The Very Unsexy World of Grocery Budgeting


Trimming your grocery budget must be a big resolution for 2012, because a day does not go by without a tweet landing in my feed encouraging me to, “use coupons to cut your grocery bill in half!”

And while I want to save a little change like everyone else, the obsession over extreme couponing is Freaking. Me. Out. Have you seen this show? Or, caught one of the coupon queens on Andersoncooper/nateberkus?

Is it impressive that these ladies stock their basements and garages with more inventory than Costco for a handful of singles? Sure, but what runs through my head when the camera pans across these bomb shelters packed full of processed foods,  is “wow, this is what is contributing to the health crisis in America.”
A touch dramatic. I know. So before I go out on my rant, let’s just clear the air on a couple of things, yes I work for a natural grocer where we sell processed foods (convenience). Yes, I sometimes, gasp, buy and eat processed foods (convenience), and hell yes I use coupons to stock up on said processed foods that are pantry items, body care, or cleaning supplies. FYizzle, Whole Foods Market shoppers in the PNW, right now all Tom’s of Maine oral care products are on sale AND there is a $2 off coupon in stores!!! Extreme coupon that.
1 minute soap box, and I’m done, promise.
Processed foods overall are really really bad for us. Have you ever checked out the ingredient list in canned soup? Know what all those words are? How about sodium levels? Did you know that nutritionists recommend a 1 to 1 calorie to sodium ratio for processed foods? Good luck finding that on the shelves. Can I just recommend The China Study for a little light reading on how the Standard American Diet is killing us?
Shopping the perimeter of a grocery store is what is going to keep us healthy, but rarely are there coupons for produce, bulk foods, or meat and seafood.
So can you still trim that budget, eat healthy, fresh food without depending on coupons for highly processed items you don’t likely even use?
Yes, yes you can.
We’re not perfect by any means, and I went waaaay over budget with the holidays (lesson learned for next year, budget in Thanksgiving dinner). The following is what has worked for us to wrangle the grocery beast into submission. I hope it is helpful to you.

#1 Meal Planning.

It takes some time, a lot of time, but planning your meals leads to reworking leftovers, saving food and saving dollars.

#2 Go Vegan! A Couple TImes a Week

If you eat three meals a day, 7 days a week, you can surely cut animal products from a few of those. Animal products are more expensive than even the priciest organic veggie. Freeing up that room in your budget allows you to put a little extra change towards higher quality organic products while still saving money.

#3 Take your Lunch to Work. Every day.

It isn’t glamorous, but seriously, just do it. If you need some inspiration, just type bento into flickr.

#4 Don’t go Gourmet Every Day.

In this food pop culture world you can feel like a culinary outcast if your dinner wasn’t grown by the farmer down the road who also happens to be your accountant, and your beer didn’t come from your neighbor who homebrews. Here’s the deal, you need to be ok with a bowl full of brown rice, topped with beans and covered in salsa a few times a month. You can eat like Bon Appetite feature just a couple times a week and still hold that foodie head high.

#5 Buy in Bulk- Then Freeze it.

We were lucky that the house we moved into had a deep freezer, so when chickens, ground beef, berries, or avocados go on sale at a deep discount I buy buy buy and freeze it. Sure, it is a bigger investment up front, but try calculating an extra $20 a week for sale items into your budget. You’ll find that you’ll spend less for meals planned around those sale items.

#6 Beer and Wine are not Part of the Grocery Budget.

I like the wine, and the mister likes the brew, but we like it a little too much for our grocery budget to keep up. We decided that drinks would need to come from our own pockets, and now that it does, we drink much less.

#7 Work for a Grocery Retailer

Alright, so not piratical for everyone, but if you are in a position to take up part time work, most all grocery retailers offer a discount! There’s an automatic savings in your bill.
I’ve told you mine, now you tell me yours!

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4 thoughts on “The Very Unsexy World of Grocery Budgeting

  1. What an actual, bold post. Love it! I read The China Study this summer and I think everyone that has ever gone to the doctor should. Also, love the home packed meals. I brought my “recession lunches” to work every day when I was actually working, and most of the office was proud to do the same. As for #7, I can only aspire to work for a grocery retailer 😛

  2. Oh how I envy that you have a deep freezer. I’ve looked into getting one for our basement, and I just NEED to do it. Navigating my current freezer is terrifying, as it’s practically overflowing. In any case, great post all the way around.