I talk a lot of smack on this site about how good I am at saving and keeping my cost of living down by being frugal, so perhaps its about time I put my ‘Money where my mouth is’ and fess up to my ACTUAL grocery bills.
My Grocery budget
I will be honest, I don’t really have a budget anymore. At one stage I did, but then again at one stage I used to spend over $300 per week. When I started to tighten my belt, think about my health and adopted a predominantly plant based whole food lifestyle, I wrote out this list.
- Frozen mixed berries $4
- Kilo Pack of carrots $2
- Kilo of potatoes (every fortnight) $2 [$4 cost]
- Half Kilo of sweet potatoes $2
- 1kg Hummus (once per month) $1.50 [$6 cost]
- 1kg oats $1
- 1 packets pasta $.70
- 500g apples $2
- 500g oranges $2
- 500g bananas $2
- 500g tomato’s $2
- 500g onions $1
- 125g Mixed nuts $2.5
- 125g Chia seeds $2.5
- 500g Rice (once per fortnight) $2 [$4 cost]
- Canned red beans $.75
- Canned lentils $.75
- Canned chickpeas $.75
- Canned black beans $.75
- Toilet paper (once per month) $2 [$8 cost]
- 1L unsweetened almond milk $1.80
This is basically what I eat when I am home, as well as a variety of fresh vegetables that I grow in pots on the balcony.
The Balcony food garden
The balcony garden contains about 100 large pots which cover 7 square meters all along the balcony railing (so they get the most sunlight).
I grow a massive variety of herbs and fruits and vegetables from Basil, parsley, oregano to Tomatoes, Eggplant, Snow peas, Spinach, Lettuce all the way to Avocado, Mango, citrus, stone fruit; all of which are inter-planted – this is a natural way to prevent pests.
I have an irrigation set up which keeps it watered when I am away travelling, and otherwise my neighbours take it in turns watering and harvesting the food.
Conservatively, I think I harvest at least $20 worth of fresh produce from this garden per week, and the total spend on setting it up including all the plants was around $700 to date (including fruit trees, irrigation, timers, seeds, pots, potting mix, and the bunding system I made from black builders plastic liner and 2×4 pine beams so the run off doesn’t stain the balcony tiles – I am renting after all!). I have been growing for over a year now, and am firmly in the positive now having recouped all of the money I have spent.
The food garden is also very therapeutic and helps me manage my stress. I love having my morning tea or coffee out amongst the plants, where I can forage for a quick bite. I also put my food scraps such as banana peels and coffee grounds directly into the food garden pots where they break down and feed my veggies – no need to buy chemical fertilisers!
My 2019-2020 Grocery spending
For over a year, I kept a record of every single time I spent money on groceries. This includes home-brew ingredients, and ALSO included money that I spent on my food garden such as seeds, plants, potting mix and money spent on repairing my irrigation system.
This list does NOT include money spent eating out at restaurants.
In the interests of being completely transparent, yes I do receive in-flight meals when flying over a meal period, and I also receive a meal/travel allowance when I am on overnight flights. On average that works out to be about one meal per day. Since I eat four meals a day (I am a hungry Boi), that works out to be around a 25% saving on my food budget just because of work supplying me with food.
I also receive food from my family, friends, neighbours and the wider community. This might sound weird, but I do a lot of bartering and gifting – for example when I germinate too many seedlings or grow too many herbs, I usually just give them away to people in my apartment. I have actually received loaves of bread, bottles of wine and even chook eggs in return! I also do a lot of home brewing (Beer, Cider, Ginger Ale and Kombucha) which I pretty freely give out. What I have given away has actually returned to me and then some, and I often find myself coming home to plates of muffins, slices and cakes amongst other things.
I also do an informal ‘dinner share’ in the apartment where we take in turns cooking evening meals during the week. This is helpful because I somehow inherited an Italian trait of only being able to cook for 12 as a minimum. Because I typically only make whole-food-plant-based meals, I usually make several courses such as a ‘homegrown’ salad, garlic bread with home made sourdough, a small soup, a main meal and then a dessert – this seems to keep everyone happy even though “there is no meat” which seems to often disappoint my friends children.
Aside from the ‘dinner share’, I usually like to host friends a few times a week in order to stay social while avoiding pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants. I seriously dislike going out since I am forced to do this anytime I go away for work – so my preference any day of the week is a lovely home cooked meal. This has added benefits of helping me save money, and avoid Coronavirus.
Also, I buy in bulk. If I see something for a good deal, I load up. I have been known to cycle home with 20kg of rice and lentils in my backpack because they were half price. I usually keep an inventory of about $300 worth of dried and canned foods at home, as well as a weeks worth of frozen ‘meal-prep’ meals in the freezer. Sometimes I get home late and all I want to do is eat something easy like fruit (which I eat WAY too much of) so by having pre-made frozen meals such as lentil and rice curries, spaghetti, roast veggies or stir fry, I can just bang them in the microwave and after 6 minutes I am good to go.
Buying in bulk and keeping an inventory will seriously cut your spending! When something is half price or lower, it has a stable shelf life and you know you will use it, the correct amount to buy is as much as you can physically carry. It also means your grocery bills will become ‘lumpy’ so some weeks you spend $80, some weeks you spend $10. Its just the luck of the draw, but on average your monthly or yearly bill will go right down.
Also, when I go visit family or friends, I refuse to turn up empty handed. This usually means I find the nearest local Aldi or greengrocer and load up on healthy, whole food plant based groceries. This also provides the handy side-benefit of me not having to eat whatever crap they usually have in their diet; I enjoy taking over the kitchen and try to provide some of the meals to show my appreciation for the spare bed!
So, without banging on any longer, here are my spending figures!
July: $32 per week
August: $47 per week (Travelling)
September: $27 per week
October: $24 per week
November: $50 per week
December: $19 per week
January $63 per week (Travelling)
February: $23 per week
March: $72 per week (Travelling)
April: $40 per week
May: $28 per week
June: $25 per week
July: $30 per week
August: $30 per week
On average, over the past year I have spent $36.45 per week on groceries. If you consider that sometimes depending on my roster I can get up to 25% of my diet for free at work (although lately due to COVID that hasn’t been happening), then you would estimate my weekly food bill to sit somewhere between $36.45 and $45.55 per week if you were trying to compare it to your grocery bill.
This allows me to eat pretty much anything I like (but obviously I avoid most junk food and animal products). When I go shopping I usually just throw whatever looks good into my backpack and honestly, I don’t even budget anymore. Being mostly whole food plant based means the backpack is overflowing long before the wallet empties out.
In summary this was a fun experiment, but I won’t be continuing to deliberately track my spending. The reason is because even though I knew I could have what I wanted, I was still always writing down what I spent and I think subconsciously this affected my spending decisions and feeling of freedom. I caught myself more than once thinking ‘I’ve done my shopping this month, I am way over budget so I am not buying anything else’. That is not a healthy approach to take when it comes to your food and budgeting.
On a more general note, I have been seeing a psychologist who is helping me work through some stressors in my life – as you can imagine, I have a pretty high stakes job and 2020 has just not been very kind to me in terms of major life events (bush-fire, relationship breakdown, unplanned pregnancy, miscarriage, terminally ill parent, COVID and performance issues at work.. but let’s not dwell on those!). One of the things we have talked about extensively is my obsession with Financial Independence, and how this journey has actually been adding a little background layer of chronic stress – oh the irony!
FI/RE is supposed to be all about FREEDOM and removing stress, not adding to it! Things like tracking my spending seemed innocent enough to me, but it was just *another* process my brain was running along in the background… For the Engineers amongst us – I was running out of ‘RAM’, for the Pilots amongst us – I was running out of ‘Capacity’. This is a real thing called ‘Decision Fatigue’. So to give myself some breathing room, I am switching from obsessive budgeting and expense tracking to simply just being a judicious or savvy consumer. I might look into PocketBook or something similar for the future, but for now I will just settle with being vaguely minimalist.