The New Year is upon us, and I am starting it off with a post inspired by activity in the Manitoba Food Bloggers group at the very end of last year. Group moderator and organizer and generally all-round terrific person Shel Zolkewich, posted a poll which stated that according to Stats Canada, the average Manitoba family spent $241.00 per person per month on food. I’m pretty much a Joe Average kind of guy, so this should work for me.
Now, I eat out a lot, but I thought this might be an interesting experiment to attempt. This is not my first attempt at some sort of budgeted eating. I did a $20.00 a week Lenten challenge a few years back, and more recently I did the Winnipeg Harvest poverty pledge.

ill $51.11 is the total of my first shop for the month.

So, on one level, I know how easy it is to live off of $241.00 for groceries for a month. However both of those other times were based on the idea of restriction. Limiting myself to a certain amount of calories. Giving myself a small, almost infinitesimal idea of what it is like to live daily with the bare minimum or even less.
This, on the other hand,will give me more of an idea of what I eat on a regular basis. It will encourage me to be more thoughtful in the way I shop. Hopefully it will also help me to cut down on my food waste as well.

Some Notes for the Average Joe

If my understanding of the Stats Can information is correct, the $241.00 figure only includes food. I think though, I will try and keep track of this on the side. I plan to try and purchase household goods and sundries separately from my actual food purchases.
One interesting item for me will be to tally my eating out costs versus my store bought groceries costs. I have a feeling that the second will be quite a bit higher. Firstly, because  of my reviews. Secondly, though, because I do spend a fair bit of time in coffee shops over the course of the month.
I do have some food in my cupboards. Not very much, but I am reasonably well stocked on spices and oil. Other than that I have a few onions, a couple of potatoes, a lemon, some garlic, one can of black eyed peas, the remainders of a couple of bags of frozen vegetables, and a couple of pots of turkey stock in the freezer. Oh, and most of one fairly large bag of white flour.

The Average Joe Bulks Up

Bulk buying is a great way to save on food costs. It’s also a great way to add monotony to your diet. I’ve written before about buying in bulk as a single. I started my shopping for this experiment at Superstore – Sargent location. The first thing I looked for was meat, to see if there were any good buys on. Unfortunately the only things on sale were bulk packages of meat. I enjoy chicken drumsticks, but the best buy on those was about $17.00 for a package containing around 2 dozen drums. That’s a lot of meals eating chicken drumsticks.
I did however, by a big bag of Basmati rice. I grew up with rice as a regular part of the family diet, and I really enjoy eating it.
One other thing that affects bulk buying is that I travel everywhere either on foot or by bus. This makes bulk shopping a lot more difficult. The extra cost of cab fare, would offset much of the savings of buying bulk, so I will be doing several, smaller shops during the month.

Bagged Basmati, biggest buy in Average Joe first purchase.

A bit of Freshness

In the picture underneath you’ll find the only two bits of fresh food that I have picked up. One 5lb bag of carrots and a container of grapes. When I hit Superstore last night, it was into the evening and not only was it cold, but I wasn’t sure how soon I would be able to catch a bus. I will try and make a trip later this week to pick up some more vegetables. I’m also not averse to frozen and canned, so I’ll likely add some of those as well.

A little freshness in the grocery bag.


Of the two items below, only one is truly a snack item. However, the individual servings of apple sauce kind of fall into this category as well. Now, snacks would be an easy thing to cut out if I wanted to place an emphasis on savings. However, it seems only right that if I’m going to be average, I should at least be including some snacks in my food purchases. The containers of blueberry-apple sauce are the unsweetened kind. I find them more refreshing than the sugar added type.

I dont know what constitutes average as far as snacks go, but I certainly will be buying some.

Meat and Dairy

As I stated above, I didn’t really like any of the meat options at Superstore. However, they did have a good deal on the Smoke House Bacon, so I did pick up a package of it. The big block of cheese will be more for lunches than for recipes, while I hope to use the Parm to add a little zip to some of the dishes that I prepare.

There was not a lot of meat purchased because nothing but club packs were on sale,

Joe Average Staples

I don’t know if staples is the correct term for the items below, but these are the kind of things that have an extended shelf life. They are all things that I can take with me to work to make lunch, without having to worry that they might go off if my plans for the day change and lunch at work isn’t feasible.

A few staples for the cupboard to complete my Superstore trip.

Joe Average and Nutrition

As you can probably tell from looking at my purchases, they are not particularly well rounded on the nutrition side of things. My first shop, which after adding the Stew Beef from Bouchee Boucher, came to $58.36, is very heavy on the protein side. I did some calculating on the protein aspect, and if I were to consume everything I bought, the protein amount would be around 2050g (I calculated this on the back of an envelope, and then left the envelope behind). Based on my weight and daily protein requirements, this is anywhere from 11 days – 37 days, (and people wonder why it’s so hard for anyone to eat healthy).
Anyway, as I go along, I’m also going to take a closer look at how this is affecting my intake of vitamins and minerals, etc. I’ll also try and keep an eye on my fat intake(I love butter, so this will likely be high). One thing I won’t worry about is my calorie intake. My thoughts on calories are very much like those of Robert Farrar Capon in his seminal book, The Supper of the Lamb:

Even more important, however, the distinction must never be thought of as depending on the “richness” or fattening quality of the foods involved – as if the festal ones were full of calories and the ferial ones dietetic. The calorie approach is the work of the Devil.  Page 25

500g of Stew Beef from Bouchee Boucher. My shopping choices so far are high in protein, if nothing else.

I hope you find this and any following posts on the subject to be interesting. Please feel free to send along comments and suggestions.

Published by Donald McKenzie

Anglican priest, and food blogger. This blog is focused on Food. It will feature reviews of places to eat books, and the odd recipe. I also write about what it means to gather together around food. View more posts

54 replies on “Joe Average Buys Groceries”

  1. This is really interesting. I find it fascinating how household dynamics changes purchases, as well as accessibility. I remember only too well, not having a vehicle and not being able to buy much at a time! Thankfully, we had a grocery store that was kind of walking distance (while I was more able bodied, at least), so I would sometimes borrow a shopping cart overnight to bring my purchases home, then return it the next day. I worked there for a while, so the staff knew me and knew I was good for it.
    Once we got a vehicle, the biggest perk was being able to buy soft fruits, which tended to get damaged when hauling bags home or using transit. Then we got a Costco membership again, and I started buying more bulk. With a vehicle, we would do a big Costco shopping trip every payday, then smaller trips for more perishable stuff, like milk and fruit, at the regular grocery store as needed.
    Now, monthly buying for 4 humans, 2 indoor cats and 7 outdoor cats, means a trip to the city and more careful planning and budgeting. Our shopping habits will also be changing simply because we no longer have garbage or recycling pick up! You really think twice about buying things when you know you’re going to have to haul the waste to the dump yourself at some point.

    1. Thanks for sharing you thoughts. Maybe more of us need to forced to haul our own waste. It might help cut down on the amount of things we purchase.

  2. What an interesting post! I’ve tried to shop on a monthly budget before as well and I found that it was a challenge to stay nutritious abd well-rounded as well.. And some things are just SO EXPENSIVE to stay nutritious. Even veggies and meats can easily push you over your budget, and shopping the deals is sometimes so time consuming..

    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree it’s getting harder to eat healthy, partly because it’s also easier to eat unhealthy. We need to turn those two around.

  3. Enjoyed your blog entries! Grocery shopping is such an important subject. As a vegetarian, I sometimes find it challenging to buy affordable food. I also just moved to a new city so I am yet to find my new preferred grocery store. Your blog is inspiring me to think about these issues more and write about them in the future!

  4. I’m intrigued by your challenge and look forward to seeing this play out..!
    Your post also presents an interesting look at “normal” life, and I appreciated the insight/consideration of buying bulk (seemingly prudent) versus the logistics of transportation.

  5. As long as you have a lot of spices, you can get some really tasty food from cheap food-items.
    Spices don’t help much with the nutritional side of things, but still.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Spices are certainly a big help on the flavour end. I think nutrition is often overplayed. We don’t need as much of all the nutrients as we are sometimes told.

      1. Nutrition is good, we just don’t need to overthink it as much as some people do.
        Eating varied is the best thing you can do.
        Only eating carrots is almost as bad as only eating meat 😉

  6. Very interesting! I laugh because I just cleaned out and organized my pantry yesterday. I have had the same can of pigeon peas for 2 years! I also find that having actual cash on you helps stick to a budget better. Something about swiping the card makes you lose the connection to the value of money. Great post!

    1. Thanks for the comment. It got me thinking of the idea of rotation. I worked in a grocery store for many years, and we were always reminded to put the newest stock at the back and bring the old to the front.
      I think I need to practice that more at home.

      1. Yes! I just had a little mom job at the school in their kitchen and learned so much there. They did the same with bringing the oldest forward. Food is expensive! And those practices really help avoid waste.

  7. This was very interesting. I’m sure you are going to have some good tips for us.
    This is the second time I’ve seen you reference Father Capon. I met him when he baptized a neighbor’s baby. Our town was two towns away from his church in Port Jefferson, NY. That baby is now middle-aged. I read his book, too, but I doubt I still have it.

    1. Thanks as always for stopping by to comment. I wish I had been given the opportunity to meet Father Capon, but his work has been a regular inspiration to me.

  8. I love this subject! I enjoyed how you showed what you purchased and talked about how to shop for one person. I can’t wait to see the following posts!

  9. I really must learn to budget our grogercies and look forward to following your learnings or advise. We do try to keep our eye on sales for grocery items that we use. I find that we could waste less and not shop when you are hungry as everything looks good.

  10. I hate grocery shopping, and will avoid at any cost, luckily my husband doesn’t mind it and will stop on his way home from work to pick up stuff for dinner. You are dead on with the bulk item issue, I even find the bags of carrots to be too big and often result in food waste. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  11. Very interesting post. I find grocery shopping painful so I avoid it as much as I can. Fortunately my husband absolutely loves it and would even take our 3 sons along when they were little – crazy huh? In my experience, bulk buying of perishable items does not equate to savings because of the amount of waste. Although I do a lot of cooking, I am conscious about wastage, so I will only buy foods in bulk that I can share with my sons for their families to use.

  12. Loved the post and it is interesting to see how prices are in other countries to us in the UK. Budgeting is always to the fore in our home as I am catering for my husband and our two sons who are 18 and 22 and all three are 6’1″ tall and eat me out of house and home!!! I cook all our meals, we do not have takeaways or ready meals, and I bake cakes and cookies etc for snacks. I am lucky as I do have a car but shop once a week and our weekly bill does include household products as well.
    My only comment on your first bill is perhaps to use bags which you can use every time you shop to save the 40 cents on the carrier bags. If you use proper bags as well it may help in getting your shopping home a little easier as they are stronger than the plastic bags.
    Thanks for the post.

    1. Hi Susie: Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Budgeting is definitely larger when there are several large males in the household.
      I agree that carrier bags do save money, but I often find myself shopping only when I have a few minutes, and since I bus everywhere I rarely have bags handy.

  13. I love what you are attempting. I love that you started with a big bag of rice, and a big block of cheese, although I don’t eat a lot of either one anymore, they both go a long way and can be used a lot of ways. You don’t mention a freezer, or any intent to make use of one, except that you do mention the possibility of frozen vegetables. We often make a big pot of (something, soup, African peanut stew, chili, Moroccan vegetable stew, etc) and serve it a couple meals, packaging up the rest into portions that can be taken out later, thawed and heated. Cooking in bulk helps with cost per serving. Did I see tuna fish cans? Tuna is another great source of protein and can be used so many different ways. We use a lot of Middle Eastern recipes (chana dal with burghul, chickpeas with burghul) which can be meatless, or include very little meat. Rotisserie chicken is often as cheap as buying and roasting a chicken, and can be used multiple times in multiple ways. Half the fun is in making it work, isn’t it? As for carrier bags – how do you carry your work materials? Do you use a backpack, which can do double duty and carries a lot of bulky items, even heavier items by distributing the weight. Sorry, sorry, probably getting too involved in YOUR challenge!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate people who go in depth. Part of the whole project is me learning. I’m fortunate to live in an area where there are several grocery stores near by so that multiple, smaller trips aren’t to much of a problem.

  14. Love your challenge. Rice is great, as is bulk cheese. Tuna? Ground beef? Do you ever cook in bulk, package in portions and freeze for use later, i.e. soups, stews? Eggs are great, making your own super-cereal from basic oats + raisins, nuts, etc. Rotisserie chicken sometimes costs less than roasting your own and can be used a lot of different ways. Have fun with this 🙂

  15. I’m intrigued. Perhaps I should give it s try. How often do we not pay close attention to what we buy or do or even eat. Can’t wait to learn what you discover. Thank you for the follow on all my heart sees, suzanne 😊

  16. Interesting experiment. We had a friend live with us for five months in 2015 and just piled everyone’s receipts into a basket. Adding it up at the end of the month and dividing by three we found we were spending between $200 and $225 a month for food and a few other household items like toilet paper etc. Before this we had no idea. Of course, this was a few years ago and ran from April through September. During this winter in Vancouver prices are way up, and since we cook most everything from scratch our electrical bill has also skyrocketed to the point that I’m not sure if cooking is worth it!

    1. Yes, there are other costs to factor into cooking at home, fortunately hydro rates in Manitoba are still fairly reasonable. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment.

  17. Interesting post.
    Yes, it is expensive to eat only healthy food, but try cooking and putting half in the fridge for the next day. It saves money and your waistline.
    The easiest way to eat healthy is to have no unhealthy food in your fridge or pantry cupboards Don’t eat out unless it is a salad and grilled fish or meat.
    Increase the challenge to include finding the healthiest, cheapest cafe or restaurant in your area. Don’t eat out with friends who eat junk food. The temptation is too strong for most people.
    Every time you think you’re hungry, drink a glass of water. Every time you crave a coffee, drink a glass of water. When you get up, drink a glass of water with the juice of half a lemon squeezed into it.

  18. Loved this post….very interesting….

  19. Donald, I do most of the shopping (and more than half of the cooking) for two. As a matter of convenience, most of our food comes from Walmart, unless I have a need to travel 20+ miles toward the nearest Kroger. (The fall-back is Food Lion, which can, on occasion, offer some good deals.)
    I am, at age 75.5, with chronic kidney disease, sharply limiting my fat and red meat intake. My wife, 52, does not. That makes for tricky shopping and cooking. We had Food Lion Catfish tonight. I had to cook hers after mine, because I can’t tolerate the Lawrey’s seasoning she insists on anointing all meat with. And the cooking oil would have been ‘polluted’ with seasoning if I’d cooked hers first.
    I prefer to sautee fish (she wanted hers fried) for health and cost reasons. I am going to try to get her up to the twice-a-week fish load recommended by many dieticians — in spite of the impact this will have on the food budget.
    All that said, I estimate we spend less than $200 (US) on food monthly. ]
    She, a customer service rep for Home Advisor, has a Doug-made sandwich for lunch. Today I had rice noodles and salsa verde (mild) with a dash or three of dried jalapeno powder. Simple. Nutritious.
    We, like an increasing number of Americans, closely monitor our food expenditures. And shop carefully: I believe rise noodles are healthier than wheat flour ones, so I shop for them in an Oriental market. The one I shop offers (healthy) vegetable choices I can’t get in traditional US supermarkets.
    My blog,, will increasingly be addressing issues on how food retailers and their suppliers are addressing health-oriented issues\
    Doug Harris

    1. Hi Doug:
      Thanks for your comments. It does seems that the more people you add into the cooking equation, the more challenging it becomes. You seem to be dong a good job of working out compromises, though.
      It definitely does seem to help keep food costs down when there is a greater variety of food outlets around. My neighbourhood has a lot of small grocery stores, and often I can good buys on specific items in various stores.
      I look forward to reading more about what you observe retailers doing in the area of health oriented grocery choices.

  20. This was a very interesting post. I remember when my city surveyed me about potential use of a bus route near my home and my main was concern was how I would go grocery shopping for my family of five. I’d have loved to ride the bus, but it was not practical at all. It’s nice to read someone lay out the challenges of “everyman” in regards to groceries. And I also wonder if a lot of it has to do with climate. I’m in Alaska, it’s not like I can go into the back yard and pick fresh vegis all year round, but we do preserve an awful lot of what we grow in the summer. Anyway, a very interesting perspective. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I’m certainly fortunate that I am only shopping for myself, as well as having many stores within a few blocks walking distance.
      Climate certainly makes a difference. The city of Churchill , in Northern Manitoba, recently lost it’s rail connection and there were serious problems for the community when it came to finding enough, and particularly enough fresh food to eat.

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