There are a few blogs I read regularly; one of them, Writing Chapter Three, talks a lot about food budgets. Although we generally give prefe...

Grocery Budget

There are a few blogs I read regularly; one of them, Writing Chapter Three, talks a lot about food budgets. Although we generally give preference to high quality foods over inexpensive foods, it has gotten us thinking about what we purchase on a weekly basis.

Ashley talks a lot about their target budget of $60/week for food and groceries. I'm sure we are a very different family than them, but we've made our goal budget similarly, around $70/week. For us, this is very easy to manage, even buying a significant portion of our diet as organics.

Our typical weekly grocery list includes:
8-10 different vegetables, all seasonal, a mix of fresh and frozen (75-80% organics)
3 pieces fruit/person/day, supplemented by homegrown oranges (organic dirty dozen)
3-5 types of grains/starches (potatoes, hot cereal, bread, popcorn, etc) (75-80% organics)
5-7 servings of concentrated protein (dried beans, tofu, faux meats)
2 cartons non-dairy milk
1# of nuts/seeds

Some of our tricks:

1. Don't waste any food. Seriously, this has been the biggest help to our budget. We use everything. I eat apple cores; celery tops go into smoothies; the ends of carrots and orange peels go into our compost bin. When leftovers are starting to go, one of us has to buckle down and eat them. (Usually me--I do most of the household eating, and have generally low food standards.)

2. Rethink chores as entertainment. Why spend $1 to rent a movie and $1/pound more for almond butter, when you can just entertain yourself by grinding your own? I spend my weekends out in the garden--making compost, working the soil, pruning our orange tree, etc--instead of wandering the mall or the grocery store.

3. Start a garden. This isn't feasible everywhere--some places there just isn't enough sun to grow much successfully. But grow as much as you can. If it's cool and gray, grow peas. If the winters are cold and the summers hot, try cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes. Fruit trees are super low maintenance and often abundant if you select a variety appropriate for where you live--plus fruit is one of the most expensive grocery items.

4. Eat more vegetables, less fruit. Fruit is expensive. In the summer time, it's cheaper, but eating a 50 cent nectarine twice a day adds up quickly. $75/week = ~$11/day = ~$5.50/person/day. Eating vegetables for the nutrients and adding calories with grains and beans is much less expensive than eating fruit.

5. Stop buying packaged foods. If it has more than one ingredient, don't buy it. We're not there 100%--we still buy soy milk and breads--but we no longer buy crackers, cookies, etc. They aren't necessarily cheaper to make at home, but it is cheaper to replace them with whole foods, like oatmeal, nuts, beans, veggies, etc. We recently started making our own hummus from dried beans, which is incredible.

6. Menu plan. This helps us tremendously with #1. Produce rarely goes on sale at our local store--the price and availability simply varies by season. For example, winter bell peppers are over $4/pound for organic, but I expect that in summer, that price will drop to ~$1/pound. Therefore, we don't need tons of flexibility for sales in our menu plan--I know what will be cheap before I arrive.

7. Use the freezer. Sometimes, it doesn't matter whether a fruit or vegetable was frozen. Our local corner market sells papaya on its last leg for $0.50/lb. We buy it, peel/cube it and freeze it for smoothies. Squishy shelf berries at reduced prices and seasonal cranberries freeze for hot cereals. We also buy frozen organic spinach and frozen sweet peas for soups and pastas.

8. Bike to the grocery store. This is the absolute best way to prevent over-buying. If it doesn't fit in your bags, tough luck. And who wants to cycle home with extra food on their back? Of course, we live less than a mile from an incredible store, which makes this plausible, but we used to cycle four miles every other week to pick up groceries. (In Princeton, I cycled 4.5 on my rickety mountain bike, in the snow/rain, on a dirt path, with no lights and partially non-functioning brakes--no excuses, people!)

9. Shop around. We buy our soymilk at Safeway. It's about $1 cheaper per carton, and we consume 2 cartons a week; $2/week *50 weeks/year = $100 in our pockets. The two stores are walking distance apart, so no extra gas money. While we're there, we also check their sales and sometimes pick up staples (pasta, sliced bread) or produce when it's on sale.

10. Make friends with somebody who works at a grocery store. Our housemate works at Whole Foods. She often brings home awesome stuff from work--lightly bruised apples, berries about to spoil, hummus samples, etc--at very reduced prices.

There are tons of other ways to save money on food--sharing with lots of people, eating less, taking advantage of free food at work and/or free samples--but these have been the most practical and/or had the biggest impact on our grocery budget.

None of these ask you to decrease the quality of your diet (unless you think vegetables are a poor substitute for fruit). In fact, many of our food saving tips have increased the quality of our diet, like menu planning. We have also allocated some of that savings to purchasing higher quality foods, like organic produce and high quality spices.

How do you make your grocery budget work? Anything else we should try?

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