Sunday, January 2, 2011


This post was originally published on my blog Regression in March of 2010.

My friend, Nadine, had a wonderful post asking folks what their weekly grocery budget (per person) was and where they shopped most. Sadly, I couldn't honestly answer her survey because only one choice was available on what grocery store to shop at (and I shop ALL OVER!) and I had to take an average of my grocery bill for the past year in order to answer the other question, because I don't limit myself weekly. So, I decided, since I'm obviously so complex, it calls for a post. Me? Complex? Muah, ha, ha!

Luckily, I have Quicken, so I was able to answer her question quickly (ha, Quicken makes you quicker!), as I've been a Quicken devotee since we had our 4th wedding anniversary. I used to just use an excel spreadsheet, but as I started figuring in the value of our home verses our payments, trying to figure out how much we could afford as down payment on another place, paying off student loans...well, it became more complicated, and my time on excel kept increasing. We started having children at the same time, so I wanted to spend LESS time on the budget. Being able to download my purchases and payments makes it all takes so much less time, AND every single purchase is labeled as to where it was and what it was and what it cost. Am I OCD? I dunno. But it sure is nice to know where the money is going.

So, onto the grocery part. I count any purchase at a grocery store as grocery if I bought groceries (to make my life easier) but if I only went in for soap, or TP, then I put it under "Personal Care" So, my grocery budget only includes PART of my toiletries. Also, I use the rolling of Extra Bucks at CVS to cover many of my family's toiletry needs, so there is less $$ going to that. A great post on that is HERE.

As for food, here is the break down over the past year. My average grocery spending is $360.89/month. Which is about $90/week, or $18 per person. But, keep in mind that included in this total is my food storage. About 600 lbs of wheat, 100 lbs of beans, 50 lbs of oats, 6 more bottles of canola oil, 4 jars (beyond what is in the kitchen) of coconut oil, and many other canned fruits/veggies, and meat in the freezer. There are months that I spend almost $600 in one month, and there are those where I spend about $150. After realizing that I don't want to move much of my food storage anywhere, our grocery budget over the next little while will be low, but that's OK, I'll just set aside the money I would have spent and use it to bulk up my food storage again after we arrive to where ever.

Now, I see grocery shopping as more of setting up a place for culinary experiments and being well supplied than making a menu plan and getting what I need. I do make a list of healthy things that I know are either 1) in season or 2) will store well, and then I shop for the cheapest of those things and THEN come home and plan meals around what I found.

My first item of business in shopping is getting a large supply of whole grains. Whole wheat berries, rye berries, groats (oats before being rolled), popcorn. All of these can be ground into flour to make breads, pancakes, muffins, etc. The reason I buy them whole (besides the amazing nutritional value in comparison to pre-ground flour) is that these grains can be sprouted if we are in dire need of greens. Now, I've never been in dire need, but we sprout occasionally anyway. Also, these grains, when eaten whole (you can soak them and simmer them to have whole grains on salads, or eaten with fruit for a hot cereal, or use in soups) have many of the vitamins that meat does. Iron, the vitamin Bs, protein, but also has something meat does not: fiber. Really, they are pretty awesome. When it comes to grains I go for the cheapest, because I buy so many of them. Usually through the LDS church, but I have often found other sources depending on where I lived. Oh! And let's not forget beans. I buy those in bulk as well, and even though they are not a grain, they are HIGH up there on my list of things to have on hand.

My second item of business is vegetables. When I first move somewhere, my vegetable stock is pretty low. I try to shop locally for vegetables, if I arrive in an area during the right season, and I buy as much as I can freeze, dry, and can for future use. Of course, if I show up somewhere in the middle of spring, fall, or winter and our pantry is empty, it's to the grocery store I go. Frozen veggies are usually a great deal (especially if on sale) and are just as good for you as fresh (in fact, if you are at the grocery store they are probably better, as they are frozen at their peak, whereas the "fresh" produce was picked before its peak so that it would be getting ripe at the store. There is a difference in vitamin content--and FLAVOR of vegetables and when they are picked).

Fruits as well...have you ever eaten a watermelon in December? I have...YUCK! My favorite part of the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver is where she equates waiting for tomatoes to come in season with waiting to copulate with your wonderful partner til AFTER marriage. When it's right. She laments that our culture is so into immediate gratification that we don't even understand how amazing in season food is compared to grocery store fare, and that if we can't figure that out with food, how on earth do we expect our children to do the same with their relationships?!? But, I digress, and will move on...

Fruits. I usually go to farmers markets or U-picks for my fruit. Even now, as we enter March, the farmers who sell at the market still have their own apples and pears that they have stored over the winter, and they taste so much better than the imported foods. So much. I bought apples for $0.20/lb at Shelton's Farm store just last week, then ran into my local grocery to see that they were $1/lb on SALE. Crazy. We buy blueberries in 20 pound buckets pre-frozen from a local blueberry farmer. It's a lot up front, but much less per pound than even the grocery store can ever get. The same with tart cherries. I haven't done much with raspberries and blackberries lately, because I was so used to them growing in my yard before moving here, that I have a hard time paying ANYTHING at all for them. The CSA we joined did have a wonderful raspberry patch, and for that I am grateful. We also have our own strawberry patch, here in our yard. It'll be really good this year, the year we leave it...of course.

Speaking of growing at home, we do a lot of this. We don't have good garden space, due to lead content in our soil, so we purchased about 15 pots and filled them with a mix of purchased topsoil and some compost from our local wood-chipping place. For those of you in St. Joe county, you should check out getting your mulch and compost from the city. It's free if you load it, and it doesn't take that long to fill the back of a van that is covered with a tarp with soil. We grow our own strawberries (as mentioned above--they come back each year), rhubarb, spinach, lettuce, herbs (sage, rosemary, oregano, cilantro), and TOMATOES!

We also joined a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) for the past couple of years. We loved it, and would do it again if we were going to be here for another full year. Ours cost $200/year + 3 hours of labor/week and we got BUSHELS and BUSHELS of fresh produce. FYI, a bushel's weight varies on what is in it, but ranges from 40-60 pounds. So, each week, we got that many pounds of produce. We didn't eat it all, some went into the freezer, and we are still working on eating that. It's great. Our CSA happened to have apple and peach orchard included, whereas some charge extra for fruits. Look into it, you might be surprised at what you can get. I know that this year, the CSA we use has offered some free spots to those who are willing to work more hours. Very cool.

Once I have the basics, everything else is just for fun. I bargain shop sales for meats when they come available. We don't eat meat very regularly, so it doesn't bother me if we run out. In the past, we have purchased an entire side of beef, side of pig, and some chicken from farms around us. However, we know that this lasts us a long time, and didn't feel that we could use all of that meat in the time we planned on being here. As is, we gave meat away before we moved last time. Next time we settle down, finding a good grass-fed beef, free-range chicken supplier will be top priority. Oh, by the way, to you South Bendites, did you know there is a cute little lady at the farmers market who sells free-range eggs (meaning her chickens get to eat bugs and run around, increasing the vitamin content of their yolks!) for only $2/doz. That is an awesome price, considering the eggs you are getting! Plus, you'd be supporting her and her wonderful life.

My weekly shopping is usually for odd things and milk. I walk through grocery stores looking for whole grains marked down (this is common, actually, I guess people don't buy them much!), canned foods on sale, even clearance, whole grain pasta on sale, herbal teas marked down, spices marked down, etc. I LOVE shopping at a place in South Bend called "Dents for Cents" because I find fun and odd things to spice up our meals for a fraction of what I would have paid at the grocer. I also hit up places like E&S Sales in Shipshewana, IN for things like bulk local honey (also available at our farmers market), dates, cheeses, flax, popcorn in a variety of colors (makes a great gift to send to relatives!), sometimes meats (bratwurst for $1.89/pkg? Sure!), and many other things that I find but didn't expect.

Sometimes I go to Aldi, because I want to see what is there, and because milk is often cheaper there. And once in awhile they have DiGiorno pizza for $3, which is my "splurge". ha ha. Hmmm, what else...Oh, BigLots! I just love going to look through their grocery section to find odds & ends. One time, I found Soba noodles for a decent price. I used to stock up on WASA crackers there, but I was the only one eating them, so I stopped buying them. I think I go there about once a month. So, my list of places I shop:

  1. Kroger (hunting for all the Manager's Specials, the red tag!)
  2. Aldi
  3. Walmart (using coupons here often results in free products, which I don't mind).
  4. Meijer (sales, coupons, clearance racks)
  5. Dents for Cents (the whole place is a clearance rack!)
  6. Shelton's Farm Market (mostly for produce when I'm running low)
  7. Sam's Club (When I have a membership. We let it lapse a few months and always stock up on the things we love from there the last month of our membership, then wait a few months before renewing. Now we are waiting to see if there is a Costco or Sam's where we will live in the future).
  8. BigLots
  9. Target. I've signed up with Kashi cereals for coupons, and often Target has a buy so many get $5 back via gift card deal going on. If I keep all of my Kashi coupons for those sales, I can get high quality cereals for $0.60/box. Not bad when they are usually $4/ea.
Hmmm, anything I didn't cover? I can't think of anything right now, but I'm sure it'll come to me. But, you see why I couldn't single my answer down to one store. Sigh. I guess I am complex.

Update:  I don't live by Shelton's any more (sob) or Dents for Cents (sob, sob) but we do participate in a produce co-op that saves us a lot of money, and use Kroger a lot more often now, because it's one of the cheaper grocers where I live.

No comments:

Post a Comment