Thanks so much for all of your grocery shopping questions! I responded to them in this post, and I hope you find my answers helpful. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. I’m a dork and love meal planning/saving money at the grocery store, so I’m more than happy to help in any way that I can!
How many stores do you usually go to every week?
It depends on the week, but most of the time, it ends up being two different stores. I really try to visit just one, but I almost always end up hitting a second one (typically mid-week). I do the bulk of my shopping at Stop & Shop because it has the best prices and selection, but then I usually end up going to Whole Foods or Fresh Market to buy our meat (and usually a few random things that I either couldn’t find at Stop & Shop or we’ve run out of).
Paleo seems to focus a lot on grass-fed meat and the diet that the animals are raised on. Is that something that you’ve focused on when you shop? And, if so, do you have any tips for finding quality meat on a budget?
I’m not doing the Paleo Challenge anymore, but we try to buy grass-fed meat as much as possible. Stop & Shop doesn’t have the best selection, so I’ll usually end up going to Whole Foods or Fresh Market to buy it. It’s pretty expensive, so we don’t always buy grass-fed, but more often than not, we do. Most weeks, the cost of our meat purchases account for half (or more) of our total grocery budget.
As for tips for finding quality meat on a budget, I need them myself! Besides planning my meals around what meat is on sale, I don’t do too much. I’ll typically try to stretch meat into multiple meals by adding lots of veggies to my dishes or pairing it with a couple of different side dishes. We also eat a lot of eggs and buy fish at least once a week for dinner as cheaper protein sources. Mal and I have talked about buying direct from a farm (half of a cow or something like that), but we don’t really have the space to store it. If you guys have ideas, please share!
Do you have rules about the quality of food you eat? For example, do you buy only organic meat or only organic veggies?
No, we don’t have any specific rules. We try to buy organic as much as possible (meat, dairy, produce), but not always. It depends on what it is and what our shopping budget looks like for the week. Basically, we just try to balance our purchases as best we can. For example, one week, we might buy grass-fed beef and organic produce, but not organic dairy. The next week, we might buy wild-caught fish and organic dairy, but not organic produce and meat. I do, however, keep the Dirty Dozen in mind when I’m shopping for produce.
Have you adjusted your budget now that you are buying more uncommon items such as almond butter, coconut oil, etc.?
Yes, but we buy less of other things now, so it kind of evens out. I’ve always bought expensive nut butters (oh, how I love them so!), but for things like coconut oil and coconut flour, which are typically more expensive in-store, I buy them online in bulk to save money. For example, I recently bought a ridiculous amount (104 ounces) of coconut oil on Amazon. It was SO much cheaper than what I would have paid at Whole Foods, and now I have enough coconut oil to last me the rest of my life. The area where we’ve adjusted our budget most is on our meat purchases.
Do you buy certain pantry staples online to reduce costs?
I tend to find pretty good deals at Stop & Shop on pantry staples, so I don’t usually shop online. I just stock up on my favorite items whenever they go on sale. However, for certain items that don’t go on sale very often, I’ll shop at different stores to get the best deals. For example, I buy almond flour/meal at Trader Joe’s (it’s just $3.99 a bag) and almond butter at Target (the Archer’s Farm brand is only $5.99 per jar).
How do you feel about buying in bulk?
I buy in bulk when I can (I love the Whole Foods bins for nuts, rice, and rolled oats), but, as far as shopping at a wholesale club, like BJ’s or Costco, Mal and I didn’t find it to be especially cost-effective for us. We ended up buying all sorts of stuff and spending more money than we normally would, but then we had nothing to eat. I know it’s great for some people, especially if you have a family, but Mal and I didn’t think it saved us money in the long run. We tend to buy in bulk and stock up when our favorite products go on sale at the grocery store, like when canned tuna is $0.89 a can or Teddie Peanut Butter drops below $3.99 a jar.
How do you use everything you buy?
Yep! It’s funny because our fridge is PACKED after we go grocery shopping and then it’s totally EMPTY by the end of the week. Hardly anything gets thrown away in our house. Maybe it’s from my upbringing, but I can’t stand to see food go to waste, so I do everything in my power to prevent it. I’d say once a month or less, we’ll throw out food that went bed and it kills me to do every time.
My problem is that I may have decided on having a particular thing for dinner, but come that day I may change my mind if I don’t feel like eating it. Does that ever happen to you? Do you just suck it up and eat what you planned for anyway or would you make an extra trip to satisfy your craving?
Sometimes, we’ll swap around the meals we’ve planned for the week if we’re just not feeling something for dinner. So, for example, if fish is on the menu for Monday night, but we’re not in the mood for it, I’ll make another recipe and save the fish recipe for the following night. When I plan my meals for the week, they’re not set in stone, so we just switch it up. I do, however, pay attention to “sell by” dates to make sure we use the meats/fish when they are at their freshest. Sometimes, those dates will dictate which night we eat which meal.
Do you meal plan lunches ever into your grocery lists?
Mal and I pretty much eat leftovers for lunch (we make extras at dinner and then pack them up), but we often buy deli meat so Mal can make sandwiches to take to school. I work from home, so I just wing it with the leftovers for lunch.
How do you decide what you’ll eat all week? Do you have any pattern or reasons behind what gets ”˜picked’ for meals on a certain week?
Here’s a post about how I pick and choose my meals for the week.
I spend a lot of money buying chips and easy snacks for my family to grab on the run. How do you get around this if at all? Or do you make every snack?
Good question! I guess we don’t buy a lot of snack food. Here are some of the foods we often eat as snacks to give you some ideas: nuts, trail mix, Greek yogurt, bananas (and other fresh fruit), smoothies and protein shakes, string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, coconut butter, Sweet Potato Wedges, canned tuna, sliced deli turkey, and raw veggies.
How do you find and organize coupons, and then use them for planning your week and shopping?
I have a little plastic organizer that I divided by category and keep my coupons in there. As far as finding them, check out this post for a list!
Do you count cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc. into your grocery budget?
No, I don’t. I don’t typically buy these things at the grocery store since they tend to be more expensive. I find the best deals at Target for these things.
How stocked does your freezer tend to be?
Our freezer is practically empty. Mal and I aren’t big on the taste of defrosted foods, but we’re trying to be more flexible as a way to save some money. Usually, we have a few bags of frozen fruit and veggies, some frozen bananas, and maybe some veggie or salmon burgers, but other than that, we don’t have much frozen food in the house.
Do buy special (i.e. more nutritious) food for Murphy or do you stick with brands available in a typical grocery store?
We feed Murphy a grain-free, holistic food called Taste of the Wild, which isn’t available at our local grocery stores, so we buy it at a specialty pet shop.
Awhile back, I wrote a 5-part series about how I meal plan and save money at the grocery store. Be sure to check it out!
Thanks for this post- I love hearing other people’s grocery shopping habits! I usually go to two stores every week – Trader Joe’s and Kroger. I don’t know why but it’s my most dreaded chore of the week =(
It definitely helps when you’re eating fresh foods and can stick to the outside of the store. Saves so much time!
Thanks for sharing! I recently checked Practical Paleo out from the local library because you got me interested in it, and so shopping at the grocery store felt a LOT different this week. Not that we don’t normally get healthy items, but I normally buy a lot more oats and grains, etc. After three days of it though, I’m pretty sure I can’t be 100% clean-eating paleo. I need balance! And I love my oats too much. 🙂
I also use a coupon organizer that I found on Etsy, and I love it!
the way we save money on grass fed meat is by buying in bulk. we recently got 1/2 a cow. People tend to think it is SO MUCH MEAT, but it fits in our freezer. Granted that is pretty much our whole freezer, but it works for us because we dont usually buy anything else that needs to be frozen. It saves SO MUCH MONEY buying 1/2 (or you can even buy 1/4 cow… or find friends to go in on it with you and split up the cow). We pay $3.25/lb when we bought the 1/2 cow. usually when i buy beef at the store, I spend around $7/lb for organic, grass fed beef. It’s worth giving up extra freezer space to save that kinda dough!
Good to know! We might have to do it! Thanks!
@Tina: I’m with Dana, although we don’t keep our 1/2 a cow in the freezer in the house. We bought a cheap chest freezer at Costco and keep it in the garage. It was inexpensive and allows us to have local meat all the time. The only trick is that it’s easy to forget what’s in there so I keep an inventory taped on the lid.
I’m currently pricing and reviewing foodsaver machines for bulk meat purchases. We have the same issue, and though we have an extra freezer in the garage, meat will be freezer burned if not stored properly. @Beth:
We raise our own beef and pork. It’s nice knowing exactly what they are being fed and raised properly. We have a deep freezer in the garage and it does much better at keeping the meat frwher than just a regular freezer. No freezer burn. The pork is sooo much better than what you can find at the store. We will never, ever buy bacon at a grocery store again. We have 3 kids at home and my mom lives with us so its nice to have a selection of meat available. Definately with looking into even for a small family though.
@Dee: This might be a silly question, but do you have to butcher it yourself or are you able to “outsource” that to someone?
@Dee: we bought a share of a cow with a few friends as well. It was really good meat, and a great price, but the only downside was that you get some random cuts of meat (we got some stew meat-not one I would usually use) that were kind of a pain…
Hi Tina! My CrossFit box recently decided to go in on a cow, which is awesome, because it enabled whoever was interested to buy whatever portion they want (until the whole cow is spoken for). I.e., I am signed up for 1/16th of the cow, which is awesome because I don’t have a ton of storage for it, either, but it’s a lot cheaper than buying at the store. I would suggest trying to get your CrossFit box to do this on a semi-regular basis (a few times a year) so that you can get a smaller portion of a cow, but cheaper than grocery stores! And CrossFit people tend to be interested in this sort of thing =)
I totally advocate for buying from a local farmer. You might be surprised about storing it. If we can do it in our small condo….and you said you have freezer space, give it a try. Another idea that we’ve done is split the potion that we buy with another couple. So it’s not as overwhelming of an amount. And it’s so worth it to have the quality (and to support a local farm!)!
@Michelle @ Eat Move Balance: I forgot to mention that I did a post about this on my blog, if you want to see. 🙂
We bought a 1/4 of a local, grass-fed cow last Spring, along with 50 lbs of local grass-fed ground beef this fall. Honestly? We’re never going back. The quarter of a cow worked out to $4.80/lb, which included 40 steaks and 7 roasts! Compared to grocery store prices for grass-fed beef that’s a complete steal. We had to buy a small upright freezer to store it, which we keep in the garage. It was definitely worth the investment and we’ll be buying another portion of a cow this Spring. I would definitely suggest looking into it – it could save you so much money if you’re committed to buying grass-fed. (Plus I love that we’re supporting local family farms)
Great post! Love hearing about other people’s shopping habits. Totally with you on the buying nut butters; they’re the most important thing on my shopping list! 🙂 So in to buying things online, I love iherb.com- so many products I can’t get in Ireland that I get shipped over!
Thanks for this post! It was great to see some of the things you do. I love that you don’t waste food. I hate throwing out food, but it does take work to make sure to use everything before it goes bad! I need to get a coupon organizer like yours-Love that idea!
In terms of the question about buying quality meats on a budget, have you thought of trying a CSA share? I’ve never tried one myself, but my boyfriend and I have been seriously considering it since the start of the summer but haven’t yet bit the bullet. I know at least here in San Antonio that you usually have the choice between a full meat, 1/2 meat + 1/2 produce, or full produce and the prices seem reasonable when you consider the quality and quantity that you’d be getting. Just a thought! And I love this post, it’s so interesting to read about how another person does their grocery shopping!
I tried to find a CSA, but I couldn’t find one near us. I’ll have to look again.
Bummer! Perhaps they’re more popular here in TX because the weather is much more mild and therefore they can go year-round.
@Megan@ The Running Doc:
My Fiance and I are members of 8 O’clock Ranch, which is a meat CSA in Upstate New York. We pay for 15 lbs of grassfed beef/pork/chicken per month, and they deliver it right to our door (in Boston!, I’m sure they deliver to the South Shore also) The only time it’s a problem is in the summer, because we are not in a one day shipping zone, so instead of getting the meat once a month, we get the whole summer share in one shipment- which fills our freezer, but is worth it. We’ve done the math and it essentially costs around $18 dollars a week for the meat so it’s WAY less expensive than Whole Foods. They offer 10lbs/15lbs/20lb options, depending on your consumption. They are also totally wonderful and will work with you if you’re looking for a different combo than what they offer on their website. It’s really worth it. We are essential vegetarian except for our CSA meat because we’ve become such snobs about the taste! http://www.8oclockranch.com/
Also, sorry for writing a book.
The farmer’s market in Hingham (only two weekends left) has CSA employees there – swing by and ask them! There is one in Braintree we are considering and some fishmongers, butcher. @Tina:
@Dee: @Tina: we do a meat share, from a farm called Westminster Meats in Vermont & we pick it up on the Sunday that works best for us at SOWA, it’s amazing! I highly recommend it.
@Tina: Stillman’s has a meat CSA which has a pickup in Quincy. It’s not going to be as cheap per pound as buying half a cow.
It’s always fun to hear tips & ideas from others on grocery shopping. I usually go to 2 stores/1.5 weeks. One for produce & the other for ‘other’ items. We don’t usually spend that much –we also go to Costco about every 3 months to stock up on frozen fruit, turkey burgers, butter, salsa and Greek yogurt. They have some good stuff!
Thanks for these tips…this will be very helpful in the future. I’m always trying to save money at the grocery store so it is neat to hear how other people go about their weekly shopping.
We live in Boston and are members of Lilac Hedge for our meat CSA. We get 10 pounds of meat every month. We pick it up at the farm in Berlin on weekends, but they go to a lot of local farmers markets too. The quality is very good and so is the variety. I would highly recommend them or another meat CSA!
That’s for the recommendation! I’m going to check it out! 🙂
Our local Whole Food has the saddest meat selection! Our old Whole Food had a huge selection. I’m lucky to find pork. I typically buy everything at Publix now. I still love Whole Food’s bulk bends.
Lots of great advice packed into this post! I feel the same way about throwing out food, I absolutely HATE doing it and will do almost anything to use up food before it goes bad. Sometimes I’ll make a big batch of soup and freeze it if I have too much produce. That’s a quick and easy way to use it up.
This is really informative! These are some great tips on staying within a budget. Fresh Market is my absolute downfall. I didn’t realize we had them in New England! I live in Baltimore during the school year and was recently introduced to it, but now I’ll be hunting for one when I go home, too 🙂
This is a great post, I really need to work on meal planning so that I’m not going to the grocery store so often. If I go too much then I have food that goes bad because I want to eat whatever I’m craving, and I buy things I don’t need.
Just wanted to leave a quick tip. I’m not sure if these exist in the South Shore, but in the North Shore, there is a supermarket called Market Basket (sometimes called Demoulas) and they have Teddie Peanut Butter for 2/$6 all the time. When I used to live in MA, it was 2/$5 but on my last visit home, it looked like they upped the price. I stock up whenever I’m in MA. 🙂
We don’t have any down here, but when I visit my sister I always stock up on Teddie at Market Basket! 🙂
@Tina: they just opened up one at the sagamore bridge if you ever go down that way!
Good to know! Thanks! 🙂
I definitely definitely definitely recommend finding a local source for your meat. Here, we have a plethora of farmer’s markets so I can get beef anytime pretty much, but there may be co-ops or other small grocery stores that sell local beef in small amounts. I pay about $5/lb for local grassfed beef here in St. Louis.
This is for summer, but it might help you figure out who to support locally, and who to contact for winter months: http://bostonlocalvores.org/summer-veggie-csas
Also found this for delivery: http://bostonorganics.com/csa-farmers-market.php
I bet you’d find local beef here: http://www.harvestcoop.com/shop/index.html
Lastly, email Slow Food Boston for more resources. http://slowfoodboston.org/ I found a lot of good sources for local, organic, natural foods by googling Boston Food Co-Op or Boston CSA.
Great post, as always Tina! We shop at Costco about twice a month and then a once a week shop at the local market. It took us a few months to figure out how to shop at Costco. We wasted money at the beginning buying things that sounded good. We eventually figured it out but its not the easiest. Our Coscto did have a huge tub of coconut oil but we do not buy anything there/at that size without using it first and accessing our usage. Will try a little one first!
Hannaford’s is even cheaper and is just a mile past Whole Foods!! Here’s a site where you can search local farms & CSAs by food – http://www.farmfresh.org.
Yea? Ok, I’ll give Hannaford’s a try next week! 🙂
I love your bin for coupons! I need one of those. I do have an organizer but I’m often searching the house high and low for it on Sunday mornings when I’m ready to cut coupons. I’m getting a basket! 🙂
very insightful. Thank you for giving us an insiders peak into your grocery shopping.
I go to safeway, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s for groceries.
Trader Joe’s is the most cost effective, but Whole Foods deffinitely has the best quality produce!
Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions to thoroughly! I’m always curious on how other people grocery shop and plan their weeks.
Have a great day!
Good information! I finally made a version of your sweet potato hash last night and it was delicious!
Nice! I love that recipe! 🙂
Even if you have to invest in a chest freezer to make the space, doing so and ordering meat directly from a farmer will save enough in meat cost to make it worthwhile!
Checkout http://www.eatwild.com to source farms across the US who will sell directly to consumers.
i have a similar grocery strategy as you — though i wish i could stock up more or buy in bulk! being single and living in a small apartment (with no car) really limits my ability to buy big. thanks for the tips!
Great tips! 🙂 People may be surprised to know that Costco actually sells some organic meats and a lot of organic products. I find that that helps cut some costs. I also like to buy a lot of things in bulk & I like to get a lot of things from amazon.com because I do something called Swagbucks where just for searching the internet I get virtual currency called swagbucks. I can use that “money” to purchase things like amazon.com gift cards. It’s a pretty awesome program that’s free to sign up for and helps reduce my grocery bill. If anyone’s interested, my referral link is: http://www.swagbucks.com/refer/chic8frugal
I was thinking that for purchasing half a cow direct from a farm, you could go in on it with some friends – that would help cut costs and help with the storage issue. I’ve actually never thought of doing that & it’s something I actually want to look into for myself. Too bad we’re not neighbors so we could go in one one together. 😉
I save on chicken breasts by freezing them in single serving bags when I buy in bulk. It’s about half the price if you buy lbs or more. I also recently made chicken stock from a chicken carcass and froze the stock into ice cubes and stored them in my freezer. Stock/Broths are so overpriced in the box!
Going to multiple stores reminds me of my old roomie in college. She was all about being affordable and saving. I went to Whole foods as it was only a half a block away back then. Oh those were the days when I could just afford to do that. Now that my eyes have opened and I realize how much money I threw away at WF, I’m more of a TJs and Ralphs (I don’t know if they have those in MA) kinda gal.
I just thought I’d mention that some grass-fed beef farms will sell by the cut rather than by a half/quarter cow. Ours does and it was fabulous in the beginning when we just wanted to try out the different cuts to see if we liked the taste (we do) and figure out which ones were our favorite. The place we go even gives us a discount for going to the ranch (it is about 20 minutes away) to make our purchase!
Thank you! 🙂
In our area we have a wonderful farmers market, and I can buy grass fed ground beef for $4.75 a pound and I can buy it a pound or two at a time so our freezer isn’t jam packed. It allows us to buy directly from the farmer without having to buy half of a cow.
Thank you for this post! I just saved all of the posts you linked back to as favorites. So informative!
i buy almond butter at costco, it’s almost twice the size of targets and it’s only 6.50! Trader joe’s coconut oil is the cheapest i’ve seen.
ALSO! I want to thank you BIG TIME for introducing the Practical Paleo book to me…. i’ve literally been making the sweet potato coins just about everyday. They are AMAZING!!! I’m glad that you mentioned the almond meal at trader joe’s awhile ago or else I’d be spending all my money on almond flour to make these!!
Omg, those Sweet Potato Coins are the best thing ever! So glad you liked them! 🙂
You could save even MORE grinding your own almond flour – I buy almonds in bulk wherever I can find them cheapest and just stick ’em in the food processor. It takes literally less than a minute! If it’s still a little too gritty afterward you can always finish it in the blender and Trader Joe’s would never know the difference 😉
Sounds almost exactly how my hubby and I shop! Down to the fact that shopping at BJs is more expensive for us.
But I really just wanted to throw in there that they sell Taste of the Wild at Tractor Supply Company – and it is significantly cheaper than the other “healthy” brands they sell (at least for the cat food – I was buying Science Diet at $37 for 15lbs and switched to Taste of the Wild (which is grain free) for $25 for 15lbs!)
Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I LOVE grocery shopping. I’m not sure what it is (maybe my intense love for food!) but I always love reading how other people grocery shop and how they go about it. I always learn something new!
Great Post! We also don’t keep much of frozen food. And it also breaks my heart when food goes to waste. Thanks for the tips! Reading your post gives me an idea that we are doing the right thing — well I hope? We also avoid doing bulk buying and you are absolutely right about buying in bulk will actually mean less savings in the long run. Thanks! this is a Good Read!