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How Do I Realistically Cut Grocery Bills?

This question was shared by member Findingmyway in our How Do You Save? group.

After years of living with roommates and boyfriends I live alone. It's been a fun and scary experience and though it's more expensive than I'd like, I am now spoiled by my space and freedom. At the start of the new year I vowed to cut back on spending since I am paying so much in rent and I also vowed to eat healthier. The trouble is that healthy food is expensive! I've been shopping at my local health food store, Safeway (but being smart about what I pick up!) and Whole Foods and no matter what I do, can't seem to shave my monthly food bills down to $300. Do you guys have any tips for eating healthy — as in lots of fresh and local fruits and veggies, organic dairy and meat — without breaking a budget?

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afternoondelight afternoondelight 6 years
Trader Joe's is great and offers really great portion sizes, my boyfriend and I shop there regularly. Also, when you buy in bulk, do it smart. It took us a while to figure out what we absolutely need in bulk (items that we use on an almost daily basis), so trust your instinct when you buy in bulk; if you find yourself asking "Do I really need 26 apples" it is probably a good sign you shouldn't get it. Lauren also gave great advice; plan your meals ahead and You will find that your money. Will go a long way and you won't Have as much wasted food.
GirlOverboard GirlOverboard 6 years
Also, Allisonberry, I know this doesn't help much but... do what feels right to you. I would say that if you can afford to keep buying the way you are but you would feel guilty for shopping at a place like Walmart, then don't. Poor practices aside, it can be a real pain just getting in and out of the store anyway. However, you know the saying "desperate times call for desperate measures?" If money is really tight and you need to cut back but coupon clipping and cutting out spending in other areas just isn't enough, don't guilt yourself into spending more than you need to at other stores.
GirlOverboard GirlOverboard 6 years
First and foremost, don't be afraid to price match - it may be a pain in the bum sometimes to compare prices and snip coupons, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Also, to others that said Trader Joe's, I'm SO on board with this. They have organic, healthy foods at a better price! Never buy things that can be bought in bulk at just any grocery store. Non-perishables and frozen goods are best bought at places like Costco. Sure, it may cost you $50 a year and some items won't be any cheaper there than at other places, but that's why comparing prices is important. Besides, some items will be phenomenally cheaper in bulk and as a member you do receive coupons in the mail. Keep an eye out for other places like Winco and Cash & Carry (if you're on the west coast) where you can get some great deals.
Allison14806931 Allison14806931 6 years
My newest dilemma is whether to start shopping at stores like Wal-Mart that are now offering local, organic produce http://blog.greensherpa.com/index.php/personal-finance/produce-wars-wal-mart-or-whole-foods/ I've always been a Whole Foods and Trader Joes junkie, but if they're offering the same products at half the price...should I make the transition over to the dark side? Which is more important: take a stand against unfair labor practices, or satisfy my wallet? What do you think about this topic?
syako syako 6 years
You make no sense. I'm still confused at this animosity from an anonymous commenter? Maybe if you logged in it would make sense how much you know about me and how much I spend at the grocery store.
Allison14806931 Allison14806931 6 years
Check out http://blog.greensherpa.com/index.php/family-budgeting/4-relatively-painless-ways-to-save-money-on-groceries/ for some great tips on how to keep your grocery budget low
syako syako 6 years
It's amazing that an anonymous poster knows more about me and my eating habits than I do myself. :O When I ate "crappily" I would always have bags of chips, cookies, ice cream, juices, soda, etc. etc. in my cart... albeit each one of those might have been "cheaper" than a bag of apples (which they won't, where are you shopping??) the sheer amount of food that I had in my pantry for snacking cost probably twice as much as what I spend now.
mrsld mrsld 6 years
I agree with planning your week of meals. I use the store ads to decide what I am going to eat, if it's on sale I will be finding a recipe to go with it. Also, I go to the asian market near me. The produce is half the price of the grocery. Alot of the items are organic but they are off sized so they do not pay to get the certifications because they can't sell at places like whole foods. I also have a garden during the summer and freeze and can alot of things. Oh and most important of all. Stick to your list. Impulse shopping is a budget killer!
Spectra Spectra 6 years
I don't have a Whole Foods in my area, but I've heard that it can be fairly pricey. I would say a good thing to do would be to research the "dirty dozen"...the 12 fruits/veggies that you should absolutely buy organic. There are many fruits/veggies that you can buy conventionally and they aren't that bad. Onions, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, locally-grown tomatoes, garlic, etc. don't usually have pesticides applied to them. I would also encourage you to look for a local butcher for your meats. Our city has a butcher that sells locally raised animals and their prices are actually lower than the grocery store. Also, when you shop, avoid buying a ton of stuff that you might not actually need..plan a few meals for the week and buy what you need for them. I also keep a fridge inventory of what I have in there so I don't overbuy produce that could spoil. In the summer, definitely hit up the farmer's markets for locally grown produce. Cheap, cheap, food! Or if you can, plant a garden or volunteer in a community garden. Or become good friends with someone who does have a garden and ask them to share with you. My neighbor grows tomatoes and cucumbers and other stuff in her garden and she can never eat all of it, so I get as much as I want.
syako syako 6 years
Wow anon, I'm so glad you came here and set us all straight. It's simply untrue that eating healthy = expensive, and eating unhealthy = cheap. It's just not. I used to eat tons of junk food and spent double what I pay now that I eat mainly whole foods and healthy food.
syako syako 6 years
I agree with Lauren. Sit down once a week and plan out the week---dinners and lunches. As other have said, cooking for one means you'll probably freeze a lot and have leftovers. My husband and I spend only $150-$200 total on groceries a month and we eat really really well. It's done by planning things out, having a list, and sticking to the list, and not buying any junk food/soda/etc. If you cook 3 times a week, you'll have six dinners (with leftovers). If there even more leftovers, freeze it and have one less meal to buy next week. Healthy food is not that expensive if you buy fruits and veggies that are in season and local. You can find a lot of really great deals on these. So if it's December, don't buy strawberries, there's going to be a ridiculous markup from having to ship them from Peru.
noxcatt noxcatt 6 years
I actually dont find wholefoods to be that expensive. I used to thing that but since i went vegan, I started shopping there instead of Safeway and Giant and i found that alot of the store brand items at wholefoods are really decently priced. Comparing the organic stuff at wholefoods to the pricing of organic things at like a giant, its actually much better at wholefoods. Im sure that different locations the prices are higher/lower based on region but ive definately changed my mindset that conventional grocery stores have better prices on organics or produce. Not too mention that alot of the in season produce is local which is a plus. When I can I go to the farmers market too but even that has gotten a little pricey.
mek123 mek123 6 years
I agree with all the above comments but what really saved me grocery money was using the store ads to plan my weekly menu (or to be honest - twice weekly) and sticking to my list.
bluebellknoll bluebellknoll 6 years
There's a lot of good advice here already but one more is that you should clip coupons and watch for sales. I think Safeway offers double coupons which will double the discount on manufacturer's coupons. It sounds like a pain but I spend about 30 minutes a week going over the store ads and coupons and I probably save an average of $30 on my weekly grocery trip. It's worth it.
lauren lauren 6 years
I think one of the best things my husband and I started doing was actually planning what we were going to eat for dinner and lunch for the week. We pick up the basics we need for the week plus ingredients for whatever we are going to make! Less wandering through the aisles and more precise list has helped us!
beram1220 beram1220 6 years
I just started cutting down on grocery expenses also and I have found the following things work well for me: 1) Buy in bulk - especially beans, rice and pasta. Whole foods bulk bin is pretty cheap and you can base most meals around one of those 3 items above. 2) If you enjoy cooking - try to make some stuff at home. I recently made homemade granola from cheap stuff I got from the bulk bins (oats, almonds, cranberries) and it was pretty ridiculous how much money I saved. I also made tortillas in about 10 minutes and froze them. 3) Buy fruit and veggies in season and locally if you can. If not try buying bulk frozen veggies. 4) Try to eat a little less meat if you can. You can make bean burgers, veggie sandwiches and stirfrys with cheap ingredients. Also - I agree - Trader Joes is amazing!
Deidre Deidre 6 years
1) Trader Joes will be your best friend if you have one in your area -- particularly for pantry items. 2) Freeze stuff and eat leftovers! It's ok to make batches of things even if you're cooking for one; and it can actually save you money. Save spaghetti sauce, stir fry, soups, etc. to use a few times over. 3) Go vegetarian a couple of times a week if you don't already. Meat can tend to cost the most at the store. It's a double-whammy of cheaper and healthier. 4) Buy the right sizes. Don't get the gigantic tub of yogurt because the sign says it's a better deal -- if you don't eat it all before it goes bad, it's not a deal at all!
tarabara1229 tarabara1229 6 years
Also, with some veggies , I'll buy a lot if they're on sale and then store some in the freezer. No one notices that they've been frozen if you're making soups, stews, or my fave, shepherd's pie!
tarabara1229 tarabara1229 6 years
Same reaction as Zivanod...Whole Foods!?! Unless you're buying artisan cheese or booze, I would avoid that place like the plague. Their markups are ridiculous and it's not exactly a wholesome place to buy (I would read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma about his take on Whole Foods). Definitely stick with farmers markets and food co-ops for your produce.
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