Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching! That’s the sound I used to hear at the cash register when I purchased our groceries on Sunday afternoons. Get ready for full disclosure … according to my husband’s calculations, we were spending around $200 a week on groceries for a household of two. Gasp! I know.
But, while this might sound like a lot, let me break it down for you. That’s breakfast, lunch and dinner for a full week: 7 days x 3 meals a day = 21 meals per week.
Let’s do the math. $200 per week divided by 21 meals = $9.52 per meal. Divided by two people (my husband and I), we were spending $4.76 per person, per meal.
Still, this was too much. We were dropping $800 a month on food – not counting those occasional splurges eating out.
So I decided to make it better. Lately I’ve been trimming it down to around $140 per week, or $3.33 per person, per meal.
UPDATE: I’ve actually gotten away with some $70 weekly bills. I’ve found that adding items such as almond butter, coconut oil, coconut butter, vanilla, nuts, almond meal, and any other item priced around $8 tends to blow up my bill very, very quickly.
So where do I shop? I used to frequent Whole Foods, but now I only go there for the Dirty Dozen (produce you really should buy organic – more info on this below) and for high-quality meat and eggs. I’m starting to rely on King Sooper’s much more – they have some good local and natural brands that I sort of trust.
I’ve heard Sprouts is a really good resource as well, but every time I go there it’s a complete madhouse so I’ve given up … for now. Anyway, I wracked my brain thinking of ways to save money, and I came up with the following tips:
- Get organized! You CANNOT head to the grocery store without a meal plan and a shopping list. This is imperative. Skip this step, and it’s all downhill from here. But what does this mean? It means…
- Create a meal plan. Before you even think about heading to the store, sit down with a pad of paper and draft up a meal plan for the week. What will you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner? How can you cook once, eat twice (this means leftovers, people). Then scour your pantry for items you already have, and write down only those ingredients you need.
- When drafting said meal plan, think seasonal. In the fall, I was able to score local, organic spaghetti squash for $1 per pound. In January, it was $2 per pound… But now it’s late March and it’s back down to $0.99 per pound – it’s that late winter crop coming in. So right now – winter – aim for root veggies, cruciferous veggies, and skip the fruit. It’s not that tasty right now, and it’s expensive. Trust me.
- PRIORITIZE, prioritize, prioritize. When watching your dollars, do you need to buy everything organic? Don’t shoot me, but no. Check the Environmental Working Group’s comprehensive list of produce you should ALWAYS buy organic, as well as those items you can purchase conventionally raised. Definitely buy the “Dirty Dozen” organic (consumable skins, usually fruit). But there’s also the “Clean 15” – produce that isn’t contaminated (thick, protective, peelable skins). I went to Safeway for any Clean 15 items I needed, and Whole Foods for the Dirty Dozen.
- PRIORITIZE, prioritize, prioritize. Yes, I am saying this twice. What should you focus your dollars on? Meat, dairy and eggs. Antibiotics and hormones concentrate themselves in the fat cells of animals. Purchase high-quality, organic, antibiotic- and hormone-free meat, dairy and eggs whenever possible. If you’re really stuck, then at least resort to antibiotic- and hormone-free. Can’t even go that route? Then at least trim off the visible fat (what? Yes, I know. I love fat. But I love quality fat, from high-quality food sources. That other stuff is just crap). It will help in a pinch.
- You do not need to buy everything organic. Like what? Packaged items. You don’t need organic sauces, vinegars, nuts, spices. Again, if you have the cash to foot the bill, then go for it. If you don’t, then it’s all about prioritizing.
- Make it yourself. A jar of high-quality tomato sauce costs $8 at the store – sometimes even $10. And yes, I’m talking high-quality, not Ragu or Prego stuffed with HFCS. Two large cans of diced tomatoes are $5. Add some garlic, salt and pepper and you have tomato sauce. Buckets of it, in fact. Freeze the extra.
- Clip coupons. Even Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer coupons and weekly sales. You can find PDFs of their flyers online through their web sites.
- Buy in bulk. Most natural foods stores have pretty amazing bulk aisles. Thankfully almond flour usually makes it into the selection. Also spices, nuts, dried fruit, etc. etc. I’ve price checked the almond flour at Whole Foods. The package is like $7. The bulk aisle? $5. Done and done.
- Learn to cook at home. Yes, I am mentioning this once twice. No matter what, if you make it at home, you’ll pay less for it.
- Stock up on high-quality meat when there is a sale. Seriously. Wrap the meat in butcher paper, wrap again in plastic wrap, and pack those suckers into your freezer. I’m experimenting with freezing in-season veggies as well. That spaghetti squash that is currently $0.99 per pound? I have two big squashes that I plan to cook, shred, and freeze. .
- Be reasonable. What is reasonable? Chicken thighs, eggs, canned tuna, Applegate sausages, ground beef, ground turkey, pork chops. Not so reasonable? Steak cuts, ground lamb, ground buffalo, seafood. Tasty, yes. Great for special occasions, yes. Good for everyday? C’est non. You know what is surprisingly expensive right now? Coffee. Apparently coffee supplies are down, so prices are up. Also nut butters. Holy cow, almond butter is like $8 a jar. Unless it’s on sale, it’s off my shopping list. I can actually buy raw almonds in bulk, throw them into the food processor, and make my own for less.
- Cheap substitutions. OK, don’t judge me, but this is where I cut corners. I buy organic chicken thighs (1 pound = $5) instead of organic chicken breasts (1 pound = $9). People, it’s the same dang thing. In the winter, I buy frozen fruit, especially when it’s on sale (1 lb bag was $5 at Safeway, on sale from $10) and frozen veggies. Why? Because they are cheaper than fresh and I won’t have to throw them away when they wilt before I can eat them. Oh, fresh lettuce – I buy organic (no messing around with lettuce, people, it’s a Dirty Dozen culprit), but I either buy the fancy boxed lettuce on sale, or I get the three-packs of romaine hearts. I own a salad spinner – it’s worth the 2 minutes it takes to chop the hearts and spin ’em to save the extra cash. I love canned tuna (yeah, yeah, no more than 1 can per week – stupid mercury levels) and I buy it when it’s on sale (4 cans for $5? Sweet). No crappy packaged salad dressings here. Instead, olive oil and various vinegars, maybe some mustard are all we need. Olive oil and vinegar last forever, unlike packaged salad dressing. As mentioned before, the Clean 15 come from Safeway or King Soopers, the Dirty Dozen from Whole Foods.
- Shop around. There’s nothing wrong in hitting two locations to score deals. Just don’t make yourself crazy driving all over town – life is too short to not keep it simple.
Think of more tips? Share them in the Comments section!