We were talking about groceries at work yesterday and got around to discussing how much people spend on their weekly food bill. I was astonished by what people spend. My one co-worker, a skinny little twenty-something who lives with her fiancé, spends $150 to $200 on groceries. A week. Another, who has two teenage boys, spends almost $300. One of the students in my office says she spends at least $100 a week, not including ordering pizza with her roommates at least once a week.
I spend between $60 and $80 a week for my little family of five. Granted, the kids don’t eat a lot, so our budget has not changed much from when we were childless. But still, my co-workers were gob-smacked and asked, “do you eat?” We do. I think we eat pretty well. I get it, I’m frugal, but they were all asking me for my “secret”. So, just in case this interests you at all, here’s what I do (and don’t do, I guess).
1. Find the best store. I figured out which store has the best prices, consistently, on my basics (milk, bread, eggs, cheese) and use that as my “main” store.
2. Shop the flyers. I’ll look at the flyer for my main store first and select our meals for the week based on what’s on sale. I also look at the flyers for other stores that are en route to the main store to see if there’s something worth stopping in for. I get the flyers emailed to me.
3. Set a budget. My family gets no more than $12 in meat a week, based on the flyer specials. We don’t eat meat every night (I don’t eat it at all, but the rest of the family does enjoy a good carcass). I spend no more than $6 a week on convenience items for the kids’ lunches (puddings, fruit cups, granola bars, juice boxes). $20 goes to fruits and vegetables. The basics cost about $15-$20 a week (we go through a lot of milk and at $5 for 3-quarts, it adds up).
4. Know your prices. Almost everyone in the discussion yesterday said that they don’t really look at prices, they just buy what they need. If you pay attention to the prices, you will know when something is a really good deal and you can pick up one or two more for the pantry.
5. Be flexible. We eat tons of fruits and vegetables. Carrots, onions, potatoes and other root vegetables (like squash and zucchini), as well as cucumbers are almost always good value. Other veggies, especially peppers and cauliflower, are best purchased when they are on sale for $0.99/lb or less. There’s always one variety of tomato that is on sale; so as long as you’re not too picky if your salad has roma or beefsteak, hothouse or field grown, you can always have tomatoes in stock. For fruits, my limit is $0.99/lb. I don’t get hung up on having grapes/ strawberries/ blueberries every week “because the kids love them”. I get those things when they’re on sale and the kids see them as a special treat. I go to the market for my fruits and veg and my bill has never been more than $20 for the week.
6. Do the math. Whole chickens are cheaper per pound than parts. Frozen concentrate gets you way more juice for your buck than cartons of juice. Big tubs of yogurt are way more economical than individual serving sizes (just invest in a few reusable containers to dole it out for lunches).
7. Bake. See #3 where I say I only spend $6 a week on convenience foods for lunches? This is possible because I bake. Every weekend I make a batch of cookies and a batch of mini-muffins for the lunches. I will also make a pan of brownies or other squares to munch on throughout the week. Baking is so much better that buying the packaged stuff – it tastes better and you can do sneaky things like sub whole wheat flour for all-purpose.
8. Don’t let your husband shop. Homer thought he would surprise me by doing the shopping two weeks in a row. He managed to spend $158 the first time and $137 the next. And! We didn’t eat any better. He conceded that I was, in fact, better than him at shopping and agreed that grocery shopping would forever be my “thing”.
So, there you have it. Lori’s guide to frugal groceries. Now, go! Shop! And spend the money you save on fun stuff. Like clothes, or manicures, or new baking pans.