I’ve been focusing more on our grocery bill this year than I usually do. It’s the only area where we’re not particularly frugal. And for the most part, I’m fine with that. Food is one of the reasons we’re frugal in so many other areas. By shopping at Goodwill for most of what we buy, we can afford to spend more money on food. And while our grocery bill is on the high end of the spectrum, our dining out bill is zero. It’s also nice to know that we’re eating high quality food, organic and local when possible, no junk food, no processed food, no mysterious chemical additives, food colorings, empty calories, preservatives or flavor enhancers. We’re not changing any of that, so our grocery bill isn’t going to drop to $200 a month. But I knew that we could apply some of our frugal habits to our food bill and free up more money to put towards our mortgage payoff account.
I’ve started being more conscious of sales and stocking up on items that are a great deal. When Vitacost was selling organic coconut milk for $1.69 a can, I added six cans to my first two orders (they had a limit of six cans per order at the sale price). I now have a good little stash of coconut milk in the pantry. I use four or five cans per month, so my current supply will last a few months. My goal now is find another good sale and stock up again before my current supply runs out.
When one of the grocery stores in town recently ran a BOGO sale on vitamins, I stocked up on the supplements that we use and we shouldn’t need to buy any more for the rest of the year. I’ve also used the “at cost specials” on The Raw Food World to stock up on things like kelp noodles and the greens powder that I add to my protein drinks – buying them for far less than they normally cost on sites like Amazon or at the local health food store. When Nutiva ran a crazy deal on coconut oil (my go-to oil for cooking) several weeks ago, I bought a gallon bucket of it. I’ve been using that to refill the little jar I keep in the kitchen cupboard. We do the same thing with nutritional yeast (six pound bucket in the pantry), hot sauce (my husband loves that stuff, and he now has two gallon jugs of hot sauce that he can use to refill his little bottles instead of buying new bottles every time he runs out), chia seeds, hemp seeds, lentils, beans, etc. I never buy canned beans because it’s so easy to cook dried beans in the sun oven or the crock pot. I usually cook a whole bunch at once and then freeze most of them in mason jars to be used whenever I need them.
Our other favorite food trick is Costco. We now live 45 minutes from the nearest Costco, so we don’t go very often anymore. We went last month for the first time since September. Since we knew it would likely be several months before we made it back again, we made the most of the trip. We filled two carts – one was entirely full of organic frozen veggies and fruit (berries and cherries) and the other was full of all sorts of other stuff. Our total bill was almost a thousand dollars, but our pantry and stand-alone freezer are now filled to the brim and we’re set for a good long while. Especially since garden season is just around the corner. For the last few weeks, I’ve been harvesting dandelion greens from the backyard for green smoothies – I love free greens!
Given all the stocking up we had been doing lately, I decided to set a goal of spending no more than $350 this month on groceries (our normal grocery spending is around $800 – $1000 a month). I figured that with all the bulk supplies we have on hand, we could make this work without deviating from our organic, whole food diet.
In order to track our progress, I’m writing any grocery spending on the calendar that hangs on the wall in our kitchen. Rather than an out-of-sight, out-of-mind place on my computer, the calendar is there every time we walk into the kitchen. Each time we’ve bought any food this month, I’ve written the rounded dollar amount on that calendar day and put a circle around it. So far, we’re at $180. I just went shopping a couple days ago, so that total should stay the same for the next week or so. That means we’re on track to be under $350 for the month, which feels good.
I think that the stockpile we currently have is enough to significantly reduce our food spending for at least the next couple of months. And by June/July we should be starting to harvest produce from our garden. So my goal is to stay below $450/month on grocery spending from now until October, which is the end of garden season around here.
That means my calendar tracking is going to continue for a while. I like the constant visual reminder of how much we’ve spent. And knowing that I’m going to have to write my spending down on the calendar where I’ll have to look at it for the rest of the month is a good reminder to skip the high-priced specialty items at the grocery store.
Obviously we had to spend a bit more up front to get our pantry to its current well-stocked state. In January and February our grocery bill still hovered around $1000/month, even though I was focusing on bringing it down (I was also focusing on stocking up on stuff that was on sale, so the extra purchases cancelled out the savings). And in March it was more like $1500 since we had the gigantic Costco trip. Since we only go there two or three times a year now, we try to buy as much as we can fit in the car. I paid $50 for the gallon of coconut oil (it also came with a free container of hemp protein and a free jar of coconut butter which sweetened the deal even more). But considering that a 13 ounce jar of it is normally about $8, it definitely pays off in the long run. All of the bulk supplies we bought lately were purchased when they were on a very good sale. Not only does it make it more convenient when we run out of something and just have to “go shopping” in our pantry, it’s also a lot less expensive than buying everything in small quantities at whatever price it is when we run out of it.
I’ll keep you updated on our progress as the summer goes by. So far, so good for April.