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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

6 Simple Ways to Save on Your Grocery Bill

Confession time: I'm dirt poor. Okay, maybe not 1920's Depression-era, living in a truck tire poor, but the whole 'breaking even monthly' thing has been a challenge. I'm feeling okay about it though; I'm just out of college, Alex and I are both employed and have additional skills we are looking to pursue for income, but most of all - we're on top of it. We have a budget. We plan, we save, we know where our money is coming from and where it's going. Basically, we're walking through a land of uncertainty with our eyes wide open.

There's been a lot of chatter about grocery budgets, how to save money and the terrors of multi-store grocery expeditions. Alex and I both feel that aside from the home in which we live our lives, the food we put in our bodies is worthy of a healthy chunk of our income. Together, we decided that $400 a month would suffice for the two of use, broken down as $100 a week. We do most of our shopping at Whole Foods with some supplemental shopping at a nearby Ralph's for things I can't bear to part with like Corn Chex and Jif peanut butter. Full disclosure begs that I mention Alex works at Whole Foods, so we enjoy a discount - but it must be said that even if we didn't have that discount we would still spend only $100 a week.

We used to be almost daily grocery shoppers - picking up whatever sounded good for that night. That practice came to a halt after we took a good look at our bank statement. I've enjoyed the challenge of staying inside the budget and feel more fulfilled when we come up with a dinner menu from the items we have in the cupboard. It's like a game. Now that I've gotten all June Cleaver on you, let's make way for my list of simple ways we save money.

6 Simple Ways to Save on Your Grocery Bill

Many people say buying local, buying in season and buying in bulk will keep your grocery bill down. That's all well and good, and perfectly great advice - but some people don't have an outlet for local foods, don't know what foods are in season and what are not and - frankly - don't have the room to buy and store 25 pounds of long grain brown rice. I don't like to spend any longer than I have to buying my food for the week, so here are some simple, tangible things Alex and I do to save money. 

1. Set a Budget and Plan Meals

Take a look at your income. Decide how much you can feasibly spend in a week, or a month. And stick to it. Simple as that. For reference - Alex and I spend, without our discount, $475 a month. We spend a lot because we feel the quality of our food is of the utmost importance. To stick to this budget we plan out our meals and make sure we get what we need to make them - without taking additional trips out to the store over the course of the week. It's really those extra side trips that drain your bank account. Also, if we think of something we want to make but we don't have that one ingredient - we don't go out and get it. We improvise or we wait until next week. This has actually been great for me because it's helped to expand my style of cooking and it's a good exercise for the brain. Make the budget, live by the budget; this one step is the most important of any.

2. Buy the Whole Chicken!

I really cannot stress this enough, not only because it's cost effective but because it's so good. I'm one of those people who gets a little freaked out by chicken - don't like to touch it, don't like to smell it, don't like any imperfections or blemishes - but MY GOD. The flavor is absolutely stunning, I can't get enough of it. Besides the amazing flavor (you'll never buy lone pieces again) the price is a clincher.

We buy Mary's Air Chilled Whole Chicken from Whole Foods (which happens to be a local brand) for about $10.36. If you were to purchase all the pieces included in a whole chicken separately you would be paying $16.64. If you're strictly a breast sort of person, two boneless, skinless breasts will run you about $12.00. Save yourself a few dollars (it all adds up) and get some absolutely delicious chicken. If you don't know how to "break down" a chicken, or simply don't want to (who can blame you) just ask your friendly Whole Foods Meat Team Member, that's what they're wearing the white coat for.

3.  Stock Up On Frozen Veggies and Fruit

We have a little problem around here. I'm guessing it might be a problem some of you have too. You see, we get all excited in the produce section, we become overstimulated by the vibrant colors and illusions of superb veggie-rich foods start hypnotizing our brains. We stock up on everything from squash to some green stalk with a leaf that we don't recognize but we'll find some awesome thing to do with it. And these poor, poor veggies sit in our "crisper" doing anything but. And more things get shoved in there and we get all busy and harried until a few weeks later we find a shriveled little greenish thing that would have once been scrumptious.

Food you don't get to eat is a waste. Plain and simple. Aside from a few key fresh veggies like lettuce, tomato, and squash we've started stocking up on frozen ones. At any given point in time we typically rotate frozen green beans, broccoli, pepper medleys, thai stir fry medleys, peas, banana squash, sweet potato fries and tater tots. Because I'm five. The nutritional benefits are the same as fresh vegetables but you can eat them at your leisure, and a good stock pile ensures you'll always have a great standby if you're in a pinch. And hello! Frozen fruit is phenomenal for smoothies and breakfast toppings.

Whole Foods has a good selection for around $2-3.50 a bag while Trader Joes has excellent deals on their frozen abundance.

4. Buy Spice Medleys

Since religiously taking probiotics and deploying enzymes for every meal I am now (finally!) able to eat spices and a variety of flavorings without reenacting a scene from Aliens. Spices can really make or break a meal and I can understand the urge to buy 23 bottles of rare delights from deepest India. But let's get real, you're trying to feed yourself, not win Top Chef. We've taken to buying some awesome medleys from (where else) Whole Foods. Our favorite is the Santa Maria which we use on chicken, steak, sauces, mashed potatos, green beans - you name it. We also just picked up some Tequila Lime seasoning which promises to be AMAZING. Basically, one of these medleys will run you from $5-6 and will last for several months. Save money, save space and jazz up your menu with some awesome flavors.

Trader Joe's is also the only place I will buy the spice staples like salt, pepper, basil and garlic powder. They have excellent deals in the $2 range while you'll pay upwards of $6 anywhere else for a simple container of basil. Highway robbery!

5. Buy Hygenic Products at Trader Joes

Okay, this might sound a bit silly but consider how much you spend on shampoo. Hand Soap. Paper towels. It adds up to a lot! I'm really big into looking at all the pieces of the whole - that $5 cup of coffee, an $8 bar of fancy body soap. To be in the right frame of mind to 'save money' you have to always remember that every little bit adds up. I buy my (huge!) bottles of shampoo and conditioner at Trader Joes for about 2.59 each which is a far cry from the $8 products elsewhere. They also have great prices on paper products, which I hate buying but can't really find a likely alternative.

We also get the Whole Foods brand bar of body soap which is about $3 and lasts for at least 2 months. And it's Lemon Verbena scented! Nice. I'm not necessarily suggesting that you buy the exact same things I do here, the purpose is to encourage you to look outside of your normal purchases and discover new, less expensive alternatives.

6. Make Room For a Treat 

As Alex says, "a cup of ice cream will give anyone a piece of their sanity back." And I happen to agree. Making room in your budget for a weekly treat will help you feel satisfied and fulfilled. Feeling frustrated and deprived will only cause you to gorge yourself on a vast array of things later. Anyone who has ever been on a diet can attest to this phenomenon. Every week I put the word 'dessert' on our shopping list and we pick one thing that catches our fancy. It might be a container of coconut milk ice cream or our favorite cookie mix. Choose one treat, and make it last. Enjoy it, savor it. Wait a few days to make it. Delay the gratification. Or don't. Either way, settle on one dessert treat a week and truly delight in it. Your bank account will like it and it will keep you from giving the bathroom scale the hairy eyeball everytime you go in there.

Some other conversations on saving money:

Penny Pinching Tip 8 - Mail Order Ingredients: Penny Pinching Epicure
Grocery Questions For You: Aprovechar
Gluten Free on a Budget - The GFCF Cookbook

If your blog has had a recent grocery/money saving conversation, let me know and I'll add it to the list.


  1. Here's my Gluten-Free on a Budget series. I'm adding a link to this post!

  2. Rebecca! I've been a real slacker around here lately. Thanks so much for adding my post, I'm definitely adding yours!


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