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Frugal Food Shopping

Aug 2012

I've usually shopped for groceries at TJs, with trips to Target for non-food items, but am wondering if it's cheaper to use a combination of Costco,Food Max,Grocery Outlet, Luckys or Safeway, in addition to TJs. I really need to figure out how to save money on food shopping but don't want to make a million trips, run around to different stores with coupons, or buy products that are really mediocre. I've given up the easy stuff for me - buying organic, buying coffee from Peets,lunches out at work. Does anyone have a system that works well for them? Freezing meat from Costco, getting non-perisables from XXX store, etc? My husband just lost his job, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to feed a family of four, including 2 teenage boys, on our suddenly-reduced income. Thanks BPN! Newly-Frugal


Hi, With a small time investment you can create a price book which will serve as an extremely useful tool. Basically you make a list of the main groceries you buy, then note the price per unit. You can figure this out over several shopping trips to your regular store. Then check out the same info from other stores.

A price book allows you to figure out which stores regularly carry items at the lowest prices. You can also then tell whether a sale is really a bargain or not (many of them are not.) You can check the weekly flyers to see where the good bargains are. Many foods are either nonperishable or can be frozen, so you can stock up and not be constantly running from store to store.

I did this for years, and now that I have the basic info in my head I divide my shopping like this:


Weekly shopping for produce, bulk food and some dairy - Monterey Market
Quarterly shopping for canned goods, dry goods and condiments - Trader Joes
Quarterly shopping for household products - Target
Flour, sugar and Goldfish - Safeway
I sometimes go to Walgreens, CVS or Lucky if I spot a good sale. Frugal Mom


I use Costco and Foodmax, period. Sorry, but as a single mom with 3 food eating monsters, I find Trader Joes too expensive! The food is less expensive at the stores I mentioned and perfectly good quality. Happy shopper
First of all, sorry for the loss of your husband's job and the added stress that can cause. There are defintely ways to cut back though, I noticed a huge difference in my grocery bills when I began to plan my meals around what is on sale.

I predominantly shop at Safeway and use the weekly mailer (also available for view online) to work out a rough menu based on what I have at home and need to use and what's on sale. When there is a particularly good price on something then I buy a bit more than usual to freeze. Or if the organic milk is on sale, I'll buy the big one, etc. I have cut coupons for there, but you can load them on to your club card online as well...even email yourself a shopping list. I believe that they even have an app now! And quite frankly, the guy in the meat dept is pretty nice and has said that they appreciate my business...nobody has said that to me at Whole Foods or Farmer Joe's.

Farmer Joes and Berkeley Bowl have the best produce prices, but I don't shop there regularly. If I know that my list is mostly fruits and veggies or if I want something special (I.e. from the bulk bins or fancy beer) then I go there though. I still shop at TJs sometimes for the things that I like and it's very close to my house. They generally have great prices on cheeses, sandwich/toast bread, coffee, wine.

I've found that Costco is great for some things (maybe since you have teens), but I often get the same value at regular grocery stores if I shop the sales and I don't have room to freeze 5 lbs of pork loin if I want to make chili verde one night! And forget about buying tortillas there unless you want to share with your whole neighborhood. I may not renew my membership?

Also, slow cooker meals and meals where you can stretch the meat are good to make: chili (serve on pasta w/cheddar for kids), arroz con pollo, stir frys and curries are all meals where I can get away with using a lot less meat and nobody notices. And with braising or slow cooking you can use cheaper cuts of meat and they become tender and don't dry out (I.e. thighs vs breasts or tougher cuts of beef).

Good luck! Frugal Mama2


I have four kids...so I completely know what it's like! My best advice is to plan out your meals every week. I avoid places like Safeway or similar. I avoid any isles in the middle of these stores if I have to go in since they are all frozen, convenience food and chips (highly overpriced).

I shop Costco for meat/fish/lunchbox items (granola bars, deli meat.. etc). I mainly do TJ's and then the local farmer's market for fruit/veg, etc.

I try to incorporate some of the items that I've bought or have been in the fridge for a while into other meals (like scallions or some potatoes that need to be used up). Personally, I don't generally use coupons because I just don't have the time to keep track, but if you're more organized, then even better!

I cook a lot of bean soups and stews...stuff I can freeze. I make a lot of mexican food--beans, corn tortillas, a meat and a salad. These kinds of foods work well for frugality! lisa


Average grocery bill each month?

Dec 2011

I read the post in 2008 about what people spend on groceries, but we're almost in 2012. Food costs are quite high these days and continue to rise (due to farmers planting cotton over food crops and other agricultural issues in Asia). We are curious about how much people spend these days in Berkeley for food. My husband and I have been having discussions about how much we should really spend each month on groceries. I know it's different for everyone, but if you are a family of four with 2 small children and eat very organically and possibly shop mainly at Berkeley Bowl, Whole Foods and sometimes Farmers markets, what is the price range you spend each month for just groceries? Thank you in advance... anon


My family is similar to yours, 2 adults and 2 young children. We also eat mostly organic, avoid processed food, etc. Our weekly bill ranges from $120-160 and that includes us eating at home 5-6 nights a week and several lunches and snacks. While it is pricy it is worth it as the quality is good (mostly Berkeley Bowl, some TJ's) and I know my kids are eating well. I am thankful to have such excellent organic produce, dairy & meat to choose from. Likes good food
I have a family of 3 (2 adults, one 2-year old girl). We buy mostly organic and mostly from Trader Joes. We also belong to a CSA.

The CSA is $100/month and we spend about $125/week at Trader Joes for a grand total of $600-800/month. This is on groceries only. We eat out maybe 1-2x/month.

I recently have been feeling that this is too high and am considering buying less organic food. I am also trying to grow my own vegetables (failing miserably, but still trying), cook more (with cheaper foods such as pasta, beans, rice, etc.), but it doesn't seem to be making a big difference in the cost. Paying a fortune for food!


We are the exact family that you describe, and we spend north of $1,000/month. Shocking, but true. This is because we are committed to eating organically and farmers markets are more expensive than Berkeley Bowl. I also make and can my own produce, vs. buying cans. I bake vs. buying a bag of cookies, etc. As a concession, we don't eat out much, which helps. Before kids, we spent the same, but ate out more. well fed
With 2 adults and one teenager we spend about $600.00 to $800.00 per month. I shop at Trader Joes, El Cerrito Natural Grocery and Berkeley Bowl mostly. We eat organic produce, grass fed beef, frozen meals from TJ's, gluten free breads, goat dairy....It's definately possible to spend less, but with our dietary needs and choices, this is it. When my older son was home, (and when he comes home from college), add about $200.00 to the above. anon

Grocery bills - how much?

Sept 2011

I am curious about how much other families spend on groceries every month. We are a family of 4 (kids are 7 and 4) and we don't eat out a lot (2-3x month) and we pack lunches for the kids and sometimes for ourselves. We spend about $700 a month on groceries. We do try to buy quality foods (organic produce, dairy and meat) but we avoid a lot of packaged foods. So is this what others spend? Are we a lot higher or just a little bit higher? curious


we spend 585/month. not incl eating out as a family (which amongst other activities comes out of our fun budget - 400/month) or eating out as an individual (which comes out of our own personal weekly spending money). we have a 7yo & 2yo. hope that helps. we determined our budget guidelines using dave ramsey's free budget calculator. go to www.daveramsey.com and try it out. he gives suggested ranges for food, transportation, housing, etc. $$ wise
Food has gone up. We are Safeway shopper-types (we use Trader Joes too. Most of our weekly food bill is on fruits and veggies.

We're a family of 3, with a growing 8-year-old boy. We spend about $600/month. But that doesn't include ANY HABA (health and beauty aids i.e. tp, pt's, etc.) anon


I spend at least that for a family of 4, and I don't even cook that often. I do pack my lunch & one child's lunch. I do buy heavily organic, and any meat I do buy is also organic. Lots of veggies, fruit, and this does not even include our eating-out budget. Mine is typically $850 a month - granted, there are some more expensive items mixed in like protein drinks, and some cleaning products, but even if I strip that out it's $700.

I try hard not to buy ''junky'' food - no mac n cheese, no basic/white bread, no frozen kids meals/etc. Organic eggs cost 3x regular eggs, but I want the organic ones. Same with milk, cheese, yogurt. I might buy store brand on some chips or crackers occasionally, but otherwise I don't.

I know you can definitely get away with much lower food bills if you are willing to cook from scratch all of the time (I just don't have time) or eat the highly processed stuff, but it's a choice. Laura


I am so glad you asked this question. I have been so curious about this topic myself. We just moved back after a year in England and I am flabbergasted at how much we spend on groceries - it seems like much more than just a year ago. I have a family of 5 (two teens and a 9 yr old) and my husband and I take our lunches most days. We go out 1-2 x per week. I spend, on average, about $400 per week on groceries, not including our meals out. I get my staples at Safeway and buy meat and some specialty items at Whole Foods (my daughter is vegetarian). One of my friends feeds her family on $200 per week and for the life of me I can't figure out how. So glad you asked
Hi, we are also a family of four with a 5 and 7 year old. I get an organic vegetable box from Full Belly Farm. I mostly shop at Trader Joe's with Safeway as a backup. We used to do Costco, but overall, I didn't see any cost savings going that route. I never bought produce there so most of the food we'd buy in bulk were processed junk. It is a fact that food prices have skyrocketed. I was spending about $150/wk and now I can't seem to get it below $200. I also cook most meals from scratch and my friends joke that I would have made a great depression-era wife. We don't eat out much, buy very little packaged food, etc. I think you are in the ballpark. Because most coupons are for packaged/processed junk, it sounds like you're doing the minimum you can. We do drink wine and tend to buy about 2 bottles a week, and I try to limit it to $10 or less. So, without the wine, I'm in your range. One thing we have been doing: about every five or six weeks we spend a week not buying anything but bread and milk and we force ourselves to eat anything that's still hanging around. It cuts down the grocery bill, gets the pantry cleaned out and offers me a challenge for cooking (we still get the weekly veggie/fruits). If anyone else has a secret, let me know. anonamom
GREAT question - thanks for posting. We're also a 4 person family (mom, dad, boys 7 & 10). Every weekend we spend between $135 and $150 for groceries at Berkeley Bowl. We usually spend another $20 to $40 for milk, eggs, bread, fruit from Trader Joe's during the week. So, that's between $155 and $190. Additional details: We have meat maybe 3 times a week. We all pack our lunches every day. We eat out very rarely (maybe twice a month as a family, at taquerias & etc.) We don't buy too much organic fruit I'm sorry to say. The kids are in public school in Berkeley so they have the 'free breakfast' (which I'm not a fan of) and some kind of after school snack. Interested in other people's stories. I Am Curious Veggie
When I was trying to figure out a budget for my family, I found this pretty informative: http://www.epi.org/resources/budget/

It's a budget calculator that takes into account location and family size. It lists the MINIMUM food bill cost that meets a family's minimal nutritional needs. For me (a single parent) and my child that is $320/month. My budget is $75-80 each week for groceries and then I eat out about 1-2 times each month for under $30. We eat grass-fed, pastured, and/or organic meat; wild-caught fish (usually canned); organic or pesticide-free fruits and vegetables; yogurt and cheese; nut butters; lots of whole grains; legumes. I generally prepare my own beans and make my own hummus, refried beans, etc. We eat well, but it involves foregoing most prepared foods and cooking more from scratch. I personally find a $400/month budget and another $100/month for eating out preferable. I get a few more prepared foods for easy meals and can indulge in a couple of expensive items. Hopefully you'll get some families the same size as yours helping out with info about their costs. frugal but well fed shopper


We are a family of four; kids are 6 and 4. We spend approximately $1,000 on food per month. We used to spend even more, but I have learned how to cut expenses here and there. We live in Marin.

I truly wish I could figure out how people get by on less. We do not buy alcohol and stay away from most processed and convenience foods, keep expensive meats to a minimum, etc. I plan meals in advance and cook/prepare 6 out of 7 meals per week at home, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I buy in bulk at Costco when I can (bread, fruit, etc.) I also have a home garden and can/pickle etc. although this really doesn't put a dent in the food budget.

So I want to learn how you spend so much LESS than I do! Heather


We are a family of 4 (kids 5 and 2) and our weekly grocery bill is between $100 and $125, and we eat out 2x a week (another $50 or so - we are not eating out at fancy places, just friendly neighborhood places that don't mind little kids!) So altogether we spend about $600 a month on food. seems on track to me
That seems really high to me. We shop at the neighborhood co- op, which isn't cheap, and farmer's markets (sometimes TJ's), but I try not to spend more than $100/week for our family of 4. Typically, it's been more around $120 lately, but that includes some bulk laundry soap, etc. I've wanted to cut costs myself but I know some things I do are: not much meat, no premade and very few packaged foods, meal planning, mostly produce, bulk foods and dairy, buying the cheapest brand of anything with a brand, making lots of stuff myself (granola, bread, etc.). We're on a budget and I do the best I can to provide healthy food-I find staying out of ''regular'' grocery stores is actually cheaper (more attracted to the yummy- looking produce at the co-op, which is decently priced). I'll be interested to hear others' ideas. cheap but healthy
Our family of 4 (two adults, one 3 yo and one baby) probably also spends in the $700 range on groceries & food per month. Seems like a lot, doesn't it?! A
Your number sounds right in there. We are a family of 4 with two growing boys. I always budget between 600 and 800 a month for groceries. I try and keep it to 600 when our finances are tight but it's hard. Also, that does not include the school lunches that we buy which add another 70-100 a month. budget lady
I haven't kept a precise tally of how much we spend (and don't budget at all - bad me), but most people replying with how much they spent for a family of four said somewhere between 600-1000/month. Do the math, folks, That's about $5-$8.30 per person per day (on average). I know it adds up, and some people make do on much less, but that doesn't really sound like a lot to me for three meals worth of good food! eating well
I have 2 kids, 13 and 10, and until last year was spending about $150-160/week at Berkeley Bowl, buying mostly organic produce, eating dinner out about once a week. This year, buying exactly the same items now costs about $200/week. So it sounds like your family is a lot like mine. anon

How to save money on our grocery bill?

April 2008

I am in a constant dilemma on how to save money on our grocery bill. We are a family of 3 and my toddler no longer needs diapers except at night. We generally spend about $1000-1200 a month on groceries and eating out about once every 10 days. I know this is much more than average, and larger families are able to spend less. Please help me understand your strategies, what you buy, where you buy it, etc. We have a second child on the way and I really want to get this under control before he arrives. Thank You!
drowning in grocery bills


I'm not sure where you live, so some of this may not be applicable, but here's what we do-- we live in N. Berkeley and I do all of our groc shopping at Monterey Mkt, Safeway, and/or Trader Joe's. Andronico's and Whole Foods are way overpriced in my opinion--and I personally find Berkeley Bowl overwhelming, and i end up buying more than I need (same at Costco). I always plan meals ahead of time for the week and bring a list with me. If there are items on sale which we always use, I stock up when I can. I think it helps to reduce any extra trips to store because you may be more liable to impulse buys. Planning ahead also cuts down on going out to eat and take out, bcs you know what you are going to make ahead of time and have all that you need. Once you get into the habit, it's really not that hard and cuts down on that evening stress. Also, we try to focus our buying power on those organic foods that matter more and rarely eat meat. Good luck. family chef
This probably isn't the news you're looking for, but if you and your family (like mine) focus primarily on organic and/or local fruits and veggies and high quality meat and dairy products, I think your bill looks about right! My toddler eats nearly as much as we do at this point some days - and I figure focusing on healthy food is worth the cost, even if it means less of some other ''fun'' stuff. I'm curious if other people manage to spend a lot less without sacrificing food quality. Spend $1K/month on groceries, too
If you are trying to save money ,there is a couple of suggestions that can help.

Plan your meals weekly and create shopping lists. Then when you are in the store you are more likely to buy stuff that you actually need.( Now since I plan our meals, I stop overbuying and throwing a lot of food).

Make at least one day a week a vegetarian meal, it's a lot heathier and cheaper too!

Shop at Monterey Market weekly for your fresh vegetables and fruit, Ranch in Albany for sea food, its a lot cheaper than Safeway or Andronico's. Lola


Have you been to the Grocery Outlet (one on University at 4th, and there's another in Oakland near auto-row)???

I'm a strictly organic consumer, and they have TONS of organic stuff at half the price of whole foods - but the stock turns over fast and they never have the same thing twice.

Here's my strategy - go to the Grocery Outlet and see what they have, after that I fill in from Costco, and Trader Joe's - both of whom carry organic meats now! Then the Farmer's Market, then for those last few items - Whole Foods.

Going to the Farmer's Markets can be dangerous - as everything looks good. To avoid buying produce that will just go bad, I plan the vegetable meals ahead of time. Love to Grocery Shop!


That is way, WAY more than you need to spend. My family of 4 spends $100 a week on groceries (up from $75 after moving out of the Bay Area), and I think even this is too much. Here are some suggestions to cut costs:
*I assume much of your cost goes to meat. Eat less meat-work 
with alternatives like tofu, beans, eggs, etc. and dishes that 
use meat more as a condiment-stir frys, salads, etc. 
*Buy more whole foods-ie bulk couscous instead of boxed seasoned 
rice, for example. Bulk is in general a good option. 
*Meal plan and only buy what you intend to cook/prepare for the 
week. 
*Make a list and stick to it-however-if something you intended 
to buy that week is pricey that week, substitute with something 
on sale. 
*You can, of course, limit the amount you eat out, eat at less 
expensive places, or limit what you get when you go out. 
*Stay away from bottled water, soda, etc. 
*Stay away from prepared foods.
*If you're buying lunch out at work, this is a big money-suck. 
Eat leftovers, sandwiches, veggies/fruit/cheese/rice cake, etc. 
Thrifty Mama
We too are always trying to save money. Our amost 2 year old eats as much for dinner as I do for lunch and I am a good eater. We shop at 3 or 4 different stores. We get milk, cheese, bread and some fruits from Costco, other fruit and vegetables from a local grocer, Monterey Market in Berkeley and then meats and misc at Lucky or Safeway. There are specific items we get at Trader Joe's too, like spinach, pizza dough, and misc meats. We spend about $600/mo on food but don't supply our toddler with lunch at this point. We both eat lunch from home daily and eat out only on holidays and special occasions. It's work but worth it. Frugal?
I see the newsletter moderator included a link to past discussions, but I also wanted to include this link on general economizing. http://parents.berkeley.edu/advice/household/badmoneymgt.html

My strongest suggestion would be to make a price list/book. For each item you buy, track the price per unit of that item at each of the stores you shop at. Make notes about whether or not the item was on sale, etc. You may be very surprised to find that you can save quite a bit by shuffling where you buy what. Also, if you favor brands, try store brands instead. Bulk buy on items you use a lot. Do limit eating out if you can. Perhaps try an Entertainment book for coupons for restaurants if you do keep eating out. We are a family of 4 that spends ~$400/month for food,toiletries, and such. This includes some organics. I am trying to make this an average of $300 and know I can do it. econo-miser


It doesn't help that prices for everything are going up right now, but this is what I do:

1) meal plan. I just figure out what we'll want for the next two weeks. First week is firm, next week is a bit more flexible, but at least I have something down. And I just write down seven meals, so if it is Tuesday and we don't want XYZ, but ABC, it is flexible.

2) Save your receipts for a month. Look at what you buy, and how much it costs. Make a spreadsheet with the prices, add them up.

3) I'll take out the cash for groceries. This way, unless there is like a mega sale on something, I will not overspend my budget. If I have something left over, then we can get a coffee :) so I have incentive to underspend.

4) It is just as easy to spend $90 dollars on groceries as it is to spend $100, so look at your spreadsheet, and add the stuff up for the meals you've planned before you go to the store. This way you will not be surprised.

It really helps to eat meatless meals at least 4 X a week. We are on such a strict budget, and this has worked really well for us. Yes, some nights it is beans and rice, but I really like beans and rice.

I shop at trader joe's for grocery items, berkeley bowl for bulk stuff, and Alameda Marketplace or farmer's market for produce. We are a family of 5! Happy are ye poor.


We are spending TOO MUCH money on food each month

July 2007

I have been reading the recent posts and responses about cutting costs and have a question about food budgets. We are a family of 3 (my husband and I have a 16 month old daughter) that like to eat well but find that we are spending TOO MUCH money on food each month. We generally try to eat all organic products, grass fed meat, pastured eggs, raw milk, etc. but are finding that we cannot make ends meet each month and it always seems to be traced to our food buying. How much do all of you out there think is a reasonible amount to spend on food (not including eating out) per month? $600? $800? $1000? $1200 HELP! anon


We are a family of four (2 & 3 year old). Our budget for grocery (not including alcohol or eating out) is $650 month. We often go over, but occasionally come in under so it averages out. We do organic milk, eggs and dairy, get about 40-50% of our fruits, veggies and meat organic. We shop a lot at Trader Joes and overall, don't eat much snack/junk food. It's tough staying at that amount, but it is do-able. The big challenge is entertaining - that is usually what sends us over. Good luck. Trying to Budget
I have a different view. Quite simply, high-quality food is high cost. It's a lifestyle choice. Isn't investing in your current and future health worth it? Shouldn't we put a larger value on nourishing ourselves than paying for cable, movie rentals, cool shoes, etc? Ask yourself what exactly is your money *for*? That's how I got from super-cheap miser to big-spendah organic-eater.

Maybe we shouldn't look to skimp on quality, but reframe it in our minds to be ''This is an appropriate use of money''. I frequently struggle financially, but I made the choice to buy the best quality, and I will only skimp if I truly don't have the moolah.

If you want to keep the quality but not go broke, heavily shop bulk aisles and prepare from scratch as much as you can make the time to do so. Decrease packaged foods. From scratch saves a ton of money, but is time-consuming. Preparing a good portion of the week's meals over the weekend makes it easier to accomplish this.

As a single person, I'm spending between $200-300 on organic food per month. This is with some convenience items but mostly thigns from scratch. I work to pay for my food! ;-)


Unfortunately, if you are going to eat organic, grass-fed, etc. it's going to be expensive. I shop around to different stores and buy in bulk, and it's still expensive eating this way. My mother-in-law has a great view of it though: eating well and taking vitamins, etc. is like insurance. You pay now expecting that you will live longer and healthier as a result. You are buying more than food. So, this is an expensive life-style. All I can say is try to buy in bulk and shop around to get the best prices. (I actually don't know what we spend on groceries so I can't give you a number.) Andi
Hi - Our food budget is $650 for a family of 4 with a 4-yr old & a 2.5-year old. Our food budget includes everything I buy at the grocery store, like diapers & general household stuff. We shop at Trader Joe's & Albertsons & sometimes at farmers markets. Virtually everything I buy at Albertsons (mostly staple items) is on sale & I also use coupons. Our Grocery Budget is 13% of our monthly expenditures. (Our monthly expenses don't include big ticket items such as: 401K, ROTH, health/car/home insurance, vacation, property tax, home improvement...which we have on a separate yearly budget.) Also, our dining budget is $100 a month. Anyway it's all about priorities. If one wants to eat foods (whether it be orgainic, exotic or simply a lot of meat) that can be expensive, simply budget for it & cut elsewhere as needed. We found a great Excel spreedsheet budget online at: http://www.consumercredit.com/budget-sheet.htm It includes all the formulas & all we had to do was delete & customize some of the line itmes & fill in our numbers. It took about 6 mos of keeping track of every penny we spent to get a realistic budget with accurate numbers in each line items. Good Luck. Debbie
Keep buying organic, locally grown food for your family. Save money by not buying junk, and staying out of the mall. Spend as much on food as you need to stay happy and healthy and to preserve the earth for your kids. This is what money is FOR.
I would estimate about $500 ($125 per week)on groceries. I actually don't spend more than this and am not on a budget. anon
I try to spend $60-75/week at the grocery store (Berkeley Bowl, Farmer Joe's or Trader Joe's) for my family of 4. Often I make it, other times the food bill is around $100. I wouldn't want to spend any more than that. We eat meat 1-2/x week, buy a lot in bulk, buy the ''least expensive'' brand of whatever that is still healthy, and avoid a lot of processed or prepared food (other than crackers, garden burgers, spaghetti sauce and several other exceptions). We also try to plan what we'll eat (within reason) so we're not throwing out spoiled food. We never go hungry. (: cheap mama
I don't have any advice, but I can tell you that for a family of 4 (two kids 3 and under), we spend between $600-$800/month on groceries alone, usually closer to $600. I find it staggering myself and would like to cut back. My ideas are -- not too much meat, grass fed beef is quite expensive, limit wine purchases to sales, at least one night a week of pasta or another inexpensive dish and make sure that we really eat all that I buy in a given week. I'll be interested to see what others say. expensive tastes
Hard to say how much to spend on food. We spend maybe $200-400 a month on food (not including eating out). And this covers basically breakfast and dinner for my husband, myself, and our 11 month old son. We mostly eat out for lunch at work, and once per week.

My philosophy is that you are what you eat, so we try to eat well and we save on other things but not on food. But there is shopping wisely too. We buy what's on sale, and we only buy what we are going to cook immediately that day. That is, no stockpiling because it just goes bad if we don't find the time to cook later. We try to buy organic, but not everything. We weigh the added cost versus the benefit. For example, for fruit that we will peel, we don't buy organic. For milk, we buy milk that is hormone and antibiotic free instead of organic. Once it is labeled ''organic'' the price goes up. I buy in bulk at Costco for things we consume quickly and a lot of such as organic yogurt which comes out to $0.79 each cup as opposed to $1.59/cup at the supermarket, and bread. I also make my own baby food, so I don't have to pay the high prices of baby food. Cut out the snack, the cups of coffee, the soft drinks; you'll be amazed at how much these things add up. anon


good food IS expensive. i think we (2 adults, 2 little kids) might spend 1,000 - 1,500/month (some is for supplements like cod liver oil, probiotics, etc. we deal with allergies/leaky gut).

we avoid wheat, so it gets more expensive. stores don't put grass fed meats (etc.) on sale. organic fruit is $3/# or more at farmers markets. i could save more if i never bought prepared foods (eg $4 for 6oz of organic millet-rice crackers, but at least she eats them!), but then it's a time/money trade off. we grow some foods that aren't space hogs, like pole beans, basil (for frozen pesto), cucumbers, lettuce, and sungold tomatoes ($3/basket, and i get ?100 baskets from my one humongous plant).

i figure i save money on dr. bills and am investing in my family's future health, so i budget for high food bills, and cheap clothes/cars/vacations... anon


We are a family of 4 with 2 adults and kids ages 11 & 7 (good eaters!). We spend $600-650 on food every month (I charge all to the same card so have a clear record, which includes eating out about 3-4 times a month).

We only buy certified organic food (except for eating out) b/c this is the only kind of food where we can know exactly what we're putting in our body (no Safeway tomatoes containing pig genes or strawberies containing fish genes!). We never bought any junk food.

To stay within our budget (we do!) we comparison shop between Trader Joe's & Farmer Joe's, and buy the cheapest organic there is. We usually cook from scratch. maria.k


I just wanted to point out that food is actually relatively cheaper now than it was 35 years ago. Relatively cheaper in the sense that it is a smaller portion of our overall budget. For example, my mom spent as much on food each month as she did on the mortgage. (If I did that, I'd be having caviar and champagne every night.) And we NEVER ate out.
Wow. I want to commend all the folks who are feeding their families on $650 or less a month. Just to give another perspective, it costs between $800 and $1000 a month to feed my family of five. We buy very little processed food, but most of our produce and protein (eggs, tofu, meat) come from the farmer's market which definitely adds to the cost -- the trade off is that we have peace of mind about the quality and (hopefully) safety of our food and we are helping to keep our local food chain healthy. For other staples, we generally go to Trader Joe's where organic dairy is cheap and plentiful. Good luck!
I firmly believe that eating organic, local, sustainable, unprocessed food does not have to break a family budget. Orgnaic foods frequently cost more than their non- organic counterparts, but I think what kills most budgets is processed and prepared "organic" items. If you buy your own ingredients and cook your own food, you can get by on far less each week than if you ate the cheapest stuff you could get your hands on.

There's a strategy to healthful foraging, though. If you are shopping for everything at Whole Foods, you are going to pay a premium for most items. A CSA subscription to a local farm will bring you a bounty of fresh produce every week at a fraction of Whole Food's price. It's also coming to you directly from the farm, with almost everything picked that day or the day before, so quality is unparalleled. Things taste infinitely fresher and more flavorful from a CSA box than from a grocery store. Farmer's markets are another good way to go.

Grassfed meat can also be sourced directly from the farm and if you buy a share of a cow, you will pay just dollars per pound for your meat. You'll need freezer space and you'll have to get over any prejudice you might have against frozen meat. It's really just fine. Also, using left over bones from roast chickens, beef, etc... for stock is a big money saver. You can throw them in the freezer, then do a huge batch at once to save time. Stock goes back in the freezer in portion-sized containers for when you need it.

If you are getting pasture-raised eggs, which fetch a premium price, think about using them as a nice evening supper. The French do it, and no one eats better, right? We do: omelets, frittatas, quiche, and chopped hard-boiled eggs in salads. The cooked egg dishes are a wonderful way to use up left-over produce. It's also a fast-food meal for hurried evenings. Vegetable soups make a great, low-cost evening meal and provide left-overs for lunch. They too can be made in large batches and frozen for future use. It's a simple process of sautiing onions/shallots in oil, adding vegetables stock and seasoning, cooking until soft and either pureeing or eating chunky. Dried beans, which can be put to soak in the fridge the night before, are an incredibly cheap source of protein. If prepared properly, no one will feel as if they are budget food.

On that note, our big splurge is on high quality condiments; a little bit goes far to making humble foods taste fantastic. Simple bean salads taste like high-end deli food. A drizzle of nice oil over pasta with some sautied vegetables makes a great meal. Good mustards, oil and acids make for great vinaigrettes.

You can grow some of your own basics, too, even with very little outdoor space. A reasonable herb garden can be done in planters and a small lemon tree in a container can keep you going for several months of the year. Prepared breakfast cereals are an almost obscenely priced, budget breaker. If you read the contents of even the "healthy" breakfast cereals you'll find that they are mostly corn, soy by-products and sweeteners; things we all need much less of in our diets. Find other, more healthful alternatives for breakfast like: yogurt, oatmeal, fruits, even whole grain French toast.

And yes, it sounds like this takes a lot of time. It does take some planning, organizing and dedication. But it sounds to me like you already believe this way of eating to be worthwhile. Doing more of your own cooking can become a whole family project. Even little ones can get in on the action, and teaching children how to cook resourcefully seems like an invaluable lesson. Many things can be prepared in advance. It's easy to build up a cache of frozen items you can heat on busy nights. We're still new to this process, too!


How much do you spend on groceries?

December 2001

Greetings. My husband and I are trying to develop a food budget for our household of two adults and two elementary school kids and - surprise, surprise - we have a substantial difference of opinion (by a couple of hundred dollars) on what it costs to feed this brood per month. I'm hoping other families might weigh in with what you spend, per month, on groceries and, if possible, on dining out. Thanks in advance for your input.


I just did a budget for us so I can tell you what we spend on each, averaged out over 5 months. We are two adults, one elementary aged child and one preschol aged child.

  • grocery shopping - $700 per month
  • eating out - $200 per month

    We're worked really hard to keep the eating out expenses lower which increases the grocery store expenses. We buy lots of organic stuff and other health-type foods which are a bit more expensive. -Allison


    We use the Bay Area Organic Express (The BOX 415-695-9688) produce home delivery service. For the amount of food we need to feed our family of three and tons of guests, it costs $150.00 a month. Since I pay for this service, I'll be damned if I let this delicious food go to waste. I cook at home much more, I am an expert at inventing meals BECAUSE I ALWAYS HAVE FRESH PRODUCE ON HAND!, and I am super inventive about using leftovers. To round out my food needs, I shop at Costco, Trader Joes, and finally a little market around the corner. Ultimately, we eat out less and healthier too! Eileen
    We are a family of 4: two adults, 1 teen, 1 baby. Both adults work long hours so saving time is more important to us than saving money. We cook dinner 4-5 times a week, mostly from scratch, lunches are deli coldcuts and frozen dinners, and everybody eats cold cereal for breakfast at home. We entertain friends and indigent relatives a few times a month, and gangs of teenagers sometimes raid our fridge. Our grocery bill (at the Bowl & Andronicos) is usually $200/week which includes soda, beer & wine, diapers, formula. We eat out / take out 2-3 times a week costing another $120 or so. Coffee, bakery, drugstore items are probably another $150. So our total bill is about $1500 a month. -- anonymous
    For our family of 4, we spend about $600 a month on groceries, we mostly shop at safeway, albertsons and trader joes. We eat out very little: less than $100 a month. anonymous
    We are a household of 2 adults and 2 boys, 6 and 11. In a month we spend on an average $1,000. per month. I shop mostly at Berkeley Bowl, sometimes Raleys and sometimes (in a pinch) El Cerrito Natural Grocery or Andronicos. We buy mostly organic foods. Produce, grains, breads, meats, etc. Any meat or poultry is as clean as I can get, which costs more than Safeway or Albertsons meat. I buy salmon a few times per month. We eat a meat, chicken or fish most nights of the week....lots of vegies. I almost never buy packaged food, snacks, sodas, etc. We don't dine out that much, but we do have dinner guests probably twice a month, so add in that cost to the amount above. I'll be curious to see what other people spend on monthly groceries...I suspect we spend a lot more than many families, but I feel the cost of eating healthy is worth it. Anonymous please.
    We spend $75/week for a family of 6. Mom, Dad, 7yob, 5yob, 2yog, 2mog. I make almost everything from scratch (bread, sauces, etc.) and shop 7 stores (NOT on the same day with this brood!! :)) to get the absolute lowest prices. I don't buy all organic, but only buy organic peanut butter, berries and hormone-free dairy. I buy only humanely raised meat. I'd buy more organic/free-range but we simply can't afford it. I make 2 meals at a time and my partner takes his lunch as leftover from dinner. We do not eat out. We do not buy anything that is not on the list. (due to financial reasons) Kathy and Jamie
    We've had this discussion repeatedly at our house, and the parent who does the least shopping and cooking is always the one with the lowball estimate.

    You probably can't spend less than the USDA says you need to stay alive and healthy. I randomly picked a site that had the Maximum Monthly Food Stamp Benefits by Family Size for 2000 (so, lower than what you'll need in 2002!), which says that a family of 4 needs $428. This, obviously, wouldn't include any meals in restaurants. (http://www.cbpp.org/3-23-99fs.htm)

    We have four kids and found that our food bills went up significantly when the kids (1) left childcare programs that fed them breakfast or lunch (2) got bigger. So you can reduce your budget if a school or employer feeds one of you.

    You really have to figure this out for your own family. My advice is to spend several months buying all your groceries on a credit card, and tot up what you actually spend. I stick my grocery receipts on a nail so I can remember to deduct cleaning supplies, toiletries, paper goods, beer or wine, etc. If you are a giver of dinner parties or a houser of guests, note how much entertaining costs(!).

    One way to wake up the chronic lowballer is to build your budget meal by meal. Your family eats more than 360 individual meals in the average month!

    What you spend depends very much on where you shop. We stick to Safeway (but never buy their lousy overpriced produce) and the Berkeley Bowl (and don't buy anything but their lovely underpriced produce and bulk cereals and nuts), and keep a very well organized list so that we know what Safeway items we are low on and pounce on sales to stock up. If you eat meat, freeze it when it's cheap. Your bills depend immmensely on whether you buy any prepared foods (even frozen ones), cold cuts, boutique breads, nice cheeses, and brand name cereals (or non-store brands in general). We drink only tapwater, milk, and the occasional pitcher of reconstituted juice.

    I just added up my Safeway and Berkeley Bowl credit card bills from October and November for a family of 6 (one is an infant) and got $430 for one month and $651 for another. Those bills include diapers and paper goods, and were reduced by six happy days when my visiting father bought the groceries or fed us in restaurants. We eat one hell of a lot of oatmeal, rice, beans, and pasta, and are so glad one of us grew up in a family that cooked. We throw nothing away. It helps that my husband can eat month-old leftovers without getting sick. Please keep this anonymous. Too embarassing!


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