Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How I Cut Grocery Spending by 50%

To reduce weekly spending on food while continuing to bask in the pleasure of the culinary experience for the sake of a healthy body and satisfied soul.

If I had a mission statement for my project this would be it.

However, if I was writing a dissertation for my PhD the title would be:

On reducing weekly food spending while maintaining proper physical, emotional and mental eudaemonia.

But if I was talking to you as a friend over a cup of freshly brewed homemade chai, I'd tell you:

Shoot girl, my grocery bill is just too dang high. I don't know what has come over me lately? I need a remedy for this situation pronto.

In the beginning it was not easy. In order to keep the spending down I found that I was simply buying less. Normally we would buy five loaves of gluten-free bread per week at $5.49 each. That's over $100 a month in bread alone! To actualize my budget, I stopped buying bread since it was one of the most expensive items on my list. This was a bad idea.

It took me less than three days to realize this model wasn't going to work for my extremely hungry family of five. My oldest son eats as much as his dad, and he's barely out of kindergarten. And the baby, by golly, he's a bottomless pit. The boy knows how to throw it back, friends. He also knows how to throw it on the floor. But enough about my floors.

That was August. Since then, I've found my groove. It feels really good to be living within our means and while still enjoying all the hearty healthy food that puts smiles on the faces sitting around my table. 

My sweet husband continually comments, "Babe, we've never eaten this good in our lives. Whatever you're doing with that blog, keep it up." I'm tickled every time I hear him say that.

I say Yes! to living within our means.

I say Yes! to enjoying delicious healthy food.

I say Yes! to creative expression through the culinary experience.

I say Yes! to healthy kids who no longer have to take daily asthma medication in order to simply breath.

Like I've said before, I don't do coupons. Truly, I'm not that organized. Coupons in my house are more likely to become confetti for the living room dance party than get used in the grocery store check out line.

So here for you now are the simple strategies I've employed over the past three months to reduce my grocery spending by fifty percent.

Judith's Top 23 Shopping Secrets for Happy Pocketbooks
(in no particular order)

1. Get to know each store's unique personality.
Which stores in town have the deepest discounts on your regular list items?

Grocery store chains commonly draw customers to their store through a certain category of items at deep discounts. But if you pay close attention, you'll realize that the same store that drew you in to their inexpensive produce will have relatively high prices on all the packaged food in the store. Alternatively the store that has the cheapest prices on bulk items will have sky high prices on the produce selection. 

Therefore, I go to one store for high quality low-cost produce and large cuts of meat. Another store for bulk items, special gf bread, bulk spices and nitrate-gluten-casein-free lunch meat. And finally the large traditional grocery retailer for name brand boxed, canned, and frozen items.

2. Embrace weekly meal planning.
Meal planning is daunting, I know. Before I got serious about meal planning we were eating eggs for dinner three nights a week. And pancakes the other four. I'm just joking with you... we had waffles.

3. Make a list and stick to it.
This provides a good opportunity to practice the fine quality of "sticktoitiveness", useful in many areas of life, not just grocery shopping. Take for instance building a chicken coop out back, learning to snowboard, or disciplining young children. In the long run sticktoitiveness always pays off.

4. Limit trips to the store. 
The more times I walk into a store, the more money walks out the door. Especially if that store is a big box retailer. Why does it seem that you can't walk into one of those places without dropping one hundred cool ones every time. I don't like that. Instead we improvise with what's in the cupboards. This can be kind of fun. If invited to a poker party and we want to bring a snack to share, we'll cook up a batch of Movie Theater Popcorn for the group. Cheap, fun and tastier than any popcorn we'd otherwise buy at the store.

5. Say goodbye to packaged and prepared. 
Within reason of course. We found out that we couldn't live without bread. I can easily admit my weaknesses. I know my limitations and I know I do not want to make my own gluten-free sandwich bread from scratch. That just might throw me over the edge. So we're buying bread again. Just a less expensive version this time around.

6. Become a recipe screener.
I choose a recipe because it looks delicious and amazing. But it calls for expensive mushrooms, pricey cuts of meat and six spices I currently do not have on my rack. So I put this one in the folder for another day. Instead, I choose a recipe which calls for items that are naturally inexpensive. Take for instance this amazing chicken dinner.

7. Browse the weekly sales flyers.
This way I have plenty of ideas to base inexpensive recipes on. This is the first step in my meal planning process each week. If the chicken is on super sale, go for it. If the fish is on super sale, do it. If the liver is on super sale, think twice.

8. Identify the priciest items in the pantry and explore alternatives.
In our house, this meant that the fluffy artisan baked gluten-free bread got the boot. So did real maple syrup. Now we use agave nectar instead. Cheaper, healthier and just as delicious.

9. Eat lots of protein, healthy fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
We don't need to buy all those expensive filler foods (crackers, chips, etc) when we are satisfying our hunger with hearty whole foods.

10. Avoid taking young children into the store if at all possible.
We all know how quickly our sweet cherubs turn into ravenous beasts in that grocery cart. "I want thaaaaat." "Give me one. Give it. Give it." "I'm huuuuungry." Oh boy, it's like walking through the gauntlet when I've got my three young ones with me. I'm never quite sure if I'll come out alive. And if I do come out alive, it is usually at the expense of some unsuspecting elderly shoppers. The looks I get are not very nice most of the time. I'd rather be plucking my eyebrows.

11. But if you do need to bring the munchkins, shop with contentment, not chaos.
We all need to go shopping with children at times. Or in my case, every time. In order to focus on the task at hand, keep the children happy with wholesome snacks as you swoop through the aisles. Or get a balloon when you first walk in. The "Boon" keeps my little man very happy for the duration of my trip. Thank God!

12. Dance down the aisles every once in awhile. (Costume optional.)
Smiling while shopping makes it so much more fun. And funny to watch. This helps with the young ones in the cart.

13. Buy bulk herbs and spices. 
The real reason why my grocery bill has been reduced by 50% is that I stopped buying all those little jars of spices. I'm exaggerating. But really, the pricing on bulk spices will blow your mind.

14. Buy bulk grains and dried beans.
Rice, lentils and quinoa are super inexpensive in the bulk department. And dried beans aren't really that big of a headache with a little prior planning.

15. Buy bulk specialty flours.
Truly so much cheaper than all those cute little packages of specialty gluten-free flours.

16. Buy as much in bulk as possible. Are you sensing a theme here?

It's just plain cheaper that way.

17. Force everyone in the house to fast three days a week.
Doh, I'm just kidding. Wanted to see if you were still with me here.

18. Plan at least two vegetarian meals per week.
Hello, beans and rice. Howdy, lentil soup.

19. Plan at least one really cheap protein meal per week. 
Something eggy usually does the trick.

20. Stop buying boxed cereal.
Boxed cereal is ridiculously expensive for what it offers. Alternatively, oatmeal is quite tasty when doctored up with fruit and cinnamon and brown sugar.

21. And if boxed cereal is a must, stop snacking on it all day long.
I'm talking to myself here. I don't know about you, but one of my favorite quick and easy snacks is a bowl of cereal. This must be hardwired into the kids because it is their favorite snack as well. It's one of the ultimate comfort foods in my book. I'll be honest, it was hard to kick the habit. 

22. Eat smart. 
Get to know your nourishment. Investigate which veggies and grains offer the highest nutritional bang for your buck. This way we require less food to feel full and satisfied. 

23. And when we've done all that, we eat out every once in a while to maintain positive mental health.
Allowing someone else to do the shopping, preparing, cooking and cleaning can be a lifesaver on certain days, that's for sure. But I always remember to stay true to what my budget can realistically accommodate. Fancy dinners out don't taste all that good when I know I can't afford them.

So there you have it. The long and short of how we've reduced our food spending by 50% over the past three months. 

I'd love to hear some of your favorite tricks for reducing food spending around your house. Leave a comment below to share your ideas.

Happy shopping, friends!


  1. You can make broth from your left over chicken carcass. Throw it in a pot of water with carrot, onion, S&P and whaterver else catches your fancy. Not only adds flavor to your soups, beans and grains, it is soooooo nutitious. And of course saves you money.

  2. i'd love to know where you get your lunch meat from!

  3. Great post! I really don't think I can cut my bill by 50%, but you've given me a goal to work towards. I especially like #18! I'm way ahead on that one!

  4. Molly - Thanks for the inspiration. Next chicken carcass I have will get this treatment.

    Genae - My lunch meat comes from Whole Foods. Not cheap, but meets our needs.

    Sister - Fantastic! I must say, the 50% reduction is more of a reflection on where we were than where we are at now. Truly the food spending was out of control for many years.


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