Last February I wrote a post about Strategies to Lower your Grocery Bill. At the end of the first part I asked my readers to share their tips on frugal shopping and, if they wanted, to share how much they spend on groceries each month. The comment below blew my mind:
Heather: Our grocery budget had been $275 a month, or an average of less than $70 a week for 2 adults and 4 children (under 7). Groceries are bought in a city of 100,000 in the Midwestern U.S. I make almost everything from scratch, and rarely even buy a can of beans (that’s a convenience item to us!). With prices for gluten-free items, I anticipate our grocery bill will probably be around $350-$400/mth or under $100/wk.
My goal at the time was to get my grocery bill under $600 a month and then work down to $400. I couldn’t imagine only spending $275! So, I emailed Heather to ask how much she was spending now that they were gluten free and if she would be willing to share her tips. Heather graciously agreed and we exchanged several long emails.
Mary Frances: I thought about your comment on my grocery budget post when I was at the grocery store tonight. I am amazed that your grocery store budget was so small (at least it seems small to me) for so many people.How is it going now that you’re buying gluten free foods? I would love to know how you do that and to share that with my other readers.
Heather: I’m honestly not exactly sure yet how our budget is now that we’re buying gluten-free foods. One way that we save money on our grocery budget is by buying in bulk, and stocking up when items are on sale. I’ve only been gluten-free for 2 1/2 months, so it’s hard to get a
good sample. For example, I bought 50 lb of brown rice flour last month, but I wouldn’t buy that every month!
Our meat supply in the freezer had gotten low, and there were good meat sales this past month. So I stocked up on boneless skinless chicken, ribs, hamburger, pork sausage rolls, etc. I won’t have to really buy any meat for 3
Also, we’ve blown some money on trying new things that we won’t buy again. For example, I can’t stand the taste of amaranth flour, so the rest of that got pitched! I’d really probably need another 3 or 4 months to get a faithful average.
I actually discovered at the same time that I am lactose-intolerant as well. So, we stopped using real butter, and bought Light Blue Bonnet
Margarine, which is cheaper. And, a lot of casseroles we used to have included cheese, but now that’s being left out, though sometimes it’s
on the side for the rest of my family. So, that’s actually saving us money. Though, there are definitely more expenses than savings!
I’d say our average monthly bill now is probably about $350-$400 a month for 2 adults and 4 children under age 7, with baby #5 due in January.
That’s an increase of $80-$130 a month from the days when we didn’t worry about gluten or dairy.
Let me give you the bullet points on how we save money on the grocery budget.
Heather: Here’s an expansion of my bullet points, sharing how I’m spending approximately $350-400 a month to feed my family of 2 adults and 4 children under 7. Almost all food that we eat being gluten-free, except for the occasional loaf of WW bread for the rest of the family, and buying WW pasta for them (and brown rice pasta for me).
Buy enough to last you to the next time it’ll go on sale at that price. Buy frozen vegetables when they’re on sale for $1/lb. When canned beans are on sale for $.40 a can, buy enough to last you a few months until the next sale.
We have a second freezer, so we can do this with meats as well. At our Super Walmart, 3 lb of boneless skinless chicken breasts are priced just under $8, or over $2.50/lb. But, at least once every 3 months, they are on sale for under $2/lb at one of the two other local grocery stores that we shop at. We stock up then, and it’s the same with ground beef or any other meat.
If you have a Kroger near you, they have cheese on sale for a good price at least once a month. Cheese lasts in the fridge for several months. You can also freeze shredded cheese without a noticeable loss in texture; chunk cheese, however, will be crumbly.
It’s not only cheaper, but usually healthier. My convenience foods are things like taco sauce, tortillas, cans of unseasoned diced tomatoes, and a huge box of unseasoned mashed potato flakes. Most people don’t even think of the first three as convenience foods! I make all of our bread products from scratch, including muffins, pancakes, etc. One big reason I don’t have a huge budget with eating gluten-free is that pretty much the only “gluten-free” items I buy are the flours, xanthan gum, and brown rice pasta. None of the convenience items that are so expensive, like pancake mixes, breads, etc.
I don’t buy snack foods like crackers or chips; we have popcorn or fruit instead. We do have the one occasional exception of tortilla chips being used with beans and such for dinner. I buy dried beans instead of canned. I don’t buy instant rice. No frozen foods or meal packets or anything like that. Etc.
Want an example of how big a difference making things from scratch can
make? At our Walmart, it is $1.66 for 2 lb of dried pinto beans, which has 26 servings, or $0.063 per serving. For store-brand canned pinto beans, it was $.52 for 3 1/2 servings, or $.1485 a serving. Even when bought on sale for $.40 (the cheapest sale I see around here), canned beans are still $.114 a serving. So canned beans are twice as expensive. And it’s not that hard to soak beans the night before or use the quick-soak method on the package, if you plan ahead.
There are only a few items that we think taste substantially better when a name-brand is bought; other than that, we don’t buy name-brand. One potential exception is a store like Sam’s Club where you can buy name-brands in a large quantity, that may make them cheaper than a smaller amount of a generic brand. But, still the biggest savings often comes buying a generic brand when a grocery store has it on sale, sometimes even as good as buy one, get one free.
We have a Sam’s Club membership. For example, we don’t buy small bottles of K.C. Masterpiece, but buy a 2-pack of larger bottles at Sam’s. Many stores, such as Walmart, include the price of an item per ounce or some other common denominator, which makes it easy to compare prices of different-sized containers and different brands.
With gluten-free food, buying flours at an Asian Food store can be a real blessing! I was amazed at how cheap tapioca starch and sweet rice flour were there! Tapioca starch is $.99 for 14 oz, instead of $2.29 for 12 oz at the health food store. We use real maple syrup instead of pancake syrup, and it is far cheaper at Sam’s Club than anywhere else we’ve found, and the same with nuts. We live in the country in the Midwest. In the fall, a man near us sells 50 lb of potatoes for $8, instead of 10 lb for $2.97 at Super Walmart. So in the fall, we buy 50-100 lb of potatoes from him.
You can have huge savings in this category. Steaks are the most expensive meat we buy, and we don’t pay more than $2.29/lb when they’re on sale. No, we’re not getting the fancy cuts of beef or filet mignon, but it’s not worth the extra money to us. For chicken that we’re just planning on eating plain or barbequed, we buy chicken leg quarters and take off the skin. We do buy boneless skinless for casseroles and such, but for years we didn’t. Pork sausage rolls are bought on sale for $1.50 or less per lb. Etc.
For vegetables, we buy bags of carrots, cabbage (eaten raw and cooked), and frozen vegetables when on sale for $1/lb. We do treat ourselves to baby carrots, usually bought on sale or in bulk for less than $1.50/lb. For fruit, we usually have 100% juice, bought in frozen concentrate, because we don’t go to the store every week. It’s about $1 for 6 servings. When we buy fresh fruit at the grocery store, it’s bananas, or occasionally oranges when on sale. In the fall, from a local orchard, we buy apples for $12 a half bushel (21 lb) and peaches for $16 a half bushel (25 lb). Before we had a local orchard, we rarely had those fruits. Now, we can enjoy them fresh, and freeze some for pies later in the year.
I don’t want to make everything with a “mine” and “theirs” version, but some things are relatively easy to do. When we have pasta with spaghetti sauce, I make their pot of whole wheat pasta, and mine of brown rice pasta, and then I serve the sauce separately. If I have a busy week and want easy lunches, I buy the cheapest 100% whole wheat bread for sandwiches for the rest of the family. It’s much easier to feed one person for lunch on leftovers and hodge-podge than it is to feed two adults and four children in the same way!
We’re not doing this as extensively as in previous years. We have 4 3×20 beds of strawberries that this summer will yield over
60 quarts of strawberries. There was an initial investment, and no crop the first year, but every year after that, we’ve been able to expect approximately 50 quarts, or more in a good year. That means that for several weeks we don’t have to buy any fruit, and we’re able to freeze some for strawberry pancake syrup and other uses during the year. This year we also planted 3 cherry tomato bushes, a half dozen summer squash and zucchini plants, 24 cabbage plants, and 120 sweet corn plants. Selective gardening could help the food budget of many people, without too much work or too much space. A tomato plant is agood example of something that meets that criteria.
If you have a couple homemade casseroles, a pre-baked pizza crust, and a few dozen muffins in the freezer (or a few of your own just-add-egg-oil-and-water mixes), you’re less likely to resort to expensive pre-made items. Even if I use dried fruit, I can make a gluten-free muffin mix that makes a dozen muffins for $2.50 or less.
It’s amazing how many people get rid of leftovers because they don’t like to eat them, or because they get lost in the depths of the fridge. We tend to eat leftovers for lunch, or have a leftover dinner night once a week.
One thing that you may have expected to find on this list, but didn’t, is coupons. I don’t use coupons. One reason is that I don’t make food from scratch only to save money, but also for health benefits. Many of the items that have coupons (breakfast cereals, meals in a
box, freezer meals, cookies, etc) are not of interest to me. We don’t buy a local paper, and I don’t have any interest in keeping track of large numbers of coupons to use.
Other money-saving things we used to do, but don’t any longer, are to eat non-meat meals 3 nights a week. These can be beans, breakfast at
supper (with eggs), spaghetti (without meat). We have meatless meals 1-2 nights a week on average now. Also, we used to eat much smaller servings of meat, but we’re a bit more generous with ourselves in recent years.
And there are things we splurge on for health or taste reasons. We buy real maple syrup and brown rice pasta for the health benefits. Of course, there are taste benefits as well! I used to not buy flour tortillas, but made my own. I used to not buy something like a giant box of unseasoned potato flakes. We used to have smaller servings of meat. But when we were married, my husband was a graduate student making $20,000 a year, and his income is substantially higher now. We could shave $50-$100 off of our budget a month if we wanted to or needed to. But, we’ve chosen to cut down on the number of grocery trips to maximize family time, and we’ve chosen to treat ourselves a bit compared to our strictness of previous years.
It’s not a contest to see who can spend the least on groceries, but about what’s important to your family. If your family has debt, would like more
money to spend on other things, want to be able to save more, etc, then it’s probably worth considering ways to slash your grocery budget. But, if you’re comfortable, then you certainly don’t have to.