How we Saved 33% off our Grocery Bill
Groceries have always been a challenge to the budget and waistline for me. Although the grocery budget seems like low hanging fruit when you start looking for ways to save money, I ignored this line item for the first year in my FIRE journey. Food has caused health challenges in the past, and I’ve been obsessive about it to an unhealthy level. Thus, I figured there would be better categories to beat first. At one point we were spending over $500/month on groceries for TWO people, but I’m not taking credit for reducing that monthly rate. After initially adopting many FIRE strategies, we were able to get our monthly spending down to $350/month. In 2017, we’ve been able to shatter that monthly line item and are now spending ONLY $225/month on groceries!
Today, I’m definitely a conscientious grocery shopper. I’m trying to blend eating healthy with not blowing money left and right at the grocery store. This drive for FIRE is definitely making me question what I put in my cart, and I’m finally seeing real savings. So, after that long rambling spiel, I’m ready to reveal how we’ve crushed our grocery budget and are now saving 33% on our grocery bill!
First things first, where do we eat?
- At home! We rarely go out to eat, and almost never go out just the two of us. Sometimes hanging with friends or family celebrations take place at restaurants. In those times we’d rather see friends/family than stay home, so we go and enjoy.
- Our date nights are nights in with a home cooked meal that we both contribute too. It feels more like a date if we are in the kitchen together, since I do 90% of the day to day cooking.
- Potlucks! We push for potlucks and games when hanging with friends. We used to have people over and cook all the food, but it was rarely reciprocated. We now do potlucks and find that people are more likely to show up. Our group of friends has a variety of diet challenges, from allergies to sensitivities, to organic farmers who are super picky about where their food came from. When everyone brings a dish, you know there will be something for everyone!
What do we eat?
- Whole foods that we cook. Our favorite meals are:
- Oatmeal (overnight or hot)
- Fried sweet potatoes with veggies
- Smoothies, made with frozen bananas, blueberries (that we picked last summer), peanut butter, kale or spinach, chia seeds, and the ultimate frugal hack: water! We used to use almond milk or juice, but it is not necessary, once you drink a smoothie made with water 2-3 times you can’t even taste the difference, plus it helps to reduce trips to the grocery store, since we always have water on tap. We make smoothies when we are running low on fresh fruit since this uses our frozen supplies. Running out of almond milk is what pushes us to go to the grocery store most often.
- Vegan pancakes topped with blueberries and maple syrup. (We have an in on a limited amount of maple syrup since we have a few maple trees in our yard that give us delicious sap! So far, we’ve boiled it down on our stove. This year we plan to build an outdoor stove to use next spring!)
- Coffee (obviously)
- Bananas, Apples, Oranges, Grapes
- In season fruits
- Carrots, Snap Peas, Leaves (Ha, leafy greens silly, not the leaves off of our maple tree)
- Almonds, peanuts
- Aldi dried fruit (no sugar added of course), right now that’s figs and dates (you can get dried apricots cheaper elsewhere)
- We have stopped buying meat and dairy for home. I know this may be controversial, but I know this is the LEADING FACTOR in us saving 33% off of our grocery bill. And wow, we don’t even notice the food is missing. Meat gets it’s flavor from the seasonings, so you just have to figure out how to spice up your lentils and beans in a savory way. It helps for sure that I love to cook, and that neither of us mind lots of leftovers. We are the type of people who will eat the same food for a week and not complain. Food waste is a major issue in the U.S. which frustrates us, so we try to control what we can can control, which leads me to the next point.
Where do we get our food? What are the rest of the details?
- Eat everything you buy (or grow). Figure out exactly how much you eat in between your regular grocery trips, and only buy what you will consume. From my own experience, I save the most money by going on two grocery trips per month. I normally hit 2-3 stores on my grocery day (annoying, at first, but once the routine is down, it’s easy since the stores are pretty close to each other, sometimes I even throw in a fourth since they have amazing free coffee!). I plan to try out just doing one grocery trip per month (as recommended in this book), but I’m nervous about that, since we eat so much fresh produce.
- Farmer’s Market! This counts as a date so I don’t count it as a grocery trip. The trick to doing this frugally is to stick to the produce (don’t be tempted by the dazzling array of pastries and tacos). Also, if you go towards the end of the day things go on sale!
- If produce is about to spoil, eat it right away! Or freeze it! We love freezing bananas (peeled and in ziplock baggies). In the summer we freeze tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, homemade sauces, etc. One of my favorite shopping experiences was when I went to Kroger and discovered they had apparently overstocked on pineapples! The large ones, not the tiny annoying ones! For 25 cents you could buy a whole pineapple. While I was at the store, I thought about it and decided eight was the reasonable number to buy (about six more than everyone else was grabbing). I figured we could eat four and freeze four. I went home to tell Mr. Kiwi of my awesome frugal find, and he was disappointed I didn’t buy more, so immediately back to Kroger we went together to buy 20 more (for $4, mind you). The people at the store thought we were having a giant party. But no, we froze them in quart size bags and busted them out throughout the year to add to cocktails, smoothies and even pizza. I’m itching for another 25 cent pineapple day.
- Always shop with a list, but keep your eyes open for awesome deals on food you actually eat and enjoy.
- Shop where prices are lowest! Don’t be a grocery store snob! I’ve fallen victim to that in the past, but now I’ve mastered the whole foods date (go in, eat free samples, leave). I used to also assume that Meijer (a Midwest chain similar to Walmart) had the best prices, since they always have great loss leaders. But I’ve come to realize that shopping there makes me spend almost twice as much! I always end up throwing in extra food and household items that really aren’t needed. So now, I mostly shop at Aldi and will buy household supplies/loss leaders at Meijer, Kroger, or Fresh Thyme (a Meijer company going for a Trader Joe’s vibe).
- Don’t buy food you have at home. We make an exception, if we are close to running out, or if it is a food we eat consistently that is on a great sale. We keep food in our closet, pantry, counter, hidden in the cabinets, chest freezer, freezer, and refrigerator. Just listing all the places where we store food spelled out highlights the excessiveness of my prior grocery shopping habits! We currently have two (not 1, but 2!) whole turkeys in our chest freezer. That’s a turkey for each of us! I know they were crazy cheap last Thanksgiving, but I was already thinking we may shift away from eating meat, so why did I buy (and still currently store) 30+ pounds of turkey?!? Our house is very privileged that we can go to the grocery store, buy whatever looks interesting or is on sale for the week and not worry about paying the bill or storing it in our 1900 square foot home. Trust me, that privilege is not lost on me, and is part of why were are questioning so much of what we assume as normal in our day to day life. One month in 2017 I hope to spend $20 or less on groceries! I know I can do it, it will just take willpower to choose to do that. Halfway through the year and I still haven’t done it yet!
- Grow what you can (if you enjoy it). We have a ⅓ acre lot, which has a medium (?) sized garden. We have bought five fruit trees, and the lot already had a crabapple tree. Many vegetables will grow with almost zero effort after planting. Can I hear a woot, woot for kale and zucchini?! We plan to expand even more this fall. While I find gardening extremely calming and enjoyable, Mr. Kiwi is photosensitive, and cannot predict how he will feel on a given day. He helps in the garden when he is capable and wants to, so I understand that gardening isn’t for everyone. I also know that it takes some thinking and creativity to not lose money while gardening. But you can garden in a Mustachian fashion, I promise, and I will explain my experience soon!
- Shop at the Indian/Asian/Ethnic grocery stores for the best prices on rice, beans and spices. We make stops here 2-4 times per year to stock up! You can get a pound of cumin for the price of 2 oz. at the regular grocery store. The one thing I haven’t found for cheaper is full fat, canned coconut milk. Anyone have advice for where I can grab it for less than $2/can?
- Be fully stocked on a variety of staples that you actually enjoy. We like split peas, red kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, lentils of all varieties, jasmine rice, wild rice, rolled oats, and wheat flour. I made the mistake of buying a bunch of black eyed peas, only to learn I do NOT like them. We buy all of the above dried, but keep a few cans of beans available to use if I forget to defrost frozen beans or soak dried beans. We make up four pounds of dry beans in the crock pot and freeze them in quart sized bags. We also use canned garbanzos for salads and hummus, and dry garbanzos for falafel.
- Also stock up on seasonings! They make your food so much better! Find a few homemade spice mixes that are your favorite and keep them on hand. It costs a lot up front, but just get three or four a month for three months, and then you are stocked.
- Buy in season produce to get the tastiest and least expensive fruits and veggies. I LOVE local strawberries, but they are only available for about a month in June.
- When you want a weird/health food that isn’t carried in traditional grocery stores (like cacao nibs), we shop on amazon. They are typically cheapest.
I’d like to point out that almost all of the veggies we are eating as of today (July 7) were grown in our garden. This will likely be the case through September/October. That leads to a major cost savings, and keeps us from venturing into the wallet ravaging grocery stores! For you urban dwellers or renters, this may not be possible.
So, that’s how we have saved 33% off our grocery bill, and are now consistently spending about $225/month for two adults. We eat LOTS of fresh fruit and veggies. Then fill the rest of our diet in with inexpensive staples like lentils, rice, beans, and oats. We make homemade bread instead of store-bought bread, and keep that trend for homemade instead of store bought for all food.
- Eat everything you buy
- Buy less (or no) meat and dairy
- Freeze food that you won’t be able to eat before it spoils
- Shop with a list
- Shop as infrequently as feasible
- Find the cheapest stores in your area
- Don’t buy food you already have at home
- Grow what you can at home
- Stop by smaller independent international grocery stores to find the cheapest staples and spices
- Keep your favorite staples stocked up
- Have spices on hand to make your food tasty!
- Eat local and in season produce when possible
Wow, thanks for reading such a long post. I’m sure I’ll break this down more in time. At one point we were spending $500/month on groceries, then we figured out how to get it down to $350 consistently for two years. Finally we cracked the shopping secrets and have consistently spent $225/month on groceries for two adults.
That breaks down to $3.75/person/day! Or about $1/meal with a snack thrown in.