When Moneyville editor Adam Mayers called to tell me I had won the blogging contest and had a 12-week trial to write about smart grocery shopping I was thrilled.
His next comment stumped me with a simple question. He explained that part of the trial would be a challenge to cut my family’s food budget by 15 per cent over the course of the next 13 weeks. So, how much do you spend a month on groceries, he asked?
I didn’t have a clue and guessed at $480. He asked me to take a closer look and I was embarrassed when I added it all up and it came in at about $815, about 70 per cent more. Oops.
Biggest expenditure — this will surprise none of you — was fish and seafood. I like to buy the best and I am lucky enough to live close to City Fish Market on Dufferin Street. Great fish and seafood from around the world but, my apologies to Gus, not exactly inexpensive.
Milk and cheeses are also a big chunk but that too is to be expected as Canadians pay some of the highest prices for dairy products in the world. Well, I’m taking up the challenge this week and will keep a very close tab on my spending.
My plan is to update my progress towards my goal every week and arrive at the end of the trial with a saving of about $120 a month that is sustainable. That may not seem like much, but I cook almost every meal at home and am still spending $10,000 a year on groceries. Saving an extra $1,500 should come in handy.
I’m not sure how easy this will be to do because I love cooking and I am an ingredient snob. I’ll always pay extra for better quality ingredients. My career as a dietitian has also made me a skeptic.
If the price is reduced I want to know why. I seldom buy items on sale and over the years this has proved for the most part to be the right decision.
For example butter is so expensive and when you see it on sale for a $1.99 who would not be tempted; but the last time I did that two days later it was stale, you could taste it plus there was a mould spot on it.
The best before date was still two weeks away but usually when I buy butter the best before date is two months away.
So I stick with the suppliers I know have the freshest foods like my fishmonger and my meat suppliers — White House Meats in St. Lawrence Market and European Meats in Kensington Market where my mother has shopped since I was a child.
My produce comes from Farmers Markets whenever possible and I stick to produce in season. With this kind of focus on quality should I really have been surprised I was spending more?
Oprah always says when you know better you do better. Well I should know better so now I am going to do better.
Here’s my plan:
1. Pay cash: Follow the advice of one of my favourite shows, Til Debt Do Us Part and set aside the money for groceries in cash.
2. Don’t compromise on quality: $815 x 12 months divided by 52 = $188 a week. I have $188 to spend coming down to $160 and I won’t go cheap. If you throw bad things into your body now, you will pay dearly in medical bills later.
3. Keep track: I’m going to keep tabs on the biggest changes as I work towards my goal. If I score a big savings say in fish and it is also good nutrition-value I will tell you about it.