Reader Question – Food Spending Rules of Thumb

On last month’s income statement, one reader noticed that we had a particularly inexpensive month when it came to eating, spending $302 on groceries, and $214 on eating out and wrote us.

Hi PoP Family!

So I know you don’t normally go this route with your posts, but how on EARTH do you keep your grocery and food bills so low? Hubby and I just got married, and so far groceries are costing us close to $550/month plus another $200 on restaurants. We’re in Georgia, so the cost of living is a little more than you guys in FL but not by much, so that can’t be all of it! Do you have any “rules of thumb” you usually live by?

Thanks!

-Ashley

While I jotted Ashley a quick reply in the comments (citing my vegetarianism and Mr PoP’s lazy omnivore-ism as quick partial explanations), her question really made me think because compared to many folks who post on the MMM forums, we’re downright gluttonous in our food spending.   But then again, I know we spend a ton less than other friends who live right near us, too.  Here are some of those thoughts and seven “rules of thumb” that we’ve come to live/eat by.

But first, a few quick things to keep in mind…

First, July was a low spend month for food, largely because we wanted to make up for the “EAT ALL THE THINGS” attitude that we seemed to have in June (when we spent $422 on groceries and $228 on eating out). What we actually aim for on average is $350/month on groceries and $250/month on eating out.

Second, we are grazers. We don’t do the whole “sit down and eat dinner together” every night. That’s just not us at this point in our lives. Instead, I cook up a bunch of food on the weekend and we reheat and eat whenever we are hungry throughout the week. It means we end up repeating the same meals throughout a week, though if we had more freezer space (our usable freezer space is really small because our fridge kindof sucks) I might be able to plan better and use freezing to give us more variety.

Third, not knowing where you live, our food prices are definitely higher than the national averages, so don’t write too much off thinking that our COL for food is super low. Looking at nationwide BLS data for milk and eggs (using this site), our prices on those staples are 10% and 8% higher than the BLS national city average. (Milk: ours $4 average/ nationwide $3.62; eggs: ours $2.09 average /nationwide $1.94). So hopefully even if your average food prices are a bit higher than ours, there’s some info here that can help you get more out of your food spending.

Rule 1: Divide & Conquer

With those caveats in mind, we mostly do a “divide and conquer” approach to the food budget. Mr PoP is pretty much in charge of staying on budget for “eating out”, and I’m in charge of the “grocery” portion. This works for us because Mr PoP tends to consumes 75%+ of the eating out budget. That gets subdivided for him to manage easier as:

  • $50 Coffee, which covers espresso beans for his fancy coffee setup + a couple coffees out per month
  • $30 Work Cafeteria, here he occasionally buys drinks or snacks or a lunch when he forgets one
  • $20 Fast Food, really we could rename this category ice cream and Chik-Fil-A =)
  • $150 Restaurants, which ends up being one nice night out in the $80-$100 range (or 2 in the medium range) where we either splurge on ourselves or take friends out, and leaves room for a couple of smaller dates or lunches out with friends and colleagues.

With groceries, I try and stay under $350 overall, inclusive of alcohol and the occasional household items that are better buys at Publix that week or not worth the trouble of a special trip to Target for. (This month there seem to be a lot of these – dishwasher soap, dish soap, laundry soap, shampoo, toilet paper, but it varies.)

We try not to put restrictions on one another veering into the budget the other person is “responsible” for – I don’t need Mr PoP’s permission to go out to dinner with a friend, and he doesn’t need mine to stop at Publix for chocolate on the way home. But we both recognize Mr PoP is a horrible shopper when it comes to getting good values, so I encourage him to stay out of a Publix as much as possible. =)

Rule 2: Convenience and Pleasure Can Matter More Than Cost

To me, that is. Some people will drive to 9,000 different grocery stores to buy loss-leader sale items at each one. They’ll go to stores where employees are vastly underpaid. That’s not now I roll. With very few exceptions, our shopping is done at Publix, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods. Publix for general shopping, and TJs and Whole Foods for more specific items where they are our only option or the best deal on those items.  These are all chains known for paying a fair wage and having high quality food and produce (unlike Walmart). My 3 stores of choice all came out very well represented in this survey on supermarkets that came out about a year ago, so clearly I’m not the only one that thinks these stores are tops. I’m also pretty lucky that they are all on (or not too far off) my well-worn path between our house and my office. Soooo convenient!

A note on Whole Foods: One way I keep impulse purchases down in this place where they can get pretty pricey is to not grab a cart or even a basket when I go in. With two hands as my carrying limit, and usually just a few things on my list, I physically can’t add a whole lot of other impulse items to my purchase without dropping something.

Rule 3: Accept the Indulgences & Plan Around Them

While we don’t do the foodie-grade cheeses regularly, we definitely have some “indulgences” within the grocery spending. These indulgences provide little in the way of nutrition, but we still buy them every month and I just can’t see it stopping anytime soon. (PoPs cannot survive on rice and beans alone.)

  • $40 fancy beers (~$10/6-pack on average once per week)
  • $25 chocolate/chewing gum (some fancy chocolate, some not so fancy chocolate, and Spearmint Extra)
  • $15 bakery impulse buys (aka Mr PoP had a bad day at work and needs to comfort himself by consuming a $4 mini apple pie prepared by the Publix bakery for dinner)
  • $20 crystal light (Even buying it strictly on BOGO, this is about how much my crystal meth light habit costs us every month)

So that’s about $100. That leaves $250 left for the rest of the “food” which will actually sustain us and provide nutrition. $250/2 people / 30 days = $4.16 per person per day. With that, we aim to get the bulk of most lunch and dinner meals at around $1/serving to leave money for snacking in between as well.

Rule 4: Eliminate Waste

This is an area we still struggle with, but we’ve been trying to get better. If we’re having trouble finishing up the last couple servings of a batch, I try and intentionally not make anything else until that batch is all gone. Otherwise, knowing us, the older batch will get pushed to the back of the fridge and spoil.

Since getting my electric pressure cooker (which is also a slow cooker and yogurt maker – have I mentioned lately how much I LOVE my Instant Pot?), I’ve also started to keep a gallon sized bag in the freezer where I put scraps of vegetables. Things like carrot tops, ends of zucchini, kale, onion skins. I make sure the stickers are pulled off, and toss all the scraps in the bag I keep in the freezer. Then when the bag fills (~1x/month), I toss the frozen scraps, a bunch of water and a good pinch of salt in the pressure cooker and simmer it for a bit. This gives me the equivalent of ~3 quarts of nice vegetable stock that I freeze and use in soups later. While I haven’t tried it since I avoid cooking meat with bones, I imagine you could do the same thing with the scraps of chicken or something like that.

Rule 5: Keep Track of Regular Prices And Sale Cycles

I maintain a pretty good “mental price book” where I have memorized most of the “normal” prices as well as the typical sale patterns and prices for the items we buy the most often at the three stores I go to. Using this bank of knowledge, I adjust my purchases depending on where I’m going to try and optimize along that. I know some people buy a little pocket notebook to create a hard copy price book if remembering grocery prices isn’t something that comes naturally. But knowing what is a “good deal” vs what the store tells you is a “sale” is definitely useful.

Here’s a couple of examples of how it works in practice when I shop:

  • Bananas are cheapest at Trader Joes ($0.19 per banana), but only if they are of a decent size/quality. Otherwise, Whole Foods is the next cheapest ($0.59/lb) for conventional bananas, followed by Publix ($0.69/lb). So if bananas are on the list, and I’m stopping at Trader Joes or Whole Foods that weekend, I’ll try and pick some up there first, leaving Publix bananas as a last resort. We go through ~12-15 bananas per week, so overbuying is tough to do.
  • Milk is cheapest at Trader Joes ($3.59), but I never want to stock up too much when I go there because their milk seems to turn bad much quicker than milk from Publix ($4.15). It’s also not worth going out of my way to go to Trade Joes *just* for milk when Publix is right outside of our neighborhood and TJ’s is either a 30 minute bike ride or 10-15 minute car ride away.
  • The regular price of Publix brand oatmeal is actually about the same price per ounce as organic rolled oats from the Whole Foods bulk bins. So if we run out and there’s no sale currently, Whole Foods isn’t a bad place to pick up a bit to tide us over until the next BOGO sale on Quaker at Publix (BOGO sales on Quaker Oats being about every 2 months at Publix).
  • Our Whole Foods has some items that are insanely cheap compared to what I find elsewhere (dried figs <$2, bulk food items like TVP and organic lentils and split peas, sesame seeds), and if you go when they have free samples of freshly made guacamole or high quality Irish cheddar, all the beddar… err, better.

Rule 6: Sale Shop and Coupon When Appropriate, But Don’t Obsess

Back when I used to buy more packaged foods, sales and coupons played a much bigger role in planning my shopping, though I was definitely never an extreme couponer. Nowadays, it might have a small influence, but mostly in the timing of a purchase (as in I only buy Crystal Light when it’s BOGO) or in helping to pick the fruit and vegetables that are in season (and thus the cheapest) at a particular time. When I look at the flyers and see that chicken breasts are BOGO, I know Mr PoP is getting chicken breast that week. Every so often I look at the site iHeartPublix because they sneak preview Publix’s sale prices the Monday before the flyers are released if there’s something I want just to make sure I won’t regret buying it if it goes on sale 2 days later. =)

But I do still pick up the paper from the corner stand every Sunday (I am obsessed with the local real estate section), and once I get it, I spend 10-20 minutes flipping through the coupons and clipping ones that we might use, especially for household items. Though when most of your cart is full of fresh produce, baking staples, grains, and milk, don’t be too shocked if there aren’t many coupons that will work. If nothing else, for us, Publix seems to run $5 off coupons in the paper about once every 4-6 weeks (usually as $5 off $50 or $5 off $40) good for 7 days, and when that happens I might try and get another newspaper and plan 2 of our bigger shopping trips in the 7 day period.

I’d rather spend my time and energy saving money by cooking than using the same time and energy saving money clipping tons of coupons and running around the a bunch of different supermarkets buying processed food that won’t be as good for us anyhow. I get that this is a YMMV thing, but this is where we are.

Rule 7: Cooking Is Cheaper Than “Cooking”

I used to think cooking was opening a box of mac ‘n cheese – heck I had to get a pot out of the cupboard! And I was *definitely* cooking if I made a “signature modification” to the recipe on the side of the box. Topped with bread crumbs, or with some extra melty cheese thrown in… man, I was cooking!

Now, though, I put all that in the “cooking” category. I still do it sometimes, but more often I aim to cook (without quotes) because it’s better for us, we know what ingredients are in each dish, and most often cooking is cheaper than “cooking”.

As my evidence, I’ll just point to our grocery spending over the last 3 years, which maps pretty directly to my evolution from primarily “cooking” to more cooking (which definitely didn’t happen overnight and is still kindof a work in progress).

  • 2012: $449/mo
  • 2013: $389/mo
  • 2014 YTD: $350/mo

In contrast food prices have been increasing in price faster than the overall rate of inflation, so we’re definitely bucking the trend with this pattern, especially when looking at recent dramatic upswings in the prices of dairy, beef, and chicken.  (Seriously, chicken fertility problems causing supply issues?)

Cooking does, however, take more time than “cooking”, so the “cooking” in our house usually happens on weeks when I’m short on time and can’t devote the better part of a day on the weekend to cooking for the week ahead.

Here’s an example of the ingredient cost of a few recipes I’ve made recently:

Healthy Cream of Broccoli Soup – COOKED

  • $2.50 – 1 fresh head of broccoli (sale price)
  • 0.66 – ~1/3 head of celery at $1.99/head
  • 0.75 – 1 large onion
  • 0.50 – 2 cups milk (at avg price of $4/gallon)
  • 0.30 – butter (we never pay more than $3/lb for butter as it goes on sale so often)
  • 0.15 – flour, salt, minced garlic
  • $4.86 for 7 16oz servings, gives ~$0.70 per serving (thinner soups I calculate the cost based on larger volumes for the servings)

White Bean Chicken Chili (made for the first time on a coworker’s recommendation this weekend) – COOKED

  • $4.00 – 1lb of ground chicken (paying this much for meat not on sale made me gag a little …)
  • 0.60 – 1.25 cups of TVP (… so I cut it with half TVP and Mr PoP didn’t notice at all)
  • 1.50 – 5 cups cooked Great Northern beans from dried 2lb bag
  • 2.00 – 1 bunch of kale
  • 2.00 – fennel seed (This stuff was expensive! I’ll try to find a cheaper source if this recipe makes the regular rota)
  • 0.75 – 1 large onion
  • 0.75 – 1.25 cups frozen corn
  • 0.50 – garlic, chicken bullion, other spices
  • $12.10 for 15 8oz (1 cup) servings of chicken chili. Realistically, this is probably 10+ meals for Mr PoP, so <$1.21 for a hefty meal with meat

But last weekend I had less time to cook, and ended up “cooking”:

Tofu Red Curry Served Over Quinoa – “COOKED”

  • 2.00 – 1 package extra firm tofu
  • 2.79 – 1 jar Trader Joes brand red curry sauce
  • 0.75 – 1.25 cups frozen corn
  • 2.00 – quinoa
  • $7.54 for 5 servings, or about $1.51/serving. But these also aren’t as filling as the chili would be and aren’t nearly as chock full of protein.

In a typical week, I’ll cook up one big batch for me (like the broccoli soup), and one for Mr PoP (the chicken chili). Then we supplement those with other more grazing things like Greek yogurt I make in the pressure cooker (<$0.30 per serving + $0.15 for some honey on top), fruit and nut bread (~$4 for a 9”x13” sized loaf, or ~50% the price of what the Publix bakery charges for their version which has less fruit and less nuts), egg muffins (scrambled eggs cooked in silicon muffin tin), fruit/milk smoothies (~$0.50 each), oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins (<$0.25), fresh fruit and veggies, and probably more.

And the last 6 months I’ve also been cooking up a couple of batches of energy bars from my new favorite cookbook every week. The cookbook is called Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook and it is chock full of recipes of energy bars that use all natural ingredients. (One this weekend had oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, natural PB, flax, milk, dates, apricots, cooked white beans, agave nectar, cinnamon and sea salt.) These are quick to grab and are a good balance of satiating not only hunger, but also our sweet tooth while providing a good balance of carbs, fats, protein.

Desk jobs aside, we’re pretty active people, so we try and put food in our bodies that is going to keep us satisfied for a while. And the cooked food seems to do that much better than the “cooked” food, with the cost savings being a definite bonus.

 

And that’s pretty much everything to know when it comes to our grocery shopping and eating habits.  Hopefully that helps!

 

What are some of the rules of thumb you use when grocery shopping?

39 comments to Reader Question – Food Spending Rules of Thumb

  • Thanks for the overview. I try to do most of these things as well. The biggest one that helped me out was to batch cook a bit on the weekends.

    Every Sunday, I am prepping for the week. Cutting up veggies, making a big meal, boiling eggs, making rice, and then serving size everything into containers. It takes a but, but I just crank the music and have a dance party, and my stomach thanks me when I go to work wit. “real food” rather than purchased crap.

  • Heidi

    You soups look quite yummy, but what is the TVP ingredient?

    I agree with real cooking saving money. I too used to spend time clipping coupons and such, but now I just look at the online printable coupons every week or so. During seasons where I know there will be lots of sales (January/August/ Novemberish) I order coupons from a coupon clipping service so I can pick the high value coupons for the few products I want and have them come to my door so I can stock up.

  • Well, now I’m even more impressed with how low your food spending is simply because you shop at whole foods. I don’t dare set food in there because I would probably die of a heart attack from the prices! We are grazers as well, so I totally get how that goes :-)
    Retired by 40 recently posted..Why Should Everyone Elope?My Profile

  • I like your suggestions. I’d also add that if you’re buying meat – it’s worth planning your meals around whatever the loss leader is at your local store that week. If chicken is on sale, plan mostly chicken meals. If flank steak is on sale…

    I’m still trying to get into the groove of shopping at my mom’s – my mom can’t have any added salt, and I could eat a salt lick. Her “local” grocery stores seem to me to be outrageously expensive ($12/lb for flank steak!?!?), but I haven’t had time to make the trek to WalMart, Aldi’s or Costco, which were my shopping staples in Virginia. We also have zero freezer space at my mom’s – enough so that we offered to buy her a chest freezer to leave at her place when we found our own :(
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..Detailed Financial Picture – August 2014My Profile

    • I don’t even know what flank steak is, but I’m with you on using loss leaders to plan meals. That’s why Mr PoP gets chicken breast when it’s BOGO and pretty much no other time. =)

  • CincyCat

    *THANK YOU* for bringing up the fact that often, the “cheaper” grocery stores don’t compensate their employees very well at all. We always shop at Kroger for this reason. They are based locally, they are a major employer in our area (including employing a member of our own household), and they compensate their employees extremely well for the industry. (Ex. Fuel discount points all summer! Yay!)

    As for our household grocery spending, it hovers around $600 for groceries – including Kroger employee discount – and $200 for eating out. We don’t really stress out about this (any more), since we discovered that the combined cost is in line with national food “at home” cost averages published by the FDA: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2014/CostofFoodJun2014.pdf
    CincyCat recently posted..Overheard…My Profile

  • Your tip about not even grabbing a basket is flipping genius. I especially like that it acknowledges our temptations and irrational thoughts that can occur in fancy stores (“Fair Trade Organic Polenta for $18.99? Just imagine how healthy I’ll be, and helping the earth, and the farmers…and thin, too! Can I afford NOT to buy this?”)

  • We don’t! Not anymore. That’s my concession to being well off– we spend whatever we want to at the grocery store. Doing so also keeps restaurant expenses down. Not to say we don’t know how to eat cheaply, it’s just nice not to have to do that anymore. According to mint we spend a little over $600/month on groceries for a family of four. That includes a lot of organic fruit and meat.

    Our biggest thing we still do is to make sure we eat everything that we buy before it goes bad, so we keep an eye on things in the fridge when doing menu planning. I’m always astonished at how much food waste the average family goes through.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..And then there were four kittiesMy Profile

    • Keeping an eye on waste and menu planning are two big things that definitely impact how much you spend for the better, even if you don’t approach it from a penny pinching angle.

  • Like Nicoleandmaggie, we mostly don’t watch the grocery spending. We usually come in at around $300-350/month for two. There is definitely plenty of restaurant spending on top of that, but I’m not particularly concerned with it. We’ve almost entirely eliminated dinners out together other than once every two weeks or so. Maybe I will reevaluate some of that if I end up taking a lower paying job.
    Leigh recently posted..I might keep my Barclaycard ArrivalMy Profile

    • Do you guys get a lot of the Silicon Valley perks like free lunches at work? When I used to have lots of meals comped by work, my grocery spending was tiny!

      • Nah, I spend about $150/month on lunches at work. It would be a huge budget saver to not have free lunches, but I do like having the flexibility to choose what I eat more.

        We do meal plan and try hard to not throw out food though, so that’s good!
        Leigh recently posted..I might keep my Barclaycard ArrivalMy Profile

      • Man, we get free meals at work. We could, in fact, eat all our meals in the dining hall if I didn’t mind the impact on our waistline and veggies cooked in a way I’m not a fan of. I still feel like we spend a lot on groceries and going out. Of course, we eat steak fairly often (more than we should), and we don’t particularly worry about $ other than buying a few extra when our regular items go on sale. We also go out 2-3 times a week, depending on the week. More some, and then we’ll go a week or two without.

        I don’t have a number, as my husband is the one who tracks categories, but now you’ve got me curious.
        Leah recently posted..My cat and my babyMy Profile

  • Debbie M

    I use all your rules in one way or another.

    For #2 (convenience matters), I try to remember that once you add gas prices and car wear-and-tear, it’s better to go local for small trips. Then whenever I’m in another part of town for some reason, I’ll stock up on what’s cheapest at stores there.

    For #4 (eliminate waste), some leftovers can be mixed with macaroni and cheese or made into omelets.

    For #5 (prices, sales cycles), I don’t understand any sales cycles (except that my local food coop gives members a 10% discount once per quarter). So I just stock up during sales when I notice them.

    For prices, I just keep track of my staples (where it’s cheapest and what the price is). Sometimes I’ll add the price of the second cheapest place because when prices change all the time, it’s hard to keep up. The cheapest place can change, so that’s why I only worry about the staples.

    I have different answers for the items you mentioned. Bananas are cheapest at HEB, milk at Target (using the RedCard), oats I’m not sure about, bulk items at the local food coop. Trader Joe’s is best for most other dairy products and also for pre-packaged salads (though I think HEB just jumped ahead of them with their new organic salads).

    I also think of #7 (more real cooking) as doing my own processing. This can lead to higher quality as well as lower cost sometimes. Some processing I do myself includes:
    * grating my own cheese, including parmesan–you get real cheese without any additives to keep it from clumping but which taste like sand
    * making my own chocolate syrup (equal parts cocoa, sugar, water–the cocoa is shade-grown)
    * making my own pumpkin butter (the only jelly-like substance with actual vitamins in it, and I use the minimum amount of sugar I can stand).

    I don’t make my own bread or pasta or yogurt, though.

    Another part of this strategy for me is asking for recipes when I taste something good. I’m not good at doing this at restaurants (though I’ve seen it done), but I am good at asking my friends. Also, I had a home ec class in the 8th grade that required us to collect recipes and I got all my favorite ones from my mom then. For any relatives who are still around–ask now while you still can! Some people don’t want to (or can’t) give you the recipe, but many people are happy to share.

    And I keep notes on recipes I try that aren’t yet perfect on what I might want to change next time or to just never try that recipe again! Once you get a good recipe, you no longer have to depend on a restaurant not going out of business!

    I guess the only other strategy I can think of that I do is earn credit card rewards. (I get 1.5% on one card, so I use it for purchases over $25. I get 1.1% +$0.10 per purchase, which is more than 1.5% on purchases under $25. And I get 5% using the Target RedCard.) These don’t add up to much since I don’t spend much, but it’s something. (This doesn’t work if you don’t pay off your credit card every month or if you use the discount to talk yourself into buying stuff–but I don’t do those things anymore.)

    I suppose another strategy is to spend more for healthier things (such as grains that still have fiber) and then you will spend less in health costs or whatever. And there are many additional things you can look into besides store worker salaries. Currently I look for whole grains, cocoa/chocolate that is shade grown (includes fair trade, organic, and rainforest certified), organics for certain foods, and a lack of hydrogenated oils and growth hormone.

    I pay $100/month for one smallish adult person–my prices are cheaper than in Florida

    • “making my own pumpkin butter” — ooh! sounds delicious! recipe, please? =)

      I’ve never thought about asking a restaurant for recipe, but I definitely do from friends whenever they make something that looks or tastes lovely. (In case that wasn’t obvious from right above.)

  • that’s very impressive. Our grocery bill has definitely increased from about $350 two years ago when we were erating mostly procesed foods to about $500 now (for two people) bc we eat mostly organic . We’re getting better about bringing that number down, but it’s still up there
    Newlyweds on a Budget recently posted..How We Saved $30k in 7 MonthsMy Profile

    • That’s funny. Ours definitely went the other way when we really started cutting down on the processed food, though I don’t really pay too much attention to organic or conventional for most things.

  • Ashley

    Thank you Mrs. PoP! This is a great response :)

  • SLCCOM

    My dietitian told me that Crystal light is just sugar-free Koolaid. A LOT cheaper.

    • Hmm, I’ll have to look into that. Though it’s the crystal light portable packets with caffeine in it that I am truly addicted to and use when I exercise. Not sure if KoolAid has an equivalent there.

  • The biggest savings we find is just by eating leftovers and not throwing food away. It takes a little bit of planning, but it saves a ton.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..5 Ridiculous Things I Won’t Be Buying This WeekMy Profile

  • Great tips, and the broccoli soup sounds delicious! We mostly just buy stuff on sale after our Saturday gym outing, which helps us switch and get a variety of fruits (tends to be a lot easier and more “exciting” in summer). We also don’t like to waste, so even if there’s a hodge-podge of small leftover portions, that tends to be my “random lunch day” where I’ll have a couple bites of chicken curry and a few more bites of tuna casserole. :)
    anna recently posted..Pregnancy Notes: The Good, The Bad, and The FunnyMy Profile

  • Any tips on saving with kitty food? What do you feed your kitties? We do science diet, and I somehow miss most of the sales at the pet store. Not that her food costs a ton, but I always wonder if I’m paying “too much.”
    Leah recently posted..My cat and my babyMy Profile

  • I really like this article on how you do your grocery shopping. I am trying to do more cooking than “cooking” as well and it is definitely a learning curve. The amount of produce my wife and I purchased when we just got married (about 3 years ago) was very sad, basically lettuce and some frozen veggies. It still isn’t great but it is alot better than it was. We only have a few things left that are “cooking” because it is nice to have some things on hand for a quick meal rather than ordering out.

    The chili and soup recipes look delicious, we will have to check them out! We haven’t made a chicken chili yet. I was going to ask what TVP was but I see you already answered that to another reader.
    Kipp recently posted..Save Over $25.00 a Hour Making Your Own Laundry SoapMy Profile

  • Thanks for sharing! I love looking at other people’s grocery lists/budgets–what can I say, I’m a food voyeur :). We’re (or I should say Mr. FW is) batch cookers. Mr. FW whips up quinoa, lentils, or rice-n-beans for our weekday lunches every Sunday. Such an efficient way to get us fed all week and usually circa $1 per serving. I’m with Alicia, we crank the music while cooking :) And, you are so right about real cooking–it’s almost always cheaper.
    Mrs. Frugalwoods recently posted..Great Trash Finds: The Mom EditionMy Profile

  • Catherine

    With my husband we spend on average $250 per month on grocery and we do not eat out (the restaurants were we live are not that great and what we cook is far better than what they propose). We eat some meat but not much, some fish and seafood. We feel that if we had to be careful with our spending we could reduce the cost of grocery to half this amount.

    We buy a lot of our veggies from ethnic grocery stores because in general immigrants who have arrived recently do have a tradition of home cooking. Therefore the veggies and fruits are fresh and cheap because the stores do not have to discard a huge percentage of the produce they have. We do not use coupons because basically we do not buy any processed food (tomato paste and peeled tomatoes are the only type of processed food we buy) but we use discount offered to buy in bulk (e.g., grains and beans). We also make sure to not waste food (something that becomes easier once your cooking skills have developed).

    For those of you interested in cooking on a limited food budget I would suggest that you look at Leanne Brown’s blog. Her books “Good and Cheap: Eat well on $4/Day” and “From Scratch” can download for free as pdf files: http://www.leannebrown.ca/cookbooks/

  • Too many rule of thumbs to mention, but I liked to read yours. I like the tip of not grapping a cart, I do this as well. (Sometimes) Taking 5 minutes to research weekly ads between two competing supermarkets, can provide you substantial savings for your grocery list items. Meaning get what you need when on sale. Alternate them based on the sales. Easy as eating that pie Mr. POP got. Thanks.
    EL @ Moneywatch101 recently posted..How to Avoid Living Paycheck to PaycheckMy Profile

  • The no basket policy at Whole Foods is definitely good advice. I try to do the same thing. And if I start grabbing too many things I end up doing an awkward dance through the aisles trying not to drop things. Keeps the shopping trips short.

  • Thanks for sharing. Like you mentioned compared to MMM standard you have a high food budget but really if you look at all the staples it really isn’t that high.

    You have clearly identified where all the extra cost is going.

    Like someone else mentioned it is so important to open the fridge before you go out shopping to plan meals with what you have on hand. We still suffer from food waste usually in the form of veggies that we are just learning to eat.
    The Roamer recently posted..Entering the World of InvestingMy Profile

  • “Waste ye not and want not”. That, and planning my meals ahead helps me keep the grocery budget low. Excellent rules of thumb, may I should try shopping without a cart see how that would affect my shopping habits :)
    Simon recently posted..Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature Card ReviewMy Profile

  • My biggest trick to keeping spending down is I only shop from a list. I keep a little notebook in the kitchen, and whenever we run out of something, we jot it on the list. Before hitting the store, I check the fridge and write down all the standard food items we need. If it isn’t on the list, I don’t buy it. It keeps me from over spending or buying too much fruit or other perishables. We’ve been able to do a bit better lately by doing some meal planning – that also keeps us from over buying. And we do 90% of meals home cooked from scratch. I’m in love with my crockpot. I also will buy larger containers of yogurt, and split it into Tupperware to take to work. I spend time every few nights ‘prepping’ lunches and dinners.

    I do try and shop with the smaller baskets too! I used to just shop with a basket, but I broke my foot recently, so I’m back to a cart for a while!
    Mrs. SSC recently posted..The Plan: Proposed Retirement Budget – August 2014My Profile