Friday, July 13, 2012

On Finances...Grocery Shopping

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Last week I mentioned my desire to start a feature regarding all things budget related.  What better place to start than one of the largest expense categories for most: food.  This is also the area that I would say Dietrich's frugal nature has influenced me most.  I used to be capable of spending upwards of $1,000 on groceries in a month, and that was when I lived alone!  

Here's a little background for you.  I was raised on quality food.  My mom is an amazing cook, and always uses the freshest, tastiest, most natural ingredients in her dishes.  Our pantry was always stocked with healthy, delicious items from Whole Foods. When I moved out on my own this was all I knew.  Combine this with my lack of regard for prices when grocery shopping and it was hard for me to leave the market without dropping at least $100 on about seven items. 

$12 almond butter - it's my favorite brand!  

$13 for a jar of tomato sauce with special tomatoes imported from Italy - why would I buy anything else?  

The worse part was that I didn't even realize how much these items were costing me. It was almost as if I entered an alternative universe when I grocery shopped.  One where my budget did not exist and prices did not matter.  I had to eat and that was all I was concerned about.  It was like I was justifying living in a mansion because I needed a roof over my head. 

Once Dietrich finally convinced me to start shopping with more awareness I was appalled at the price of my usual staples and I started to notice alternatives. I can make my own tomato sauce out of canned tomatoes and it tastes just as good if not better.  Cheaper versions of nut butter exist, and are just as delicious on bananas and toast (or dates when I decide to splurge!). I sometimes abstain from buying avocados, and I manage to survive.  It's quite a miracle. 

Now, Dietrich and I spend about $500 per month on groceries and maintain our high standards of buying quality, mostly organic, healthy food. Dietrich eats A LOT and we are not vegetarians. Here are the principles I try to follow when grocery shopping that keep us within our budget:

1. Look at prices.  (This was not a given for me).  Opt for cheaper versions of products when available.

2. Buy as much as possible in bulk - spices, baking supplies, rice, quinoa, other grains, chocolate chips, etc.

3. I try not to buy fruits or vegetables if they are over $2-$3 per pound. It works out that we usually end up buying local and in season and getting a wide variety of vegetable and fruits as the prices fluctuate.

4. If you eat meat, stick to cheaper types and cuts.  Our weekly staples are whole chickens, ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef.  It's a treat if we splurge on salmon, or a more expensive cut of meat (anything over $6 or $7 per pound).

5. Buy ingredients in the most crude form possible. It's very tempting to buy things that are already cut up, packaged, ready to serve, but you pay for the convenience.

6. Shop at multiple grocery stores.  Dietrich is a fastidious price-checker, and always knows where the cheapest fill-in-the-blank is at any moment.  Our weekly shopping involves trips to Trader Joe's for nuts, dairy, canned goods and condiments, an old local market for vegetables and meat, our neighborhood health food store for bulk items and Costco for coffee and organic fruits.  It's a bit time consuming, but does allow us to stay in our budget and eat the foods we enjoy eating.

7. Get experimental in the kitchen.  Part of saving money on food is actually eating what you buy.  I've gotten better at cooking without a recipe to use what we have, or at least substituting when following a recipe.  I find this very satisfying.

8. Allow yourself to splurge.  I still treat myself to a few luxury items here and there to keep sane.  Sometimes I want to buy the $21 ghee instead of the $6 ghee. It's only made under a full moon and I use it sparingly. And a girl needs some avocado every now and then.
And dates too. Both kinds.


  1. Love the balance that you express so well.

  2. This is awesome! Though I don't think I can give up my $10 almond butter, I am definitely someone who can learn a thing or two from tips like these. Thank you!

    1. I know, splurging here and there is important. There are some things that are totally worth it!

  3. These are some really excellent tips. When my old roommate and I moved into an apartment (and out of the unhealthy dorm life) a few years ago, it was very interesting getting used to grocery shopping AND cooking for the two of us. I still every now and then have the urge to splurge (heh), but I've gotten better about looking at what I'm buying and opting for cheaper alternatives or larger quantities. It's easy to save a few bucks by just giving it more thought.

    1. Yes, it's amazing how far a little awareness goes!

  4. Yes! Food is a huge budget suck! These are great tips to use so it doesn't have to be! All kinds!