Our grocery bill has gone through a lot of changes in the past few years. We went from feeding two people to three and now four. At the same time, we started to prioritize our savings. So even as we need to feed more people we are frequently looking at what we spend on groceries and trying to see how we can do a better job.
We shop at Trader Joe's on a weekly basis and just recently bought a Costco membership after careful evaluation. Chris and I worked up a spreadsheet with every item we normally buy at Trader Joe's that listed the size, price, and price/volume. Then we made our way through Costco writing down the same information for those items. It was so nerdy and we totally loved it.
We found that there are about 15 items that will be cheaper to buy at Costco and that it makes sense to buy in a large quantity. This includes almond milk, walnuts, salsa, oatmeal, block cheese, and strawberry jam. Other things didn't make sense, however. Like 80 oz of shredded cheese. Although technically cheaper per ounce, we just couldn't use up that much cheese before it would go bad!
Cooking and enjoying good food together are important values of our family. We are pescatarian (we eat dairy, eggs, and fish but no other meats), buy organic when it's an available option, and we support local growers by getting a bi-weekly CSA share (community supported agriculture) from a nearby farm. So we do believe in paying the appropriate price for good quality food. Even with these parameters we've been able to implement practices that are helping us spend less on groceries while still buying good quality whole foods. In fact, in January we reduced our allowed grocery budget from $800 (which we were frequently exceeding) to $700 and we're consistently meeting or beating this budget!
Here are some of the things that are helping:
Using a template grocery list.
Our grocery list not only makes creating a list easier than starting from scratch but I think it's helping us save money. The staples we have listed on the template are versatile so the list guides us to buy things that we'll eat which means less wasted food and money.
Planning simple meals using staples and what we already have.
My perspective on what constitutes dinner has evolved since welcoming our boys to the table. I used to want dinner to be made from a recipe or to have several components. Although we've made progress in the civility of our family dinners since last April, we do still need simple, healthy meals we can make fast.
Now that we've been at the family dinner thing for over four years, a few good go-to meals have emerged and they tend to be fairly inexpensive: veggie burgers and sweet potato fries (from frozen), lentil quesadillas, salmon patties with rice and broccoli, egg sandwiches on a bagel, beans/lentils and rice, homemade pizza, tofu stir fry (the boys aren't big fans yet though). By building our dinners from a few standards we're able to use up what we already have
Only planning to make one new recipe per week.
I love looking through cookbooks and cooking magazines to find recipes to try. And lately I've found that I can find the time to try a new recipe on the weekend. But it's just not feasible in this stage of life to try more than one new recipe in one week. Certainly not on a weeknight. Plus a new recipe can add expenses to the grocery bill. So being realistic about what we have time to make has steered us to stick to our staples, which are more affordable and versatile.
Buying fewer processed snacks for the boys.
We were in the habit of buying one or two different types of crackers for the boys' lunches. But they either would demand them all the time (like Trader Joes cheese sandwich crackers) or not really like them. Plus they didn't have much in the way of redeeming nutrition. Instead we just buy the Trader Joe's small 12 grain crackers. They boys like them, they have fiber, and they're versatile. The boys eat them plain, with cheese, sandwiched with sun butter, or with tuna. We also regularly make our homemade energy chunks and these delicious homemade granola bars.
Buying a large container of yogurt instead of individual ones or making our own yogurt.
We used to buy the boys individual yogurt cups and sometimes the "squishy" yogurt in a long tube. Part of the reason we did this was to get them full fat yogurt because the large container options were limited to plain yogurt or low fat. In recent months Trader Joe's started carrying whole milk vanilla yogurt so now we buy one or two containers of that.
But! For mothers day I was gifted an Instant Pot and have started making yogurt. I follow this recipe and it's delicious! The boys don't love plan yogurt so I need to experiment with flavorings for them. I'm hoping that soon we will only buy a gallon of whole milk every two weeks instead of buying yogurt.
Buying cheaper eggs.
We buy two dozen eggs per week. Every other week we get a dozen eggs with our CSA share. We used to buy the most expensive eggs at Trader Joe's: the brown, cage-free, vegetarian feed plus omega-3's eggs. They were $4.39/dozen. Now we're buying eggs that are $1.19. The truth is that most egg labeling doesn't mean anything.
Diligently avoiding impulse items.
I think shopping at Trader Joe's, which is a smaller store with fewer non-food items than most, eliminates some impulse spending. Although I can find plenty of impulse purchases at Trader Joe's, too. I love that store so much; being there just makes me excited to cook and eat!
But lately I have been diligent about sticking to our grocery list. I remind myself that the interesting item will be there next week and if I want to buy it I need to first plan how I'm going to use it. It's so easy to buy something that you feel excited to use but then not have all the ingredients to make something or you don't have it in your menu plan. Guilty!
Eliminating paper towels and napkins.
We stopped using paper towels and paper napkins years ago and we still love it. Two less things on our grocery list.
Do you have any grocery saving tips?