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
- 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.