• Food Budget Intervention & Grocery Shopping Experiment

    February 25, 2014

    Oops, this post was actually suppose to publish yesterday, but I am a space cadet and set it as a draft, so it never did. Anyway, here it is… better late that never!

    After months and months of not wanting to meal plan or even cook, I finally feel like my old self again. Meal planning is actually exciting again, and I want to eat “real” food instead of just frozen yogurt for dinner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I was doing it a little too much. (Damn, yogurt bar on the way home from CrossFit!) Basically, what I am saying is I’ve been really lazy with meal planning lately. Some examples:

    Buying a massive amount of frozen food at Trader Joe’s and just hoping for the best when it came to mealtime

    Hitting up the hot bar/salad bar or prepared foods section of Whole Foods whenever I was hungry

    Ordering take-out any time I didn’t want to cook dinner

    And, similarly, dining out just way too often

    Eating froyo and other random/usually not-very-healthy foods and counting them as meals just because I was too lazy to make something healthy

    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of these things on occasion, but I really wasn’t putting in any effort, which meant I wasn’t eating very healthy and spending a crapload of money, especially on dining out. Not kidding you, Mal and I spent close to $500 on groceries, take-out, and dining out in one week. ONE WEEK!! For TWO people!!! That is insane and not good. Not good at all. Actually, realizing this is what encouraged me to give ourselves an intervention. We also haven’t been eating all that well lately, so I want to get back on track there too. Basically, I want to GET IT TOGETHER with our eating habits in our house.

    Right now, I primarily shop at Whole Foods, mostly out of convenience, but I also love the quality of their products, especially when it comes to their meat. On occasion, I shop at Trader Joe’s and Stop & Shop because they’re a lot cheaper, but they’re farther away and I can’t always get everything I want there. That said, I want to do a grocery shopping experiment over the next few weeks with a few goals in mind:

    1. Reducing the amount of money that we spend on food (i.e. dining out less, watching our grocery budget)
    2. Mindful shopping at the grocery store (i.e. meal planning, shopping sales, buying in bulk, etc.)
    3. Cooking at home more often to help us eat more healthily and save money
    4. Don’t get stuck in a rut (i.e. try new recipes/foods) and keep mealtime at home interesting

    Moving forward, my weekly meal plans on CNC will be a lot more detailed. Instead of just telling you want we have planned for the week, I’ll be keeping track of our spending, in-store sales, coupon use, tips and tricks for saving money and eating healthy as well as other tidbits that I encounter from week-to-week. Basically, I’m going to revitalize my love for meal planning and cooking and share my experiences on CNC while keeping my goals in mind. I guess it’s just a fun challenge!

    Ok, then, let’s get started!

    I kept this week’s experiment fairly simple since it’s a starting place for comparison since this is how I currently shop for the most part: Grocery shopping at Whole Foods with a meal plan, no coupons, no sales. I made my meal plan at home before I went shopping, but I didn’t bother with coupons or checking out the sales at Whole Foods before I left the house.

    This week’s meal plan:

    On Friday afternoon, Mal and I are leaving for New York City for the weekend, so I know our food budget will be tested, but I hoping to pack dinner for us to take on the train and our hotel includes breakfast, so, hopefully, things won’t get too crazy with our spending.

    This week’s grocery shopping:

    • Dandelion greens – $1.02
    • WF crumbled feta – $2.00
    • Green bell pepper – $1.89
    • WF marinara sauce – $2.39
    • One dozen large eggs – $2.99
    • Bagged spinach – $3.79
    • Brown Cow Greek yogurt x 10 – $11.90
    • Ground beef (1.25 lbs) – $7.61
    • Chicken breasts (3) – $16.27
    • Broccoli – $1.53
    • Ground turkey (1 lb) – $5.99
    • WF diced tomatoes x 2 – $1.49
    • Sweet potatoes – $3.70
    • Grapefruit – $1.82
    • Spaghetti squash – $4.17
    • Yellow onion – $0.50
    • English cucumber – $2.49
    • Bananas – $1.79
    • Green grapes – $7.70
    • Tomato – $0.50

    Total: $81.54

    IMG_7273 (675x900)

    Some notes:

    • The items in this grocery shopping don’t cover all of the meals planned for the week. When I was making my shopping list, I assessed what was in our kitchen and planned our meals based on what we already had (i.e. a lot of frozen foods from Trader Joe’s), so I didn’t need to do a huge shopping.
    • These groceries (+ what we already had in our kitchen) cover breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the week. (Mal takes dinner leftovers for lunch just about everyday.)
    • The chicken breasts at Whole Foods were on sale this week, so I bought three. (They’re huge!) I’ll use half this week and freeze the rest for next week.
    • Brown Cow Greek yogurt was on sale (and the cheapest Greek yogurt option), so I stocked up. Mal eats one for breakfast almost every morning, and I really like eating a container with chocolate sprinkles for dessert after dinner. Brown Cow has a salted caramel flavor, so I bought a couple for myself.

    IMG_1585 (900x675)

    As some of you might know, I’m a tad obsessed with meal planning and have written all sorts of posts about the subject over the years. If you’re thinking about giving yourself a little grocery shopping/food budget intervention as well, here are some posts to help get you started!

    Questions of the Day

    How much do you typically spend on groceries for you and your family each week?

    What store(s) do you usually shop at?

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    { 93 comments… read them below or add one }

    Maggie February 25, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    the salted caramel yogurt is SO good. it was on sale last week at my WF, and i’m really sad I only got one….i am so excited to hear about the budgeting! we spend between 375-500 a month on groceries for two people, in a city with a pretty low cost of living. BUT we only eat out 2 dinners a week, and almost always eat breakfast/lunch from home, so i don’t feel like it’s too bad!

    Reply

    Shay @ Whine Less, Breathe More February 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    We are a family of 3. I typically spend $50-$80 a week on groceries. I don’t use coupons much. I need to get better at that. I sometimes shop sales. Could definitely improve on that. I am a horrible meal planner. Probably because I am a pretty bad cook who doesn’t really care to improve. LOL

    Reply

    Heather February 25, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Once the baby gets here you will notice something amazing…a dramatic drop in your dining out expenses! Since having our son in December my husband and I noticed that our credit card bill was close to $800 less. We miss going out but love having the extra cash!!

    Reply

    Lauren @ The Bikini Experiment February 25, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Great post! I typically spend $50-90 a week on groceries. You do save quite a bit not dining out as much though.

    Reply

    Katy February 25, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Great post! I get in cooking ruts like this sometimes, but I have been on an upswing lately. Planning my meals out ahead of time is a huge help, and so is the simplistic food prep I do on Sundays. My husband and I go full on shopping about once a month. We buy $250 worth of groceries, most of which is protein which we portion and freeze. Each weekend I typically hit up a local produce store down the street, and sometime Trader Joe’s for some ingredients.

    Reply

    Karissa February 25, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    I am definitely guilty of the buying lots of frozen options at TJ’s and just hoping for the best … Actually tonight’s dinner was gyoza and broccoli, BOTH from Trader Joe’s.
    Typically I shop at a mixture of TJ’s, Whole Foods, and Target. TJ’s and Whole Foods are both 20+ minutes away, so I shop there once every 2 weeks and try to stock up, target gets me in-betweens. I typically spend about $200 every 2.5 weeks, a bit more when the hubby is home (he’s deployed right now) – he likes to toss random things in the cart cause they look “exciting.” :-p I used to be really good at coupons and sales, I am trying to get back to that.
    Great post Tina! You actually inspired me to watch what I spend more closely and actually plan better.

    Reply

    Michelle February 25, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    My hubby and I spend about about $60-$90 a week on groceries (depending on what bigger items we need, like olive oil or detergent). I shop mainly at Trader Joe’s, but get sale items and some specialty things at Whole Foods. And a few things at Target!

    Reply

    Michele February 25, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Whole Foods = whole paycheck! :) I seriously thought this was going to be another blogger post about Aldi. So glad it wasn’t!

    I spend about $80 – $100 a week on groceries for myself. I don’t have a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s anywhere near me. I do my shopping at a regular grocery store (Publix).

    Reply

    Taylee @ twist me fit February 25, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    I typically get my meat and other fresh items at Giant Eagle. The rest I will get at walmart or target.

    Reply

    Terri February 25, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    It’s so interesting seeing the prices you pay for food items :) I live in South Africa so I loved comparing our prices to yours. It seems the price of your fruit and veg are a lot higher than ours as well as the Turkey! The rest of the items are pretty relevant :)Thanks for the awesome blog LOVE following you!

    Reply

    Rebecca February 26, 2014 at 12:55 am

    I think I may have everyone beat… we spend over $1000 a month and we rarely eat out (I’m talking twice a year). We have 5 kids, and feeding them is no joke!

    Reply

    Amber Tillman February 26, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Right now for my family of 5, I spend about $160 a week on groceries. Once spring/summer hits and we have a garden it will go down. Buying fresh vegetables/fruit is expensive this time of year!!!

    Reply

    Laura @FitMamaLove February 26, 2014 at 1:25 am

    I have no idea how much we spend, but I know it’s too much. Not willing to sacrifice buying organic to cut back, though. I also don’t meal plan, but it’s not like I go to the store everyday either–I throw together something based on whatever we have around.

    I change up my shopping between Whole Foods, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Lucky, depending on what I need. I try to buy as much as I can at Costco–especially organic meat and fruit–because it’s so much cheaper!

    Reply

    Lindsay February 26, 2014 at 3:50 am

    I try to keep it at $85-$100 a week for our family of two. I shop only at the commissary, Whole Foods for a “treat”, and our local Farmer’s Market. We live in Hawaii but are military so THANK GOODNESS for the commissary or it’s about $10 for a gallon of milk. Paradise doesn’t come cheap. February was our Grocery-Intervention as in January I went WILD with the food money, doing the same pattern you are explaining above. Thankfully with more food planning, and saying “no” to certain extras, we are back under budget!

    Reply

    Jenn@ Mark My Miles! February 26, 2014 at 4:33 am

    I cannot wait to read more about your detailed meal planning and meal budgeting. My husband I just reviewed our monthly expenses for February and found that we spent way too much on take out and dining out as well. With our new decision for me to be staying home with the baby and caring for an extended family member, our budget is more important than ever, so I will be following your tips : )

    Reply

    Jan @ Sprouts n Squats February 26, 2014 at 5:17 am

    We have worked out that meal planning saves us SO much money as does meal prepping and having stuff ready to eat in our freezer so we don’t dial for take out. Good on you for taking your budget in hand :)

    Reply

    Lexie Wolf February 26, 2014 at 6:38 am

    Looks like you have some nice healthy food in those photos – very appealing! I spend about $200-$250 for a family of four, but that includes wine:) We shop at Harris Teeter, as well as Whole Foods and occasionally Trader Joe’s.

    Reply

    Stephanie @ Whole Health Dork February 26, 2014 at 7:30 am

    We usually shop at Market Basket. Is there one near you? Ours is really big and remodeled, so that helps. It’s the least expensive option out there and they have been continually adding organic and gluten free options. Depending if we need to stock up on essentials or not, we’re generally anywhere from $70-$120/week for two people. I find most coupons are only for highly processed foods or crazy chemical-laden home and beauty products. :-(

    There isn’t a TJ conveniently near us, but whenever we’re near one, we stock up! There’s also a WF down the street from our house, but it’s on the smaller end and the prices seem much higher at that store than they are at yours.

    Reply

    Tina February 26, 2014 at 8:01 am

    No, I wish there was though! Any time I’m near one, I always stop in and stock up on Teddie Peanut Butter! :)

    Reply

    Rhiannon @ Bound to be a Buckeye February 26, 2014 at 7:39 am

    A large part of our budget goes towards groceries. But we eat in almost every week night, every day for breakfast and I’m always home at lunch. Typically for two of us, it’s between $100 and $150 a week. Sometimes I can’t figure out how I’m spending so much but then I realize it was the week I needed to restock the wine rack!

    Reply

    Megan February 26, 2014 at 7:48 am

    I spend about 100$ per week on food for two people. I’m working on shrinking that number!

    Reply

    Annie Atherton February 26, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Seriously Tina, THIS is why I keep coming back and reading your blog everyday. You are real and right there in front of everybody lay it all out and tell the truth. I know that with my both of my pregnancies I felt the same way about eating. It was so hard to plan meals for myself, let alone everyone else in the house! And I was pretty sure that frozen yogurt counted as a meal, if I added lots of berries :) I wish I had a “you” to follow when I was on my journey of becoming a mom, because I didn’t get a reality check and continued my unhealthy ways. Thanks for sharing your life with us, I for one will continue to follow you as long as you continue to write!

    Reply

    Devonshire February 26, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    This is kind of the most perfect post for me right now! I had slacked off on buying healthy food for a few months, life got hectic and money got tight. This week I made a meal plan and only bought what was on my list, i spent just under $100! Which for 2 people is way too much. None of the produce i bought was organic however my chicken and eggs were (i have a thing about conventional meats and eggs, gross). I also bought a few isles items and that’s it. I shopped at one store (Hannaford) and even had a couple coupons.

    Im definitely excited for your future posts. I need to really learn how to meal plan and shop for 2 people, my goal would be $60-$75 a week for groceries.

    Reply

    Tara February 26, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Its just me and my husband and I spend between $65-75 a week. I buy organic meats, veggies when I can. I get $10 of deli meat for my husband weekly and depending on what I need to ‘replenish’ in the pantry (almond butter, almond milk; oats)
    I do go to Costco and/or Ocean State to stock up pantry staples for cheap (almond butter, Chia seeds, Quinoa, meats to freeze)
    I also try to meal plan-Sunday I make something for dinner that I can either bring leftovers to work or we can have 1-2 more times for dinner during the week. My husband really loves to go out for dinner/beer during the week so its a struggle to stay on course and explain my grocery/weekly budget when he bribes with pizza and beer : )

    Q-do you buy ground turkey or ground turkey breast (seems to be a good price difference as well as calorie difference)
    Thanks!

    Reply

    Tina February 26, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    We buy straight-up ground turkey.

    Reply

    Katie February 26, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    My husband and I typically spend between $130 to $165 a week on groceries. We shop mostly at Harris Teeter and Whole Foods, occasionally Trader Joe’s. We both take breakfast and lunch from home and dinner out once or twice a week.

    I clip coupons and take sales into consideration when planning meals but I am not obsessive. I could save more if split my shopping between different stores but I really don’t have the time or energy for that.

    Having a really god travel mug helps keep me from grabbing coffee on the go during the week. We got a Nespresso machine last year and that has paid for itself, we hardly get coffee out on the weekends.

    Reply

    Monica February 26, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    This is such an interesting subject to me, because most people are quite tight-lipped about their food budget. (I guess it’s considered too personal?) So I have no idea what people consider ‘normal’ for food expenditures.

    There are just two of us right now – my husband and I. He is on his feet/moving all day so he has a voracious appetite… It’s like I’m cooking for 3 or 4 instead of 2.
    In addition to that, we try to avoid grains and processed foods as much as possible, so we eat a lot of fresh food and cook from scratch 6-7 days a week.

    That being said, we spend about $170/week on groceries. I shop Aldi’s and the sales at Dillon’s (Kroger). I know I could probably do a little better than that, but HOW in the world does a household with 2 people spend less than $100/week on groceries as some people have commented? We live in the rural midwest, so our cost of living is not as high as on the coasts, but we also have fewer choices for places to shop. (The nearest Costco and Trader Joe’s are about two hours away.)

    How is it done?? Is it only possible to keep the grocery bill under $100/week if we resort to “fillers” like rice and beans? Is that figure representing only the amount spent on actual food items? (My $170/week includes toilet paper, paper towels, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, trash bags, etc. I’m not sure what JUST the food part of it would cost, but it would still be over $100/week.)

    Reply

    Tricia @ Balance In Progress February 26, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    We spend probably around $200 on groceries each week. That is for my husband and I as well as our 2 year old daughter. I shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. I’m excited you are doing this because I could use a reality check with my grocery budget/eating out as well. Whole foods just sucks you in sometimes!

    Reply

    Anel February 26, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    My husband and I spend about $150 every two weeks. We shop at the commissary on base, a local store, or at Food Lion. Looking forward to your meal planning posts. Thank you!

    Reply

    Amelia February 27, 2014 at 1:20 am

    We spend about $200/week on groceries for three people (one of whom is just under 3 years old). Ever since having a baby I became even more committed to buying organic food so our food budget is higher than it used to be…but I feel it’s worth it. I primarily shop at the farmer’s market, plus a mixture of Whole Foods & Trader Joe’s. Great post, Tina!

    Reply

    Amanda February 27, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Thank you for posting your old posts about how to be a smarter shopper. My problem is I buy lots of good healthy food but I fall into temptation and go out to eat and the nice fresh food just goes to waste. I am also in a food rut, I always eat chicken. So I am always looking at your posts for new recipe ideas. Thanks!

    Reply

    Kim February 27, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Wow, you are not kidding-you DEFINITELY spend way too much on food-just with the groceries alone. I noticed you are not buying organic eggs. I know this a whole other realm, but especially with a baby on the way, this is something you need to look into. And, it relates directly to the amount of $ you are spending. I know what you are thinking: more organic would increase the amount I spend, not decrease it, right? Well, it depends. Right now, you are way overspending on vegetables/fruits that do not seem to be organic (banana, onion, tomato, duke, etc.). Of course, I can’t tell from the pictures whether these are organic or not, but I’m just saying that if they are NOT, then you are completely overspending. I do see that the canned diced tomatoes are organic! I wouldn’t pay WF prices for non-organic veggies and fruit if given an option. I am in CA and we are very lucky to have year-round farmer’s markets available where we can get fresh, organic fruits and veggies any time. Also, I don’t think you are buying “smartly”–take for example the Ready-Pac bagged spinach for $3.79. This is usually 6 oz spinach. At WF, you can buy bulk spinach for cheaper per ounce, as well as (probably) a larger tub of spinach which equates to a cheaper per-ounce cost. There are clearly lots of options for cutting grocery costs, and I’m glad you are thinking about this now!

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    Valerie February 28, 2014 at 10:38 am

    We spend about $600 a month at the regular grocery store (including toiletries and cleaning supplies) and another $100 – $150 at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts, and “we need rolls” or “I forgot to buy…” or “We ran out of…”. We used to eat out all the time. Now, we might stop to pick up a pizza on a busy evening. We eat lunch (just the Hubs and I) on grocery day. We eat breakfast at home (in the car on the way to work actually but from stuff at home) and pack our lunch most days.

    Reply

    Kim March 1, 2014 at 7:30 am

    A lot of that frozen trader joes food had a lot of sodium in it, I’d be careful with that. Also $500 a month eating out– holy cow. Do you all not eat left overs?? Seems like you make a different meal every night.

    Reply

    Kaysha Comfort March 2, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    I love this! I’m constantly struggling to keep the grocery bill under control…but still have healthy and yummy food options. Cheers to you!

    Reply

    Valerie March 4, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    I love your meal planning posts and recipes! I get so many ideas from your blog. I actually combined two of your dinners tonight. I was inspired by your cheesy couscous with spinach and chicken and your sweet potato hash with spinach. I sauteed up some sweet taters with seasonings and some Garlic and Herb Laughing Cow, added in spinach, and threw some sauteed chicked on top. So delicious and healthy! Thanks for your posts!

    Reply

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