The Lazy Man’s Guide to Groceries on a Budget

This article was written by Karl Katzke.

Eating well is one of the small pleasures that I decided not to forego when I dug myself out of credit card debt. I’m a busy bachelor with an active social life and an absorbing job; I like food with a lot of flavor to it; and I live in a rural area without a lot of shopping or coupon options. These three things don’t usually go hand-in-hand with eating well or cheaply.

To meet my financial goals, I had to keep my food budget under $100 per month — that’s $25 a week to feed one or two people (since I often cook for dates and friends). It’s been a challenge. Luckily, in Texas and many other states, there is no sales tax on unprepared foods. Using a few simple strategies I managed to meet my goal and then some. I didn’t eat rice and beans for the entire month (unlike Morgan Spurlock), I don’t waste time digging through supermarket circulars, and I don’t spend hours in the kitchen every night. This is definitely the lazy man’s approach to groceries on a budget.

Here’s a quick rundown of my method:

  • I joined discount clubs at the supermarkets I frequented, and I gave them my real address. Kroger sends me coupons once a month.
  • I shop for fresh vegetables at the Farmer’s Market. Produce at our farmer’s market is literally half the price as the grocery store.
  • I have family members send me coupons. (This is also a great way to keep in touch with my grandparents, who don’t have email and who I don’t get to talk to all that often.)
  • Where it makes sense, I buy store brands to save money.
  • I make a large shopping run at the beginning of the month, and then only go to the farmer’s market for fresh vegetables during the rest of the month. If I don’t have an ingredient, I make something else. This forces me to get creative and use what I do have.
  • I plan my meals to use the same or similar ingredients. That way I can buy in bulk and I rarely have to get creative.
  • I buy staples in larger “family” quantities, and I also shop the short-dated bins for meats, which I usually grill immediately.

The most important thing by far has been getting creative with leftovers. I don’t let anything go to waste, and that’s saying something considering the quantities I buy.

For instance, I typically will buy a 12-pack of fresh thick-cut boneless pork chops at the grocery store near the beginning of the month. (I always compare prices between the butcher’s counter and the meat aisle — you’d be surprised how often the butcher’s counter is cheaper!) For the week after I grill, I have meals that feature pork chops: plain pork chops with various sides, pork chops on top of fresh salads, pork chop slices with barbecue sauce and cheese in a tortilla. You get the idea.

Another perennial favorite is taco meat. A frozen one-pound tube of ground turkey is $2. Taco seasoning from the bulk aisle is $5 per pound (though a pound will last longer than I’ll live!). Besides tacos, taquitos, and nachos, taco meat goes great on fresh salads or mixed with another side dish like beans and rice. That’s five or six meals right there without any repeats. The base ingredient is about $3 for those five meals.

Tacos use the same ingredients as a salad: olives, tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese. Soups, stews, and Spaghetti sauce are in the same category. I make my own spaghetti sauce to an old family recipe using canned tomato sauce and a pound of ground turkey. It freezes well, costs less than $5 to make in a batch, and takes only a minute to reheat. I generally make it once a month.

Don’t buy ingredients that work for only a single meal. A friend of mine loves an arugula salad that I make with lemon balsamic dressing, but I don’t make it for her regularly because you can’t really use the arugula before it goes bad.

On the other hand, one of the few products I buy from my grocery store’s produce section is bagged whole romaine hearts. They come three to a plastic bag for $3. Romaine hearts will keep for at least two weeks fresh in the bag, and it only takes a minute to wash and chop them into salad. (Use the entire heart, of course. Don’t peel the green leaves off. The paler parts are very sweet and juicy!) Don’t buy bagged, pre-cut lettuce — it’s soggy and unappetizing after less than a week.

Be careful with coupons. Make sure you carry a calculator (I use the one on my cell phone) to figure out if it’s really a good deal versus the store brands. You’ll usually find, like I do, that store brands are cheaper. On the other hand, you can find things are a better value — buying lunch meat in the re-useable containers has actually proven to be a good value because you can wash and keep the container. At my grocery store it’s more expensive to buy the containers than it is to buy the half-pound of lunch meat that comes in them!

It seems my grandparents’ lessons are always the best. “Waste not, want not.” I watch my neighbors’ trashcans and shake my head every week. I hardly throw out anything, but some of them seem to fill their trashcans to the brim with kitchen waste every week. How can you get rich (slowly or not!) if you’re throwing out that much food?

For more about eating well for less, check out these past articles at Get Rich Slowly:

Images by Jesse Michael Nix and desi.italy. This article is not associated with Lazy Man and Money, but you should visit his site anyhow.

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There are 61 comments to "The Lazy Man’s Guide to Groceries on a Budget".

  1. Trees Full of Money says 12 March 2008 at 04:07

    Great post Karl,

    My passion for cooking has been reinvigorated with my desire to save money, and eat healthier. My wife and daughter love it when we cook healthy home cooked meals instead of eating out, or getting to go! It also is great family time spent in the kitchen while the meals are being prepared!

    Ben @ Trees Full of Money

  2. Jan says 12 March 2008 at 04:58

    Good post, except I’m going to disagree that “digging through the store circulars” is a waste of time. If you’re going to spend the time to collect and organize all of those coupons – and I know you did say that mostly you get them in the mail, but still – you can take 15 minutes per week to scan the grocery ads, identify the loss leaders, and buy them in quantity.

    We hold our grocery budget to about $75/week for a family of five and that’s one of the ways. You of course mentioned many of the other ways!

  3. grimsaburger says 12 March 2008 at 05:09

    I’m always mystified by these articles that say they can get by on as little as 25% of what we spend per month at the grocery. Some questions for those able to spend $200 or less per month:

    Do household goods like trash bags, etc. go into another budgetary category, or do they come out of the grocery budget?

    If you buy alcohol, does that go into the grocery budget?

  4. Damsel says 12 March 2008 at 05:26

    Great post!! Another thing that goes along with your calculator bit is to check the unit price for each item and compare different brands. At two of the three stores I like, the store puts the unit price on the tag that’s on the shelf. I had to really hunt for it at one, because it was tiny, but I found it!

    Does anyone know of good farmers’ markets in the North Austin area? Or a website where they might be listed? Thanks!

  5. Sara says 12 March 2008 at 05:34

    I usually take this approach to shopping myself. I’ll use the stores coupons but I usually don’t buy brand name foods that are in the regular coupons (and we don’t get the paper). Asking family to send them is a great idea though!
    I’m not sure how but I find that I’m able to fill a grocery cart for $100-$125 and my husband fills it and it will cost $250! He doesn’t buy a lot of meat so I’m not sure what it is. Maybe because it’s almost physically painful for me to pick up something that’s not on sale? ; )
    I think that he buys so many canned goods all at once and they can really add up if you’re not careful. On days that I’m not in a rush I make my own cream of mushroom/celery/chicken soup to go in recipes with just margarine/butter, a little flour, and a cup of milk/chicken broth. (Basic white sauce with 3T of flour and marg/butter doctored up with onions and spices) If you’re already cooking it doesn’t take much longer and it tastes a little better too. (I got this idea from the “More with Less” cookbook, which I highly recommend.)

    Grimsaburger- we put household goods in our “Target” budget and alcohol usually comes out of my husband’s fun money since he buys it so randomly.

  6. tracy ho says 12 March 2008 at 06:10

    Try Chinese style cooking , its cheap & simple as steam , fry is simple yet delicious ,

    anyway enjoy reading your post ,

    All the best ,

    tracy ho

  7. Dennis says 12 March 2008 at 06:17

    Good post. Eating healthy is expensive. Any tips on how to shave off cost is a big help.

  8. Mister E says 12 March 2008 at 07:04

    Excellent post!

    The best tip is to make sure you use EVERYTHING.

    I buy chicken thighs (or very occasionally breasts when they’re on sale) and pick the meat off for pasta’s, rice dishes, sandwiches and lots of other options and then freeze the bones to make stock. Chicken stock in the freezer is great for a quick soup or sauce or to add to any number of things for that extra little bit of flavour and it’s essentially free since I bought the meat anyways. Ends of vegetables get frozen and added to the pot too.

    The odd time that a tomato lasts long enough to get over ripe it gets frozen for the next batch of tomato sauce.

    And PLAN for leftovers too, know how much of something you are making and when it will be eaten. My girlfriend and I make 4 portions of dinner every night and we eat 2 and take two to work the next day for lunch. That way we don’t have any random leftovers that are not enough to eat as a meal sitting in the fridge growing penecillin.

    Throwing away food is just silly.

  9. Rick says 12 March 2008 at 07:13

    Great Post. I’ve really been inspired recently to live on the lowest budget I feel comfortable with and my grocery spending is going to be about $80 hopefully. I’ll be living with my girlfriend and I’m sure that with her spending a similar amount we should do quite well.

    Coming from a latin american family, I’m used to eating rice and beans everyday which is cheaper than picking up a can of soda. I also love eating lots of chicken leg quarters and stock up when they’re on sale. I’ll also be baking my own bread and making my own tortillas to go along with my meals. My biggest problem I’m sure will be the veggies because of their higher price, but I’m sure I’ll make due with some of the techniques in this post.

  10. Michelle says 12 March 2008 at 07:23

    Damsel, the Austin flea market has vendors who sell veggies–the one out towards Manor.

  11. Jarick says 12 March 2008 at 07:29

    Back in college, I lived on $20-25 a week in groceries, but I gained a ton of weight because all I would buy is cheap carbs and hamburger. At least now, I’m spending $75 a week on groceries, but I’m losing weight since I buy more produce and lean meat.

    Any ideas for those of us who live in the frozen midwest and don’t have a farmers market for half the year?

  12. Andy says 12 March 2008 at 07:39

    I am trying to find a farmer’s market nearby me (Cincinnati). I definitely like the idea of one grocery store trip per month and than just buy more produce each week when you need it.

  13. Dariaclone says 12 March 2008 at 08:00

    Any ideas for those of us who live in the frozen midwest and don’t have a farmers market for half the year?

    I bought and froze a lot of food from the farmer’s market last summer. The sweet corn we just opened was delicious. The tomato sauce is gone now unfortunately, but we used it for pasta sauce and pizza sauce most of winter. I froze the tomato sauce in muffin tins, then transferred it to freezer bags, so that I could pick the amount I wanted to use each time.

    For the “plain” vegetables, you’ll want to blanch the vegetables which takes time but was totally worth when we got to have sweet corn in February.

    There’s also canning, but Kris is the expert on that point. For me freezing has been easiest.

  14. Dariaclone says 12 March 2008 at 08:02

    For those of you looking for a farmer’s market, try this website:

  15. Funny about Money says 12 March 2008 at 08:24

    What a cool post! It sounds like you eat wonderfully at a reasonable price.

    Wish we had farmer’s markets around here like the ones folks describe in other cities. Farmer’s market produce here is usually higher than the grocery store’s and is often wilted. Plus you have to pay in cash, making it difficult to keep track of expenditures.

    Have you tried ethnic markets? There’s a local chain here that caters to Mexicans and Asians. It carries a very diverse line of produce that is often a lot cheaper than the homogeneous national chains. Lemons, limes, and bananas are a fraction of the price you’d pay in other stores. And the selection of chilis, spices, and exotic cuts of meat is awesome, plus they carry real Mexican chocolate and wonderful inexpensive vanilla from Mexico.

    That said, I have the same question as grimsaburger: Are people figuring ONLY food as “groceries” in their budgets? I just don’t have time to schlep to Target and Home Depot to buy every paper towel and bottle of cleaning solution, nor can I afford the gas to do so. I try to drive as few miles as possible and get as many things as possible in a single place. As a practical matter, because no one store carries all the items I need — they seem to KNOW when I like something and immediately take it off the shelf — I end up driving fifteen to twenty-five miles through nasty traffic to three or four stores every week. Shopping usually entails a three- to four-hour expedition. I sure don’t need to add another gas-consuming drive, another parking lot, another traipse through crowded aisles, and another endless stand in line to that.

    So in my Quicken, “groceries” = everything bought in a grocery store. I may break it out to track certain kinds of purchases, but otherwise the grocery budget includes food, wine, beer, cleaning stuff, kitchen supplies, shampoo, hair conditioner, body lotion, first-aid nostrums and band-aids, allergy pills, bug-bite lotion, sunscreen, contact lens solutions, and household junk…whatever you can buy at a supermarket. Anyone who can get all that stuff AND food for a family of five on $75 a week is a genius and a wizard!

  16. J.D. says 12 March 2008 at 09:19

    We don’t have a farmers market here in Oregon at this time of year, either. We use our local market during the summer, and we grow a lot of vegetables ourselves. Our solution to out-of-season produce is to can the food for later use, but that’s probably a bit outside what a “lazy man” (or woman) wants to do. 🙂

  17. Amanda W says 12 March 2008 at 09:19

    I have found some very helpful strategies in grocery shopping. Every Friday (or whatever day) I get all of my local grocery store’s weekly ads in the mail every week. I circle only what I would normally buy and then I go to the big W (Wal-Mart), where they price match. They will price match any stores sale price as long as you have the ad and it is the same item. This saves me time from going to 4 different stores. I also clip coupons, but only take the ones for the items I have on my list, otherwise I may be temped to buy additional items. Also, I do not take my Fiancé; he loads our cart with junk, which is bad for us and also usually not on sale. This was a great article; I would love to hear more on this topic since I think groceries are the best place to shave your budget.

  18. h.c. says 12 March 2008 at 09:29

    For the household part of the budget, I keep it low by
    1) do not buy trashbags. I have a small trashcan that uses the plastic bags from the supermarket. That means I take out the trash more often, keep my kitchen smell fresh, lower cost, and I see it as a form of recycling.
    2) limit use of saran wrap zip lock bags. I try to use tupperware as much as poss. Since tupperware are reused, no throwaway saran wrap zip lock bags.
    3) no need to use paper towels. I hardly use any b/c for most everyday cleaning I use a small towel specifically for that purpose. You can quickly rinse after using and lay it on the counter to dry. Less waste=less money spent.
    4) reuse store containers. By that I mean I reuse the pickle jar to put the beans I bought in bulk so it’s easier to use. Same principle applies to other containers and foods. There’s no need to buy empty containers for this purpose.
    5) I hardly use dish washing liquid. You don’t need to use tons of dish washing liquid everytime you wash your dishes. It’s not good for you and simply a waste. I use dishwashing liquid when the dish is very oily or there’s stuff stuck to the dish I can’t get off. A little goes a long way.
    6) This is food related. I found out that I spent a lot more at the store if I buy a lot of snacks. Most of it are unhealthy anyway. So now for snacks I simply have some fruit/yogurt. For yogurt I buy the big container and put it in the individual yogurt cups. I buy fresh/canned fruit, granola, mix it in myself. I parcel out all the individual yogurt servings for the week in one sitting on the wknds. It saves time, money and is a lot healthier.
    7) Some people say that eats healthy is expensive, I’d say that’s not true. You don’t have to buy the $4.99 pint of blueberries or the spring mix everytime you goes to the grocery store. If you are on a limited budget, try to plan your meals around what’s on sale and to use cheaper veggies fruits more often. I love spring mix salad, but they’re expensive. So I cook greens like kale and mustard more often. They’re just as nutritious and cost way less. Apples and oranges are way cheaper than mangoes and strawberries. But it doesn’t mean that somehow they’re less worthy in the food pyramid.

    just my 2 cents.

  19. Kristi Wachter says 12 March 2008 at 10:00

    Great guest post, Karl!

    Next time you DO make that arugula salad for your friend, try making yourself some pasta with arugula for your next meal – just chop it up a bit, toss it in with the pasta (while it’s cooking if you want it wilted like spinach, or while you’re draining the pasta for a bit of crunch) and top with some parmesan cheese. It’s really good.

  20. Steve says 12 March 2008 at 10:35

    # Dennis Says:
    March 12th, 2008 at 6:17 am
    Good post. Eating healthy is expensive. Any tips on how to shave off cost is a big help.

    Eating healthily can be expensive( still cheaper than doctor’s appointments ), but it doesn’t have to be.

    At the bottom of this blog post are links to previous articles that deal with this very subject:

    Legumes, seasonal produce, and some whole grains are among the cheapest as well as the healthiest foods on the planet.

    The most important tips are to eat out less, make meals from scratch and comparison shop.

  21. Arlene says 12 March 2008 at 11:05

    I’ll have to disagree with you on arugula!! Whenever I have flavorful greens leftover and I’m sick of salad, they go right into a frittata for some color and veggie flavor. You can often chop spinach or arugula right into hot pasta, it will cook slightly and add a burst of color.

    Cooking for dates is well and good but how do you stop them from eating all the leftovers you were hoping to have for the rest of the week? Maybe I’m just too greedy but I feel like a miser when I put away food I was hoping to save to prevent my boyfriend from getting seconds and thirds.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but often the food in farmers markets in my area are more expensive. I live in the city and the market often has customers who are willing to pay higher rates. I buy it because I appreciate local food grown organically but I also wouldn’t recommend it to someone trying to save any money.

    Finally, I don’t ever use coupons. I rarely buy anything that uses them, as often they are processed foods. Processed foods are cheap dollar-wise but often they make you more hungry and ruin your health. Walking around the perimeter of your grocery store, you can see what specials they have and plan accordingly. This makes it also a little more fun for me, since I can make up things on the spot.

  22. aj Gail says 12 March 2008 at 11:13

    My only problem with this post is that he is buying the kind of meat where the animals are treated unfairly. I really make sure to budget my food but I also only buy animals that I know have lived happy and heathly lives. I would hope even the cheap can appreciate that.

  23. nathan says 12 March 2008 at 11:20

    I think there is a difference between being frugal and being cheap, and I think this borders being cheap. What is the point of robbing yourself of even the simplest pleasures to save money you may never be able to use? I don’t think a grocery budget should be extreme, but there has to be some sort of middle path. My family is healthier, happier, and more productive when we aren’t worried about making a meal out of scraps in the fridge.

    I also agree with AJ Gail in regards to the animals.

  24. AB says 12 March 2008 at 12:16

    JD- actually there is a year round fresh produce stand right next to Reed college, which I think is out your way. It’s on SE Steele. A nursery runs it and they generally have good stuff.

  25. Adam Snider says 12 March 2008 at 12:18

    Strangely, I find that the local farmer’s markets where I live often cost MORE than at the grocery stores. However, the produce is usually of a much higher quality, and doesn’t go bad as quickly, so I tend to think that it’s worth paying a little bit more for it, since it means I have less waste from vegetables going bad before I’ve had a chance to use them.

  26. fred says 12 March 2008 at 12:24

    “..but I also only buy animals that I know have lived happy and heathly lives. I would hope even the cheap can appreciate that.”

    How do you define a happy and healthy life? My basset hound has lived a full 14 years happy and healthy… but we’re not gonna eat him when he goes just to save money.

  27. TosaJen says 12 March 2008 at 12:26

    I agree with previous posts that local == fresher longer. Stuff coming to me (in Wisconsin) from Colombia is already HOW old when I take it home?!?! Amazing how local carrots lasted 2 weeks and were still crisp, while the California carrots were limp as heck by then. 😛

    I think we splurge a bit on fresh produce — it’s worth it to us. We enjoy going to a farmer’s market and wandering around the abundance and letting the kids see the people who grow their food.

    We’re on board with the author’s point about planning, but we’re not so good about not wasting food. My husband hates leftovers, so either I have to finish everything unfreezable in a few days, or it gets thrown away. I feel worse about the waste than I do about our grocery costs — we spend about $90/week for a family of 4, including soda and organic produce and eggs, so not crazy.

  28. mike says 12 March 2008 at 12:29

    $20-40 dollars a week on food seems doable but JD’s story about living on $15 a week is a bit excessive if you are working and earning a decent salary. Were you completely broke or unemployed during this time?

  29. Steve says 12 March 2008 at 12:30

    # aj Gail Says:
    March 12th, 2008 at 11:13 am
    My only problem with this post is that he is buying the kind of meat where the animals are treated unfairly.


    You must be a vegan then, as am I :).

    Serioulsy, there is no body of government standards or enforcement in regards to labels like “cruelty free” or “free range”.

    Often those labels only mean that someone is suckering you into paying more for the same product.

    FWIW, even dairy animals are killed when they can no longer produce and they live under horrible conditions while alive.

    The only way to eat cruelty free is to eat vegan ( no meats, dairy or egg products ).

    Getting back to being frugal: if you want to reduce cruelty either eat vegan or don’t. You are often paying for nothing/marketing hype when you pay for food labeled in some way as cruelty reduced

  30. Anthony StClair says 12 March 2008 at 12:31

    Re the “you can’t really use the arugula before it goes bad”…

    Try timing it with when you make a batch of pasta sauce. We also have started making big batches of our own sauce. Greens go great in it – good flavor, and another way to make sure you’re getting your veggies.

    2 options
    1. When you make the sauce, add chopped arugula during the last 5 minutes of cooking
    2. When you reheat the sauce for another meal, add the chopped arugula then.

    Just did this the other night, in fact. Arugula’s great in pasta sauce, since it adds a nice peppery note. Give it a whirl.

  31. J.D. says 12 March 2008 at 12:34


    Not me! I could never live on $15/week. That was a guest post, too. I’m quite open that Kris and I spend a *lot* on food. It’s the biggest weakness in our budget. We like to eat, and we like to eat well. We grow our own food and do canning to help keep our costs down. If we didn’t, we’d be in the poorhouse because of how much we spend on food.

    Now clothing? You’d be shocked by how little I spend on clothing. (And probably not shocked in a good way.)

  32. Matthew says 12 March 2008 at 12:35

    First of all, I think that in general its okay to be cheap, it’s your motivation that matters. If you’re being cheap simply because you don’t want to spend the money on others because you’re selfish, that’s different from being cheap because you want to get out of debt so that you will have money to use on others.

    I also think that as someone who evaluates others as cheap or not, it’s important that you look at their whole life. I’m cheap when it comes to paying for television, trying to get discounts on my internet or telephone, and saving money on food. I’m frugal in regards to gift giving, gasoline use, and utility use. And I’m generous in regards to charity and friends.

  33. chad says 12 March 2008 at 12:37

    aj Gail:
    I hear that. I mean, since we’re going to kill the animal anyway, we should be “nice” to it along the way, right?
    “Humane treatment” of non-human animals is a good thing, yes?

    Who do you think that really benefits?
    The non-human animal who *still ends up dead on your plate* or your guilty conscience and sense of well being?
    So as long as you treat your slaves nicely, it is okay to have slaves, and in the end choose whatever fate *you* decide for them.

    Your position is analogous to “do less harm where possible” which is fundamentally problematic, as it can sanction any number of harmful acts, because the individual inflicting harm didn’t do “worse” things.

    Praising the serial killer for only having killed 5, rather than 10, victims.
    The rapist who only rapes, but does not beat their victims.
    The thief who only shoots you in the leg, not the head, when robbing you.

    I would think the “humane” thing to do would be not to enslave and then murder for your own purposes.

    What is “humane treatment”? We have many different levels of animal “welfare” laws, which simply codify the means of exploitation under a certain set of circumstances, animal agriculture/food production being one of many areas of exemption.

    I think your notion of “unfair treatment” is shocking.
    It is “fair” to take another sentient creatures life simply to satisfy a taste preference?
    Of course, you obviously take it for granted that non-human animal bodies are yours to do with as you please – while alive or while dead – hence your bizarre notion of “fairness”, and that is troubling from more perspectives than that of the creature you last consumed.

    You eat flesh, I get it.
    That is something you have to live with, and continue to choose [and it is entirely a choice, based on preference and cultural, not to mention economic, pressure].

    But please don’t kid yourself that you’re doing some noble and wonderful thing for that piece of flesh on your plate by allowing it to “run free and enjoy life” when you – by transitive property through those whom you support – make a killing from killing.

    “Happy Meat” only has a happy ending for the party profiting from the exploitation. Maybe the cow or chicken or pig can express how happy he or she is?
    …oh… right…

    [Much respect and admiration to Gary L. Francione]

    Having gone back to school after being in business for five years, my cash flow situation is drastically different.
    My partner and I aim for around $60 for two of us, and depending on the sales may go over to stock up.

    As far as eating on the cheap, veggies from the market or store ~80% organic, bake our own bread [CLUB PACKS = monster savings], spices in bulk [don’t pay for packaging!], and stock up on basics when they’re on sale [such as tinned tomatoes at 59¢!!], and anything you can freeze [berries, bananas, squash, corn, etc].
    We splurge on things like Soy Delicious [soy ice cream], but we bake all our own sweets and goodies – home-made muffins and cupcakes beat the icing out of store bought stuff.

  34. FranticWoman says 12 March 2008 at 12:43

    I echo a previous poster – how does an adult really live on such a paltry amount? $100 a month? I’d have to see what things costs line by line.

    For ex. – the post mentioned $2/lb ground turkey. I’m lucky where I live to find it for $2.64 or so ON SALE. Full price is over $4.

    I’ve been trying to cut my food costs for a long time and rarely can get below $250 for one person (although I admit, some things I will not compromise on, like organic milk; regular milk tastes yucky to me now). I also make a lot of things from scratch that cost 2-4xs more than buying the convenience item.

    When I lived in San Francisco, the cost of food per item was staggering. DC isn’t great I wager but it wasn’t nearly as bad as SF.

    I wish I could just eat rice and beans five days a week; unfortunately, I like to experiment and have lots of variety.


    I like arugula too. I make a yummy dish with sausage and pasta with parm. You cook the arugula with the sausage and some garlic in olive oil for a few minutes, then toss with the pasta. It shrinks a bit a large amt – like a half lb – will shrink to like a fourth of its size and really add to such a simple pasta dish as mentioned above (and that other poster’s ideas also).

  35. Mister E says 12 March 2008 at 13:16

    Just to chime in, my weekly grocery budget for 2 of us is $70 but sometimes we come in under that and that includes all grocery store items (cat litter, toiletries, garbage bags, etc..) not just food. We eat pretty good I’d say too, most of our friends envy our meals even the ones that spend twice as much. I worked in kitchens for a decade though and my girlfriend attended culinary school so we have that going for us. We used to get by on $50/week but that involved cutting out a lot of fresh produce and eating a lot more carbs and I wanted to get back to more veggies for health and because I really, really like them.

    A friend of mine spends $20/week but his breakfast and lunch 365 days a year consists of a boiled egg.

    Farmers markets around here tend to be more expensive then grocery stores but the produce is usually top grade and I like to buy local. I’m going to look into what can be grown on a balcony garden and try out my green thumb this year as well.

  36. chad says 12 March 2008 at 13:20

    An add-on for aj Gail:

    I want you to know that I think your sentiment and concepts of treating non-human animals is well intentioned, and certainly a step in the right direction, despite being based on an ethical and moral framework that enables and encourages exploitation.

    However, while you understand and realize that these non-human animals have interests [ie. do not want to be treated “unfairly” as you put it] and we have an obligation [imperative!] to consider those interests *whether we decide that they are aware of their interests or not*.

    Ergo, since you understand that these being have interests involving being treated fairly [ie. not unfairly], it takes an incredibly small step to understand that these being would *also* have interests involving being alive [ie. not dead].

    In fact, where the interests of these beings are concerned, I would think it very fair to place a relative “value” on those two interests [in this incredibly simplistic model] and say that as strong of an interest that these beings have in being treated fairly, they have an even *stronger* interest in being alive.

    That part is easy.

    Following through on it, and questioning the assumptions which you have undoubtedly grown up with and been indoctrinated by various forms of media, is where problems arise; not from difficulty in acting according to these ideas, but from the societal pressure that you would face.

    As a young male approaching 30, re-entering the education system, there is an overwhelming meme that “meat = manliness” and related social implications.

    Recognizing one form of oppression means recognizing the rest.

  37. Ken says 12 March 2008 at 13:23

    ANDY: Findlay Market in Cincinnati is good. here’s the website:

  38. FranticWoman says 12 March 2008 at 13:30

    to add to my previous comment:

    when I was eating v. healthy, my food bill was $350-400 mn for one person. I had also greatly reduced my eating out bill, so of course my grocery bill went up.

    Now that I’ve reduced it greatly in the last 2.5 mns – I’ve started gaining a bit of weight and am a bit more sluggish. I might have to go back my specialized eating healthy plan, even if more expensive. The weird part though, is my portion sizes got less since I can’t be impulsive: if I make anything I have to have a plan. For instance, I made chicken and rice last night. I know I have to get 3-4 meals off it so I deliberately eat less than when I was my old way. I do miss fish too – since I cut that out due to expense.

    I also bring stuff to work so I dont fritter cash: I bring all snacks, water, drinks, and of course lunch. I also have really good lunches. I can’t make do with a boring sandwich of deli cuts on blah bread. Wish I could! That adds to the bill though unfortunately.

    And food is really going up around here. It might have to go to $300/mn regardless. I’m looking foward the farmer’s markets again too. I dont know if they are cheaper, I just find them fun.

    Being single in a small space also adds to the bill: not much storage and if you buy in econonmical sizes, it will go bad before you use it up. SO, I unfortunately often buy the small quantities and/or cant take advantage of major stock ups.

  39. Linda says 12 March 2008 at 13:30

    I’m getting better at using up what I already have in the pantry and refrigerator. Less waste and fewer trips to the store = saved time and money. One site that is helpful is:
    You can type in what ingredients you want to use and then find recipes with those ingredients. I also like that the recipes are reviewed so you can see what other users thought of the recipe.

  40. says 12 March 2008 at 13:32

    I do everything by the book, but I still cringe every time I checkout at the supermarket. The biggest problem I run into is that my wife and I are trying to eat healthy, and as many of you know, it’s a lot more expensive to eat healthy.

  41. Steve says 12 March 2008 at 13:42

    FWIW people, there are dozens of varieties of legumes, whole grains, spices, and vegetables available in most urban areas. Mountains of recipes on the internet. There is no reason for eating “rice and beans” every day to be the same meal every day.

  42. blogrdoc says 12 March 2008 at 13:55

    I *just* blogged about “The Art and Science of Grocery Shopping” a couple days ago.

    Here’s my tips:

    1. Arm yourself by getting calibrated for unit prices. The truly lazy can just keep in mind $~1.50/lb for veggies, $2.00/lb for meat.
    2. You-bag-it stores kick butt. Find one and check it out, if you don’t use them already.
    3. Wholesale stores are usually a rip off for any ‘ready-made’ food. Their fridge/freezer sections will violate you. Wholesale stores are best for: oatmeal, sugar, coffee. That’s about all I’ve found that’s a good deal there. E.g. peanut butter was 2x the unit price compared to the you-bag-it store I go to.

  43. mike says 12 March 2008 at 14:03

    “Not me! I could never live on $15/week. That was a guest post, too. I’m quite open that Kris and I spend a *lot* on food. It’s the biggest weakness in our budget. We like to eat, and we like to eat well. We grow our own food and do canning to help keep our costs down. If we didn’t, we’d be in the poorhouse because of how much we spend on food.”

    Gotcha. I was wondering about that. I love to eat as well but I save where I can while making sure that I eat well and eat properly. It seems that eating at the expense of your kidneys (via ramen) in order to save a buck is really dangerous and people supplementing their diet this way need to find something better and healthier to eat.

  44. Minimum Wage says 12 March 2008 at 14:16

    That’s funny, I’ve been to farmers’ markets here, and they seem pretty overpriced.

  45. stngy1 says 12 March 2008 at 14:32

    Strangely. our local Farmers Mkt is MORE expensive than the local grocery stores. I think its because all vendors are certified organic, and that locals are simply willing to pay extra, but still it surprises me. There’s got to be less overhead!
    Really liked the point about using ingredients in multiple recipes. I think in analyzing our purchase this is where we make or break it. I’ve bought stuff for a single meal, ended up with extra of an exotic ingredient, and THAT sits until its useless.
    Oh Well.

  46. TripleE says 12 March 2008 at 14:32

    Seriously, where in the heck outside of northern California and Oregon is the farmer’s market worthwhile? They sure as hell aren’t in the DC area.

    They’re trendy, which raises the prices, and frankly, I can’t tell any difference in quality between a good grocery store and farmer’s market produce. Plus, my stores have way better selection. Then again, this may be a nice side effect of living near the city and working in the ‘burbs where I can get decent stores.

    Seriously, though, if I knew that farmer’s markets actually had semi-local produce and was worth the value, I’d be all over it.

    The rest of these tips are awesome, though!


  47. Dave says 12 March 2008 at 17:41

    Amanda wrote: “I get all of my local grocery store’s weekly ads in the mail every week. I circle only what I would normally buy and then I go to the big W (Wal-Mart), where they price match.” This is a strategy that will save you money in the short-term, but what happens when the local stores are run out of business by “the big W”, and Walmart is the only choice? I’m not anti-business, but I fear that the anti-corporate nutjobs have at least a bit of truth here…

  48. Brett from Common Cents for Everyone says 12 March 2008 at 18:00

    Good post, but I think you can add a couple things.

    1. Find an inexpensive deep freezer to keep a larger quantity of milk, bread, meats, and other staples after you find them on sale and before you are able to use them.
    2. Wait to use the coupons. Coupons are usually the first wave of promotion for a product. Wait for the sale price in the store and use the coupons then.
    3. Since I am also one for simplicity, you can combine your FREE discount/frequent shopper keytags onto one card here.

  49. Rachelle says 12 March 2008 at 20:50

    Just a reminder:

    Ground spices lose their flavor after 6 months. So calculate that into your price.

    I find that most grocery stores carry cheap bagged ‘mexican’ spices. It’s slightly limited selection, but they have basil and oregano which are my two go-to spices for 1.50 each. Lasts about two/three months. Just transfer it into a container so that it will keep.

  50. AB says 12 March 2008 at 20:54

    My husband and I have a grocery budget of 200 a month. This includes things like trash bags, toilet paper etc. (we got to Costco for that stuff, so we only buy it a couple times a year). We don’t live on ramen (though ramen with an egg and a cup of frozen broccoli is a comfort food for me that has healthy protein and veggies and costs about .44 to make).

    I buy our chicken breast at the local Asian market for between 1.60-2.18 per lb. We also get our produce there unless I drop by afore mentioned food stand. The produce we like is pretty cheap. I buy a lot of parsnips when they are on sale (root veggies keep well), carrots, sweet potatoes, snap peas, snow peas, and asparagus. We shop Trader Joe’s for most of our other things and Limbo for spices and occasional fruit (they have bulk spices in jars, so I pay at most 1.00 per ounce).

    I also buy frozen veggies and occasionally berries in winter (frozen strawberries make great smoothies). These things are cheap (I don’t pay more than 1.20 per bag, ever unless the bag is from Costco and huge).

    I also watch sales and clip coupons (and I spend only about 15 mins a week on this every Sunday with the paper at work). Today, for example, I stocked up on cereal and beans. I got 4 boxes of our favorite type of cheerios for 1.25 a box (they’re normally almost 4 per box). I got 9 cans of black and pinto beans for .33 each. Two cans of beans, some minced garlic (I buy it on sale in bulk because it keeps forever in the fridge), cumin or chili powder, a cup of dry rice, and two chicken breasts shredded will make enough burrito filling to keep my husband and I in lunches or dinners for a week. We don’t eat burritos every night, but it’s there to fit into our busy schedules and totally cheap.

    My point is that there are always ways to cut down on food costs without compromising health. It just takes research and a little time.

    (Btw, this doesn’t include the 20 a week eating out budget. We go out for dinner every Sat as a treat and make sure to spend less than 10 per person).

  51. JB says 12 March 2008 at 21:16

    I started frequenting my local dollar store that has fresh produce at about half the cost of the grocery store. It’s just amazing! This is helping me keep my monthly food budget for 1 at under 100 dollars a month. And I used to spend at least twice that on food, and I still eat great (probably better now).

    I’m going to start checking out the Asian stores too…you can get produce and fish much cheaper than at the grocery store.

  52. Paige says 12 March 2008 at 23:08

    I agree that being vege is a good way to save money. I’ve been vege since I was 12 – went shopping with a friend once & almost passed out when I saw how much she paid for meat.

    I am a HUGE fan of canned legumes (lentils, chick peas, beans, etc). At less than $1 a can they’re so cheap and very healthy. I chuck them into almost everything – salads, stir frys, pasta bakes, etc, etc.

  53. Karl Katzke says 12 March 2008 at 23:36

    RE: Cruelty-free meat — I will admit, I cheat. First off, this is rural TX. There aren’t many sources of cruelty-free meat here. There is an HEB with an astounding selection of higher-end produce and meat, but the cruelty-free is hit-and-miss and is at least twice the price.

    However, we do have an agricultural university in town, Texas A&M University. The meat raised by that university is sold to university staff and students as the students learn to butcher it. It’s all high quality and is hand-fed by our school’s cheerleading team … … that’s a joke, other Aggies will get it. I buy the meat there. The price is comparable to the grocery store, but the quality can’t be beat. Farmer’s markets are good sources of cruelty-free meat, but be prepared to pay the price. I have a friend that lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. She buys meat from her local farmer’s market at a price below the grocery store, and it’s all raised and packaged by a local farmer. She has to order in advance, though, by as much as a month for some items like fresh sausage.

    Note that: plan in advance. What I’ve talked about so much in this article boils down to knowing what you’re going to eat in a month, and buying what you will eat in a month at times that it’s beneficial to you financially.

    Oh, I do include laundry detergent in the grocery budget, but I only buy it when I have coupons and I stock up… I buy the container that will get me the lowest cost per load. The ‘price per oz’ can be misleading — see how many ounces are in a load’s use. For the 2x concentrated Tide, it’s actually a pretty good bargain. I try to buy it on double-coupon days too. If I don’t have a coupon and need some, I will buy a big container of whatever’s cheapest … if I have a coupon, I’ll buy brand-name because it makes my sensitive skin itch less.

    Another example of planning and saving: I eat breakfast. This week, I made muffins for breakfast. I cooked two packages for a total of 10 muffins — it’s supposed to make a half dozen per package, but then the muffins come out small. 😉 The muffin mixes were $.39 each at the grocery store and milk is kind of a ‘sunk cost’ — I buy it anyway. The total breakfast, even up to half the cost of the milk (when I only consumed one cup), was under $2.00 for a week’s worth of breakfasts. As Emeril says, Bang! I planned when I shopped to eat muffins for a week. Then I consumed them on schedule. And ended up not succumbing to the desire to stop off at McD’s on my way into work and blow $5 because I had a nice fresh home-made muffin in my hand!

  54. Radford Emerson Personal Finance says 13 March 2008 at 00:59

    Well the good lessons have come down through the years, as its my parents who said “waste not, want not,” but then I’m probably dating myself.

    I find that having some sort of meal plan for the week, helps me cut down on unneccessary purchases. I shop with a specific list and that eliminates the “very sneaky” impulse purchases. Check your pantry before you go to the store to ensure that you aren’t duplicating products that you already have. While you are checking your pantry make sure that any items that you have, and will need for this week has a good expiration date. It’s a bummer when you have a package of some item in your pantry, and when you are about to use it in a recipe, you realize that its expired.

  55. Red Zinnia says 13 March 2008 at 01:54

    I have a booth at an Indiana farmer’s market (I dont’ sell produce though). Veggies and fruit are definitely higher priced than at the grocery store, but so are flavor and freshness. Raspberries I buy on a Saturday have been harvested the morning before, vs. two weeks or so earlier at the grocery. And I can’t prove it, but logic tells me the nutrition is higher in market produce too, as vitamins degrade in storage. We grow a garden, but for produce we don’t grow the market represents the best VALUE for our money.

  56. Maria says 13 March 2008 at 04:36

    Thanks for a great post!

    Another idea is to check out natural food co-ops in your area. I buy my rice, beans, wheat, butter and other basics through the co-op. I get natural chicken for a fraction of the grocery store price when I buy in bulk (every two months) and it is delicious.

  57. Debra says 13 March 2008 at 13:25

    Another frugal staple is textured vegetable protein (aka soy protein or TVP). You can get it in health-food stores or online. I can buy it in 25# sacks for about $40, and 1 lb makes the equivalent of about 3 lbs of ground beef.

    It’s very cheap and rehydrates to look/taste like ground beef (albeit with a slightly smaller “grain” to it). I use it to make tacos, spaghetti, chili, sloppy joes, lasagna, etc. I’ve even made meatballs with it, although that’s a little advanced. The other stuff, though — my kid learned to make TVP tacos when he was 9, so it’s pretty easy!

  58. Mirdreams says 21 March 2008 at 07:50

    My best tip is one he mentioned, shop with a calculator. I keep a running calculation of everything that goes into my shopping cart and have a specific budget for each trip in mind. It’s amazing how many “impulse” buys go back out of the cart when I’m getting close to my limit.

  59. jen says 03 December 2008 at 16:41

    ok all of the information was very helpful but the person complaining about how “meat’ is handle before it goes to the market is really ridiculous most of the American population eats meat and we dont care or think about what its live style was before we but it to bring home and eat weather it was happy or sad or depressed im seriously come on

  60. TheRoosterChick says 19 October 2009 at 06:51

    I like the idea of “making a large shopping run at the beginning of the month”. Thanks for the tips.

  61. amanda-Beth says 12 April 2010 at 05:37

    This may seem dumb question but how do you handle shopping when you have to go with someone who tends to be a graby shopper? this person I have to go shopping with if he thinks it looks good he’ll put it in cart even if price is up there we got 3 or 4 more packs of hot dogs when I don’t eat them and he still had pack of hot dogs in fridge and sauges in freezer and a box of brandname cornflakes big one wich is expensive. I didn’t even know he put those in cart till we were at the check out. it dose no good to have cupons if you can’t use them because ya have to shop with someone who sees and likes and gets.

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