Greening My Grocery Bill

>> Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One of my early goals for this blog was to green my family's diet. Organic and natural foods are some of the aspects of going green that really do cost more (as opposed to energy efficiency, driving less, and eating less meat, which will all save you money), but I felt like it was important to find a way to afford to feed my family as many healthy foods as possible.

Over the past few months, I've slowly been making smarter and smarter choices about what my family eats. But I've been having trouble getting myself to outright commit. Every month, I say, "This month we're going to buy all organics or locally produced foods." And then I walk into Whole Foods and I chicken out, declaring, "I can't really afford this store!"

But despite my chickenheartedness, I've been doing a lot of research, and my research says I can go organic and still stay within my overall budget.

Check Out My Super Obsessive Research Skills

I am the most obsessively organized person I know, and to prove that point, I offer this evidence: my price book.

I'll write in more detail later this week about price books, but I wanted to go ahead and offer mine for public perusal. So in case you're interested, here's how to navigate it...

I divided my grocery budget into several categories and gave each category its own sheet. On each sheet, I recorded the estimated amount of each item that I use a year, the lowest price I've seen for each item, and the total cost of each item per year. On the far right of some sheets, I calculated the cost per unit of each item (for example, flour costs $0.06 per cup). I did this so I can calculate how much it costs to make some of my recipes.

Food Storage: $1,187.24

My food storage section is divided into three categories: oats/rice/pasta ($210.70), baking and cooking supplies ($594.14), and beans/nuts ($382.40). Almost all of the prices recorded are from Whole Foods. I was surprised to find that Whole Foods had the lowest prices on almost every item I buy, especially those I could get from the bulk bins. The main exceptions were a few items I can get through a buying club at my church.

Personal Care/Cleaning: $633.78

I know many people don't include personal care products in their grocery budget, but I always have. Again, most of these prices are from Whole Foods, although I've been ordering a few things from Amazon to save money.

Farmers Market: $2,460

I visit my farmers market weekly to buy almost all of my produce as well as milk, eggs, and honey. My husband has also talked me into buying grass-fed beef from the farmer's market every now and then. If we were able to have a garden, chickens, or bees, I think this amount could be significantly reduced.

Whole Foods: $2,398.66

This sheet refers to the weekly perishable items that I buy, including soymilk, cheese, butter, bananas, etc.

Kroger: $1,128.49

The last sheet includes some items that I couldn't find an organic version of (or like with baking soda, it doesn't come in "organic"). It also includes my 80/20 compromise with myself. There are just some not-exactly-healthy foods that my family is not willing to give up, either because of convenience or because we enjoy them too much. Some of these things, like juice and goldfish, I plan to phase us out of eventually. But frankly some things, like Coke and cereal, are here to stay. Everybody should be allowed a vice or two.

And the grand total is...$7,808.17 a year, or $150.16 a week

That means I should be spending about $600 a month during a four-shopping-trip month and $750 during a five-shopping-trip month. That's about how much I've been spending anyway, even not buying all organic or natural products.

My price book doesn't include any herbs, spices, or extra yummies (like chocolate chips), but it also doesn't include the potential to get some items on sale or with coupons. So overall, I think it's a pretty good estimate of how much our green grocery bill should be.

So what do you think? Is $150 a week for a family of five reasonable for greening our grocery budget?

Photo by cesarastudillo

This post was included in the Festival of Frugality #193 at The Canadian Finance Blog.

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Frank Ladd's Water Treatment Blog April 29, 2009 at 12:16 AM  

I think $150 a week is fabulously low. You're going to save on diapers and stuff in the future but you'll need to be prepared for teenage boy hunger in the future.

I think from about 15 to 17 my boys ate 6 heaping plates of food a day and were still hungry. Beans, rice and cornbread will be your friend. Don't worry it slows down some at 18 and by 19 they all had normal active adult appetites.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper April 29, 2009 at 10:29 PM  

Frank - Thanks for the warning about teenage boys' appetites. Luckily my semi-vegetarian boys love beans. Hopefully, they keep liking beans into their teens!

Anne September 5, 2009 at 4:53 PM  

Good plan! Also, I tried to view the spreadsheet but it's not accessible so I requested access. Thanks for sharing!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper September 5, 2009 at 8:54 PM  

@Anne - Thanks for letting me know about the broken link. I think I've fixed it now!

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