Canadians, how much do you spend on groceries per week?
December 27, 2015 4:11 PM   Subscribe

After asking some friends and family, I'm realizing that I may be spending way too much on groceries every week.

I'm a single female and I can't seem to spend less than $75-$100 on my weekly groceries, but my friends and family are saying they spend about $50. I also recently read that Stats Canada reports that the average household (4 people) spends $7980 on groceries per year. This would work out to about $41 a person per week. Is this how much other single people are spending? If so, what are you (or aren't you) eating?! I can't imagine being able to eat three meals plus snacks every day for a week on $41.

Some info:

I eat gluten free bread and pasta. (I've had my blood tested and have a gluten intolerance. This is a non-negotiable for me.) Even though this is more expensive, I only buy one loaf of gluten free bread ($7) and one box of gluten free pasta ($4) a week.

I only eat meat (chicken or fish) once a week.

I enjoy cooking and trying new recipes.

I shop primarily at Save On Foods, since it's right next door to my workplace.

I try to buy only what I need, but I don't do a once-weekly shop. I shop every day during my lunch break for what I need.

Please tell me how much you spend on average per week and feel free to offer me advice on how I can reduce my bill!
posted by figaro to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It will be vastly different based on province, and even city. I spend upwards of $700/month on groceries in Edmonton, Alberta, for three adults, but we eat meat (chicken, typically) at almost every meal.

One thing that's true: if you go to the grocery store more often, you will spend more. Write your menus out for a week, shop once, and you will spend less.
posted by Nyx at 4:20 PM on December 27, 2015

Yes, good point. I live in Vancouver, BC.
posted by figaro at 4:23 PM on December 27, 2015

Bear in mind that if you rarely eat out/order in, you're going to be spending more on groceries, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

There are also significant economies of scale that kick in when grocery shopping for multiple people. It usually does not cost 2x to make a recipe for 2 people.
posted by mkultra at 4:24 PM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm Celiac so also eat gluten free. I spend around $40 a week. Though usually do my shopping once a month and pick up extras as I need.. I'm on a strict budget and with Celiac cook everything from scratch. My meals tend to revolve around chicken, rice, pasta, Indian dishes. I think it is the shopping daily that is increasing your bill because I find that when I used to do that there'd always be a few extra things that ended up in my cart.

I think you will have to weigh the coinvience of daily shopping versus money as well how much cooking you wish to do. 2 small chickens can make me 10 meals for under 20 bucks but I have the time to cook.
posted by kanata at 4:25 PM on December 27, 2015

In general, with meal planning, coordinating that with sales/specials, and weekly shopping you'll spend less. Daily shopping and less strategic planning will raise your bill. It's also true that you can't take the total for a family or four and divide it by four and get an accurate projection for your costs as a single person. As mkultra points out, there are economies of scale with a larger group.

It also sounds like you're not eating a ton of cheap, processed carbs. That will raise your grocery bill.
posted by quince at 4:34 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that as a single person you will miss out on the economies of scale that a family gets.
posted by srboisvert at 4:37 PM on December 27, 2015 [12 favorites]

Where do your friends shop? I live in Vancouver, and while I'm not familiar with Save-On's pricing I've found that shopping at No Frills instead of Safeway, IGA etc. is a little cheaper which adds up eventually. I also save a fair bit getting my produce from Sunrise Market, though that may be out of the way for you.
posted by noxperpetua at 4:44 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

In Quebec, for two adults, we spend $75 to $100 a week on groceries. About 3 meals a week have meat in them. I have quite a few restrictions (think nuts, eggs and fruits and vegetables only) and he eats pretty blandly - salad, sandwiches and pasta/rice everyday. The bulk of our costs is fresh produce. He has breakfast at work. I indulge in dark chocolate a few times a week. We don't drink juice, soda, coffee or alcohol often at all. We don't buy in bulk and we keep an eye on sales but don't plan our meals around them. We eat out once a week ($40 to $50 for the both of us).

We budget for $20 a day for food and put whatever is left in savings.
posted by eisforcool at 5:00 PM on December 27, 2015

Family of 4 here - we spend anywhere from $200-300 per week on groceries for 2 adults, 1 mid-teen, and 1 almost-teen. (There is additional cost for pet foods.) We do meal planning ahead of time and we make a grocery list for our weekly trip to the grocery store and to Costco. (Yes, there are things we buy at Costco every week because it makes more sense financially to do so - and it's near my husband's office.) The cost includes 90% of our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

We eat relatively well and relatively healthfully - a decent amount of cooking from scratch, a decent amount of semi-prepared (frozen burgers that we bbq, for example), and very little fully-prepared food. We buy fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurts, meats, whole grain breads and pastas, and we definitely pay a bit extra for some of the convenience foods (like pre-shredded cheese). We do take-out pizza every Friday night, included in that cost. We buy some canned/frozen fruits and vegetables, some pre-made salads, etc.

I think we could knock off a small (but not insignificant) amount of money if we based our weekly menu on sales and a bit more if we cut out the convenience foods in favour of shredding/chopping/whatever'ing ourselves. We could also probably save a bit if we shopped at a grocery store that's a bit further from home - we used to do that, but the lack of variety/options there made the extra cost a bit more palatable. If we were willing to ditch a few of the healthier options we could also save some money - but no.

When we were 2 adults, we paid a LOT less for groceries - in part because we could eat a box of crackers for dinner or skip lunch or whatever without it being an issue.

(Edited: we're in Ontario)
posted by VioletU at 5:07 PM on December 27, 2015

Single individual in Vancouver here -- by necessity I spend on average about $25-30/week on groceries, but this is with probably more obsessing over flyers and sales than is strictly healthy. I do all of my shopping once a week, making a list of all the stores I need to hit (on foot, downtown), and exactly what I'm going to buy, nearly everything on sale in the flyers. I used to also live right by Save-On and shop exclusively there; my weekly total was about the same (but the variety of things on sale week-to-week was not as wide)

With your dietary restrictions + the meat once a week I could see myself spending ~$35-40/week, but your flexibility in trying new recipes, etc is severely constrained (I try to think of it as an exercise in creativity, to see what sort of interesting things I can come up with out of the stuff on sale in a given week).
posted by btfreek at 5:09 PM on December 27, 2015

Do you find yourself throwing out food / wasting food? Maybe some of the extra money you're spending is being tossed in the bin? I'd recommend trying to shop every other day, or less. Try to get by with what you have in the cupboards for a day.

If you can afford what you're paying, and enjoy the convenience of shopping right next to work, and enjoy the daily shopping, then I say, as long as you're not wasting half of what you're buying, then you're spending the money how you want to be. Could you save some money? Perhaps, but maybe that's not the point.
posted by hydra77 at 5:15 PM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Depending on which Canadian city you live in, I can see how you pay as much as you do per week. When I was with my ex husband we spent less per person than I do now when I'm single. Also, cooking from scratch is more costly than eating processed food.

The StatsCan data is interesting. It looks like the average rent is listed at $1,317 per month, so maybe that might help you gauge how costly your place of living is in comparison to the grocery average.
posted by A hidden well at 5:18 PM on December 27, 2015

Could you maybe save up a month or two's worth of grocery receipts and see where your money is actually going? Maybe you're spending just the right amount, for you (especially if cooking is a hobby for you, or if you are packing more lunches or eating out less than your friends). FWIW, my boyfriend and I keep a GF kitchen (he is celiac, I am not) and that sounds like a lot of bread and pasta for one person - you might want to look into cheaper alternatives like rice and tortillas, both for the cost and just to mix things up; that would save you $5-10 a week.

And yes, watch out for waste.
posted by mskyle at 5:22 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I am a single female with food allergies and my food budget is usually $75-$100 per week, and that's mostly because I prefer to eat out for breakfast and lunch and I like to bake. I had a lot of shame about this for ages because most of my friends spend about $50 but I figure if I'm eating what I need to and there's not a lot of waste, I'm not doing myself a real disservice, especially since good nutrition now usually means fewer doctor's visits later.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:31 PM on December 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't live in Canada but I will agree that shopping everyday rather than meal planning is a very expensive way to shop. In our house we read the weekly ads and see what meat is on sale, and then plan the weeks meals around the sale items. This can also be adjusted for your meat-free meals. What it comes down to is having about ten or so go-to recipes, and then saying "oh, that major and usually expensive ingredient is on sale, I'll buy some and plan around it". Even better if you can make a large batch of something and freeze half the batch - now you've got a meal you don't need to cook next week, which further reduces your grocery cost.
posted by vignettist at 5:40 PM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Vancouver is expensive. Bear in mind also economies of scale. It's cheaper, per person to cook for multiple people than for one, unless you're very careful about menu planning.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:17 PM on December 27, 2015

That sounds about right. I lived in Vancouver for several years and currently live in Victoria. I'm a single person with no dietary restrictions, and I spend between $65-$80 most weeks. I can only get it down to $35-$50 when I go to the discount 'always check the expiration dates' store in town, and that involves mostly getting canned and frozen food. Southern BC is expensive, cooking for one is expensive, and eating fresh food is expensive. (I used to live in Ontario and Alberta, and my food bills were significantly cheaper there.)

Bulk cooking may help to lower your bill. I can occasionally skip a big shop for the week when most of my meals are coming from my dry goods cupboard. I stock up on rice, lentils, canned tomatoes and other canned vegetables, and root vegetables when they're on sale, then make soup or stew. I also plan lunches or dinners that freeze well and will cook a big batch on Sunday. This makes for extras in the freezer that eventually add up to a week worth of 'free' meals.
posted by northernish at 6:56 PM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

You enjoy cooking and like to try new recipes. Does this mean, that like me, you end up having to buy more unusual ingredients to try those new recipes? Like, I have a box in my pantry just of different kinds of flours. And are you shelling out for higher end versions of ingredients? Like, organic first cold press extra virgin olive oil instead of store brand? Do the people you're comparing yourself to enjoy cooking the way you do? I mean, my mom would be happy eating Kraft Dinner which is a lot cheaper than my smoked gouda mac & cheese with butternut squash.

If you need to be budgeting better that's one thing. But if you're actually doing okay with what you're spending, and the extra money is spent on the enjoyment of cooking, then I would relax and not worry about what other people are spending.
posted by Caravantea at 6:59 PM on December 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

I spend a bit more than you do, on some high-dollar items. Meat (x2 servings, daily - beef, chicken, nothing fancy); 1 package deli meat/week, usually; dairy (yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, one small package cheese); nuts; veg; eggs; canned beans and legumes. I usually replace one staple every few weeks. Nothing's organic or anything; I shop at cheaper grocery stores for veg (and chicken, this one discount place somehow has good chicken) and mid-range stores for meat and some of the dairy. I don't look for deals (definitely should).

Singles are penalized when it comes to packaging - 2nd that you have to be excellent at planning and managing to not only save in the first place (although you can't do those Costco shops, can you) but also to prevent spoilage (by freezing or re-using leftovers, figuring out what to do with that 1/3rd of a can of lentils). I'm working on being better at all that :/

That said, I have a feeling your friends and family seriously underestimated their spending, and I'm betting at least some of the respondents on that StatsCan survey did too:

"The SHS combines a questionnaire with recall periods based on the type of expenditure (1, 3 or 12 months, last payment, four weeks) and a daily expenditure diary that selected households complete for two weeks following the interview"

Because, even with economies of scale and vegans and flexitarians counted in, I'd like to know how the average Canadian spent $2.86/day on meat in 2013 (reporting period). Also, though, that was for 2012-2013 (average retail prices for that period). Prices have gone up significantly since and will continue to rise.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:06 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I lived in Vancouver, BC for two years and spent about 50$ per week on groceries by buying 99% of my food at the Persia Market on West Broadway.
posted by wrabbit at 7:37 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

ETA I was mostly vegetarian for those two years, cooked almost everything from scratch, and bought bulk dry food like rice and flour at a different market up the street with cheaper prices. I was trying real hard to save money, but I ate well.
posted by wrabbit at 7:39 PM on December 27, 2015

Here in Toronto and I'm in the same boat as you. I am the primary grocery shopper in my household of two, and I inherited my parents' intense dislike of meal planning. As a result of that, coupled with my interest in cooking and my having lots of time while I'm home on maternity leave with a (very easy) 3 month old, and we noticed that I was spending upwards of $25-$30 a DAY on groceries. Yes... a day. For two adults (baby is still nursing).

My husband starting running the numbers and when he realized we were spending the equivalent of $750 a month on groceries alone, started to flip out. I recognized the logic behind his flipping out and have made a HUGELY concerted effort to cut back on grocery bills without compromising my desire to plan meals daily and shop every day as well.

Before getting to my tips, you should note the following (all of which have an impact on your food bill totals):

- are you going out frequently for meals? If your friends are all buying lunches and dinners 3+ times a week, then no wonder their bills are much lower than yours.

- are you purchasing non-food household goods and including them in your grocery bill? I'm talking things like paper towels, cleaning products, Joe Fresh clothing, pharmaceutical stuff, cosmetics etc. The bill might say Loblaws, but some of those items definitely need to be classified under a different budgetary heading.

- are you in the early stages of building a proper pantry or are most of the items you are buying immediately consumable in FULL? The better your pantry, the better your bills.

In the aftermath of the Come to Jesus Grocery Bill Argument of 2015 in my household, these are some of small things I've done that have made a big difference in our bills:

- prepare a mental list of protein sources (meat and non meat alike) that tend to be cheaper so that I can depend on these to form the cornerstone of most (but not all - I'm not a savage) of our meals. These include things like eggs, beans (I'm too spontaneous to work with dried, but canned are pretty darn cheap too), lentils, chicken liver, squid, etc.

- acknowledge that many fruits and veggies are ridonkulously expensive right now ($8 head of cauliflower that I saw at Longos last week, I'm looking at you) and dedicate most of your grocery budget to these. I try to buy veggies that are on sale or which, at the very least, pack the greatest nutritional punch per square inch. A $4 head of broccoli is better than a $4 head of iceberg lettuce.

- strip recipes so as to get to the heart of what ingredients are really necessary versus a nice to have and don't be afraid to substitute. Do I really need the fresh parsley to garnish my pasta dish? Do I need to buy shallots if I already have an onion in the house? Really ask yourself and you'll be surprised what small (yet often expensive) ingredients you can out or swap for cheaper.

- recognize that there are things on which you will not compromise (in your case, gf pasta) and make concerted efforts to stretch them out within meals by using them sparingly within each meal and making cheaper ingredients the bulk of your consumption.

- Shop with your eyes open - actually read prices. This was my biggest problem. Just by slowing down and actually looking at prices has made a huge difference.

- Give yourself a weekly grocery store goal and, if you make it within your budget, allow yourself to have a single splurge night once a week where you give yourself an extra $10 or $15 to mess around.
posted by elkerette at 7:42 PM on December 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

I live in Vancouver as well and my only feedback is that certain items are particularly poorly priced at Save On Foods, especially fresh produce when compared to the prices at the inexpensive Asian markets I prefer to shop at. If you have a good produce store nearby you're certain to find better prices than you are currently paying.
posted by kaspen at 8:46 PM on December 27, 2015

I spend at least what you do as a single person in Montreal. But then I live near a farmers' market where things like $10 artisanal salami beckon to me from time to time.

Seriously, food is not just fuel. It's pleasure, it's health, it's culture. I don't think it's a virtue to cheap out on it. Some people do.
posted by zadcat at 9:03 PM on December 27, 2015 [14 favorites]

I have to eat gluten-free too, and here's a budgeting trick I've learned: grocery stores often have a dedicated gluten-free shelf where they stock all of the most expensive gluten-free items. But there are also cheaper gluten-free items scattered throughout the store, and I'm not just talking about naturally gluten-free stuff like rice.

For example, in my grocery store if you go to the gluten-free shelf, you find it stocked with Schär brand bread, which is tasty, but it also costs 4€ for a packet of 5 slices of bread. If you go to the normal bread section and look at the bottom shelf, you'll find the store-brand gluten-free bread, which cost 2.50€ for an entire loaf. I'm pretty sure grocery stores do this on purpose, because they know most people looking for gluten-free bread will just go to the designated gluten-free shelf with the more expensive items.
posted by colfax at 2:06 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also recently read that Stats Canada reports that the average household (4 people) spends $7980 on groceries per year. This would work out to about $41 a person per week. Is this how much other single people are spending?

The average household is 2.5 people, so that's not $41 per person per week, it's $61. But the average one-person household spends $4481 on food, or $86 per person per week, right in the range you indicate.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:01 AM on December 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a single person in Toronto. If I want to eat gluten-free, I need to take the bus to a grocery store that doesn't suck (6$ round trip) and then pay premium grocery store prices which is around 75$/week. My local/discount store does not stock allergen-free food on a regular basis (they do not have a single type of GF bread); if I ignore my health requirements and shop there I can get by on 40-50$/week of mostly boxed/processed goods. I frequently cook for more than one and just eat leftovers for a few days.

Why are you trying to reduce your bill? It sounds well within reason considering that you have a specialized diet that forces you to eat more fresh food instead of cheaper processed options. I find that reducing my food budget makes me feel terrible because I'm underfed and grumpy and judging myself for everything I eat; why do that if you don't have to?
posted by buteo at 9:57 AM on December 28, 2015

Mr. just_ducky and I live in Greater Vancouver and budget $600 per month for groceries. I track our spending, and so can say with certainty that we oscillate between $500-$700 depending on the month, whether we are buying big meat purchases, and whether we are hosting any larger dinners.

We cook from scratch basically every day, like to cook new things, and also shop primarily at Save-On. Your amounts track with ours, considering the premium that you pay for being single. As others have noted, Save-On has particularly poorly priced produce, so if you can find a smaller green-grocer, you can reduce some of your costs that way.

If you like to cook, and prioritize good food, don't stress too much about the cost. Many people don't count eating out in their "groceries" budget, so the estimations you're hearing from other people may not be reflective of the way you live your life.
posted by just_ducky at 11:51 AM on December 28, 2015

For Vancouver, a weekly trip to Chinatown and/or Hastings-Sunrise for your fruits and veggies can save you cash. Produce at any of the big box grocers (e.g., Save On, Safeway) is always much higher.

Do you have a Costco membership (and, obviously, a lot of storage space?). You may find that by buying some shelf-stable items (e.g., rice, quinoa, etc.) in bulk you can save money in the long run. A Costco membership can pay for itself quickly.
posted by lukez at 12:01 PM on December 28, 2015

I'm no dietary restrictions and I still manage to spend that much. But I also don't really pay too much attention to budget (so if I want to buy a particular type of fruit and it looks good, I just buy it without really looking at press).
posted by Kurichina at 6:08 PM on December 28, 2015

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