How to Lower Your Grocery Bill By Not Following My Example

>> Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This post was included in the 177th Festival of Frugality at Savings Not Shoes.

Last week, I revealed that I think I can keep my grocery bill at around $600 a month while still purchasing almost all organic and natural foods, non-toxic personal care products, and non-toxic cleaners. That's about $30 per person a week, or $120 per person a month (relatively speaking since three of the people in my family are under 5 years old).

Some people might read those numbers and gasp. Especially if you've searched some of the websites and blogs about lowering your grocery bill and using coupons. For example, a friend of mine, an avid couponer, only spends about $300-$350 a month on her family of four. But she also doesn't buy any organic foods or non-toxic cleaners and is not opposed to processed foods.

I could be wrong, but I think it would be impossible to get your grocery bill down to $300 buying as many organics and natural products as my family does (which is why I think it's essential to save money on energy efficiency and transportation and shift your savings to your grocery budget)."

Nevertheless, I think it is possible to eat organically for less than I'm doing.

So here are some shopping strategies that I use that I believe are keeping my spending high. Do the opposite, and you may save some money.

Shoot for as green of a grocery bill as possible.

Except for a very small number of items, my grocery list is almost completely organic, natural, and non-toxic. If I were willing to compromise on some items, my grocery bill could be significantly less.

Shop at the farmers market.
I like to support my local farmers, but at our farmers market, there are no sales, and all the farmers sell their produce at the same price. That means, I'm buying most of our fruits and vegetables in season, which is a cost-effective strategy, but it also means I'm not comparing costs or buying produce on sale.

Also, I know for a fact I can get cheaper organic milk and eggs at Kroger, and even though honey is much more expensive than sugar, I've been using honey in a lot of recipes because I can buy it locally.

Buy a lot of fruits and vegetables.
I try to stick pretty strictly to the 5-a-day fruit and vegetable rule. When I was growing up, we didn't eat nearly as many fruits and vegetables as my family does now, but because we're mostly vegetarians, I think it's important for us to eat a diverse diet with lots of yummy veggies.

Buy expensive fruits and vegetables.
Our tastes tend to lean toward the more expensive fruits and vegetables: avocadoes, mangoes, pineapples. If we looked at those foods more as treats, we could save a lot of money, but I like to indulge our appetites.

Have kids.
My kids are super wasteful when it comes to food. I try to use strategies to prevent wasting too much food, but when it comes to vegetables, I believe the best way to broaden their palate is to offer them a variety of vegetables every day. Right now, that means a lot of vegetables end up going to waste, but I'm hoping it will lead to healthier kids in the future.

Be concerned about packaging.
I often choose better packaging over price. I never buy individually packaged anything, and if I can get it from the bulk bins, I will.

Eat dessert and drink Coke.
I make cookies far more often than I should, and my husband and I are both admitted Diet Coke lovers. I could save quite a bit of money on our grocery bill if I cut out non-nutritive foods and drinks.

Don't Use Coupons
I've never had any success with couponing, mainly because the majority of coupons seem to be for processed junk (even processed organic junk) that I refuse to feed my family. Even when I come across coupons for organic products, I rarely take the time to figure out if I could save money by using them, unless they're for a specific product that I already buy. I'm just lazy that way.

I'd be the first to admit that I'm not the savviest shopper in the world. So don't follow my example, and you might save money on your grocery bill!


Carrie May 6, 2009 at 7:40 PM  

i'm a big diet coke addict too. if you're not doing it already start entering the codes from the caps or boxes for mycokerewards. i've gotten about 5 free 20oz bottles and $1 off a 12 pack in about 2 months. it's better than nothing and doesn't take long to do.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper May 6, 2009 at 10:09 PM  

Carrie - My husband does the coke rewards points thing - he's currently saving up for some CDs. It's nice to get a little something for our bad habit. :)

Green Bean May 7, 2009 at 10:11 AM  

LOL - have kids! They are a wasteful, aren't they? I agree with broadening their palate. We try all kinds of things. For instance, I made latkes (I'm not Jewish and it's not the "season" for latkes) but the kids ate leeks, zucchini and potatoes. Whatever works.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper May 8, 2009 at 8:58 PM  

Green Bean - My favorite is when they eat something the first time I make it and then refuse to eat it the next time I make it. So frustrating! We might have to try latkes!

Julie May 11, 2009 at 3:14 PM  

We aim to spend about $600 a month too, but we are a family of only 3. I try to be vegan (not always successfully) but always vegetarian; my son (almost 8) is 95% vegetarian; and my husband is a carnivore who eats the veg food I make for him. (He eats meat out of the house and occasionally buys himself a steak to grill.) We try to do everything as organic as possible, from scratch and as little processed as possible. (Unfortunately, my son discovered Horizon organic processed American cheese at Whole Foods and now loves those. Ugh, I'm not a fan of Horizon itself, and those cheese type things remind me of my 1970's childhood.) It's worth it to me to have food that is good for us and also for the planet. Great post, thanks for sharing.
P.S. my son also does that thing where he eats something once and then the next time when I make it again, he turns up his nose. He's a pretty picky eater and a lot of new stuff ends up in the compost bin, but occasionally we do find a new food that sticks around more than once.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper May 11, 2009 at 5:12 PM  

Julie - Except for having fewer kids, your family sounds very similar to mine. I am a vegetarian, my husband and kids aren't but eat what I cook at home, and I only cook vegetarian. They eat meat when out at restaurants or at someone else's house. My oldest claims to love meat, but he barely eats any even when offered, and my younger two don't really like it. Kind of funny...Thanks for commenting!

Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife June 11, 2009 at 8:41 AM  

Maybe you should consider a few laying hens. Vegetables rejected by your kids will not likely be rejected by the hens. You give them rejects, they give you eggs. It's a pretty sweet deal.

Thanks for the recent link to my post at the coop.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper June 11, 2009 at 1:05 PM  

Kate - I would really really like hens, but we're renting. Someday!

Student November 6, 2009 at 8:21 AM  

Great list!

The nice thing about saving in the grocery store is you can get results immediately. Some changes to the budget take weeks and months– the grocery savings can be seen in a weekend.

abbie April 13, 2010 at 11:32 AM  

This sounds like my grocery bill...and grocery philosophy. Since going gluten-free, I have severely cut down the number of processed goods we use, and significantly upped the whole foods we eat...and upped the time I spend in the kitchen. It seems crazy to me that the items that contain less, and are more healthy and eco-friendly cost MORE than the ones that require factories, cross-country transport, and chemical ingredients. Maybe that is why we learned about "shelf-life" in business school. :) I am over from One Small Change.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper April 13, 2010 at 2:31 PM  

@Abbie - You're right - it is crazy. And sometimes disheartening when people look at you like your crazy for passing up a "good deal" because it doesn't fit your grocery philosophy. But it's important! Glad you stopped by!

K Quinn July 19, 2010 at 8:09 PM  

Man I know you wrote this a year ago but I so concur! My grocery bill is not as low as it could be were I to purchase more processed foods and cheaper non-organic grown who knows where fruits and veggies. We have a small garden but I can't grow all we eat. Oh well. Off to read your coming peace with your grocery bill post.

Kathleen,  October 14, 2010 at 2:14 AM  

Re: the Coke addiction -- I know that some people are super-loyal to one brand or another of cola but if that's not the case for you, you might want to try Soda Stream. Our family is not big into sodas but we love seltzer water (plain, with some lime juice, with some lime juice and gin... all sort of variations!). The Soda Stream means saving the ecological cost of having water put into little plastic bottles and shipped in a truck miles and miles, etc. I had been getting guilty about my seltzer habit because it's the same ecological impact as bottled water that's been so (justifiably) vilified of late, and I'm glad to have this alternative. It's expensive up-front but not in the long run.

I read about it in an article about tiny changes that can make a big difference. That article also helped me overcome my reluctance to getting an electric kettle (not wanting one more thing sitting on my kitchen counter, not wanting another thing that can already be accomplished with something else I own) by pointing out how much more energy efficient they are. That, and our household boiled two kettles dry on the stove over the course of three years... not so efficient if I have to keep replacing stovetop kettles!

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