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I mentioned a few weeks ago that we were working on lowering our grocery bill (but still eating a mostly all-natural, organic, whole food diet). In the comments, a ton of you mentioned that you too were in desperate need of a grocery budget intervention.

Now, let’s pause for a caveat—I’m a big believer that, in general, residents of the U.S. spend way too little on food. When I was first overhauling my diet to be more organic and natural, a statistic quoted from Michael Pollan in his book, In Defense of Food (read it, kids!), really brought light to how cheap (and not in a good way) food in America is. I don’t have the direct quote because my dog-eared copy is packed away in a box in preparation for moving, but the idea was that, as a percentage of our income, Americans spend  significantly less on food as any other industrialized nation. And we have significantly more cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other food-related ailments. Take that as you will.

That all being said, money is money. And even with all my knowledge about how important good food is and my long history of just avoiding looking at the price tag on organics to prevent sticker shock—our grocery bill was drowning us financially. So my challenge has been to reduce our grocery bill by more than half (from about $800 a month to $300-$400), but still keep up with high-quality of food we’ve grown accustomed to.

A few things I’ve changed to make this happen:

  • Less recipes on Wholefully. You may or may not have noticed that I dropped down from 5-7 recipes a week to two or three. Honestly, as much as I’d love to post a beautiful recipe everyday, buying ingredients for Wholefully was killing us financially. There are only so many cheap bean and rice dishes I can post here for you guys before we both get bored. That means buying more expensive ingredients than I’d normally buy just to feed us if the world wasn’t watching. The more expensive ingredients are fine a few times a week, but to hit my five recipe minimum, I was buying them for almost every meal.
  • Pantry shopping. I have a pantry that is busting open at its seams. Why? Because I’m terrible about shopping my pantry before I make my weekly menu and grocery list. I’m trying to teach myself to go shopping in my own kitchen first.

And a few things that I’ve always done but really help keep the budget low:

  • Plan! Plan! Plan! I’ve always been into menu-making and I know it helps tremendously!
  • Keep a running total. Before I go into the grocery store, I set myself a budget for the trip and then keep a running total of my what’s in my cart with a calculator. If I’m about to go over that total, I can easily put back non-essentials like cereals, desserts, etc.
  • Buy in bulk. I have a freezer stocked with bulk meats (my family splits a whole cow and pig every year) and I have quite a few bulk orders set up from Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program. We have an entirely separate line item in our budget for bulk foods.

So how have we been doing so far?

Well, last weekend, we went shopping for the first two weeks of the month and our total bill at checkout was $148.09. Considering we never eat out, that’s enough to cover over 40 meals for us (plus what’s in our pantry, freezer and fridge already). Pretty good, right? I was really excited for us to hit that number. Want to see what we got with our money?

Let’s start off where the vast majority of our grocery budget goes—produce:

  • Organic Salad Greens
  • Organic Spinach
  • Conventional Strawberries
  • Organic Bananas (7 pounds! We like bananas.)
  • Conventional Tomatoes
  • Organic Baby Carrots
  • Conventional Cucumbers
  • Conventional Avocados
  • Conventional Garlic
  • Conventional Jalapeno
  • Organic Cherry Tomatoes
  • Organic Cilantro
  • Organic Parsley
  • Organic Iceberg Lettuce
  • Organic Navel Oranges
  • Organic Bunch Carrots

We also buy some of our produce from the frozen section just because it is so much cheaper:

  • Organic Broccoli (x2)
  • Organic Corn
  • Wild Blueberries

The second biggest money drop goes to dairy:

  • Cage-Free Eggs (I turn a dozen of these into hard-boiled eggs for snacks)
  • Organic Skim Milk
  • Organic 1% Milk
  • Organic Vanilla Yogurt
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Organic Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • Organic Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • Heavy Whipping Cream (for ice cream)

Random odds and ends:

  • Rice Milk (we usually buy Almond milk, but this was on mega sale)
  • Organic Granola
  • Whole Wheat Penne
  • Organic Canned Kidney Beans
  • Organic Canned Pinto Beans
  • Organic Canned Tomato Sauce
  • Evaporated Milk (good in coffee)
  • Decaf Coffee Beans
  • Dry Pinto Beans
  • Honey (we usually like to buy local honey, but again with the sale)
  • Baking Powder
  • Canned Mushrooms
  • Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Organic Tortillas (these make the BEST baked tortilla chips)
  • Dark Chocolate Hershey’s Kisses (for lunch dessert)

And then our non-grocery items. These don’t actually come out of our grocery budget—we have separate monthly budgets for household and health and beauty expenses, but they were in this shopping trip, so thus, a photo:

  • Sanitizing Wipes
  • Flossers
  • Paper Towels
  • Nail Strengthener (this was funded from my monthly allowance)
  • Cotton Balls

And we almost always grab two smoothies to sip on while we drive the exhausting 10 minutes back from the grocery store. We don’t often buy “treats” but we consider our twice monthly smoothie purchase just that—treats. If we were over the budget for the trip, we would have put them back. Is it sad that I see these 100% natural fruit and veggie drinks as treats?

Yeah. Someone get me a cupcake.

So there you have it! Two weeks worth of food for under $150. We’re over a week into this trip’s menu and have only had to hit up the grocery store once—and that was out of sheer laziness. Instead of making dough for Friday pizza night, Babyface picked up a $1 pack of whole wheat English muffins that we topped with sauce and cheese.

Oh! And you’re probably wondering about coupons. I don’t use ’em. I used to be a big coupon fan, but when I realized I was spending 4-5 hours before each shopping trip gathering, clipping and comparing, I decided it wasn’t worth my time. I will use coupons if they jump out and present themselves to me (on packaging, on the shelf, in an email) but actively searching out for them? No, thanks. I’d much rather spend that time doing something else. Like eating cupcakes.

How do you save money on groceries? How do you feel about coupons?

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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29 Responses
  1. Shauna

    We love Bolthouse Farms smoothies! I like the green one best. Ty and I like to share one on the bus ride home. 🙂

    I highly recommend the “shopping calc” app on iPhone. It’s what I use when I shop. It adds tax and everything. I love it, and it keeps me under budget every week. We have certain foods we buy organic, and like you, the majority of our budget goes toward produce. Ty eats a ton of fruit (and we’ve just started getting him into some raw veggies like broccoli and celery… he’s sooo anti-veggie usually), and we eat a lot of leafy greens. We also buy meat and some processed foods (we’re still working on cutting that down significantly, but are going slowly so I can figure out good homemade substitutes). We also buy a LOT of milk, since I use it to make yogurt and also we drink a lot of milk. We WERE spending $200+ a week on groceries, but I cut it down to $100-$150 a week for the three of us. I’ll probably be able to keep it much the same when we’re feeding 4 people (next year this time, we’ll have another solid-foods eater, and we don’t do purees).

    Our biggest issues are that we can’t stock up (no storage space, no freezer space), and we live in Canada and food is more expensive here. I do use coupons, but they aren’t as readily available here as they are in the states. I save probably about $5-10 a week with coupons, but most of the stuff we buy is non-coupon stuff (milk, meat, produce).

    Big question: how do you keep 7lbs of bananas from going bad? We go through 4 bunches of bananas a week, but I can’t buy more than two bunches at once, or the last bunch just ends up in the freezer. We eat a LOT of bananas (easy portable snack, easy breakfast, in smoothies, in oatmeal, in lunches… yay for bananas!).

    1. Cassie

      Oooh! I’ll definitely have to check out that app. Thanks! 🙂

      As far as bananas, I make sure to get two bunches that are as green as possible. For some reason, almost always, the organic bananas are super, crazy green at our grocery store, so it works out. I also keep them away from other ripe produce (it makes them ripen faster). And even then, sometimes they just end up in the freezer. But that’s okay, because I can use frozen bananas for just about everything I’d use ripe ones for (except just snacks).

      1. Shauna

        It’s hit or miss for us with organic bananas. Sometimes they’re all really green and sometimes they are all yellow. Once they were so green I couldn’t open them, haha.

  2. I do THE SAME THING with bananas. And cherry tomatoes. I’m always proud of myself for catching things on sale and getting them in bulk when I can and preserving them. I’m also terrible about shopping my pantry, mostly because I forget what’s in there. I have about three bags of frozen brown rice in my freezer (SO EASY. SO FAST.) because I forget I have the other every time I go to the store. At least they’re not expensive, right?

  3. Jen

    When you move into your new house you could get some hens and nix buying the eggs! The most delicious eggs EVER are fresh out of the coop.

      1. Emily

        We love our chickens! We have 18 and in addition to having as many eggs as we can handle in the house, we sell some and are able to make a little cash to offset our grocieries. Every little bit helps!

  4. It’s an interesting conversation, what people spend on food and I think a lot of it is linked to the value we place on eating and health. I do think that we should spend more money on food but I notice that processed food that isn’t very good for you tends to be cheaper and if people are struggling to make ends meet, the grocery budget is often the only thing that has ‘wiggle room’ in it. There’s been a lot of publicity in the UK about the work of the Trussell Trust, who set up food banks and scary stories about people who after they’ve paid for rent and bills have less than £2 ($4) to spend on food. I have a friend that is setting up a food bank at the moment and he was saying that’s it’s difficult to find stuff that isn’t perishable but that people know how to cook. Pasta is fine but rice and dried beans are trickier because there is a general lack of knowledge about cooking techniques that used to be commonplace, it’s why I think that the Ministry of Food Centres set up by Jamie Oliver are such a brilliant idea!
    I spend £15 (works out at about $25) a week for food, it’s just me which helps, I don’t buy organic, although I make sure that all animal products I buy are reared/produced to welfare standards. I also spend the most money on produce and buy some frozen ’cause it’s cheaper. Frozen broccoli makes great soup! I go through about 18 eggs every two weeks and have slight panic attacks if I don’t have any in the house! I also eat a lot of lentils and tinned fish.

    1. Cassie

      We have an AMAZING private food bank in my town that focuses on provided organic, whole, resh and natural foods to those in need instead of the pre-packaged and processed foods that you’ll find on the shelf of the average food pantry.

      That all being said, when you are hungry and can’t afford food—anything is better than nothing. I’m mostly speaking for the middle class, where, in this country, most people would never give up cable or their daily latte, but would be totally willing to cut $100 from their grocery budget if they need the extra cash. Priorities are a bit skewed.

  5. rachel

    I love this post – so envious that you only grocery shop every two weeks! I don’t know why but it’s one of my most dreaded “chores”! I could make it work for most items but how do you keep some of your produce fresh for that long?! Lots of things will last for two weeks but out of what you bought I always have problems with strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. There’s nothing worse than slimy lettuce =(

    1. Cassie

      The second week of my menu plan always focuses more on frozen and canned veggies (which helps!) and less on the fresh stuff (we normally plow through that in the first 7-10 days). And I don’t have a problem with most of my produce. Except, just like you, lettuce. Slimy lettuce is the worst!

      1. rachel

        Oooo – smart thinking about using more frozen and canned veggies toward the end. I’m going to have to give this a go… I seriously dread kroger!

  6. Lina

    I usually go shopping about once a week. However, since Trader Joes is literally a 4 minute walk from my house, I sometimes go more often (usually when recipe-inspiration strikes =P). I cook only for myself, and I tend get by on $25-$30 per week.

    However, I don’t mind splurging a bit on food. I’d rather eat healthy food than unhealthy ones (so instant ramen is a no-no).

    I don’t use coupons because Trader Joes (where I get most of my food) doesn’t have them.

    I’ve been trying to make more cheap dinners lately. I combine a grain-like starch (couscous, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, etc) with some protein (beans, legumes, or soy meat, since I’m a vegetarian), and some sort of vegetable (frozen veggie mixes are cheap!). I cook it all in vegetarian broth, and sometimes I season it with extra hot sauce. Not too fancy, but overall, those meals are filling and cheap, and still on the healthier side.

  7. I’m generally pretty good about setting a menu plan each week and shopping just for that. It is much cheaper going to the store with a plan. But I too, forgot about what I already have in the fridge, frezzer and pantry. My problem is that I will impulse buy – it’s healthy stuff – but some produce that looks fresh and great at the store or I a find a cereal or grain on sale. Then I forget about – only to throw it away sometime later after it has gone bad or expired.

  8. What a great post. Thanks, Cassie. Shopping out of the pantry is something I am really going to focus on this week, per your inspiration. I have a lot of great stuff in there, but don’t use it enough. I really enjoy your blog. Love the new profile pic at the top of the blog too.

  9. Sarah

    I just moved and was appalled at how much food is in my pantry! I grocery shop pretty often, usually more than once a week, but I’m on a pretty tight budget and sometimes it’s the only spending I’m “allowed” to do for the week, so I look forward to it. Apparently I should have been working the pantry better though!

  10. Angela

    I’m confused why you bought conventional strawberries but organic bananas? It’s my understanding that there are things to buy organic and others that are really just a waste of money. Bananas are one of those things that are a waste. They have a tough outer skin that is not edible, making it unnecessary to be worried about pesticides. Also the taste is unaffected because of the thick covering nature provided. Strawberries, though are a completely different case and one I ALWAYS buy organic, in season, and locally grown if possible (don’t even get me started on the abuses of the produce industry, particularly strawberry growers, on migrant workers). The skin and flesh are easily permeated by pesticides and the taste is noticeably different. All this may be a personal preference but if you are looking to cut back on your grocery bill, I would really look at what is a necessary organic purchase and what just fulfills your need to buy organic. Don’t get me wrong, there are things I feel should be purchased organic, but sometimes it’s easy to get swept up in the whole organic movement. I’ve seen various lists online of what to buy organic and what to save your money on.

    1. Angela

      Oh and I forgot…tomatoes should be organic, oranges not so much. Again look at the skin, it’s a logical choice!

      1. Cassie

        It’s just simply what’s available at what isn’t. I’d buy everything organic if it was available. And I usually try to avoid berries that are conventional, but I needed them for a recipe, so I had to make the choice. That isn’t a “usual”. Same with tomatoes. The organic tomatoes at the store were rotten and moldy and I needed tomatoes for a recipe. On the oranges, I frequently use the zest of of citrus fruit, so it is very important to me that they are organic. I eat 2-3 bananas a day. I know the peel protects them, but I’m still handling that peel, it’s touching my other food when it’s packed in a lunch. I feel better with knowing it’s organic.

        I know all about the dirty dozen and clean fifteen and honestly, if it was available in my area, I’d buy organic for every single item even with knowing about those lists. It just makes me feel better. And I’d much rather support farms that are using organic growing practices, even if it doesn’t necessarily make a difference in my health.

        And maybe that’s me just getting swept up in the organic movement, but that peace of mind is worth it for the money. Personal choice.

        To me, it boils down to what you feel is best for your family. And that’s unique and different from person to person.

      2. Amanda

        Cassie, I agree with everything you said here. Great response!

        Also, how annoying is it when organic produce you need is rotten! Luckily this doesn’t happen too often, but it always bums me out.

  11. I spend about $400 a month. It used to be less, but about 8 years ago I started to eat some foods organic such as milk, eggs and some veggies. We are almost vegetarian, but we eat fish or chicken occasionally.

    My tips are:
    1- Shop around; I buy vegetables in a discounted supermarket. They have the best prices and the freshest vegetables. When possible I like to stop at the Asian supermarket (I am not Asian) to buy vegetables. I buy organic milk, bread and organic chess at Trader’s Joe, spices in the Indian store etc. I avoid Wholefoods, but I buy oats and other ingredients from the bulk items there. If I will buy everything in the closest supermarket to my home I will spend at least $200 more.
    2- Cook from scratch
    3- Do not buy juices, make them yourself (I know it is work)

  12. Becky M

    We spend about $60 a week for the two of us at the store. We usually try to buy our food local and are very lucky to have many farms, orchards and fishing boats around that sell bulk for canning and freezing and also have grass fed beef, pork, organic chickens and eggs. It helps the farmer directly and the food is fresh and most are organic. We also grow a small organic garden of our own. So our freezer is usually quite full and we don’t have to go to the store very often. As you probably already know going directly to the farms saves a lot of money and the food does not get any fresher.

    We also do a ton of pick-your-own.

    We use coupons only on items we already buy and nothing more.

    We cook from scratch, freeze our own veggies, make our own jams etc… It’s a lot of work but saves a ton of money.

  13. lol “get this girl a cupcake” you are too cute. Good job with the grocery budgeting. I’m sure a lot of your readers will appreciate this post. I am like you, I do mostly organic but will do conventional produce here and there if it is on sale or something I know I can wash really well or peel (like a cucumber!) 🙂 I also hate coupons! That coupon show drives me craaazy!

  14. Cat

    I’d like to know what you supplemented from your pantry for your two weeks of menus, too. And, when you move, will you be able to grow some things on your own land? As for coupons, I usually only use the store coupons in the ads. We live in a “small” (about 29,000 people) town where the grocery stores really only sell limited types of organic foods. If I can, I drive about 90 miles to better sources at Whole Foods, Sunflower and Sprouts markets – shopping their ads online before leaving home. My doctor told me, though, that if price was an issue on whether to buy organic or not, really it was okay to use conventional foods – though she does prefer organic. But, since I’ve been pricing both at the store, there are many times when organic actually costs less than conventional! Sometimes it’s only 20c different, and sometimes the same price; so I get organic. I think the main thing for me, it is much healthier to focus on getting in the leafy greens and lots of other veggies and fruits whether they’re organic or not.

    1. Cassie

      Next time I do the shopping thing, I’ll make note of what I got from my “pantry store”. And YES! we will have a huge garden, orchard and lake stocked with fish to help supplement grocery shopping. Having 9 acres will help! 🙂

  15. Janny

    You have such beautiful handwriting!

    I don’t use coupons either, I think they’re so much work, plus they almost never have the things I want for sale. I’m a recovering junk food junkie, so I feel like couponing would make me want to buy those bad foods even more. heh.

  16. My grocery buying habit is IDENTICAL to yours. We could easily be grocery twins! I will HAVE to find a way to cut it down asap because of some upcoming changes to my income level.
    It definitely helps that our farmers market is now open! 90% of what I buy at the store is produce, dairy and meat- which I can buy from the farmers market for MUCH cheaper!
    I don’t use coupons- mostly because I rarely find any that are for products that I buy. However, the co-op that I shop at will have coupons for certain products right next to them in the store. If I’m already buying it, I snag a coupon.

  17. ruth

    So much lovely fresh produce, Cassie, but it’s such a pity that there is so much packaging when single use plastics are doing such much damage to our world including in the food chain.

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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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