The $200 Grocery Budget

>> 6.20.2011

Last week I renewed my domain subscription for the second time... meaning Thrifty Little Blog is about two years old! To celebrate, I'm going to...well... blog (I know that I've been slacking a bit). I've got some budget breakdowns, cheap home improvements, and thrifty little tips coming up, but today I'd like to go into more detail on one of the most controversial topics I've posted on so far- my grocery budget.

When I say that we aim to spend $40-$50 per week on groceries (or $200ish a month), people usually wonder what we're buying and how we can possibly live such a horrible, boring life. I'll be the first to admit that we might be boring from time to time, but I wouldn't say that our meals are all that horrible. Here's a look at what I bought on yesterday's shopping trip:

It might not seem like there's a week's worth of meals in that group, but it's because there isn't. Remember, one of my big savings tips is to stock up on frozen proteins and other products I use all the time when they're on sale. This week, I obviously bought a ton of Fiber Once Cereal because I had a good coupon.

We combine things like these frozen proteins, condiments, and pantry items like flour and sugar to make all of our weekly meals and aim to eat every bit of fresh produce by the next shopping trip. Here's what this week's meal list looks like:

Monday- tacos and Mexican street corn (I make the tortillas from scratch, the corn and beans are left over from last week's trip)
Tuesday- spaghetti and (fake) meatballs with zucchini squash and salad
Wednesday- baked potato and salmon with salad
Thursday- pizza night (this is a weekly tradition that we always follow up with special dessert like frozen yogurt)
Friday- sweet potato fries, fake chicken, and salad
Saturday- we eat out
Sunday- fettucini alfredo
*Lunches are always leftovers or salads and snacks are usually fruit, yogurt, or smoothies. Based on sales or coupons available, we might have a few packaged snack options, but we try to avoid the unhealthy stuff.

With all of the details that I share with you on the blog all about my own crazy tendencies, I'm sure you imagine me running around the store with my calculator and list. I'm proud to say that I'm bit more carefree about it than you might think. The price of the trip is not actually as important as getting everything I need so I make a mental list before walking through the store, grab things if they're part of an especially good deal that I didn't know about, and feel satisfied with the total before the cashier even rings anything up. That's why I'm usually okay when we go a bit like we did this week:

Besides, the high weeks usually balance out with the low weeks:

If I could sum up my top grocery savings tips, I would probably narrow it down to four main points:
1. Always have some sort of a plan- When will that item be used and why do you need it?
2. Avoid processed packaged foods- They pack very little nutritional bang for their buck.
3. Stay flexible with your brands and meal plans- If a great sale comes up, you might just have to jump off of the meal plan or grocery list.
4. Don't let your food go to waste- If your picky 6'4 roommate (*cough cough*) consistently lets half a loaf of wheat bread go moldy... stop buying it for him! Eliminating the unneeded  extra apples or sour cream equals instant savings.

How do you keep your grocery costs low?


KT @ KT's Refinishing School June 20, 2011 at 11:08 AM  

We usually spend around 50-60 a week (sometimes less but very rarely more) on groceries. We buy some of the produce from our local Farmer's Market and try to have at least one if not two meals a week that are meat-free. I also try to meal plan appropriately so that ingredients we buy for one dinner can also be used for dinner later that week. Our lunches look very similar to yours--leftovers with an occasional piece of fruit or yogurt thrown in :)

Katie June 20, 2011 at 3:43 PM  

i keep trying and trying to cut our grocery budget and it just doesn't happen. i think one of the big problems is that i like to cook, and i try not to eat processed foods. fresh ingredients just cost more. we have started shopping at costco for some things - yogurt, milk, eggs, meat... and that has helped, but i still feel like we spend at least twice what we should!

Jordan@the2seasons June 20, 2011 at 6:35 PM  

I try to always go grocery shopping with a list. That helps me stick to my plan and not fill up my cart with randoms that add to the final cost.

Kate@TwentySixToLife June 20, 2011 at 7:46 PM  

We're horrible about keeping our grocery bill down. I know having a meal plan for the week really works though, I should do that again.

Two Grad Students and a Pittie June 20, 2011 at 7:50 PM  

We usually aim for $200 as well, I think well do a post about how we achieve that. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous,  July 9, 2011 at 11:00 PM

Anonymous,  July 25, 2011 at 3:07 PM  

Here is what I do: I keep my freezer stocked with easy items such as: homemade pizza crusts, homemade tomato sauce, homemade soups --- I buy the big cans of tomatoes from sams club and let them cook all day in the big crock pot then grid them in blender with spices and ground meat. Then for some of the sauce is thickened with tomato paste for pizzas the other half gets mushrooms added for pasta sauces. I keep one section in the freezer for pizza items (keep together to easily make a pizza) - cheese, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, sauce etc. But since I am not a great baker I do buy the pizza crust in the little package from walmart (in a bag about .52 cents each).

With my homemade soups: I just make a big batch (more than I need for that one meal) and freeze the extra. Then in one spot in the freezer I keep various soups that are already cooked.

I buy in bulk and cook a bit extra at each meal - sometimes on weekends I cook up a big batch of pasta sauce for the freezer etc. All this makes for time and money savings later.

Additionally, my local grocery store offers some clearance food of various products. Perhaps some meat or bread - I do grab a bunch of the clearance item and either cook right away or freeze for later cooking. So any particular month my grocery bill may be skewed, but in the end it should actually mean more savings. For example: I bought 6-7 raw whole chickens for about 2.50 each. Two were cooked right away and the rest were frozen for later cooking. They cost about 17.00 to get but they are much more cheaper than buying a rotisserie chicken cooked.

Other things I do, which I don’t mind, is cut expensive products with cheaper ones. An expensive mustard mixed with a cheaper one for example. For myself, I have to drink rice milk (not regular) which is more costly, but I do water each serving down which saves some money (even though its an expensive product).

My goal is to have a good quality of life without asking for too much compromise. For anyone my advice is just start somewhere - everyone has to start somewhere.

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