Eat Well, Spend Less: How I Shop to Save

Frugal Recipes | 19 comments

For those just joining in, I’ve been participating in a blogging series (Eat Well, Spend Less) with several other lovely ladies this month where we’re talking about how to eat well without exceeding your budget.

eat well spend less frugal recipes

This week, the bloggers on the Eat Well, Spend Less series decided we would share a little bit about how we shop. Do we have a unique method to saving money? Non-traditional stores? Something local that we take advantage of? That’s what this week is all about.

Week 3 – How I Shop

How I shop for groceries is probably a little different than the average person just by the nature of being a food blogger. I’m constantly preparing new foods, doing a little recipe development and research, plus feeding my family. I can’t always “shop the sales” when I need an ingredient, but I can shop for my groceries at the places that give me the best bargain – both monetarily and time.

demma's food center
Photo: Old Family Grocery Store

I used to stop at several different stores: Sunflower Market, Smith’s, Costco, and one or two more if I was in the right area. I’d shop around for the best deals on groceries based on the weekly ads. If organic milk was on a super sale at another store then I would go out of my way to purchase it there.

Now that I am essentially a “working mom,” I’ve realized how precious my time is. I don’t even want to spend an extra minute at the grocery store if I don’t have to.

I like getting those errands done as fast as possible so I can complete my weekly work as fast as possible – that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy my work, but I want to be there (physically, mentally, and emotionally) when my kids are there. And I won’t lie, it’s a struggle!

old demma food center

Photo: Grandpa Inside Old Family Grocery Store

So rather than jet from store to store I stick to two stores now: Smith’s (regular grocery) and Costco. There are both exactly on my way home from taking the kids to school and within 2 minutes of each other so I don’t even have to go out of my way to get there.

Smart Shopping Do’s and Don’ts

Meal Plan

Planning a weekly menu helps me save on groceries because I’m purchasing with a purpose rather than haphazardly.

When planning those meals, take inventory of any leftover perishables from the previous week and work them into a meal for the next week so nothing goes to waste. Check out my 3-2-1 Pasta Formula and Frittata Formula for dinner using what you have on hand.

Write a List

Just do it. Write a list and stick to it, unless you remember at the store that you’re out of milk and need to pick some up. Having a list with help you avoid impulse shopping.

I recently purchased this Menu Planner/Grocery List combo notebook and I can’t wait to get started using it (it just came in the mail the other day)! No more lists on random scraps of paper.

grocery list

image credit

Don’t Shop Hungry

If you skipped breakfast or lunch that day you will likely want to eat everything in site. Have a quick snack before you head out, then you won’t be tempted to load your cart with items you really don’t need.

Don’t Buy Non-Food Items at the Grocery Store

Items like dish and laundry detergent will be significantly cheaper (on a regular basis) at a membership club, like Costco. I never buy that stuff at the grocery store because it’s almost twice the price.

Price Check

Learn how to read price labels and calculate the unit cost. Once you do this, keep a tally in a notebook of how much items you purchase on a regular basis are at various stores. Then, purchase accordingly. I do this all the time. The calculator on my iPhone is heavily used!

  • How do you calculate Cost Per Unit? Let’s say you’re purchasing 1 gallon of milk (128 ounces) for $3. Take the cost ($3) and divide that by the units (128 ounces in this case). 3/128 = approximately $0.023 per ounce.

Purchase In Season

Produce that is in season not only tastes better, but it costs less. If you’re not sure what fruits and vegetables are in season in your area, check out this handy Seasonal Ingredient Map.

Why I Like Costco

Most of the time the grocery store just can’t beat the prices on these items, and we are able to go through the amounts in a decent amount of time to avoid any waste.

Additionally, I have noticed that Costco has really taken great strides to sell organic produce (and milk) at reasonable prices. Nearly all of the fruits and vegetables Logan will eat are on the “dirty dozen” list, so I’ve begun incorporating a lot more organic into our groceries.

Another thing I like about Costco. I feel that their produce has a longer “shelf life” than our grocery store.

p.s. We have the “executive” membership which costs $100/year – but you’re refunded a percentage of your purchases. I just got my refund check and it was $134. So I got PAID $34 to shop at Costco this year.

Grow it Yourself

We’ve had a backyard garden the past two years and it’s been a great help to use during the summertime to help reduce the amount we spend on produce, which is probably our biggest expense each week.

Items like fresh herbs (spring and summer), zucchini (summer), rhubarb (spring), tomatoes (summer), peas (spring), salad greens (spring), and broccoli (spring) have grown really well for me.

no bake lasanga

No-Bake Garden Vegetable Lasagna

Last year I sort of over-planted and with our longer and hotter summer than usual, I got a little bit burnt out on gardening. This year I’ll still plant, but I’m going to cut back a bit. Even if all you plant is a herb garden, that will still save you some cash. One basil plant costs as much as one small pouch of basil from the grocery store.

Bottom Line

I’m not saying that MY way is the ONLY way. My real message is that you have to shop the way that is best for your family. If you have time to run all over town to find the best deals each store has to offer, then so be it! Or if couponing is your thing, then clip those coupons. Look at your time, your resources, and your budget and find out what is best for you.

I don’t have time for 5 stores per week or coupon cliping, so I make do in other ways.

How do YOU save your family money when grocery shopping?

Week 1 – Pantry Staples

If you the firs week, you can catch up on my post here: Recipes for Homemade Pantry Staples.

homemade granola bars

I’ve summarized the other blogger’s posts with their links here for your easy reference: Eat Well Spend Less Round Up – Week 1. I’ll do another round-up for week 3 later this week once the rest of the group has published their posts. Be sure to check back for those links!

Week 2 – Budget Recipes and Meals

I’ve found that I can be pretty resourceful when it seems that there is “nothing” in the house to eat. In reality, there’s quite a lot when you take a look through the pantry items. Very few of us actually have “nothing” in the house.

Check out my 5 Favorite Budget Meals (5 for breakfast, 5 for dinner and a bonus 3 for dessert).

easy pasta recipe

Eat Well, Spend Less: Week 2 Round-Up

I’ll do another round-up for week 3 later this week once the rest of the group has published their posts. Be sure to check back for those links!

Katie Goodman

About the Author:

Katie’s lifelong interest in cooking good food has shown her that part of the goodness in life is enjoying delicious food with friends and family. She is: Mom. Writer. Photographer. Recipe Developer. Website Founder. Lover of all things good in life. A mix of great recipes, family memories, and yummy photography is what Katie serves up each week at GoodLife Eats™. Katie and her family reside in Colorado.

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  • 1
    sara - April 19, 2011 @ 7:33 am

    I menu plan/shop in 4 week cycles. I do one large shopping day at the beginning of the cycle, and shop at Costco, Meijer, a local farm, and then a bread outlet. Then I make 1-2 more trips to Meijer over the following 3 weeks to buy more fresh produce.
    This summer I’ll be shopping differently though-my goal is to get most of our groceries at local farmers markets and farms, and stay out of stores :)


  • 2
    Barbara | VinoLuciStyle - April 19, 2011 @ 8:42 am

    I used to have a similar routine with two stores. First Costco and then Albertson’s which was on the way home from Costco. Until that Albertson’s went out of business which was quite a culture shock to figure out what I would do.

    Eventually Sunflower Market opened in the Albertson’s space and while I like it and often need to purchase fruits and vegetables in the smaller quantities there; it simply does not do the job of a full grocery store as I don’t want the expense of organic for everything I can’t get from Costco.

    It’s not like there aren’t other grocery stores but they all disrupt my plan of convenience. If I have to drive further north after Costco to get to a store and then double back home, that adds 20-25 minutes to my shopping trip; precious time not just for me but for frozen goods in the car as well as additional gas expenditure.

    I’m still looking. I shopped at that Albertson’s for 19 years and I have yet to find a solution that works as well for me. Old habits dying hard I guess!


  • 3
    Donna - April 19, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    Glad to hear that someone else shops like this. I get tired of hearing about couponing and bargain shopping at five different stores. Apparently these people like grocery shopping way more than me. I would much rather be home with the family or sewing or reading or shopping for something fun. I’m like you, make a list and divide my time between Sam’s Club and Macey’s (not the dep’t store). Works great for me and my out-of-state family is jealous of my food prices.


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — April 19th, 2011 @ 9:10 AM

      I know! I just don’t have time for that and all the driving around makes me wonder if the “savings” are much at all with the extra spent on gas.

  • 4
    Aimee @ Simple Bites - April 19, 2011 @ 9:03 am

    Love that you’ve made Costco work for you, Katie. Sounds like you have a tight and efficient grocery shopping system. Is this year round for you, or does in change in the summer with markets, roadside stands, etc?

    What about ethnic ingredients? When I visited my sister in NM, she got the best deals at Latin American shops.


    • Katie Goodman

      Katie replied: — April 19th, 2011 @ 9:09 AM

      Unfortunately all of the ethnic markets are far from my house…I drive 20 minutes to get the kids to our school of choice and it would be another 20 minutes away from our house from there to find the asian market or Talin Market. I can find most of the ethnic things I need at Sunflower Market which is a lot closer to me, though the prices may not be as cheap.

      I have no been impressed with any of the roadside stands here, there just aren’t many that I see. We haven’t really done the farmer’s market because it’s only one day a week (Sunday) and at the same time as church. In the summer I do buy less produce because of what we grow. I should have mentioned, too, that my neighbor gardens plus has 4 fruit trees so we often do trades.

  • 5
    cheree - April 19, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

    I grew up with a mom who made meal plans and used grocery lists religiously. Her example (and the fact that she included me and my siblings in this process) has made me, my sister, and brother all avid meal planners/shoppers. I have always believed in using a one-stop-shop method and I NEVER buy things that are not on my list. I don’t really use coupons as I find most of the items I purchase on around the perimeter of the store and don’t tend to have coupons. I would never purchase an item just because it was on sale. I think planning is key in being healthy and saving money.


  • 6
    Meagan - April 19, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

    Great post! I have just started menu planning & keeping to my grocery list (I’m really bad at impulse buying) so I am also sticking to a weekly budget. I usually hit Sam’s Club for items I can buy in bulk/large quantities and then go to Kroger for the rest of my shopping. I don’t live in a big city (although I live 10 minutes from the 2nd largest city in my state) our farmer’s market does not have much and it’s far MORE expensive than a chain grocery, which was a HUGE disappointment. There is also no Costco (which I hear is an amazing store) near me-not one in Kentucky :(
    I would love to hear any other ideas from people who are trying to save money while only cooking for two-it’s not much cheaper than cooking for 4 in my opinion/experience.


  • 7
    Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies - April 19, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

    I find that a monthly trip to Costco for meat and mostly non-perishables works for us, with weekly trips for produce and bread. Unfortunately, with only two of us, Costco is not feasible for things that don’t freeze well. We’d never finish it all before things went bad.

    I don’t really use coupons because most of them seem to be for processed foods that we just don’t eat. I always make a list because I’ve learned that going to the grocery store without one is a recipe for *disaster*.


  • 8
    Susan - April 19, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

    I like the tip for don’t go hungry and buy nonfood items at Costco/Sams, but the one that hit home most was the list–inevitably I always come home with all the impulse items when I don’t bring a list–that pink and green dish promotional, chips, and other just because items. Sorry I am catching the tail end of this informative blog series. Thanks for sharing.


  • 9
    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen - April 20, 2011 @ 4:35 am

    I’ve been shopping at Costco for bulk item and some staples for a while now. Although it’s hard to get out for under a hundred dollars on most trips, I notice that what we buy lasts us a long time and we save money in the long run.


  • 10
    Beth - April 20, 2011 @ 7:35 am

    When I buy supplies for a week’s worth of meals I list the meals on a small chalk board in our kitchen. It’s a great reminder of what we have, I can choose from the list based on what time I have to cook and I can even let the kids choose from the list.

    No last minute runs to the store for this or that. If I don’t have everything to make it in the house, it isn’t on the board.


  • 11
    Vickie - April 20, 2011 @ 9:21 am

    You mentioned that you had an iPhone. I have a great app on mine called IQ Grocery. It let’s you arrange the aisles like your grocery store to save time shopping. You can have several stores listed separately. I like it because it allows me to leave a note by an item. This is where I put my comparision prices from different stores. The only thing it doesn’t do is have a place for your menus so I just use the iPhone Notes for that. Thanks for the great article.


  • 12
    Gina - April 20, 2011 @ 10:41 am

    Great article with so many helpful tips to save money!

    When we started to plan our meals, make our lists according to the plan, and only shop once a week, we cut our grocery bill by almost 45%. Other little things like growing our own herbs, lettuce & other vegetables & fruit at home aren’t only fun for the kids, but additional ways to save.

    For us, it helps us balance our food bill & allows us to spend more on organics.


  • 13
    Tracy - April 20, 2011 @ 11:39 am

    Love this post Katie! So many great tips on getting more organized and saving more money!


  • 14
    Lara - April 20, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

    I wish we had Costco in Oklahoma.

    And thanks for linking to the Season Ingredient Map! That so helpful!


  • 15
    Heather - April 20, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

    @Lara: A friend of mine in Norman checked into it–both Costco and Trader Joe’s stay out of OK because they are not willing to deal with the liquor laws there.

    Which would drive me bats. I do almost all my store shopping between Costco and Trader Joe’s, with an occasional run into a regular grocery store to shop loss leaders (usually meat–like ham, right now). We use a CSA for most produce, and get most of the rest at the farmer’s market or the flea market–and we’ll be planting a garden this year, yet, too. Raw milk comes from another CSA, and we order a lot of staples from Azure Standard. Once I can get my freezer out of storage (in the next few weeks), we’ll go back to ordering meat in bulk, which will cut the Costco trips down a bit, and the regular grocery trips almost out entirely. The stuff I get at Trader Joe’s is mostly either unavailable elsewhere, or much more expensive (hubs has gluten issues, and they have the best price anywhere on brown rice pasta–and my kids are addicted to their Cinnamon Schoolhouse Cookies–like animal crackers, only alphabets)


  • 16
    Memoria - April 22, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    I use my phone for my grocery list to avoid using paper. Since I’m single without kids, Costco isn’t really a good idea for me. I can’t see myself paying a company to shop at their store to pay even more money to buy their groceries on top of that. Nevertheless, I like going with other people who have the membership hahaha :) . I love the big bags of organic AP flour.


  • 17
    Debra - April 26, 2011 @ 7:59 am

    I’m so glad that I found your blog. I, too, live in NM (just moved from Las Vegas, NV) and it’s been a challenge for me shopping in a smaller city. However, I plan on stalking (I really mean following!) your blog to get some great tips. :)


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