Monday, September 01, 2008


A friend emailed with some questions about how I have kept my grocery spending down over this past year, and I thought I would take a post to answer them.

First, I would just like to say that I hope my words do not come across as though I consider myself any authority on the subject. I by no means think of myself as an expert in this area, and I have much to learn in the areas of frugality, nutrition, and the like. There is much room for growth and improvement. And even within those areas, there are differences of opinion. For example, when I say I want to feed my family fresh and nutritious foods on a budget...the word "nutritious" can mean different things to different people. For some, nutritious could mean buying wheat bread at the store. For another, it would mean grinding wheat and making preservative free bread from freshly milled grains.

I am just saying that because, as you read my menus and grocery lists and such, you may think that you could never do what I am doing (or eating what I am eating), or, you may think that I am not doing that great, or that the foods we eat could be more nutritious. Or that my money could be better spent on other items.

I don't claim to be perfect with our food choices, or with our spending. But, I am trying to make slow, small improvements and changes, that, over time, add up to a healthy lifestyle. So, while I welcome your comments and suggestions and ideas, please do keep it positive and encouraging for everyone. We can all learn from each other!

So, all that being said, here are a few ways that I have kept our grocery costs low over the last twelve months.

-No paper towels or napkins, or disposable plates or cups. We use glass, metal, cloth, etc. The only paper products we regularly buy is toilet paper and wet wipes. I bought these at the discount food store.

-No disposable diapers. I use cloth.

-No laundry detergent. I make my own.

-Dishwashing detergent (Seventh Generation) I purchased in bulk at the discount food store.

-Cleaning supplies. I bought in bulk from Caldrea a few years ago when they were having a sale, I have samples from Matt, and I make my own. Occasionally my mother in law buys me cleaning supplies, because it stresses her out that I only have two or three bottles under my sink. :)

-Beauty supplies/personal hygene. We purchased bar soap and shampoo/conditioner at the discount food store. Razors, feminine products, etc. from the grocery store. I don't wear a lot of make up, so what I have lasts a long time. I stocked up on Burt's Bees tinted lip gloss at the discount.

-Meat. I buy almost no meat. I have probably purchased meat twice in the last year. The meat that we do eat was either 1. killed by matt or 2. a sample from Matt. We eat vegetarian meals 90% of the time, though this is a pretty new thing (late spring).

-I buy very little prepackaged foods. No individual yogurts or cheese, no crackers or cookies, no microwave popcorn. Most of it isn't healthy, and it definitely isn't cheap.

-We have cut way back on dairy products. About the same time we started eating less meat, we also cut back significantly on dairy products. We still use butter, milk, and cheese regularly, but in smaller quantities. I rarely buy sour cream, whipping cream, yogurt, cream cheese, string cheese, etc.

-I cook according to the seasons. By shopping locally, it is really easy to spend less on fresh produce because what is available locally and in season, is also less expensive. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver is a great book for inspiration on eating locally/seasonally.

-Spices and seasonings. I keep my seasonings pretty simple, more out of taste preference than cost. I grow my own rosemary, basil, parsley, and oregano. I make my own vanilla extract. Sea salt, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, and olive oil round out my arsenal of regularly used seasonings.

A few questions answered...

What does a typical week of meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) look like for you?
I will be posting my weekly meal plans through out this next month, so more details on this later. Look for this week's meal plan later today.

Do you plan all your meals out? I ask this because I realize with Discount Foods, you can’t necessarily come with a list in hand.
When I shop at the Discount, I buy the things that they have available that I know we will use. I don't worry about a list b/c you never know what they will have. I plan my meals by looking in my pantry and freezer at what is available. I then make my grocery list for the produce stand and grocery store for any items that I need for that week that I don't already have on hand. I used to go about this the other way around. I would make my meal plan first, then look and see what I already had in the pantry. Seeing what I have first, then making my meal plan makes a lot more sense...but it took me several years to figure this out! :)

How many meals does $50 cover? In other words, is that for all 21 meals for the whole family for the week? Or do you have one night a week that you go out? Does that include lunch for Matt, too?
$50 a week would typically include 7 breakfasts (without Matt), 5-6 lunches (maybe 1-2 with Matt), and maybe 4-5 dinners (2-3 with Matt), 2 of which would probably include guests. Because Matt is in the food industry, it is important to him that we support the restaurants that he sells to and has a relationship with. For this reason, he eats most of his week day lunches at his restaurants, and we eat dinner out a couple times a week as well.

Since Matt works for a food distributor, are you able to get certain foods (I’m thinking mostly meat) at a deep discount?
We are able to get a discount on food through Matt. However, because he sells to restaurants, the items come in large quantities. For this reason, I very rarely purchase items through him. Occasionally, he will buy a slab of meat and split it with someone. He does get samples fairly often though. However, they are usually of things that I would never buy, so they don't really affect our grocery spending much. We consider them just a special treat. Right now we have some snack packs of oreos, 100 calorie snacks, etc. I wouldn't buy that, but it is fun to have. He also gets spices pretty regularly, most of which I pass on to others, and occasionally he gets some meat samples.

Do you have your own garden?
I do have a garden. A very sad little garden. So far, our garden has produced 4 banana peppers, 2 handfuls of grape tomatoes, and a ton of basil. That's about it. I am hoping my fall garden will do better. I was able to get some corn and green beans from my dad (who got them from a farmer he sells to), as well as blueberries (from my parents house). I bought tomatoes in bulk from the produce stand (they were cooking tomatoes/seconds, on sale for $0.50 a pound). I think I bought 50 pounds, which I made into pasta sauce.


  1. Did you know you can buy Seven Generation dishwasher detergent at Walgreen's? Of course, not a discount, but it's there.

    Something that has been helpful to me and helps with school lunches is to make sure the quantity I make for the evening meal is enough to save a little for the girl's lunches the next day and leftovers one night. If I am shopping for two weeks I cut my amount in half by having enough for two meals in one and I don't buy lots of extra lunch stuff by sending leftovers for the girl's lunches.

  2. Teresa7:55 PM


    I'm interested in your homemade laundry soap and natural dishwasher soap use. Having a dishwasher is so new to us, that we have been using Cascade simply because that's the brand that accompanied the dishwasher we installed last year.

    As for laundry soap, I am now using Mrs. Meyers, which I purchased at Whole Foods on a trip to Atlanta. I have a front-loader and use as little soap as possible, to avoid excess suds and stiff clothing. I'd love to hear about your experiences with the homemade stuff.

    Also, glad your loved ones are on the road to health.