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Real Budgets: I Spent Too Much on Groceries, Now What?

Hey, metalheads! I enjoy reading posts about people's day to day finances and budgets because it makes me feel like I'm spying on their lives. I guess it's not so secret because they're posting it on the internet, but whatever!

So today, you guys get to spy on a real-life dilemma I'm having this month. In my budget, I try to stay under $500/month for groceries and CVS purchases; sometimes it comes out to be more and sometimes it's less, but that's my benchmark. The groceries are for two adults (my husband and I, I'll have to think of a clever nickname for him) and the CVS portion is just for me. Groceries usually work out to be $400-$450 of that $500. I scan receipts into my Fetch app, which tracks spending over time period and by retailer.

So fast forward to a BJ's Wholesale Club shopping trip earlier this month. Even though I stuck to my list and resisted buying Every Single Thing, the total bill came to $178. So as of mid July, I had already spent $408 of my $500 grocery budget -- leaving only $92 for the rest of the month! Yikes!

Two beach chairs were part of the BJ's purchase, which totaled around $60. I moved that over to the "miscellaneous spending" category since we don't eat beach chairs... (I still need to do a midmonth tally of miscellaneous stuff, but we'll save that for another post.) This rearranging gave me $152 to work with, which is a lot more optimistic.

First, I tried to put off grocery shopping for a couple days. My dad invited us over for dinner on Sunday, which was a nice surprise and meant one less meal that I'd have to conjure from the pantry and freezer.

For Monday night's dinner, I defrosted a pound of ground turkey and cooked that with an open jar of vodka sauce that was in the fridge. Served over some freezer raviolis with salad on the side, it was a hearty meal!

Tuesday we had a Trader Joe's frozen pizza. I attempted to serve some leftover potato salad with it, but the potato salad was past its prime... Unfortunately I didn't realize that until a bite or two in. Yuck! The pizza was good, though.

Wednesday we had Monday's leftover meat sauce with raviolis and penne. I threw in some frozen spinach and peppers that each had about a quarter of the bag left, which changed up the meal and also made some space in the freezer.

But by Thursday (today), it was time to bite the bullet and go to the grocery store. I took a look at the supermarket circular and planned a menu for the next couple days: bacon wrapped pork chops (suggested by Husband), beef stroganoff with egg noodles, more frozen pizza on Saturday, and leftovers on Sunday. As I write this, my inner critic is saying, "Geez, frozen pizza twice in one week??" Hey, no one's perfect...

My goal was to spend $75 or less on this shopping trip so that I could make another trip next week and stay within my budget.

Aldi was my starting point to get the most bang for my buck. I got out of there with ground beef, organic chicken, bacon, kielbasa, eggs, mushrooms, and a whole bunch more for only $31 -- including a frozen pepperoni pizza for $2.75! We'll see how it measures up to Trader Joe's.

(Note: Ibotta had a $.025 reward on Hillshire Farms kielbasa, but I bought the knockoff at Aldi because it would still be a dollar cheaper than getting the name brand at Big Y even after the reward.)

Next I was off to Big Y; there were a couple things on the list that I knew wouldn't be at Aldi, like Klondike bars and carpet cleaning spray. Plus, they had boneless pork chops -- the star of tonight's dinner -- on sale for $1.99 a pound. We were also running low on butter, and that's one thing I won't buy at Aldi after having an Aldi-butter cookie disaster.

My Big Y receipt was around $34, so I came in $10 under budget. I could have done a little better if I had waited to buy butter until next week and maybe ditched the idea of purchasing cooking wine. It's nice to have on hand and we had run out, but it's not an essential.

I'm also not thrilled with how much food we've been throwing out this summer. Moldy hamburger rolls.... Hot dogs leftover from a barbecue that have now become questionable.... The aforementioned potato salad... I need to do a better job of using up these leftover odds and ends before they go bad.

Here's how my grocery savings stacked up on this trip:

  • Savings with Big Y loyalty card: 10%/$3.67

  • Fetch Rewards: 75 points/$0.07 for receipt scan and brand bonuses

  • Ibotta: $0.25 cash back on any brand of bananas

  • Credit Card cash back: 2%/$1.30

Total savings: $5.29

Total spent: $65

Remaining grocery budget: $87

What are some of your everyday budget challenges? Leave a comment and maybe I'll address the topic in a future column!

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