How We Cut Our Grocery Budget by 40% and Still Eat Healthy
Oy. I wondered if I should actually tackle this topic as there are more blog posts on saving money on food on the interwebs than you can shake a stick at.
And yet, I've been asked about a dozen times over the past month (and especially after the last Cohesive Home podcast) how we keep our grocery budget low and eat healthy while also having several allergies and food intolerances in our family. So here it goes.
A little background: Kirk and I have been eating paleo-ish since 2008. We aren't control freaks about it and love our dairy and occasional gluten. My oldest daughter has a severe gluten intolerance, and she and I are both allergic to peanuts. Thankfully, our youngest daughter has not shown any allergies or intolerances yet. Hallelujah!
We actually went vegan for about 4 months early this spring, and I loved it! I was totally surprised by how good I felt. I love that my body seems to flourish on different styles of eating healthy, and I bet many of you have stories of doing well on a variety of diets as well. Your idea of what's healthy may vary from mine, and that's okay. I think the human body does well with fresh and unprocessed foods, regardless of the (diet) label. Believe me, I don't plan on writing the manifesto on the ideal diet; instead I'm sharing what works for us.
But whenever I get in baby-growing mode, I tend to gravitate toward a Weston Price style of diet. This means making many foods from scratch, including bone broth, fermented foods (sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and kombucha), and eating weird stuff like liver. My pregnant body does exceptionally well on this sort of diet, but your mileage may vary.
So what do we actually eat?
I spend about $90-100 per week at Aldi's on all of the staples: nuts, almond butter, olive and coconut oil, kalamata olives, coffee, some fruit and veggies, grass-fed ground beef (3-4 lbs), black beans, rice, frozen fruit (for smoothies), and butter. I will occasionally buy their "premium" wild caught frozen salmon and ice cream (because it's beyond yum and this mama needs sweets once in awhile!)
And then I head to our local farmstand, which has a year-round store. Yes, I know we are beyond lucky to have them, and I tell the owner that nearly every time I see her! Every week I spend about $50-60 and buy: 2 whole pastured chickens, 4 dozen pastured and soy-free eggs, 1 lb chicken livers, honey and lard (probably every couple of weeks), and some fresh herbs or veggies as available.
Then I may run to our town's nutrition store for local milk at about $5 per quart. It's expensive, my girls guzzle it down, and I wish there was a better alternative. Some weeks I don't buy it, especially if our budget is running tight. The farmstand is hoping to add pastured, raw and organic milk in glass bottles in the next year, and I practically kissed the owner when she told me. If they do, I will start making homemade yogurt and kefir again.
And finally, I pick up fresh flour from our bulk store for making bread for a cost of about $8 every other week.
All that rambling aside, I spend around $150-$170 per week for a total of $600-700ish a month on groceries, and I pay using the cash envelope system. This means I pull out all of my grocery money for the month in cash, record EVERYTHING, and do not buy if I have no money left. Which, when you have kids, means you must be conservative so you don't run out of money at the end of the month. So far it's working extremely well. If we were vegan or vegetarian I'm sure we would spend even less, but I'm happy with where we're at.
When we lived in Oklahoma City, I did most of my shopping at Whole Foods or Sprouts because it was 1)convenient and 2) it was my retail therapy to buy fancy foods. Since moving to a more rural area, I've kicked that habit and cut our grocery budget by about 40-50%. It was bad, I tell ya...
So how do we actually feed ourselves on this?
- meal plan for an entire week
- focus on fats to satiate
- buy (almost) nothing packaged and DIY our snacks
There isn't much I can say on meal planning that I bet you don't already know. I'm not a stickler, I just plan about 5 meals for a week and we stretch those meals out.
We use fat liberally throughout the day: I drink butter coffee in the morning, cook my morning eggs in lard, drink warm bone broth, snack on nuts, and cook with plenty of butter and olive oil. And no, fat doesn't make you fat.
And then I bake sourdough bread every couple of days, chop up raw veggies (broccoli, bell peppers, carrots) for snacking, and try to make one green smoothie per day for all of us. We also tend to buy cheaper fruits (apples, bananas, kiwi) and only in-season ones to save money. No blueberries in January (and besides, they taste terrible anyway.)
After I cook my chickens, I use the bones to make broth. And I drink about half of the broth throughout the week (warmed with sea salt) and use the other half to make a creamy veggie soup like this tomato one. We also eat a few vegetarian meals per week to further save on the moolah. A weekly favorite is this Brazilian beans recipe (although I do use a few slices of chopped bacon in it for flavor.)
In general, I look for simple recipes that have a limited number of ingredients and use cheaper pastured meats. If it's not an ingredient I typically already have in my kitchen then I skip that recipe. We stick to tried and true recipes like egg bakes, gluten-free pancakes, soups and stews, and butternut squash shepherd's pie. Yes, our meals are fairly basic and some may say boring, but it makes my days easier and my wallet happier, to do so.
My final pieces of advice? Don't have any untouchables on your grocery shopping list. Closely examine it for those expensive splurges and experiment with getting rid of them. Make your grocery list and do not buy anything that isn't on it. Add up your total as you shop to avoid surprises in the check-out line. Get busy in the kitchen, DIY your snacks, and eat more fat.
What's your favorite tips for saving on groceries?