Thursday, September 29, 2011

My $75/week grocery budget

A couple people asked how we keep our grocery budget around $75 a week for our family of 5.

It's a combination of things - smart shopping, cooking from scratch, and the good fortune of living in Southern California.

But, in an attempt to clarify how our $75 are spent, this is kind of what I do....

  • Peruse the weekly sales ads. This is what is on sale here this week... You can click any of these for a larger picture.
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Did you catch this gem??
  • Buy what's on sale. Seems obvious. A lot of people do meal planning, and shop around that. I do the opposite - I buy what's on sale, and build my meal plan from there. One of my favorite markets, Sprouts, has "Double Ad Wednesday's", where you can shop the previous week's sale in addition to the new sale.
  • Shop on the outside of the store - dairy, meats, produce, the end. I rarely venture into the aisles.
  • Cook from scratch. The only thing I can think of, off hand, that we buy pre-made is some breakfast stuff - cereal (if it's on sale, duh), waffles, and sometimes pancake mix. A lot of times we make pancakes from scratch, but if the mix that The H likes is on sale, we buy it. It's delicious, so I don't care. But we don't make dinners out of a box, ever. I make bread pretty often, but haven't yet mastered sandwich bread, so we still buy that. Oh, and Kraft Shells and Cheese. Gabby loves that stuff.
  • If there's an AMAZING sale, particularly on meat, stock the hell up. Whole roasting chickens, for example, regularly go on sale for something dumb like $0.49/lb. I buy a few.
  • Don't be scared of things - tough, inexpensive cuts of meat are great for the crock pot.
  • Don't waste stuff - roast chicken one night; pull the remaining meat off, and use for pasta, enchiladas, chicken tacos, etc. another night; use the carcass to make stock, and use the stock to make soup.
  • Shop what's in season. I've said it before, but we are exceptionally lucky to live here, and have access to fresh, local produce all year long. When produce here is in season, it's a STEAL. Apples will go down to $0.49/lb, broccoli and cauliflower are regularly $0.99/head, bell peppers 3-4/$1, onions, radishes, green onions, cucumbers, parsley, cilantro are often 3/$1. We buy only what's on sale, and what's in season.
  • The best part about buying seasonal produce? Man, the taste. It TASTES so much better than an apple that was picked forever ago.Buying seasonally was a shock to me, at first. It never occurred to me, being in Florida, the land of perpetual sun and hot, shopping in grocery stores exclusively, that fruits and vegetables have growing seasons. Turns out? When you buy stuff in season, it fits.... the season. Berries, tomatoes in the summer. Stone fruits in the fall. Squash and root vegetables in the winter. Cherries, asparagus in the spring. It's magic. And these things lend themselves to cooking the way you WANT to in those seasons - summer produce almost always taste best with minimal preparation. Winter veggies? Roast those goodies. It all seems.. purposeful. It makes sense.
And, it's cheaper. Classic supply and demand - when there's a bounty, prices drop.
  • I have access to a TON of shopping - small markets, regular grocery chains, Target 4 of them!!), Costco (3 of them!), a local farmer's market. Some within walking distance, all within a 5 minute drive. So it's no big deal for me to stop at a couple places on my way around town to get what is on sale at each place. That obviously isn't the case for everyone, and not everyone wants to do that - it doesn't bug me, so I do it and save a few bucks.
  • I bake a lot. I keep baking supplies on hand, and try to make desserts that can last for days without people getting annoyed or tired of them. We do a LOT of chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and sometimes cakes. We buy ice cream pretty frequently, too, because it's freaking delicious.
  • SHOP THE BULK BINS, but only when it makes sense. I buy rice, beans, quinoa, oats, nuts, and some candies (gummy worms, I'm a little addicted). For me, flour and sugar are NOT cheaper in the bulk bins, but I buy the biggest bag of each that I can reasonably store.
  • We buy the staples - milk, eggs, sandwich bread, etc - at Target. It's almost always cheaper there. Unless there's a rad sale somewhere. I try to keep my pantry well stocked, and tend to shop from there, and improvise rather than running out to the market if I'm missing an ingredient...

(Obviously, that only works if it's a non-essential ingredient ;). )

With two kids on two different school schedules, one kid with special dietary needs (temporarily - Gab can't have dairy in the afternoons/night with her evening chemo), and a picky H, putting meals together is sometimes a challenge, and sometimes, disjointed. This is what a typical day looks like:

#1 - fruit, or dry cereal, or peanut butter toast
#2 - dry cereal, or fruit
#3 & The H - pancakes
Me - yogurt, or overnight oats, or PB&J, usually at the office during the week

#1 & #2 - neither like to take lunch, or buy lunch, so they bring snacks, and eat when they get home. Either leftovers from the night before, a sandwich, salad, etc.
#3 & The H - sandwiches, wraps, mac and cheese, hot dogs, etc.
Me - Usually sandwich, and/or salad, sometimes leftovers (they kind of creep me out, though)

This is the meal we all eat together, usually. I normally cook, because I like to, and The H works from home in the evenings, so he may or may not be available. We do a wide range of things, and a LOT of it is casual stuff, particularly during the week. Sloppy joes (homemade, not the can!), grilled chicken and rice, pasta, stir fry, etc.

PopChips (Costco has these SUPER cheap, and we all love them)
Whatever junk food we happen to have hanging out

So, yeah. That's about it. Nothing ground breaking or revolutionary. We eat really well, we eat mostly healthily, and we don't really get bored - which is pretty much the key to success.


  1. BELL PEPPERS are like, two dollars EACH here! It's awesome that you can mix your sale skills with lots of choices. I need to buckle down and get some ingredients for cooking- lately Luke and I have just been eating at restaurants. I know. I know.

  2. You are awesome. Love the picture of your pantry.

  3. Fabulous post!!! I'm bookmarking this to study more next time I have to go shopping.

  4. You are a awesome shopper. I cant say I am. Love this post.

  5. Please tell me how to successfully roast a chicken. Mine always come out...lame. I don't know. I want crispy salty skin and flavorful meat, but I can never seem to pull it off.

    Also, what's your go-to brownie recipe?

    I try to cook every night, but sometimes I'm lazy, especially when I'm training.

  6. @ rose...try roasting at like 350 for most of the time and doing either the beginning or end for a few minutes really hot (like 475). This will make the skin crispy! But keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn :).

    Uhh...heather...great post!

  7. Wow! You are amazing!! Ang and I spend $100-150 at the grocery store each Sunday and then we usually eat out a couple times during the week. You put us to shame. We need to get our act together.

  8. this is a great post. and shows me i'm not a good enough shopper. i spend way too much and have access to the same things. i'm giving myself a specific budget this weekend and sticking to it. =)

  9. i LOVE this post! LOVE IT. i do a lot of what you do too. we have a sprouts here so we shop buy ALL our produce there then go to bel-air for the rest of our stuff because its cheaper there {like milk and OJ}. we go to costco once every month or every other month and stock up on bread, tortillas, soy milk, TP, etc and we buy some stuff at wal-mart like bagel thins and peanut butter and baking supplies because its cheaper. we probably go to wal-mart twice a month and we go to both sprouts and bel-air every sunday. we also hit up trader joe's about once a month or so for a few things that are super cheap there like pasta noodles or super yummy like turkey meatballs and wine. we also hit up the farmers market on saturday mornings as often as possible. we spend usually around $60-$80 a week for the two of us. i dont always buy only fruit/veggies that are in season though. i eat a raw lunch every day year round that consists of apples, bananas, grapes, celery and carrots so i buy apples and grapes year round so the price fluctuates a lot during the "off" months. all the rest of my produce i buy when its in season though for the best taste and price. i meal plan before shopping and only buy what i need for my meal plan and dont stock up too often. we dont eat boxed food either and i love to cook so cooking from scratch is what i do too. and we try not to have processed snacks in the house like chips, candy, granola bars because we will eat them all FAST. we buy ice cream occasionally but would rather go out to froyo. WOW, i rambled a lot. sorry. anyways, again, I LOVE THIS POST. thanks for sharing your tips :) :) :)

  10. Thanks for sharing this!!! I have developed a 'staples" list on my phone, but know I could do a better job of trimming the food budget!!!!

  11. Too funny - I was just blogging yesterday about stocking up on stuff. We totally are like you - buy in bulk (we have an extra freezer in the basement) and cook from scratch. When chickens are on crazy sale, we'll buy 10 and freeze a couple whole for roasting then part out the rest and freeze in meal sizes by type: breast packages, wing/leg/thigh packages, and then carcass packages for making soups. When it's in season or on sale, look out!
    AND NO PROCESSED foods except pasta & bread.

  12. I do the same thing - I wait for those circulars in the mail, and then figure out what's on crazy sale and plan from there.

    Our grocery bill is between $50 and $80, but part of that is 1-3 bottles of wine per week. Without that, we'd certainly be closer to $60 on average.

    We also don't buy a whole lot of meat. Meat is expensive.

  13. I should probably take lessons from you. I hardly spend anything on food - mostly 'cause I don't like food really.

    I want to make bread!


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