You’ll Never Guess Our Largest Monthly Expense!

posted by Andrea | 02/12/2018

Just after New Year’s, I opened my computer to enter a few receipts into my Finance Tracking Workbookย when I realized I still needed to create my 2018 workbook (basically just saving a new, blank copy of the Excel workbook).

5 minutes later, I was entering the first of many expenses into the blank Excel spreadsheets, and I started wondering,]…

“What is our biggest monthly expense?”

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been overly aware of how much we’re spending in what categories over the past 6 months (I blame it on baby #4 arriving 5 months ago!) I have been faithfully entering all our expenses (I’m sure I missed a few) so I know we’re not over-extending ourselves. However, I truly haven’t paid much attention to exactly how much we’re spending in various categories — which is usually something I check up on every month.

Curiosity got the best of me, so I quickly opened our Finance Tracking Workbooks for the last several years… and I was totally shocked at what I found!ย 

Would you believe that in 2017, our largest monthly expense was GROCERIES!

What!

From the lady who used to coupon like it was her job and regularly spent less than $40 per week on groceries!

Craziness!

As I mentioned above, I was completely shocked when I realized this… but after looking through several of our past Finance Tracking Workbooks, I realized this isn’t actually THAT shocking and I’m not actually spending THAT much on groceries.

So how did this happen? Let me explain…

1. We have 4 children!

I think it goes without saying that tripling our household (from 2 people to 6 people) should greatly increase our grocery spending as well!

As I mention in #9 below, I include diapers, socks, vitamins, and all sorts of other random (kid and adult) purchases in our grocery spending, so even though our kids don’t eat as much as Dave and I do, the things I purchase for them make up a sizable portion of our grocery spending every month.

2. We opt for convenience more often these days.

Shopping with any number of small children makes my blood pressure rise — so my goal is always to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.

I take many steps to aid with my in-and-out shopping method — things like writing my list based on the layout of the store and getting to the store early in the morning (or really late at night when the kids are sleeping) but even still, I like to move quickly.

This means I don’t dilly-dally over what brand or price is the absolute cheapest — but rather, just buy the items I know we like and need for that week whether they are on sale or not.

I also do not use coupons (except the digital mPerks which basically require no time from me) and I do NOT shop at multiple stores — I buy EVERYTHING I need for the week at Meijer and go to Costco once a month (or once every 2 months) as more of a fun outing for the kids.

While I do love deal-shopping, I just won’t do it at this point in my life. I have other ways of saving money that cause me less stress. I’ll get back to coupons and shopping all the sales after my kids are all in school!

3. We rarely spend money going out to eat.

Dave and I ask for restaurant gift cards for our birthdays or Christmas and that’s usually the only time we go out to eat.

We do get Culver’s roughy one a month, but we use gift cards we buy in December and tons of coupons so we only spend about $150 at Culver’s for the entire year (I buy $150 worth of gift cards every December and get lots of freebie coupons as a result).

Also, Dave never goes out to eat for lunch (he can’t because of his school schedule) and Nora doesn’t get hot lunch, so we all eat or pack 3 meals a day from home.

Obviously, since we don’t go out to eat, we eat at home almost all the time — which means buying more groceries.

4. We have people over for meals on a regular basis.

Although we don’t go out to eat every often, we DO invite people over to eat at our house quite often.

Grandparents, neighbors, family friends, people from church, etc. — our kids love having company over and I don’t mind making extra food, so it’s a win-win (except for the fact that it increases our grocery spending!)

5. We eat an insane amount of produce… and it’s not cheap!

We are still working on expending our children’s love for vegetables, but they willingly eat an insane amount of fruit every week… and about 3 years ago, I decided I just wasn’t going to worry how much I spent on produce, as long as people were eating it.

I buy large amounts of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas, apples, and grapes every week, along with oranges, cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, peaches, pears, plumbs, and pineapple when they are “in season” and taste so much better!

And even though my kids much prefer fruit over veggies, they are pretty good about eating cooked carrots, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and corn — so I always keep those veggies in our fridge.

I like to buy good lettuce and spinach for salads throughout the week, plus I buy mushrooms, onions, potatoes, and fresh herbs for cooking, along with peppers, pea pods, and cherry tomatoes for eating raw.

When these items aren’t in season, prices can be high — but I figure it’s still cheaper (and healthier) than going out to eat, and since I enjoy cooking and baking, it’s not a burden for me to spend time preparing these foods each week.

6. We buy more expensive foods.

I definitely would NOT consider myself a “foodie” and I have no issue eating some processed foods, but I will say that the foods we buy now are more expensive (and probably more quality) than the foods I bought 10-12 years ago.

Along with all the fruits and veggies I mentioned above, I buy good quality meats and cheeses, healthier fats,ย more nutritious breads, tons of full-fat dairy products, more specialty oils and vinegars, SO many eggs, real maple syrup, whole wheat flour (and other grains like flax seed, wheat germ) etc.

All of these extras add up each month!

7. We buy in bulk.

We were gifted a quarter of a cow from Dave’s parents for Christmas, but we also purchase a decent amount of bulk meat from Zaycon Fresh every year (I have 20 pounds of sausage links arriving next week!)

I realize the point of buying in bulk is to SAVE money, but having so much mean on hand makes it much easier to cook with meat on a very regular basis — which probably means we end up eating and buying quite a bit more meat on a yearly basis.

Not necessarily a bad thing for our growing kids, but it does add to our grocery spending each month.

8. We have a Costco Membership

Speaking of buying in bulk… we still have our Costco membership!

We got a free membership for 1 year… that was 3 years ago ๐Ÿ™‚

I wanted to cancel after the free year was up, but Dave convinced me that it was worth the (roughly) $1 per week since we do buy several items at reduced prices via our Costco store and online. Plus, Dave benefits from the optical center, and the kids really love their samples!

I include the membership price in our grocery spending — and, of course, everything I buy there adds to our grocery spending each month.

9. We include lots of mics. items in our grocery spending.

I know some people might not do this, but I basically include everything I purchase at our grocery store in our grocery spending (even if it’s not actually “groceries”).

This includes the Valentine’s candy and cards I just purchased for Nora’s class, the gift card I just purchased for a friend, the toilet paper and paper towels I recently stocked up on, the 2 Hot Wheels cars I let the boys pick out last week “just because”, the motor oil I bought for Dave, the socks I picked up for James, the vitamins I purchased for the kids, and hair products I stocked up on via a recent sale.

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE Meijer grocery stores — literally a one-stop shop for everything I need!

Obviously, all of these things significantly increase the amount I enter for “groceries” each month, but it makes sense for me and for the way I get groceries to include everything under my “groceries” tab.

10. We have made our house more efficient.

This might not seem like a factor, but our gas and electric bills are so much less expensive now because we put in all new insulation, all new windows and doors, LED lights, etc. So the fact that our utility bills are so much lower, makes our grocery spending seem higher.

We alsoย no longer pay for Cable, the Newspaper, or any other paper/magazine subscriptions. And our cell phone bills are now only $70 a month (total for both phones) since we both have older phones and are “Grandfathered” into the lowest data/call/text package possible.

Another biggie… we paid off our mortgage, so we no longer have that monthly expense!

11. We don’t get out much!

Again, this might not seem like a factor for our grocery spending — but since we don’t do a lot of outside activities, we don’t spend money on outside activities and we don’t need gas to get to outside activities.

In fact, for the past several years, we’ve spent almost nothing on “entertainment” because we just don’t do much!

We participate in lots of free community and church programs (most of which are VERY family-friendly) and the few times we’ve gone on any type of vacation, our parents have footed the bill since it was a big extended family event and they wanted to pay for everyone (I know, we’re lucky!)

Our kids don’t do clubs, lessons, sports, or any paid extracurricular activities yet, and other than our monthly trips to the local thrift store, a few Amazon purchases, and our weekly grocery trips, we really don’t buy anything!

The huge LACK of spending on gas, vacations, entertainment, etc. makes it much easier for our grocery spending to seem higher.

So how much do we spend on groceries each month?

Roughly $600 – $650 per month (or roughly $7,500 a year!)

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I include the numbers above ONLY because I know I’ll get so many questions if I don’t.

I’m not trying to say that $600 per month is a lot or not a lot, I’m simply stating that $600 roughly what I spend on grocery (and related items) every month.

If you spend significantly more, it’s probably because your family eats more or your grocery prices are higher or you have more children. If you spend less, it’s probably because you’re a better shopper than I am or you’re willing to shop at multiple stores every week or you eat out at restaurants more.

Either way, I really do NOT think there is a “right” amount of money for any given family to spend each month — as long as you have the money to spend.ย 

Personally, I feel pretty good about the food I buy and make for my family, and the fact I can do it all for around $600 per month.

I also know that number will most likely keep getting higher!

.

Next year, with 2 kids in school, our Christian school tuition will most likely surpass our grocery spending… however, since we live a fairly frugal lifestyle and don’t have many other monthly expenses, I will continue to justify higher weekly and monthly grocery bills.

If we reach a point where I feel I need to cut back, I will… but for now, spending more on groceries seems to be one solution to simplify my life with a growing family and so many other decisions and choices to make every day!

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39 comments

  1. Brittany

    02/14/2018

    My first guess was Christian school tuition. However, with just one-school aged child currently, it makes sense that the grocery category is still the winner!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    next year it will be tuition (unless I really go crazy buying tons of groceries!)

    thankfully, our school has a sliding scale, otherwise we’d be hurting by the time Clara gets in school!

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  2. Debbie

    02/13/2018

    When I was single, living on my own, in the mid 90’s my grocery bill was $150/month!!! I ate plenty but I probably didn’t eat as much produce back then as I do now. Our situation now is so different even with just me and my husband. We eat more produce, meat, and sometimes make special desserts calling for higher quality ingredients. I’m still always shocked when I see our grocery is at $500+/month for 2 people and occasionally guests when we have them over. When I tried Blue Apron I found that our grocery was much more higher so I stopped it until I can figure out what was really causing the increase. Stopping the subscription definitely helped but I found that the main reason is we’re just eating more healthy. I don’t include other purchases in the food category such as household cleaners, dining out, occasional Starbucks coffee. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who goes through expenses and enjoys figuring out the whys, and the whats of it all.

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  3. Sherry

    02/13/2018

    Congratulations on paying off your mortgage. What a great achievement!!!

    [Reply]

  4. Jenni

    02/12/2018

    Actually, your numbers are really good given what you are purchasing! We have 4 kids and spend less, but I have to be more careful with buying because we’re still trying to pay off school loans, etc.

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    Andrea Reply:

    ahhhh… those student loans are brutal! It will feel so great when they are finally paid off!!

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  5. Chris

    02/12/2018

    Our grocery bill is relatively low. We’ve received several large free gifts of groceries the last two years, and we get an annual 25% off shopping trip at Wal-Mart since my husband works at Wal-Mart and that’s his reward for Thanksgiving Day, so we really stock up. BUT we love to go out to eat, so naturally that makes our grocery bill cheaper. LOL

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — that’s awesome! I’m sure the 25% off coupon is a big money saver

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    Chris Reply:

    Yes! (I meant his reward for WORKING Thanksgiving Day!)

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  6. Christine from The (mostly) Simple Life

    02/12/2018

    We spend about $70 per week for 2 adults. I avoid Meijer! The stores are just so massive! Even if Iโ€™m running in for just 2 things, it still feels like it takes half an hour because of how big it is and how long it takes to check out. We shop for everything we can at Aldi (it only takes about 30 minutes to zip through the store and they are so fast at the checkout) and then I stop at Meijer every other week for the few things we canโ€™t get at aldi. Everyone has to find their system! Iโ€™m always interested in what others spend!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I know — the checkout lanes at Meijer are getting ridiculously long — the lines are the ONE thing I really don’t like about Meijer (but massiveness of the store doesn’t bother me because I know where everything is).
    I’ve been shopping at the exact same grocery store since I was a child and went with my mom — so I’m just so used to Meijer that it makes sense for me. However, I did tell Dave that I might need to test out Aldi a few more times this spring if Meijer doesn’t increase the speed of their checkouts!

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    Stephanie Reply:

    Maybe the new Meijer opening in June will help the lines at the neighboring Meijers. I hardly go to Meijer for the reason listed above….but soon Meijer will be the closest grocery store to me, I have a feeling I will go there more frequently when it opens.
    I love Aldi and Costco and try really hard to plan my meals around what those stores have. Eventually I need to go to Meijer or Family Fare to get a few items Aldi and Costco donโ€™t have. Although Family fare is more expensive, the ability to get in and out quickly, and the fact that because it is more expensive, Iโ€™m WAY less likely to impulse buy, are enough reasons to shop there every now and then.
    $600 seems like a good budget to me. I try to stick to $500-$600 depending on when we have been last gifted with meat.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I am SOOOOOOOOOOOO excited for that new Meijer to open — I can (almost) ride my bike — although then i wouldn’t be able to buy much!

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  7. Linda

    02/12/2018

    I saw your title and knew right away the answer. What I am thrilled about is the amount you spend. It is roughly what I spend and I also shop at Meijer. We have two preteens. So, I am excited that what I spend could be considered “normal.” I do try to stick to my list and not purchase on impulse. However, it seems like so much money is going on food! And I can tell you what I purchase is gone within the week. I don’t throw out a thing! My husband tells me our bill is only going to go up.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — glad to make you feel “normal” ๐Ÿ™‚ and yes, I have a feeling both of our grocery bills will continue to go up until our kids are out of the house!

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  8. Amy

    02/12/2018

    We are a family of 4.5 (I say that because with this pregnancy, I have been SO hungry!). We spend $1000 including vitamins, shampoo, etc. The majority of our bills are spent in the produce isle too. It kills me that our bill is so high, but we are a pretty healthy family. I’m hoping that we are actually saving money long term by extending our lives and avoiding medical problems that we may otherwise have had. Hopefully ๐Ÿ™‚ Some things are just genetics and fate…but we are trying our best!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I always put the .5 when I was pregnant ๐Ÿ™‚ Congrats on the soon-to-be new baby!

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  9. Ashley

    02/12/2018

    Dave Ramsey suggests that 5-10% of your monthly income should go to food, which probably puts the number higher than most of us would expect! I obviously don’t know your income, but I’d bet that $600 is in that range ๐Ÿ™‚

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    Andrea Reply:

    good to know… I was actually wondering what might be “normal” or “suggested”. Considering I’m certain we don’t spend nearly as much as other in different categories (entertainment, mortgage, vacations, etc.) I’d feel comfortable going over the 10% for groceries — I’m sure that number will just keep getting higher!

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  10. Kelly

    02/12/2018

    I am down to just my husband and I (had 3 boys, talk about eating machines when they were teens). With the start of 2018 I decided that I needed to track our grocery budget. Like you I buy everything and consider it groceries. I was so shocked that it was almost $750 in January. I am now watching every penny and seeing if I can cut it down to $500 and throw the other $200 in savings. Part of ours is our wine consumption with dinner. That can really add up.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    isn’t it amazing how quickly little expenses like that add up over the course of a month or a year! It would be amazing to save $2400 this year by simply putting $200 away each month!

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  11. Mandy

    02/12/2018

    Fun read. I was not expecting the answer to be groceries! I shop at Aldi with 2 kids – not an enjoyable experience – there is NO way I could do it with 3 or 4. I sometimes feel like I’m running down the aisles throwing whatever I can grab in the cart before the kids breakdown. Even with a list, lol. One more kid and it’s Meijer all the way! You’re right – once the kids are in school there will be time to shop the sales, but right now is NOT THAT TIME.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    so what WERE you expecting the answer to be? Just curious ๐Ÿ™‚
    I have so many friends who do Aldi — and I did give Aldi another chance over Christmas break (I love the 2-child carts!) But in the end, I realized that I’d always have to go to Meijer after Aldi to get everything Aldi didn’t have, so the extra time I save (and my sanity) are worth more to me right now than saving a little extra money at Aldi. Someday, maybe I’ll try them again ๐Ÿ™‚

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    Mandy Reply:

    Diapers!!!!! Lol, just kidding (kind of). I obviously wasn’t thinking mathematically, but it’s honestly what popped into my head first. I’ve shopped at Aldi for years so I’m used to it. They don’t have everything so I usually meal plan around what I know I can purchase there. I’ll usually make a small Meijer run a different day than grocery shopping just to get out of the house.

    You gotta do what works for your fam – mom’s sanity is pretty important!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — that would be A LOT of diapers! And now that James is potty trained, our diaper consumption is much less!! Yahoo!!

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    Kristina R Reply:

    I second this! I am an Aldi lover through & through, but there are weeks that I just can’t handle shopping there with kids. Overall, it takes much less time than Meijer, though. My kids (6 & 3) don’t melt down at Meijer & I’m convinced it’s because of the free cookies & Sandy. Now that I think of it, bagging my own groceries at Aldi (picture a HEAPING cart full of food) is where the breakdown really unfolds. I loathe bagging them, my 3 year old is full on tired of riding in the cart by then, & I’m trying to keep an eye on my 6 year old, as well. There are weeks where I drive to Meijer & pay the extra because I want to be a pleasant mom & not have my own sanity headed downhill when leaving. Pro tip: if you don’t care about judgemental glances from “perfect” parents, let your kids play their kindles while you shop. Sometimes I just have to survive. Lol! You’re a rockstar, Andrea!

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  12. Jane

    02/12/2018

    Great post. I have an autoimmune disease that I am trying to heal with food so our monthly budget for 2 adults and 2 younger boys has gone up greatly (from $400 to almost $1,000). We are also in western Michigan so Meijers gets most of my paycheck! We include everything we buy there in our grocery budget. (Do they really need to put Hot Wheels in the checkout lanes?) But like you, we don’t eat out very much and have focused on healthier options.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I always say my kids are SO well behaved until we reach the checkout lane — then they become monsters who need to have EVERYTHING they see!

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  13. Mara

    02/12/2018

    Fun to read! I also guessed the answer correctly, our family definitely is in the same boat! I am sure your kids will have very fond memories of your cooking when they are parents!

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  14. Karen

    02/12/2018

    I include everything I buy at the grocery store as groceries, too. BUT – You have paid off your mortgage!!! Congratulations! Very nicely done.

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  15. Lynn

    02/12/2018

    Love the post! Since I partially grew up in Michigan, I grew up with Meijers! It was the first ‘super center’ that I remember! A new year and new changes in my life, I am making sure to put my financial goals into place and plan to pay off my mortgage in 8 years! I bet it is wonderful having your mortgage paid off!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    gotta love Meijer (except the ridiculously long checkout lines these days!)

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  16. Nancy

    02/12/2018

    Healthy food that you eat is worth far more than expensive junk food. We have teens and are still struggling to choose the healthy options! Iโ€™m always shocked at the amount we spend for insurance in its various forms. Auto, home, life, liability, disability, health. It adds up!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, insurance is expensive. We are “lucky” that Dave’s employer pays our health and dental insurance premiums. So we have home, auto, and life insurance to foot the bills for — and since we got life insurance when we were young, we have a really low rate for that!

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    Jenni Reply:

    That is awesome that they pay for your health insurance premiums!

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  17. Ruth

    02/12/2018

    When I saw your title, I guessed correctly before reading the answer!! I knew it would be food!!
    But I was wrong when I saw your amount! LOL!

    If you are including miscellaneous spending in that, I think $600 is great!

    My food bill is running $2K per month right now. We eat organically, farm raised everything and can’t eat wheat or dairy (that prevents inexpensive meals like sandwiches and casseroles).

    It’s painful but it is what it is, I guess!

    have a great day!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yikes! I’m glad we haven’t hit the $2000 per month mark yet!

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  18. JJ

    02/12/2018

    We are in the exact same boat! We also have 3 kids with food allergies, so that makes it expensive, too. I think with us we had our kids so close in age, so our budget tripled overnight. Or so it seemed. You are doing a great job!!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, 6 year ago, I was spending roughly $40 per week — now it’s about 4 times that much! crazy how quickly the expenses add up over the years!

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