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Grocery Spending: Staying Well Organized

admin April 30, 2011

Image by AlishaV

First, if you haven’t, read Super Charge Your Grocery Budget, which talks more about my new system and what I spent on groceries the last two weeks!

So, the last two weeks — I ended up with a total bill (including my farm order) of just $130 for all our groceries!  Not bad at all.  Since my goal was $150, I saved the extra $20, which I will use this week.  We get 25% off our farm order when we do the pick up (we will next week), so at that point I’ll be using my extra money to stock up a little bit.

This was my third trip on this system.  It’s been a full month now, and it’s working better than I could have ever thought.  There are some serious drawbacks to the system (at least, they would be for many), but these are even easing up as time goes on. 

Here are some keys to the system, which some might consider drawbacks:

  • NO processed or prepared foods AT ALL (with very, very few exceptions, which I’ll explain in a minute)
  • Use ONLY cash
  • Strict meal plans prepared ahead of time
  • Dependent on seasonal/sale items
  • Strict grocery list prepared ahead of time
  • Limited meal/snack choices

That is what I am working with.  Now, these are only a problem if you don’t like limitations.  And none of these limitations have anything to do with the quality of the food I’m able to purchase.  In fact, the quality is extremely high, in general.  Let’s talk a little more about these “rules” now.

NO Processed or Prepared Foods AT ALL

I’m coming to realize that most people think that “real food” is expensive because they want to switch half or so of their groceries over to real food…but continue to buy their favorite packaged items (even if they switch to organic brands).  This is an absolute recipe for a higher food bill, hands down.  You cannot expect to buy organic boneless, skinless chicken breast; organic grass-fed beef; organic milk; AND organic bottled juices; organic crackers; organic canned soups and so on.  Not if you want to keep your food bill anything close to reasonable.

We skip all forms of crackers, soups, juices, teas (except tea bags/leaves sometimes), cookies, chips (except corn chips, and as soon as we can find a way to make them ourselves, we will), fruit snacks, etc.  Would I like to buy these convenience items, especially the ones that I consider “good?”  Sure.  But I cannot do so and keep our food bill anywhere near this low.  We’re giving up all those convenience items for budget.  It’s annoying at times because if I want something to eat, there might be plenty of food in my house, but nothing I can just eat.  I have to make it myself.

Use ONLY Cash

When you use cash, then when it’s gone — it’s gone.  There is no temptation to say, “Well, I just need this one extra item, it’s only another $3….”  If you don’t have those $3, you can’t spend it.  And those “just one more thing” purchases add up over time.  Add up to a lot.  I probably spent an extra $20 – $30 just on those types of items when I didn’t use cash!  And sure, they were usually things that we might need, like more mustard or another pantry staple.  But the thing is, if they weren’t on my list or my meal plan, I really didn’t need them right then.

Now, I have to make careful choices.  Will I buy less of something so I can afford a little more of something else?  Will I skip something entirely if it isn’t at a price I want to pay, or if I forgot a more important item from my list?  I make sometimes ruthless choices, and it can be annoying later to say, “Well, I wish I had…” but I don’t need it.  We still have plenty to eat without these items.

Strict Meal Plans Prepared Ahead of Time and Seasonal/Sale Items

I have to know what I’m feeding my family before I even think about going to the store.  I can’t buy whatever looks good, whatever we’re almost out of, and so on.  I need to know — how many meals are we having chicken in these two weeks?  How many of those are “main dish” meals (chicken is the focus, like my bacon-wrapped chicken) and how many are soups or “small” meals (where chicken is included, but I won’t need as much)?  I have to know, because it can make a big difference in my budget!

I also can look at whatever’s still in my freezer, fridge, and pantry and try to create meals that come mostly from there, and need only an additional item or two to come together.  There are often beans, a bit of frozen veggies or fruit, sprouted flour, and other things around that I can use to cook with.  I have to consider this carefully. 

Meals can be more or less expensive just depending on what’s already on hand.  For example, pizza was out of the question two weeks ago.  I didn’t have the flour or cheese to make it.  Now, I’ll have the flour AND cheese and sauce, so I’ll only need to get some cheap toppings…or not, if I can’t swing it.

Meals can also be more or less expensive depending on what’s seasonal and on sale.  This week, Whole Foods had organic strawberries for $1.99/lb.  They’re normally $4.99.  So, I stocked up — I bought 10 lbs.  Although most of that will get frozen for smoothies and such later, I’ll be able to make strawberry shortcake or pie for a snack or dessert, which at other times wouldn’t be possible.

Strict Grocery List

This really goes along with the previous point.  Once I’ve written out my meal plan (and some snack ideas), I’ll write down what I really need to have.  If I’m almost out of something but I won’t need it on the upcoming meal plan, I don’t buy it.  This saves me money because I buy only what I really, really need.  I also have to then stick to my list exactly.  Easier said than done!  (Although I’m doing well now.)

The only exception is if I find something that’s really on sale.  Then I might choose to buy more of it, or buy it even if it wasn’t on my list.  There might be some trade-offs involved here, but since I’ve been saving up money in my “bulk” fund for a few weeks now, I might also decide to pull from there if there’s a really awesome deal.  That’s how I bought strawberries this time.

Limited Meal/Snack Choices

I don’t get to eat whatever I want.  This is frustrating at times.  When I sit down to make my meal plan, I don’t get to write down whatever I feel like eating.  I have to write down things that will use up the foods I have around, and the foods that are cheapest right now.  Things that I may enjoy — and which are healthy — may not be able to be on the plan because some of the ingredients are just too expensive.  Stuffed peppers are an example.  In August peppers will be ridiculously cheap and I’ll buy a lot and we’ll eat stuffed peppers.  Right now they’re still very expensive, so they’re not an option.

It is very annoying at times to think of all the meals or snacks I’d like to eat, but can’t.  However, it’s worth it now in order to make this system work.  With my bulk money saving up, later I’ll have a lot more choices on what to eat, as things come into season and I buy a lot and preserve it.  I’m focusing on that when I get frustrated, as well as the yummy treats I do get to have!

My Grocery Shopping

So what did I actually buy with all my money this week?  (I’m rounding off a little here on amounts and money.)  Here it is:

  • 1 lb. GF pasta — $4
  • 1.5 lbs. sucanat — $4
  • 3 lbs. lettuce — $6
  • 1 lb. raw honey — $4
  • 1.25 lbs. maple syrup — $7
  • 1 lb. pink himalayan sea salt — $3.50
  • 3 lbs. frozen broccoli — $2.50
  • 3 lbs. frozen peas — $2.50
  • 3 lbs. frozen perch — $12
  • 3 lbs. yellow onions — $2
  • 1 can diced tomatoes — $0.50
  • 2 lbs. lemons — $2.75
  • 1 bottle onion powder — $0.50
  • 1 lb. red beans — $2
  • 2.5 lbs. cornmeal — $3.25
  • 10 lbs. organic strawberries — $20
  • 1.5 lbs. raw cheddar — $7.50
  • 1 box TJ mac’n’cheese – $1 (okay, we needed quick lunch…LOL)
  • 25 bananas — $4.75
  • 5 lbs. chicken breast — $14
  • 2 lbs. organic tortilla chips — $5
  • 1 lb. frozen pineapple — $1.50
  • 1 lb. organic frozen spinach — $2
  • 2 lbs. organic carrots — $2
  • 3 lbs. brown rice — $3
  • 0.75 lb. asiago cheese — $3.25
  • 1 liter extra virgin olive oil — $5.50
  • 5 lbs. organic potatoes — $4

To this, I will be adding:

  • 1 whole chicken — $15
  • 4 gallons of milk — $20
  • 4 doz. eggs — $12
  • 4 – 5 lbs. chicken feet, backs, necks — $8 – $10

Since it is my turn to pick up from the farm, I will really receive 25% off those prices.  If it is under $50, I may add extra cream (if available) or another whole chicken.

Notice that I bought a lot of fish and chicken.  I will be saving almost 4 lbs. of chicken and 1.5 lbs. of fish for when my baby is born.  These are actually stock-up items!  I will be breading them and freezing them to fry up later in beef tallow or lard.  I may cut some of the chicken up into “nuggets.”  Yes, they’re okay to eat, even healthy, if you make them yourself!

My plan is to continue doing one or two of these things each shopping trip until the baby comes.  I’m starting to make my freezer-and-pantry list, which I’ll be sharing in the next couple of weeks.

Keep in mind if you’re not needing to stock up like I am, this is extra money you could use to buy meat that you would use during the next couple of weeks.  This means that this system, if you included a few meatless meals, would work even if you don’t have a freezer full of beef!  Yes, the first few weeks would be tough and you’d eat a lot of soups, rice, and beans.  But once you get this working, you can start to include more meat again. 

This system is working so much better than I thought that I’m contemplating writing an ebook about it.  Basically, how to get your grocery budget low without bulk buying, couponing, or gardening.  Yes, it’s fully possible.

Don’t forget to check out my meal plan to see how I’m using what I bought!

How is your grocery budget?  Do you wish you could cut it down more?

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12 Comments

  1. I am really going to try to do some of this, we have full freezers and pantry, so I need to meal plan around them, I think I will do a meal plan for next week today.

    I just am amazed at your prices, I know around where I am, the prices are much higher for most of those items (not all but most).

    Lisa

    Reply

  2. 1. Can I pre-buy the e-book?? 🙂
    2. I agree, you get good prices, esp. on chicken
    3. I totally need to do this, so look forward to future posts, thanks.

    Reply

  3. Lisa and Alison,

    Yeah, these are my "rock bottom" prices that I have found, based on lots of research, shopping around, and asking others what they pay. It is not always easy to find them! But after almost two years of searching them out I've found out where, in my area, I can find the best prices on each item. So, you know, I go to a lot of stores (Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Raisin Rack — local, and Walmart are represented here), but I manage to keep the costs down. 🙂 I still can't wait for farmer's markets!!

    Reply

  4. I'm going to try implementing your ideas, and I look forward to more from you about this. My Whole Foods bill is breaking my budget!! And darn it, I wish I coulda caught that strawberry sale!

    Reply

  5. This is definitely an amazing tactic! It helps so much!!!

    I just have one question for you! How do you go about saving up for bulk purchases? Do you save a certain amount out of your grocery budget each week or two weeks? I'm trying to figure out how to do this myself so I was just curious!

    Reply

  6. Christie,

    Yes, I set aside money every two weeks. There's a lot more details on how I do it in the post linked at the beginning, "Super Charge the Grocery Budget."

    Reply

  7. Hi Kate,

    My husband and I were both going over your ideas and list to see how we can save money. We are spending a LOT on our family of 5–probably $200-$250 per week! My question is, how much were you spending when you were doing GAPS/grain-free? We try use really minimal grains and starches, so nice inexpensive items like rice, potatoes, pasta (even GF), and even beans, we're trying to stay away from. Which means LOTS of produce and meat (especially if you're buying clean meat), which is so expensive! How were you doing with your budget when you were on GAPS?

    Reply

  8. Bonny,

    We didn't spend that much more. I'd swap out spaghetti squash for pasta (probably cheaper), and cheap veggies with lots of butter or coconut oil for potatoes or rice. We did a lot of cauliflower, squashes, broccoli, peas, carrots, onions, celery. Some white beans. Frozen fruit with plain yogurt is/was big. Baking with almond flour, albeit a bit more expensive (well, like 5x as much as wheat) was really nice because almond flour is really high in both protein and fat, so you don't need as much to satisfy. I think we did/could do GAPS for about $400 – $450 a month, or thereabouts, with limited food choices (but that's kind of par for the course with GAPS anyway, right?).

    Reply

  9. To your point about keeping a "strict grocery list" – I thought you might appreciate knowing about a site called KitchenMonki.com. Short of sounding like a commercial, the site allows you to organize your recipes in an iTunes-like fashion and have a grocery list automatically delivered to your mobile phone based on those recipes. But here's the cool part: The grocery list is broken down aisle-by-aisle, so that when it comes time to shop, you can enter the store with a plan to get in and out quickly. This helps you avoid the lure of in-store marketing which is specifically engineered to capture unorganized shoppers that aimlessly browse each aisle. (Recent research shows that in-store marketing can drive up to 50% of the total grocery purchase.) KitchenMonki will also scale your recipes – which may seem trivial – but when done properly, it can help ensure that you're not over-buying some ingredients at the grocery store.

    Reply

  10. I have found that a great system for me when it comes to menu planning and grocery list making is to create a “format”. I used the “office word” on our laptop to create a 3 column list unto which I typed out every single item we ever buy as far as food and household items go. I keep this 5 page list in my “Flight Plan Book” and as I see I am running low, or out of a certain item, I jot down how many I will need. For example, my family of 2 adults and 2 children go through 4 gallons of milk and 3 dozen eggs in a two week period, so, these are solid numbers I put on, then I try to keep 2 bottles of pasta sauce on hand, but if I am making 3 dinners in the next 2 weeks that will need pasta sauce, then I need to accomodate and since I still have one bottle, I will still need to buy 2. When I go shopping, this list is complete, the day before, I browse my cupboard and pantry and overstock shelf and just fill in anything I forgot. I also browse my recipe list at this time as well and fill out a 2 week menu plan and adjust my list as needed. I made a detailed list of every main course, side dish, dessert, snack, etc that my family eats, and left several lines for new foods. My running list is of over 50 meals, in 2 weeks, we aren’t going to eat 50 meals, so I pick 2 meals we have every single two week period, like tacos and fajita nachos, those go on two seperate days and then I fill in with remaining meals for a total of 18 meals. I put a mark on the clear plasic sheet at each meal I am using so that the next time I plan my menu (2 weeks from now) I knwo what I served and don’t use those again. This way, we never tire of the same ol same ol, I get to try new recipes, and I still have a solid plan when I head to the grocery store.

    Reply

  11. How/where are you able to find Himalayan salt that cheap?! And the raw honey? I’ve never seen alot of these things Anywhere near that cheap 🙁

    Reply

    • Depends on what area of the country you are in. 🙂 But sometimes, too, it’s about looking in unusual places.

      Reply

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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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