A Closer Look: Grocery Shopping

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Dear readers,

Today, I present to you an extremely overanalyzed reflection on my latest trip to Trader Joe’s. As I mentioned in an older post, Dennis and I are trying to be better at cutting costs where we can. After rent, our biggest expense is definitely groceries. We are a household of two people and our monthly grocery spending since we moved in together has averaged around $500. We figured that the problem was that we were lazy and shopped at the stores within walking distance, including a gourmet market and a New York grocery chain (Key Foods) that is vastly overpriced. Two weekends ago, we went to the Trader Joe’s in Cobble Hill and loaded up a cart with $150 worth of groceries. I thought it would last us for at least 10 days. Unfortunately, we were back in TJ’s just one week later. I anxiously watched the clerk scan everything, hoping that we would spend less than we had the week before. We did, kind of…by $3.37. “How can this be?” I cried on the walk back to the subway. At this rate, we would be on track to spending $600/month on groceries, even more than we had been previously! Did I mention we are a two-person household?

At home, armed with a red pen and highlighter, I scrutinized every single purchase on the list (I’m actually staring at the receipt right now for reference but I am too embarrassed to upload a picture of it here). I sorted our purchases into three categories:

  • Regular purchases: $81.61 — These are the items that I buy every single week, no matter where I shop. These include things like bread, granola bars, hummus, bananas, salad greens, and ingredients that go into meals I plan to cook for the week, such as herbs, ground beef, sweet potatoes, etc. I never feel bad purchasing these items because they are always finished. If my total bill was only $81.61, I wouldn’t be writing this post.
  • Irregular purchases: $36.50 — These are items that are staples in the kitchen but I don’t necessarily buy every week. But, when I do buy them, they add up quickly. These items include peanut butter, sugar, frozen berries, mustard, good parmesan cheese, etc.  Up until two weeks ago I hadn’t shopped at TJ’s in a long time so I think once I remembered how good these staples are, I wanted to stock up. Again, good to have and they get used up eventually. I anticipate that this category will decline over the next few trips.
  • Frozen food: $28.52 — The best thing about Trader Joe’s is definitely the frozen food selection. Delicious and major time-savers. We like the pizza, Indian food, and rice/veggie side dishes and it’s nice to have these on hand for those nights where we don’t want to spend more than 5 minutes preparing food. While a bit pricey, the 3-4 meals we bought are significantly less than our normal takeout order from the Indian place in our neighborhood. So, winning, kind of. 

My goal for our next shopping trip is to keep the bill at $100 or less, which would put us on track to spending $400/month on groceries. I know that there are families out there that feed twice as many people (or more) on that budget so I feel like we have to be able to accomplish that for two people. I will hold onto my March grocery receipts and keep you posted.

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