How I save $327.63 on my monthly grocery bill (& you can too!)

Have you ever heard or maybe said this yourself:  “I want to eat healthier, but I just can’t afford all those fruits & vegetables!”?

I want to show you how I save $327.63 (just a rough estimate, actually) on my monthly grocery bill, so I do have money for lots of delicious fruits & veggies for myself & my family (& you can too!).

But first, a few random tid-bits.

Did you know that the average American spends 2.5 hours engaged in eating & drinking daily?

68.5 of those minutes are primary eating & drinking activities (meaning the “main” activity).

More fun facts (source:  USDA):

  • 68% of eating takes place at home
  • The average American spends 33 minutes a day doing meal prep/clean up
  • 73% of women “usually” do the grocery shopping
People ask me how much money our family spends on food each month.
When I respond somewhere north of $750, the response is often surprise.  “That is so much!”  I’ve gotten this enough times that I’ve begun to think that perhaps we are a bit extravagant in our shopping habits.
Maybe it’s because I live in Utah where we are not ashamed about our thrifty approach to life, that $700 for a family of 6 seems like a lot for a food budget.
The mindset about purchases here, is often, “What, you didn’t get that 50% off!?  You were ripped off.”

Utah has been the home of coupons & deals long before extreme-couponing was invented.  We set the standards for frugality, & we’re proud of it.  But sometimes our frugality can turn in to shear tight-waddedness, or the expectation that everything needs to be free, or pretty darn close to it (what about honest payment for honest work done/recieved?).

I like a good deal as much as anyone.  And I don’t want to have to pay more than I have to, especially since I don’t have a lot of money to throw around.That said, something strikes me as not quite right when people on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” (have you seen it?) go to whatever means necessary to get their entire cart of groceries for free (made possible by combining coupons with store-sponsored sales).
“Wow!  You got $500 worth of groceries for $5!” the cashier says as he hands the receipt to a beaming woman holding a baby.  I remember one man   “buying” dozens & dozens of boxes of toothpaste just because he could get it all for “free” with his coupons & the store’s sale.
Our “empty” fridge, just before going shopping on “shopping day”
Out of curiousity, I checked the USDA’s website to see how much our family “should” be spending on food.  Based on the USDA official data tables, my family of 6 would spend the following each month:
[USDA official food plans:  see how your food budget compares, here]

Under a “thrifty” plan: $811/month, or $9,732/yr
Moderate: $1047/month, or $12,564/yr
Liberal:  $1291/month, or $15,492/yr
You see how saving a few hundred dollars a month is a difference of several thousand dollars over the course of the year!
Based on these charts, our family doesn’t spend an unreasonable amount on food, in fact, we’d be categorized as “thrifty.”  Here’s the thing, I think in actuality we have a liberal food plan, but we only pay for a “thrifty” food plan.
Meaning, I usually get about $1300 worth of groceries, but only spend about $800 (which always includes some foods that I put in my food storage).  I’ll show you how I get the savings in a minute.
$800 might seem high to some, but consider that I buy the highest quality food possible (as my budget and savvy ways allow), including large amounts of fresh produce, some vegan convenience foods, & a lot of organic and specialty items.If you’re looking to only spend a few hundred dollars a month on groceries for a family of 4 or 6 AND eat a healthy, variety of fresh plant foods, I’ve got nothing for you.  I know it’s totally possible to only spend $150 a month and feed a family of 6 (I’ve seen “Extreme Couponing” remember?), but I’m interested in lots of fresh, quality, varied plant foods, not boxes of Hamburger Helper or cans of cream of mushroom soup.When I shop at my local health foods store, like Good Earth or Sunflower Farmer’s Market, I can occasionally get coupons from the store for some of the items I buy there but there aren’t a lot of these to make a dent in my budget (I’ve yet to see a coupon for tempeh, but I canbuy it on sale).Most coupons that come in the newspaper, are for stuff I’m not interested in like Kraft mac & cheese and Oscar Meyer hot dogs.  Not exactly veg friendly, so using coupons to save on organic & vegan foods isn’t a viable way for me to save a ton of money.

And I buy organic foods when I can, usually at Costco, which carries many organic items.  Even at Costco, though these generally cost more (up to twice as much) than conventional.
I also buy a lot of specialty items & foods, like tempeh, non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast as well as more expensive items like agave, stevia, gluten-free baking items (like xantham gum) & gluten-free goodies like gf pretzels & crackers.
I try to get the best price possible on these foods & I’ve compared prices & have a pretty good idea of where the best prices are for a particular item.  Still, these foods are sometimes twice as much as standard American diet fare & can add up quickly.
Since I spend more on these items, it’s crucial that I only buy what’s on sale for produce.
The only produce items I don’t buy on sale are a few things I can’t get anywhere else, like bags of frozen fruits & vegetables at Costco (or occasionally Sam’s Club), which are often organic.  I also buy a few produce items at Costco (like the big bags of pre-washed spinach that I just can’t get anywhere else for such a great price).
So my secret for getting all the items I need to stock my pantry & freezer while still having money left over for ample amounts of fresh produce?
My real, hard-core, hundreds of dollars of savings each month, is accomplished with price matching.I ad-match at Wal-mart, but I know many stores will price-match from other stores.  Price-matching means that you can bring in ads from other stores, & that store will match the sale.  This saves a lot of time, energy, & money.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, or part 2,  where I will show you all about how price-matching works for me, & how it helps me to save hundreds of dollars each month.

***
How much do YOU (and your family) spend on groceries a month?

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Comments


  1. i.ikeda
    on April 28, 2012 at 2:41 am said:

    You know, I never tried price matching. I've looked into coupons and I do use them on occasion, but as you mentioned they don't have a whole lot of coupons for the types of food that I like to buy. Sales are my friends however. I'll have to check the price matching in my local grocery stores.

  2. Janae Wise
    on April 27, 2012 at 10:07 pm said:

    Melissa: Yes, the initial investment in Costco frozen goods can be a bit of sticker shock, but it's well worth it since it lasts forever, & price per pound is less than you get most anywhere else that I know of (& a lot of it is organic, even better).Atwood: I typically ad match from the same 3 stores. I don't care if they're ultra-cheap, I'm just ad matching produce, & Wal-mart's produce tends to be higher quality than some of these other stores that I'm using to ad match. Kitkat408: We don't have a Trader Joe's around here, but I hear they have some great deals!Brittany: I too would love to do a co-op, but every year something has come up so that joining hasn't made financial sense. But someday soon, I'd really like to try one out, since I know you support local organic farming & it's a great way to save a bit of $$ too.

  3. Joya
    on April 27, 2012 at 5:58 pm said:

    My husband and I were just discussing the cost of groceries this morning. We are a family of 4 and I spend an average of 130/wk on groceries. Some weeks less, some weeks more. But couponing is not something we can do most of the time either, for the same reasons as you cited. The one thing I do like about my grocery store is that they send me coupons or coupons print out at the register for things that I actually do buy alot (ex: save $5.00 on organic produce when you spend x amount in organic produce) We bake our own bread, make pots of beans/grains that we can use for meals during the week as well as grow some of our own food and we have a young orchard that will hopefully one day supply us with lots of fruit. But things are still expensive and one place we are not willing to cut corners is in nutrition!!

  4. kitkat048
    on April 27, 2012 at 5:18 pm said:

    When my mom shops, we try to get our produce at our local farmer's stand, but then we buy other foods at Costco, Trader Joes (so reasonably priced!!!) and Haggens. We'll get a few miscelanious items at Target or Wallmart if we have to, but those stores are mainly for non-food items. The ultimate savings that we get is from Trader Joes. We can come home with EIGHT BAGS filled to the brim with groceries and spend less than $110 dollars in food (and most times we'll tack on items not on our grocery list…. I love that store!).

  5. Atwood-Family of FIVE
    on April 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm said:

    This is a great post! I'm looking forward to the second part. A question I have is do you price match even the ultra cheap stores? Not aldi, which has their own house brands almost exclusively, but the stores that sell name brands but very very cheap-such as Cub Foods, Ultra, etc. (Those are the names near me). For some reason I've always been afraid to price match those stores, like I'm cheating or something….As far as answering your question-we are a family of 5 (hence the name)-one member is a 10 month old baby-and we spend around $500 a month on groceries. Give or take maybe $50. That does include select organic produce, very few processed foods (ie, hamburger helper, canned soup, etc) and organic from the farm meat. We order that meat once every 2-3 months and eat it less than once a week.

  6. Brittney
    on April 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm said:

    We spend about a hundred dollars less than you but we don't eat GF and the youngest of our six is only 4.5 months so that's probably the difference.I also buy alot of my produce at Costco or Sprouts (AZ) which has awesome produce sales. I price match at WM for the rest but it goes pretty quick and I don't feel like I hold up the line. I just let the cashier know right away that I'll be matching and put all of my PM items on the counter at the end and rattle off the prices as they get to them. Most cashiers don't even skip a beat.PS I LOVE Bountiful Baskets! We haven't been participating lately (too early on a Saturday!) but did for years since it was a tiny little co-op here in AZ. I'm hoping to get back into it soon.

  7. Melissa DeLeon
    on April 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm said:

    I love couponing! I spend @12.99 a month to get 3 newspapers delivered each Sunday. Funny enough, I don't tend to get the kind of savings on food items as you might think (based on shows like Extreme Couponing). But, I save tons on various products for the house (toiletries esp!), which then helps "roll" the savings onto my grocery shopping. (Because a penny saved… well, you know.)I agree with Shelley that the first few weeks (month) were more costly when I started giving up meat and dairy. Mostly because we had, like, NO SPICES or SAUCES! Oh… and I LOVE Costco frozen fruits and veggies!! (But again, it is a bit of a budget and freezer breaker the first time you load up!!! But the last for WAAAAAY longer and can be used for so many kinds of meals!)I think we spend between $100-$200 a week for food and groceries. But that is just for the two of us. If we really strapped down, I think we could save much more. Produce is NOT expensive. It is just not as convenient, because it can take time to prepare vs drive thru. But we still enjoy the convenience of eating out (as of late consists of Pho, Jimmy Johns, or Subway vs. Mr. Mac or King).

  8. Whole Foods Vegan Momma
    on April 27, 2012 at 1:50 pm said:

    Ten: Ah, I vaguely remember those days! Yes, kids, are not free. And, believe it or not, they can eat just as much as adults (at least my boys do), so it's not like their cost of food is half-price. Thankfully, you'll have time to transition & get one kid at a time, which makes things easier :)Shelley: Yes, organic produce has a sticker shock. I love the idea of it, & really do want to support it, but I just can't afford strawberries at $5 a pound right now. The one place that makes organic affordable is Costco, I'd love to see more stores stepping up & supporting organic, because I think with higher demand, we'll see prices come down a bit. If it meant saving hundreds of dollars a month, would you be more willing to "hold up the line"? I think it's a small price to pay for such savings. But I totally get what you're saying. You don't want to look like the penny pincher, BUT these are hard times, & we're all looking for ways to stretch our budgets.Lindsey: I agree, $3.88 is remarkable. That would buy you a half of an appetizer at any given restraunt, but at home if you can provide 3 healthy meals with fresh produce & a snack, for that amount, score! Yes, we spent quite a bit of money on our food storage several years ago, & it has been the biggest help to us in the past year, especially as thinks have gotten tighter w/ us waiting on Joseph's job. I probably should mention that a good portion of our food comes from food storage, but I try to constantly replenish the stores & rotate. Buy Low & El Rancho Markets are my two super-low deals that I tend to use for price matching. Never ordered bountiful baskets but many people have recommended it…maybe I should look into it.

  9. Lindsay
    on April 27, 2012 at 3:51 am said:

    For our family of six, I think we spend about the same as you. My husband is gone about ten days a month and he doesn't eat from home for lunch most work days. If it's $700 that averages to about $3.88 per person per day. I think that's great! We've also been building up our food storage so that now we have about a year's supply, so we have spent a lot of extra money on that.I'm guessing you price match some from Buy Low which has great deals. I wish we got that ad here in Lehi. Do you ever order Bountiful Baskets?

  10. Shelley
    on April 27, 2012 at 2:17 am said:

    We've recently gone vegan (the last 3 months or so), so the first few months cost more than normal to get some of the staples I didn't buy before, but now we generally spend about $700-800/month on groceries for two adults and a three year-old. This includes some organic produce which is pretty pricy compared to conventional. We live in Canada, so there isn't as much opportunity to do the "extreme" couponing. I'm interested in tomorrow's post about price-matching, but I always feel awkward asking for things at the checkout and holding up the line behind me.

  11. TEN
    on April 27, 2012 at 1:46 am said:

    We dont have kids yet, and my husband does enjoy taking advantage of the free food perk that comes with my fast food management position, do with that I think we spend $160-$220ish a month on groceries, plus we eat out every other week or so. Trust me, I feel like I just may get a big smack in the face once we start having children, or our circumstances change (whichever comes first)

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