of my small fridge - still, by organizing it well it's amazing how much I can get in there!
    In the past year I've upped the amount spent on fruit & veg and cut back considerably on the carbs. I do eat red meat but I am trying to add more fish and the frozen fish from Costco is definitely on my list! I am on my own and have a friend in the same boat so when we hit Costco we often split the items and with the fish we buy two or three different types and then split everything. I am also a milk drinker and love my cheese - but boy is it expensive!
    I too like to have a few of those pie shells on hand - and I always worried about it being a luxury but your mention of the butter cost really puts it into perspective. Thank you for this.

    1. That is a great idea to split items from Costco. My mom also lives by herself. She purchased some of the Freezer Mates from Tupperware a few years ago, and there are things she likes to get at Costco and immediately split into her individual portions and put them straight into the freezer.
      Yes - the pie crusts are not outrageous at all!! Once I calculated the cost of butter going into a homemade crust I thought, why am I feeling guilty about this?? My other favourite trick is to let them thaw and then put them in a "real" pie plate so it looks like I made it from scratch ; )

  3. Oh my! You did great tracking everything for a whole year and it seems it was worth the effort to know where the money went. I read your post to my husband and we compared your prices to ours. I has been hard for me to buy less since my boys have left home this year. Buying fewer things just seems impossible so I have begun skipping shopping trips. If I am going to overspend, it is better to go shopping fewer times. It works for me.

    When I had three teenage boys living here, it was unbelievable how much food they could consume in one day's time. They could easily drink two gallons of milk a day. It seemed all I did was cook and garden. We never had a leftover. I miss cooking for them but my feet don't miss standing all day!
    Jeannie @

    1. It is really amazing how much boys can eat. I find that I have been drinking loads of milk myself since I am home during the day right now and not at work. When I am working I don't drink quite as much milk, but definitely still more than average.

  4. this was very interesting to me and something I think I am going to do since we are going into retirement.
    Followed from Brandy's site

    1. Juls I found it really useful because it just let me see where I could cut back if I needed to. I wouldn't want to do this forever - but it was helpful for sure!

  5. Really interesting! I totally think the $.20-$.30 extra five pie crust is worth it. Just think of time. I was impressed that you had such a low meat budget. I just found chicken breasts marked down fir $0.99/lb. I bought a bunch but I wish I had gotten more.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thanks Lisa. I agree - time is money and saving time for. 20 cents us definitely worth it in my opinion.