A reader emailed me concerned about the amount of money her family spends on food. Her grocery bill for four people (husband with kids aged 4 and 1) has ballooned to almost $800 a month, and they eat out for lunch and dinner approximately twice a week. Some weeks she says that it seems like they won’t make it to the end of the week before they reach the end of their food. She shops almost exclusively at Kroger’s, and feels that each month it just keeps getting worse. She asked whether or not we have a master shopping list, and if we wouldn’t mind sharing it. I thought it was a great idea!
Before I open up our kitchen and eating habits to you all, I’d like to give some context. Our grocery budget each month used to be $250. When we paid off the last of our non-mortgage debt in September 2010, we added $50 to our budget for a total of $300 per month. We only grocery shop twice per month. Not only has this decreased the amount of time we need to spend on planning meals, but I am convinced that it cuts costs because there are only two chances for impulse buys instead of four. It also allows us to get creative with our meals, specifically during the second week when the more convenient foods have been eaten. At the moment I shop at Kroger, and do not hop from store-to-store to chase deals. If we go out to eat—which is only once or twice a month—it comes out of our fun money budget. We also both love to cook things from scratch, and Paul cooks more often than I do. Our grocery budget typically does not include toiletries, as we play the Drugstore Game. Finally, we shop the clearance bins, discount bins, and clearance meat sections at our local store.
Below are our receipts for the month of July.
Receipt from Grocery Shopping Trip #1:
Receipt from Grocery Shopping Trip #2:
Below are the recipes and meals that we made in July from the groceries + staple items in our home. I have included links to the exact recipes when I could find them online.
Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese, Honey Sesame Crockpot Chicken, Enchiladas with Tomatillo sauce, Pork, Apple, and Potato Meatloaf, salads with roasted chicken, avocados slices, carrots, ranch dressing or oil/balsamic vinegar, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Homemade Pizzas, Baked Ziti, French Onion Soup, Stuffed Green Peppers, Stuffed baked potatoes, Butternut Squash and Kale Torte, Pesto Tilapia, Turkey chili, Swiss Fondue Night with apples and homemade artisan bread, Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Butternut Squash Ravioli, Beef Wellington, and Steamed Gyoza Dumplings (omitted the water chestnuts).
Cereal with almond milk, Bombay Breakfast, Pear, Oat, Cinnamon and Ginger Shakes, yogurt and a piece of fruit, Potato-Egg Omelets on weekend mornings, and toast on Ezekiel bread with butter and jam (sooo yummy!).
Leftovers, sandwiches, salad, blueberries, fresh pineapple, apples, yogurt, carrots/ranch dressing, grapes, chips, fig newtons, strawberries, pumpkin soup, cheese dog with chili, pepperoni/cheese stacked on crackers, applesauce, and homemade guacamole.
Dessert is definitely a course in this household. Desserts in July included Vegan Butter Maple Pecan Ice-cream, eggless cookie dough batter (I confess…it’s true), Blue Bell ice-cream, Klondike bars, semi-sweet Chocolate chips in yogurt, cake pops, kit-kats/reese’s, and Sugar and Spice popcorn.
Organic and Clean Foods in Our Diet on this Budget
When you set a concrete budget for groceries, you become acutely aware of any rise in prices. Perhaps not right away, but it can eat away at your budget’s spending power. So we’ve made adjustments as we go along. This is also combined with our desire to purchase more organic/clean foods, despite the typical higher cost (at least in the short term). Here’s what we purchase organic/clean, and how we save money (if any):
- Shop the clearance meat section: this allows us to buy organic, hormone-free meats when available (I would say we purchase organic meats 30% the time)
- Cage-free brown eggs
- Organic chicken broth
- Ezekiel Bread
- HFCS-free: most of our groceries are free of HFCS, which involves a lot of ruthless, ingredient-label reading
- Organic salad mix
- Organic milk
- Use olive oil for almost everything (except when frying, which I found out could turn it rancid; we have a small bottle of grapeseed oil and vegetable oil for this)
Sometimes we feel the end-of-the-second-week blues, just like this reader. This is usually because all of our more convenient foods have been eaten so when we open up the same cupboards, pantry, and freezer over and over we can’t seem to find anything to eat. This is when we lean on our staple items that we naturally keep stocked from within our $300 budget. Ingredients that tend to already be in our kitchen include peanut butter, jam, condiments (including soy sauce/fish sauce/sesame oil/other Asian ingredients), tahini, fish, chicken, various types of pasta, pasta sauce, spices/seasonings, flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, canned pumpkin, etc.
Some of our end-of-the-second-week meals include:
- PB&J or tuna fish sandwiches for lunch with carrots/ranch dressing
- Loaf of artisan bread (recipe linked above, and it tastes great with butter and honey!)
- Creamy pumpkin soup
- Smoothies from the frozen berries we keep in the freezer and almond milk which lasts longer than regular milk
- Butternut squash dishes
- Roast chicken (we usually have a few stocked in our freezer)
How We Save on Specific Ingredients:
After each grocery shopping trip, I ensure that the older ingredients that are still leftover (and good) are physically in front of or on top of the new ingredients in the refrigerator so that we use up the old food before diving into the new. Here are a few other ways that I have found to save money on specific ingredients:
- I use ginger in several dishes. Instead of having to buy new ginger roots every other week when the old goes bad, I freeze the entire root and grate off the ginger as needed.
- I freeze all of our unused bananas to use in recipes such as shakes and vegan ice-cream.
- We freeze bread endings for use in stuffing when the stash gets big enough.
- Paul’s mother gives us beautiful sprigs of rosemary from her garden for use in recipes.
- For pesto, we use basil from our garden and walnuts instead of expensive pine nuts.
These money-saving tips and lessons did not occur overnight, but rather through trial, error, and necessity. Some of my tips will work for your family, while others may not (and I would love to hear your own in the comments below!). Also, this is an outline for two people who love to cook from scratch. In the case of the reader, with four people in her family, I would advise that she attempt to cut her $800 grocery bill to $500 (and perhaps in $100 increments until she reaches that target). At this price point, there are certainly people who spend less with a family of four, and certainly people who spend more.
How many people are in your family, and how much is your grocery bill each month? Do you also eat out?
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