Food Budget Intervention & Grocery Shopping Experiment

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

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I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.

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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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100 Comments

  1. I love this post, can’t wait for more. Grocery shopping is so expensive here so meal planning has been key for us to not spend all our money just on food. Looking forward to more great meal ideas from you.

  2. We probably spend $300 a month on food for the two of us (my husband and I). Maybe more? I really have no idea, so maybe I should be keeping a food budget! I shop at Aldi and Trig’s, and we hit up a lot of the Vietnamese markets and farmers markets in the summer for fresh veggies. I wish we had some nice stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s around here. The closest I get is Woodman’s when I go to Green Bay.

  3. We use a cash budget for our household/grocery money. Every Friday I take out $200 and that has to cover food/diapers/toiletries/Rx/etc. If we had a little left, we get to go out to eat or grab a latte. Otherwise, we’re done until the next Friday. Definitely makes you think twice about how you spend it when it’s cash sitting in your wallet.

  4. We try and do the bulk of our shopping at Sprout’s, a local market style grocer that is much more afforadable…but I fall into the Whole Food’s trap way more often than I’d care to admit.

  5. With a family of 5 we rarely eat out. I plan all our meals from break/ lunch/ dinner /snacks ect.. We budjet 150.00 for the week.

  6. Ugh, I always try to get our monthly grocery bill down with no luck! We spend about $550 per month on groceries which does include things like cat/ dog food and paper towels/ cleaning materials. I coupon as much as tie will allow but by the time we both add our needs and wants to the list it seems we can never keep it under $125 per week! I love reading about your meal planning, I’m just as crazy about it and try as hard as I can to also incorporate things we already have into the weekly plan!

  7. I’m so excited for your upcoming posts! Groceries are where I usually test (and break) my budget, so I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to buy healthy at the store without breaking the bank!

  8. I do the same thing. I just had foot surgery so I totally stocked up on frozen foods from TJ’s for convenience but I am really trying to watch what I eat!

  9. Gahhh, I love food planning, too! I usually spend about $40/week to feed myself and I go to Kroger, as well as, a local market for produce. Sadly we don’t have WF or TJs….depressing!! I’m really looking forward to this series!

  10. I do one large bulk store trip a month and spend around $100 for cereal, cleaning products, packaged snacks and such. During the week, I make two trips (Sun and Wed) and spend around $60 for my husband and my meals (B,L&D). We usually eat out once a week to change things up/catch up with friends. I hate spending money at the grocery store, but it is SO expensive eating out. It really adds up!

  11. This was a great post and I liked reading it a lot. I sometimes get lazy and buy greek yogurt at my cafeteria, but they charge $4.00 for one…lately I have been going to the food store and buying them for about $1.50 to cut costs. Im looking forward to this series!!!

  12. I found it very interesting to read your grocery costs compared to ours in Iowa. It’s crazy how much more it all is, but I would expect your cost of living is higher too.

    I honestly have no idea what we spend on groceries because we don’t budget, but I’d guess around $100/week for the two of us and we rarely eat out. Maybe 1-2 times per month. We live in the country so it takes more than a quick drive for us to get a restaurant meal. I tend to shop at Target (Red card!) and our local grocery store (Hy-Vee) for all items.

  13. I spend about $80.00 per week for 3 adults. We go out on to eat on the weekends. Whole Foods is my favorite store. The produce is so much better than anywhere else. I also like Trader Joes.

  14. I’m really excited for this series! I have definitely been in a rut/lazy about meal planning and would love to get it under control. I’m hoping to learn some good tips and new recipes from you as you do this.

  15. Holy Cow! $500. 😉 That is more than we spend in a month on groceries for two adults and a kiddo. That said my hubby and I hate eating out, which I guess is a good thing. I had no idea it was that expensive.

    1. @Cortney: It is not that expensive. I have never heard of anyone spending that much on takeout in one week, especially without a bar tab… That’s insane.

      1. Massachusetts is expensive compared to other states, but I agree, it’s an insane amount of money to spend on dining out in one week, which is why I am having this intervention! 😉

  16. I shop at Sprouts, a great local store. We spend $250-$300 a month for the two of us and our dogs. We make our dogs food from scratch so were really feeding 4. When we lived back east the same amount of food cost us about $500-$600 a month. We are so glad to be back in SoCal where the produce is super fresh and way cheaper.

  17. I work above the Whole Foods by MGH and I am tempted to go buy that Brown Cow Salted Caramel greek yogurt as an afternoon snack! Looking forward to these posts, as I am getting married in October and my fiance and I have been trying to do better eating at home and meal planning than we have in the past…not only good for the wallet but the waistline!!!!

  18. I love budgeting on groceries! I used to live the $500 a week eating out lifestyle (not the exact amount but you get my drift) all the time. We’re talking Whole Foods salad bar every day for lunch, coffees on the way to work, frozen yogurt on the way home… it was out of control. But one of the biggest things my boyfriend has taught me is just rationing (in addition to curbing spending in aforementioned areas). Especially with pricier items like fruits and veggies. Before I would just eat baby carrots till my hearts content but now I’m careful to not let the bag run out too fast (while still keeping my soul & tummy happy!). I do have one question though- in saving money one of the first areas I’d look at would be something like swapping individual yogurts for larger containers. I know you mentioned they were on sale but it would still be much cheaper just to buy one or two large tubs for the week? I’m really personally interested in learning more about American’s spending habits with foods like this so the question comes from a place of 100% curiosity and not from a judgey or rude perspective 🙂

    1. Mal would rather have the smaller containers because they come in a variety of flavors, so I buy those to make him happy! 😄 The big tubs usually only come in a couple of flavors, which are fine for me, but get boring for him.

      1. @Tina: I used to do that too, but now I buy the big containers of plain and make my own each day. It’s so easy to change up the fruit. I make it the night before and prefer frozen fruit. I add a few drops of vanilla, honey, and some nuts. Sometimes I’ll do caramel or chocolate with nuts for more of a dessert treat. Way cheaper and less sugar or less artifical sweetener.

  19. Even though I’m a household of one, I still make a meal plan every week to help me stick to a budget. I have a tendency to buy way too much produce, but this has been helping me keep things in check!

  20. Wow, I can feed my family of 5 for a month on $500. We rarely eat out. We have a garden and can/freeze/dehydrate whatever we can. We also make our own yogurt, granola, a lot of snack. We don’t have a Whole Foods, which is a good thing. I shop at Meijer, Sam’s & Aldi.

  21. You should really check out CookSmarts (http://www.cooksmarts.com/) to add some variety to your meal planning. We found ourselves in a similar rut (too much eating out and convenient pre-packaged “healthy” meals). CookSmarts offers original, vegetarian, paleo and gluten free options for all of their recipes and each week they post 4 recipes that play off of each other so that you utilize the same ingredients (to save $), it also generates a shopping list for you when you customize which version of each meal you plan on making.

  22. Tina, like you, I cannot resist the lure of Whole Foods; not only for the perfectly manicured aisles of gorgeous food, but for the excellent quality as well. They have the best prices on Fage Greek Yogurt (which I’m addicted to) and Almond Milk. And their in-store hearty baked bread is so reasonable to pick up a loaf once a week. I’m a bargain girl, so I keep my eyes on the prices there and stock up when chicken goes on sale or grass fed beef, then I freeze it. And buying nuts and granola in bulk at WF, is cheaper than paying for the packages and getting them somewhere else. I am also into the non-GMO movement, so WF is on the ball there with the labeling. I usually do the skeleton of my shop there and get the fill ins at Stop&Shop. I have twin seven year old girls, the lights of my life, who eat very healthy, (we’re baking homemade kale chips now), so they are worth every penny of my food budget! I, too, meal plan and write the menu on our chalkboard on Sundays.

  23. The $7 grapes got me thinking of a tip I learned: buy stuff that is in season to save money and cut down on environmental impact.

  24. When I’m home (I’m a college student), I normally do the grocery shopping for our family of 3 every 2 weeks at Trader Joe’s. I’ll spend around $100 on staples, and then pick up little things like spinach (we run out SO FAST) and snacks for my little brother at my local grocery store!

  25. We probably spend anywhere from $300-$500 a month on groceries and eating out. I definitely work hard to chop the sales and stick to 3 main stores – Raley’s, Sprouts and Trader Joe’s. Sprouts is the best place to shop the sales when it comes to produce. A few weeks ago, I bought ALL our fruits & veggies for the week for $36. During the summer, we tend to eat out more, so the cheap weeks make up for the expensive weeks.

  26. I just tested out Aldi for the first time. It was awesome! Their prices are ridiculously cheap! They didnt have all the exact products I was looking for, but for the most part I got free vegetables, good fish, frozen berries, and even gluten free chips!

  27. I really, really, really, really need to get my spending under control. That that I spend like astronomical amounts, but I want to switch to cash system so that I’m not kinda short at the end of the month, scratching my head like where did my money go. I want to be as diligent about money as I am about working out! Just time to make that change! Great post!

  28. I love reading about meal planning and the way others shop for food. We spend about $80-100 for the both of us each week. To some that might seem like a lot but we are both always training for something and we buy organic/natural products as much as we can. I love shopping at TJ’s, Aldi and Kroger.

  29. It’s just me, but I typically spend 50-60, the latter when I’m buying things that are BOGO or 2 for $xx because then I can stock up. My groceries typically last me about a week and a half.I usually shop at Publix! I wish there was a TJ’s closer to me…but there isn’t 🙁

  30. I totally shop around for the best prices. I go through the circulars and make my list of what’s on sale and go from there. Since I buy mostly fresh foods/produce, I am in the stores every few days. I buy what I can from Trader Joe’s and then fill in from a local produce market as well as Shop Rite and Fairway. Whole Foods happens every so often to load up on the steel cut oats and quinoa from the bulk bins and a couple of 365 brand items. It’s a full time job trying to save money but it is worth it.

  31. Oh goodness. I spend entirely too much on groceries just for myself living in NYC. I don’t really budget or plan out much these days – I used to be great at meal and food prep over the weekends but have been living between 2 apartments so it’s been a little worse. I do go to TJ’s though and don’t eat out that much. I am lately in a love relationship with juicing and go to Juice Press daily and drink 2-3 so that totally adds up…but I have no qualms spending the money, on being healthy.

  32. I admire you for meal planning. I just buy a ton of stuff the weekend, plan one or 2 meals and wing it the rest of the time. I make an effort to always eat the leftovers – we have saved a lot of money forcing ourselves to do that. I usually spend $100 at the farmer’s market on meat, fish, veggies & fruit, and probably $150 at the supermarket. Family of four with 2 teenagers.

  33. My husband and I have been much more conscious of our food budget lately. Both of us LOVE food, and there are a number of restaurants (including one at the end of our street) that always seem to be calling our name. I know we probably can’t get away with this forever, but for now, we walk to Chinatown with our granny cart and buy whatever fresh produce we can fit in it. I took a picture of what we got b/c it blew me away… everything in that photo cost us $36 (CAD). That same amount would have cost twice that amount at our local grocery store!
    http://instagram.com/p/knLP17jXvK/

  34. We spend about $100 to $120 for 2 each week. That includes all meals- breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner, hardly ever eating out. Trader Joe’s is my go to and there are certain staples we won’t negotiate (ie, we will buy organic eggs and coconut milk), but in the end, I consider that a very reasonable amount since it includes absolutely everything we eat. The only downside is there are never any sales at Trader Joe’s, but the good thing is the prices are pretty low to begin.

  35. My husband and I shop at Stop & Shop. We spend about $60 on average each week. We stock up on cereal, granola bars, crackers, etc at Target about once a month. I also buy my PB at Whole Foods.

    We get a box of organic fruits and vegetables delivered to the house each week. It costs $55 per week, but we split the produce and the cost with my parents. You should look into it. The company is called South Shore Organics. It’s awesome to come home to a bin of fresh, organic produce very week!

  36. For fresh produce we shop at Russo’s in Watertown or at Whole Foods, but we buy a lot of our food at Costco – large bags of frozen fruit for AM smoothies, rice, almond butter, applesauce, canned tomatoes for homemade sauce, cod fillets for fish chowder, rotisserie chicken. Costco has more and more organic items these days. We brown bag it for lunch, and we often make big pots of things on Sundays to last all week (chili, chicken soup, etc.) We spend about $500 per month for 2 adults and we go out sometimes on weekends to local (non-chain) restaurants. One thing that helps us – we don’t mind eating the same things often. With busy full-time jobs and elderly parents to visit weekly, we don’t have time to get bored about food!

  37. Grocery shopping is awful. I love it when I’m there, but I hate watching the bulk of my weekly budget go towards food. I honestly think the two of us spend $500-600 a month on food, and its just two of us. Ugh.

  38. We are on a crazy tight budget right now since I lost my job and am working 3 part time jobs. A little goes a long way and we really don’t have much. Right now we are living off about $30-$40 for groceries per week.

  39. OMG, $500! This is why I hate (but really love) going out to eat, it is way too easy to spend a crazy amount of money. Good for you for getting back on track; cooking is such a pain when you are pregnant, tired and have a taste for nothing.

  40. I spend about $400 a month on groceries and household items {cleaning supplies, TP, etc} for myself and my 10-year-old son. I do a majority of my shopping at Trader Joe’s and I can’t seem to make shopping at Whole Foods worth it, no matter how much I would like to shop there because their produce is AMAZING. So is their meat selection. If I shopped there on a regular basis, I would blow my budget, easy.

    I can’t wait to see how this pans out for you, Tina! Thanks for this post!

  41. Wow, that must definitely be a pregnancy thing! I wrote about the same thing last week. For my first trimester, all I wanted to eat was PBJs and frozen meals. We ate out at least three times more often than we usually do, and I was eating a ridiculous about of processed food. This week, I am determined to turn it around! So far, so good–two nights in a row of eating at home and even one new recipe!

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