Supermarket Sunday: What’s Your Strategy?

by Lesley on July 22, 2012 · 13 comments

in buy it

Grocery shopping, and all the planning that goes with it, has been a BIG topic of conversation at our house these days.

To rewind, I should mention Jonathan and I recently decided our current budget system is not working. It’s not that we’re necessarily being irresponsible with how we spend (have you met my husband?) but we’re just not sticking to the goals we’ve set for ourself. For instance, trips to Target have gotten out of control. Throw in some diapers here and there, a few birthday cards, a new nail polish, cheese, bananas, a hat for Anna…blah blah blah. You know where this is going. All of a sudden I leave with a $125 charge on our Mastercard but I’m not really sure where it went.

We use Mint to manage all of our spending, and Jonathan is quite good at checking the budget several times every week. I am not. And if we ever want to take that European vacation we’ve been dreaming about, or buy me a car that actually fits my long legs, or send our children to college…well…we need to tighten things up.

So we’re going to try the cash envelope system for the next three months. We won’t be doing it in all our spending categories, because a lot of our monthly expenses are set up as automatic billing, but areas like groceries, gifts, entertainment/restaurants, and our personal budgets will be cash. I actually know a lot of people using the Dave Ramsey inspired cash system who find it to really work, so we’re going to give it a shot. The biggest challenge will be sticking to a grocery budget.

Here’s  the confusing place I’m at with grocery shopping:

  • I shop all over the place depending on my week, my mood, my list. Sometimes it’s Costco, sometimes Trader Joe’s, sometimes Savemart, occasionally Target or Walmart. All of these places have their positives and negatives in terms of convenience, selection and pricing however I haven’t been great about actually sitting down to compare prices at each.
  • I no longer know what a reasonable budget is for a weekly grocery spending. Anna is now eating more and more solids so our former $70 a week budget seems too tight especially when we didn’t always stick to $70 before she was eating.
  • I meal plan every week, and always shop with a list. But, I’m starting to think that the meals I prepare could be less complex or have fewer ingredients especially because Jonathan’s trying to cut out all dairy and almost all gluten. (EEEK!)
  • I’m having a difficult time deciding which items we purchase should be organic versus non-organic. We’ve been buying organic milk since Anna drinks so much of it now, and I’m pretty set on continuing to do so. Additionally, I try to go to a farmer’s market or receive a CSA box for veggies. If I take the time to shop at a farmer’s market, I can often get a lot of great vegetables and eggs for a fair price.
  • We are sporadic on how frequently we purchase meat, chicken and fish and what types of buy.  In an ideal situation I’d love to buy all high quality meats, (I mean, have you seen Food, Inc.?!?) but, it’s just so darn expensive! We’ve tossed around the idea of buying an extra freezer for our garage, and then splitting a cow with friends but I’m curious if there’s a big cost savings in doing so.
When I first started thinking about the Supermarket Sunday series of posts, I had intentions of sharing what we like buying at the various places we shop. And while I would still like to do this, I’m realizing that perhaps my shopping strategy is less defined as it could be, or should be.
Y’all were soooo helpful with your Costco shopping suggestions so I’m going to ask for your help again. 

I’d love to hear what you think is a reasonable budget for a small family of three.

Do you purchase organic meats/fish? If so, what have you found to be most cost effective?

What does your meal planning look like each week? Do you prepare staple low-cost meals on similar days each week? Do you do leftovers?

Please let me know your tried and true grocery shopping habits! And, as we re-evaluate our own system, I’ll be sure to share what we’re trying and learning.

Great posts to check out on this same topic:

Weighing the costs of buying organic

 Learning to eat healthy

Cash envelope system

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13 comments
Heike
Heike

In your weekly budget is there the money included that you spend in restaurants or for buying lunch? If not, how about bringing your own lunch to work? You might have to increase your grocery budget but all in all you'll spend less total. Another way that helped us to save money on groceries is buying local in season things and also check out Mexican or Armenian supermarkets. They offer fresh produce at very low prices. We buy eggs and meats organic (sometimes even greens) and we mostly buy that at Fresh and Easy, which carries a lot of organic stuff in general!! Maybe not fancy new ideas but that is what helped us a lot! Cheers!

Michelle
Michelle

ok, well I can't offer much in the way of grocery shopping or budgeting advice- considering we don't have any of the above mentioned grocery stores and our budget is in Queztales...BUT have you heard of this book/blog? http://www.dinneralovestory.com/ I have been reading the book and I believe it reminds you why meal planning, dinner making and family are so worth it. It's a cookbook, but more feels more like you're listening to a good friend share her secrets of what worked and what didn't work while you watch her make dinner. Definitely recommended it. (I mean maybe it could even count in the weekly grocery budget : )

erin
erin

I have recently started doing the bulk of our shopping at Trader Joe's and I'm finding that I am saving money shopping there vs. other grocery stores. I still have to make a run into Target for items that TJ's doesn't carry, but it seems to be worth the trip. My average weekly bill for our family is about $100 -- sometimes I can even stretch our groceries for a week and a half and that includes organic produce, milk, and eggs. We are trying to cut back on eating out (we are kind of making it like a game for ourselves!) and eating at home more. Meal planning has really helped me to stay organized, but I still have to try hard to stick to my list . . . not sure how we came home this weekend with chocolate-covered popcorn and coconut bon-bons?? (oh, wait, I remember, that was my husband!).

kelsey
kelsey

meal planning is my least favorite thing in life. we usually only need about 2 meals a week because there are always leftovers and tuesday is Bible study (the host cooks). but i still hate it! so i am all-ears to what you're learning! :)

lb
lb

this is so up my alley right now. we're even meeting with a financial guy from our church tomorrow! we just got a car thanks to our other one giving out so we're on a kick of what I like to call "cheap months.." I do have organic chicken from costco, organic ground beef from costco, and organic milk and some organic frozen veggies going, but really I see us eating a lot of tuna melts, egg salad, pancakes for dinner, and BLT's in the coming weeks. We'll probably lose some weight too. This all makes sense for why my blog hasn't had so many recipes on it recently, eh?! Reality hits..:)

Lindsay M
Lindsay M

So I have some room to grow in reducing the grocery budget, but I highly recommend www.emeals.com. I first heard about it on Dave Ramsey's radio show and have been using it for about 9 months now. It's $5/month and saves me SO much time in meal planning and list making. They have a lot of options for the type of meal plan that works for your family. Josh and I use the Low Fat Family Menu at Any Store. It gives us seven meals for a week. I then look at our upcoming week and how many meals we'll most likely be doing at home. It usually averages about 5x week that we eat at home. Because it's family size, we then use the leftovers for lunches or a leftover meal. When I go out for shopping, my three stops are a local produce market, Trader Joe's and then Fresh and Easy (to pick up whatever the other two didn't have.) I spend between $85-100 each week. I'm sure I could get better with coupons and watching prices, but right now this method and budget works for us.

san
san

It's definitely hard. I guess, if we would reduce our meat consumption (we only have about 1-2 days without meat) and avoid the occasional splurges, I could bring it down a bit, but I don't think it'd go below $120.

Stacey
Stacey

We love the Dave Ramsey cash system, so high five for trying it out! We have a budget of $140-$160 a month and meal plan the entire month at a time. We have found, though, that we will need to modify this a bit more seeing as I'm eating more and soon we'll have SaraBeth to feed, and we'd like to buy a little more fresh fruit later in the month, as well. We'll probably divide our budget to include two shopping trips a month. We'll see, though. We typically shop at Winco (if you have never tried Winco you need to check them out. Their bulk bins alone are worth the time), we get a few things at Trader Joe's, Sprouts (just their deals on some fruits and veggies), and Costco. Our household items (shampoo, kleenex, etc.) are on a separate budget. We use our crock pot a lot and get multiple nights worth of meals that we can freeze to use later on. We also do try to make enough for leftovers at least with one meal a week. We do use coupons as we find them and try to search for deals before shopping. You should check out: http://thekrazycouponlady.com/print-coupons/ and http://www.couponmom.com/login.php if you haven't seen these websites already. We don't buy organic, which I know is important to some, so I'm sure that would affect the cost of things if it is a priority. I like the idea of creating a spreadsheet to keep track of prices, but have not been that disciplined yet. Maybe now that we'll have a baby I can tackle that. I'm looking forward to hearing about what works for you. I'm always looking for new ways to save!

Anna
Anna

As you know, the options in SB are more limited (ie we don't have a Target, a Walmart or any other basic convenience), and I think food is slightly more expensive here. We did a CSA for about 3 yrs and it was great for the most part. However, it was hard during the winter because we got SO MUCH SQUASH and not really enough other veggies to balance it out, so I was still buying produce at the store. We cut out the CSA, and now I'm actually saving money at the farmer's market. I've done my research there and really only shop at 3-4 vendors. We eat a massive amount of produce and very little meat, so when it was the 2 of us we were coming in at about $85/week. Now that there are three of us and I'm buying more chicken/fish our bill is more like $110-120. I follow the dirty dozen and clean 15 for fruits and veggies: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/100-days-on-a-budget/ and all of our fish/chicken/eggs are organic/free-range/etc which is a little pricier (unfortunately) For budgeting and meal planning I've found this blog to be PHENOMENAL! If I were more diligent about making more things from total scratch, I would probably benefit more from this blog then I do. http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/100-days-on-a-budget/ Love that you're blogging about this - such a good conversation to start!

Lesley
Lesley

Ash: I love spreadsheets. This is why we are friends. I think we need to sit down with Anna Q and have a little brainstorming sesh. I agree--if you take grocery shopping seriously it does take SOOOO much time. I've wondered if it's worth it, or if I should just put that time into writing where I could make the same money I'd be saving. San: Sticking to $70 has been nearly impossible. We eat everything we buy with little left in the fridge, and we'll usually eat out at least one dinner and a few lunches. I'd say that $90-$100 is probably more reasonable for us based on what we purchase and what friends have told us they can spend. It's so hard, right?

san
san

*throw

san
san

Ok, I just had the conversation with a few other people and I definitely want to look at our budget... because woah, $70 a week? How do you do that? We're a household of only two (for now), but we have a weekly grocery bill of about $150 and we already shop with coupons and sales. I shop at the same stores that you do (Costco, Trader Joe's, Safeway) and I do admit we like to eat meat, fresh produce and dairy (which is expensive). I just don't know how to bring down the budget without either significantly change our eating habits (and I think eating is so essential) or buy at cheaper stores (but I somehow am reluctant to buy at grocery outlets and/or walmart). We meal-plan, I use coupons and sales and we hardly through any food away, so I have a hard time coming up with more ideas on how to save. What to do?

Ashlee
Ashlee

I feel like I could write short essays for comments on all of your supermarket posts because Brett and I are currently in the same boat of trying to figure this out. So, I recently started doing something, and it's going to make me sound like a huge dork, but I think you might appreciate it anyways. I MADE A SPREADSHEET. I'm starting with Target prices (since that's where we buy most of our pantry items) and will eventually move to other grocery stores. It's a simple spreadsheet: item/price/sale price. That way I can start paying more attention to the weekly ads and price comparing. For example, if our favorite bread goes on sale at the Nugget for $2.50 and I already know that it costs $3.54 at Target, I would probably switch things up and buy bread at the Nugget that week when I normally don't. The biggest lesson I am learning in this grocery shopping adventure is that IT TAKES SO MUCH TIME. Meal planning, price comparing, list making, actual shopping....it's basically a part-time job. A part-time job that I don't get paid for, so I always make sure to treat myself to a box of skinny cow ice cream cones. You should probably do the same. *end essay* p.s. if you want in on my spreadsheet action, I'd be happy to send you a copy when I'm done. OR MAYBE if you decide to be a huge dork too....you could do the Trader Joe's pricing since you shop there more than I do and then we could swap info ;)