So I do (almost) all of the shopping and cooking in our house. In the spring and summer time we can save a decent amount of money by growing our veggies and some fruit; however, we also need to keep our grocery budget down when fall and winter roll around. Before we embarked on this financial freedom journey, I would essentially drive to the store when I was hungry and buy whatever sounded good. I didn’t care if that small hunk of blue cheese cost $7.50 because crackers and cheese and grapes seemed like a delightful dinner. Admittedly, food has been the area in which I struggle the most with when it comes to saving money.
I love good food. I dance while eating because I enjoy it that much (writing this makes me realize I may have a problem, ha!). Add to the equation that we don’t eat meat, and we recently decided to phase out gluten, and you can imagine how hard it can be to shop for food, in particular on a budget. As time moves forward, I gradually get better at managing our food budget. I read a lot of food and ways to prepare food and ways to make something gross sounding like cheap cauliflower soup taste like a gourmet meal (I’m not a chef, but have I mentioned I freaking love food?).
I’ve found that in limiting our starting ingredients (basically now just veggies, dairy, legumes, eggs, rice, and fruit), I’m getting a lot more creative with meals. When we buy our groceries I have to have a plan. Otherwise, I will find myself staring at a bunch of random vegetables with do direction and I’m likely to have a breakdown and ask if we can make pizza or buy something quick. You have to train your taste buds to like new foods. My taste buds were used to a luxury life of pizza (I ate a lot of pizza,) bread, cookies, cheeses, take-out Thai, and Whole Foods hot bar/salads. There was a time when we lived half a block from Whole Foods and Starbucks in Chicago.
I kid you not when I say we would drop $12 at Starbucks in the mornings (I like big expensive Chai Lattes) and then grab a quick lunch from Portillo’s (another $10) and finish it off with $30 at Whole Foods for dinner. This was a near daily occurrence. I got used to this life, and I’m not going to lie, I liked it. So back to where we are now- how did we go from that life to a piping hot bowl of roasted cauliflower soup that cost $5.00 for the entire pot? The change didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t easy- but it was worth it! I can say with certainty that most of the food we make at home now tastes better than the food we used to buy out. Our bodies thank us (healthier!) and our bank account thanks us too (bigger!).
At the moment I’m trying a new way of grocery shopping and stretching our budget. It takes about half an hour, and by the end, I know what we are going to eat when and how much it will cost. I start by creating a spreadsheet with all of the grocery stores I will consider shopping at this week. Then, one by one, I pull up the weekly ads online (you could use the paper, but we don’t get one) and ad any items that I would consider using in meals for the week and their sale price. At the end, I look through the list and cross off any duplicates (one store may have oranges 4lbs for $2.50 while another has Oranges $.75/lb- so I’ll eliminate the latter because it is more expensive).
Once I have a list of all potential items I try to figure out which items can go together to make multiple meals and I try to maximize meals while minimizing groceries. In the end, I have a pared down list, with prices, for each store. This way when I got to, say, Publix I know that I only want to grab the oranges, bananas, and pears on my list and leave. I don’t spend any extra money by wondering around and adding things to my cart. I already know what is on sale and I know that anything I’d want that is on sale is on my list.
We try to only shop for sale items. We use coupons when we can- most of what we buy is going to be fresh produce or bulk things like rice and beans, so coupons don’t always work for food items. Coupons do come in handy though for non-food item essentials like dish soap, laundry detergent, paper towels, etc.
We also shop places like Essex and Aldi. I’m not sure if you have these particular stores in your area, but look around- you might be surprised by the options available to you. If you do have an Aldi near you- go there. Buy the bulk of your produce there and watch your savings rise. If you don’t particularly like Aldi, you can price match sale items at most stores within a certain radius; however, you can’t price match the daily low prices so you might miss out.
Some of my fancy favorites at Aldi (food that is reminiscent of a time when we spent more on food):
- 4oz goat cheese for $1.99
- 8oz edam or gouda cheese for $3.99
- Artisan lettuce $.99
- Avocados for $.39 each
- Baby bella mushrooms for $.75 a pack
- Grape tomatoes for $.99 a pint (1.49 organic)
- Fresh mozzarella for $2.99 a ball
- Eggplant for $1.25 each
- Three pack bell peppers (red, yellow, orange) $1.25 a pack
They have seasonal variety and the prices do fluctuate as well. For some reason I can get avocados dirt cheap in the winter but by summer time they are up to about $.99 each (which is still cheaper than most stores even during a sale). But, my point in all of this is that you can still eat healthy gourmet-ish meals on a budget. I’ll post later about some of the cheapest most delicious meals that we make and use to stretch our small grocery budget.
How do you save on food and groceries?