$138 A Week For Groceries - Frugal Grocery Shopping Tips & Day 1 Meals (Saturday)

I ended up being out of pocket longer than expected yesterday and was unable to post this on time. Just pretend it's Sunday like I've backdated it to appear. ;)

The other day, I asked y'all for your best/favorite frugal grocery shopping tips, and here's what I got:

- Don't shop hungry.
- Shop the periphery of the store (fresh, raw ingredients) and minimize your purchases from the aisles (more heavily processed foods).
- Do some preparation before you shop - research prices, clip and organize coupons, make a list and stick to it.
- Don't have kids.
- Eat the packaging. It's high in fiber.
- Shop more frequently, and buy less at a time.
- Shop bulk or warehouse.
- Shop clearance/last minute reductions and find out when your market does those so you can time your shopping accordingly and get the best selection.
- Plan your menu around what's on sale.

The dinner that almost didn't get made...

I employ most of these tips in some way or other, but I do happily have kids and there's no turning back from that, I prefer my fiber from more traditional food sources, I don't shop bulk/warehouses because I'm willing to pay a little bit more for more immediate variety within my budget within one shopping trip and also for the storage relief (our home is just big enough for us), and I mostly don't clip food coupons because the bulk of my food purchases are raw ingredients for which there are few coupons.

More of my shopping guidelines that I've shared in the past (that may or may not overlap with the above):

1) I don't insist on organic, local, free range, grass-fed, wild etc. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of this choice, which is driven by a few factors:

   a. Insistence on those things would easily increase my total grocery bill by at least 30%. That's about $180 a month that we choose to spend in other ways to improve our quality of life, whether it be going out for a meal, buying some booze to enjoy as a couple or with friends, taking family outings, going thrifting, buying garden supplies...

Do I hate what Monsanto's doing to agriculture? Yes. Do I think most factory farming operations are deplorable? Absolutely. Do I think it's better to buy locally grown produce than stuff trucked from across the country or shipped in from another continent? Mostly, though I think it's more complicated than it sounds... 

Do I always spend my dollars accordingly? No. 

I do my best in lots of ways whenever and however I can to leave as small a footprint as reasonably possible and to support a generally more modest way of living, producing and consuming, but I don't want my family's enjoyment of life to be subsumed by my politics. Some people are in the financial position to consistently make those other choices without unduly impacting other aspects of their families' lives. As of today, in my assessment, I'm not.

  b. While I do try to stay away from hormone and antibiotic fed food, I don't believe that non-USDA Certified Organic food is necessarily going to kill me or my family. I do believe that lots of people are made very sick by the overconsumption of processed and refined food that converts to blood sugar and causes diabetes and other comorbid conditions at raging epidemic levels in this country and that even if those refined and processed foods came from certified organic farming practices, they would still cause that kind of sickness.

  c. It's not been my experience that certified organic food necessarily tastes better. External growing conditions, production volume, seed variety and other factors contribute as much as farming practices. 

2. Further to item 1b, other than cheese, butter, a few condiments, canned tomatoes and raw cooking materials like flour and sugar, I don't buy much highly processed food. 

And by highly processed food, I mean food that's been broken down to the point that you can't tell by looking at it what it's made from and is then further heated up and pasted together with and by other processed foods to look like something else.

From a cost perspective, the more processing, the more cost added at each step. From a health perspective, the more processing and chemical alteration before it goes in your body means the harder your body has to work to process it. If you don't want to approach it from a scientific perspective, just go a month without processed foods and see if you don't look and feel noticeably lighter.

I do also buy bread, cereal, lunch meats, and pasta regularly now, the first three mainly to make it easy for my 15 year old to prepare his own breakfasts and school lunches, but I try to treat them more as indulgences for my convenience than go-to items for our meals.

3. I buy spices in bags, not bottles. 

These are often found in the "Hispanic" or "Latino" aisle of an otherwise not "Hispanic" or "Latino" market. They aren't always less expensive by the ounce (though they often are), but spices are potent stuff. With the exception of daily use seasonings like black pepper, spices take a loooooooong time to get through. And you can spend 6 or 7 dollars for a bottle of chipotle powder that should be thrown out long before you've used half of it, or spend about $1.00 on a packet you're much more likely to use up while it's still good.

4. Farmers markets aren't always a good place to save money. 

While going to the farmers market is a lovely outing to be sure, what I've noticed over the years is that the glamorization of food seems to have turned farmers markets into more of an attraction than produce outlet. And with that attraction factor comes an upcharge that accounts for lots of things like the actual cost of producing and selling less output that has to be reflected in the margin, the real estate on which the farmers market stands, the primary demographic of its shoppers, and their willingness to pay more just because they can. This isn't true of all farmers markets, and it probably applies to more generally affluent areas, but it's a thing to look out for if you're trying to save money.

5. With the exception of a small handful of items, I am not brand loyal.

I'll admit it. I'm not that picky. Yes, some brands taste better to me than others. And in my willingness to try products that are new to me that might be on special, I've encountered some brands that aren't so good. But while a small percentage of the products I've tried seem to strive to be inedible, there are VERY few products that I, considering myself a fairly adaptable, resourceful and good cook, have simply been unable to work with.

6. I shop for roughly a week's worth of groceries at a time.

While sale item stockpiling works for some people, especially those with larger families, it doesn't work for me. I am much more efficient and less likely to waste when I know for the most part exactly what is in my pantry and refrigerator and when I keep an eye to using ingredients before they rot, wilt or freezerburn. It's hard to know exactly what's in your fridge or pantry when it's constantly crammed with layers of stuff.

And the truth is there is ALWAYS something on sale. I'd rather buy just the protein I need for the week than to have so much meat in the freezer that I can't keep up.

I totally get why stockpiling works for some families. But you do have to be disciplined and organized to make sure you're rotating your stock effectively and efficiently.

7. So-called "ethnic" markets, if they're reasonably close to you, can offer lots of great savings.

And they can also expose you to all kinds sights and flavors you've never experienced before.

8. I stop shopping every 4 to 6 weeks to use up the accumulation of neglected or left over ingredients.

Hence the reader favorite fridge cleanouts.

9. It takes a little sacrifice.

What I mean by that is you have to be willing to be satisfied with what you've got. That is, if I made four servings of stew last night, and we only ate two, then lunch the next day for both of us is leftover stew or something made with it. If all I have for breakfast is cereal, and I feel like a croissant, I'm eating cereal instead of going to the patisserie to buy a croissant. And if by Friday, I'm all out of animal protein, then I'm a vegetarian for dinner. 

Sacrifice is probably too strong a word. Making do within our means is something people used to do all the time, and it used to be the norm until credit cards and rampant consumerism creeped their way into our consciousness. Sacrifice makes it sound a little too extraordinary, doesn't it?

And on to the first day of meals.

FYI, I account for the ingredient cost of a dish on the day on which I cook or prepare it. Leftovers eaten on a subsequent day are, for multiple reasons including the fact that they don't have to be cooked at that point, are considered freebies. :)

I also tend to err on the side of caution and slightly pad ingredient cost, specially when it comes to pantry items.

I've included a meal total and per person total on the blog. The detailed ingredient cost breakdown HERE.


For the most part, everyone in the family but Izz had cereal (Mads had a double serving), and Dean, Joey, and I had coffee. Izz had milk and a banana. If I have two main not-so-guilty convenience foods in my kitchen, they are probably cereal and instant ramen. They buy me some time out of the kitchen, and the family are usually more than happy to eat them.

Before Izz was born, cereal was actually more of a treat in our house than anything else, but parenting a toddler can wear you out, and it's really a little kindness to which I treat myself to keep cereal on hand for when I can't be bothered to cook breakfast and no one else is in the mood to, either.

I will say this for the kinds of cereal the kids like to eat (which is mostly kiddie type cereal): It, like most highly processed grains, provides lots of sugar or sugar convertible laden calories without much satiation. I'm not about forcing Kashi on my kids, and they're not about eating it. They get plenty of other wholesome food in their diet. But this kind of cereal invariably means snacking shortly thereafter. If it's a weekend, they can do that. If it's a school day, I try to make sure a little protein gets thrown in with breakfast to prevent the rumbles until lunch.



Mads (my current bottomless pit - I'm sure she and Joe will probably trade places at some point) had an apple with peanut butter, another small bowl of cereal, and then another apple and cheese. Izz had a banana, and Joey had another small bowl of cereal.

LOL. So much cereal consumption is not typical in our home, but IIRC, I've been a hot, tired, crabby biatch who doesn't much feel like preparing any other grab and go snacks these past few days. I'll get back on the good foot soon. ;)



Our friend Nathan gave us yet more freshly caught ahi, so we had ahi sashimi with some steamed rice and garden salad with my Miso Ginger Dressing.

LUNCH TOTAL: $4.51 for 4 servings, $1.13 per serving

Of course that's not an accurate number at all for what I'd have paid to buy the fish myself. If I had bought fish for sashimi locally, I probably would have bought sashimi salmon at Mission seafood which usually runs $10 to $12 a pound. For four people, I probably would have bought a little over a pound. So assuming a salmon sashimi lunch for which I had bought the fish, this lunch would have ranged between $3.50 and $4.50 per serving.

Most of the point of this diary is to show how I spend my grocery dollars, but part of it is also about making the most of whatever it is we're blessed to have, however it is we come to have it. I try to make good use of as much of the food we're gifted as possible.

What do they mean by so-called "sashimi" grade fish? Read more HERE.


The dinner that almost didn't get made - Chicken Stir Fry with Oyster-Sriracha Sauce (recipe HERE) and Ong Choy in Garlic Sauce. LAM got the ong choy for me a couple of weeks ago so I won't be tallying it in the cost of dinner.

I can't tell you how much I didn't want to cook this dinner or how many times I opened the fridge to see if some easier option would magically appear the longer I stared (and also to stick my face in refrigeration on a dismally hot and somewhat sticky evening)...

But eventually, despite my hormonal and weather related exhaustion, hunger and budget balancing won out, and I cooked. I would have loved to order takeout last night, but we already had plans for our Entertainment budget for the long weekend.

DINNER TOTAL: $5.20 for 4 servings, $1.30 per serving

Wiener Dog Food (& Resulting Plain Turkey/Chicken Stock)

Almost forgot. I also made wiener dog food yesterday by boiling some turkey backs and the back from the whole fryer chicken. The meat pulled from the bones along with some fresh carrot, apple, or cabbage, and a tiny bit of rice should last about a week. I also get some plain turkey/chicken stock I can use any way I like - about 6 cups.

This probably looks like a pain in the ass, but you just put everything on the stove, bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for a good long while until the meat is falling off the bone, which makes it easy to quickly remove as much meat as possible. I take the carcasses out at that point and just let the stock simmer a little longer uncovered so it can reduce just a bit.

Honeydew's a small dog, so it's easy and economical enough to feed her this way. It's only about 20 minutes of active time for me, and this diet keeps her coat soft and shiny and her teeth nice and healthy.

Plus a little stock goes a long way in adding depth of flavor to dishes in which its appropriate to use it in lieu of water. Not to mention a 15 oz. can of stock can cost anywhere from $1 to $3, so there's that.



Speaking of frugal matters, at the moment, I'm kicking myself for not buying the Groupon I was going to buy last night for our bowling outing with our friends yesterday because it has since sold out. I snoozed, and I loozed.

But we get to hang out with friends and have ramen with them and stuff, so I'm totally over kicking myself about it. Mostly. ;)

Happy Sunday, all. I hope you have some fun with friends today. :)

'Til tomorrow,


This post is part of my 30 Day Grocery Budget Diary. To see all the posts of this series in reverse chron order, click HERE.

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