I wrote a pretty basic post on our approach to keeping our grocery bills super low almost 6 months ago. It’s how we approach shopping and it doesn’t necessarily follow all the standard recommendations. We don’t plan our meals ahead of time and we only glance once or twice at the weekly sales flyers.
But our method really does work for us or else we wouldn’t have been able to live on less than $300 in food expenses every month to feed 2.5 people*!
We usually spend $100 for 2 weeks which makes our grocery budget slimmer than the average family of 2.5.
Instead of explaining, this is an itemized list of my discount grocery haul so everyone can see what we’re buying.
*(Hubby eats at work on weekdays but we also give our Airbnb guests bfast & snacks so it balances out to about 2.5 mouths to feed per month)
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What’s In My Fridge?
Usually, we have food piled on top of food in the fridge but Seattle has been on a week-long downpour and our fridge was looking slack. There was nothing left except 2 cartons of eggs and little else to make a full meal. I took notice we had tons of condiments though.
This is one small trade-off between living car-free and being a bad driver. You have to walk a few blocks in the rain to a rental car and drive then park it in the heavy downpour. Ugh, I rather have a nice stroll honestly.
On Sunday, there was a break in the rain with real (behold doubters!) SUNSHINE and I decided to take my trusty Rosler cart (*Amazon affiliate!) for a nice grocery trip.
Normally, I don’t like to do shopping on Sundays. Sunday is a typical shopping day for most people – it’s something you do after church and meal prep for the week on Sunday night. Sunday grocery trips are usually when I find the least sticker clearances. Sunday people take them or there isn’t that much leftover good stuff on sale from the busy day on Saturday. But our fridge was getting bare and it was going to be heavy downpour until Wednesday so I went anyways.
As usual, I went in with no gameplan. I went to Albertson’s/Safeway like usual (they’re basically the same thing.)
Annnnnnnd blink, I spent $100+ in grocery stores.
Waaaaaaaaaait, wait, wait. Before you burn me at the frugal stake, that’s not bad for what I got. This was one Sunday (maybe because of the rainy downpour) with a decent selection of clearance tags.
Here’s the receipt breakdown in chart form, I’m hoping to tell you guys what a normal week for our family is purchase by purchase since that’s different than a long listicle of general tips.
Item Quantity Price Comment ALBERTSON/SAFEWAY Curly fries 1 lb $1.99 It's way more expensive than when I bought 8 lbs of frozen hash browns from Sam's Club for $6. But...this is curly fries! Also we don't have a wholesale membership anymore. And it's curly fries, therefore superior in every aspect of its geometric curves. Frozen pizza 20 oz x 3 $3.33 x 3 = $9.99 I only buy these when they drop down to $3.33. That's the lowest the store will ever hold them and that has been the price bottom for years. They sell out at $5 but I don't play with that price knowing they will eventually drop down to $3.33. I stock up when they drop because...frozen pizzas are yummy and easy. Frozen meatballs 3 lbs $6.98 I'm the last person you ask to make Italian meatballs. I've tried making them and the meatballs sense soy sauce in my veins and refuse to cooperate in the pan. Cafeteria style spaghetti (no fancy stuff!) is my comfort food so I buy meatballs and Ragu as convenience. Chocolate chip muffins 4 count $1 Scoreeeeee! They're normally $3 to $4 but I caught them on sale. Pumpkin muffins 4 count $1 These are for our Airbnb guests since chocolate can get messy. Peppered beef shoulder steak 2 lbs $7.28 It was a 50% off clerance for vaccum sealed pre-marinated beef. I wish we had a photo but we ate it already (yummy!). Beef shoulder is a cheaper cut but robust on beef flavor. It came out to be less than $4 per lb for pre-marinated beef so I take that as a frugal win. Organics fresh herb salad mix 1 lb $5.99 No sale in the veggie or fruit department worth noting. I had to bite the bullet on this and get some sort of green for every meal even if I hate...it. Roast beef and pickle sandwich 6 inch sub $2.50 Prepared deli clearance sandwich that I ate for lunch. It's super dense and marked down from $5 to $2.50. It was perfect as a lazy lunch. Chicken wings 3 lbs $5 My dad wanted to make some spicy 5 spice wings and I found a pack of wings for regular price so I bit the bullet. Usually, we keep it around $1 for chicken. Deli meatloaf 2 lbs $4 This was another clearance item for 50% off and I regret buying this. It was a fair deal for precooked food but they way overcooked it. Not doing that again. ASIAN GROCER Ribeye steak 3 lbs $20 My Asian grocery store has gotten expensive in the meat and fish department but they do have one everyday deal: 4 inches thick, beautiful, cuts of rib eye steak for $5.69 a pound! IT'S CRAZY. I cleared the entire rack of cuts. It's basically a week of dining like a king for just $20. Steak if quick and easy. Hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi 4 lbs $19.99 Yup, another block of raw fish. This is a staple in our household. We eat lots of rice and simple veggies so for the protein, I buy a block of yellowtail sashimi, cut it up, vacuum seal them individually and defrost the fish in the fridge the day before I eat it. No cooking neccessary. We buy some osinko (super cheap) and Korean side dishes and that's a wrap!
For people squirmish about eating raw fish, for sashimi, the standard preparation is freezing to kill off all the bacteria. I eat a lot of raw fish from tuna to yellowtail to salmon, so far, zero issues.
I know $20 seems like a lot of money but it's a hugeeeeeee block of fish. I eat 5-8 slices of sashimi with rice and I'm stuffed. That $20 is definitely going the long route. I would estimate it could last for 1.5 week if I ate a proper meal of fish everyday.
On-choy greens 2 lbs? $3 On-choy is one of my favorites. You can get them at any decent Chinese restaurant. Bok-choy is overrated man. All our veggies from the asian grocer are about $1.29 to $1.99 lbs. Mangoes 4x $1 Super cheap mangoes from the clearance corner of aging fruits! 😉 12 Eggs Carton $1 Stocking up on more eggs because my dad eats eggs for almost every meal. Broccoli crowns 2-3 lbs $2.59 We stir fry it with vietnamese fish sauce! The stems are given to our bunny to eat. Bread loaf 2 Loafs $2 I hate bread. I don't know where the old man finds these but he always get them for 89 cents to 99 cent per loaf. Boston cream cake 8 inch $5 These go on sale once in a while - my only regret was I didn't buy more. They retail for $11! Savings Rate = 46% I aim for a 40-50% savings rate. Sometimes I would pull a 60% or a lowly 38% if I'm being silly. Total = $100.37
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So yeah, that’s the item breakdown of my usual food haul.
Everything above would last our family almost 2 weeks (except the mangoes, they need to be frozen soon) at $100. If you multiply that by 2 for a total of 1 entire month then we still would be about $250 to no more than $300 for 2.5 people. Easy!
*I use Ibotta for a free 25 cent back per trip. Hey, it adds up! You pick up a quarter off the street wouldn’t you? This is like that!
*Don’t go in with a set menu in your mind. Keep your mind OPEN and go with whatever is on clearance. Sometimes the weekly flyer ads aren’t even all that good. On those weeks, I go on Fridays and once on mid week (Tuesdays are great) to hunt and hope for the best.
*Multi-grain purple rice as a staple – yums!
*I loveeeeee oshinko (pickled Asian radish) is cheap and healthy because it’s…just pickled radish. We get it for less than $1/lb. I eat it with rice and one protein for a quick meal. Seaweed and kimchi are good too.
*That chunk of yellowtail fish is going to last me over a week alone.
*A thick ribeye steak for $5.69 (everyday price) is a delicious blessing served with a side of rice and salad.
*Meatballs with pasta and salad are economical and a comfort food.
*$1 Banquet dinners make quick lunches in a pinch (I didn’t need anymore this time though.) I grew up on $1 Banquet dinners because it’s the cheapest, most affordable food when my parents were working late. So I still stockpile them like a poor kid. Habits are really really hard to break.
*Find heavily discounted bakery goods as occasional treat (it depends on the store. Some just won’t mark down their baked goods ever whereas one of my stores does and the other store I use to go to didn’t).
*If no veggie is on sale, I default to those tubs of salad mixes. They’re kind of expensive to me…but it’s quick and it’s healthier so it’s a good buy even if the kid in me hates it.
*As much as I love artisan cheese…I don’t buy cheese. That’s just me being cheap though, plus it’s not the healthiest thing. Only if the famous Beecher’s brand went on sale, I would consider it. (Weird fact: Hubby’s family is part of the Beecher’s founding family! They worked in wine and cheese…how stereotypically french. I still don’t buy cheese.)
*Go later in the night because the delis put out discounts. At my local Safeway, you can find corndogs, pizza sticks, burritos, potatoes wedges for 50% off after 8/9 PM because it’s the end of the day.
*Rainchecks are encouraged if you can just hunt down a store associate.
*Every store has a random clerance section for non-perishables. I don’t usually buy anything but it’s fun to dig around for useless things anyway like emoji lipsticks and Harry Potter body glitter.
*I very rarely clip paper coupons and didn’t use a single paper coupon in this haul.
*Also did I mention…rice is awesome?
I think I’m stealthy with deals. It’s not because of a one-time hit deal but it’s because of a constant hum of knowing what to buy at which price point.
Keep things simple. One carb, one veg, one protein and sometimes a treat.
Plus, frugality is soooooooooooooo much more fun than people give credit for. You get to experiment with what might work without fearing too much about the final price tag if you’re not backed into a financial corner. You get to get creative because limitations bring creativity.
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Why no seafood?
It’s rare for me to get non-sushi grade seafood like crab and clam. It’s more expensive and I don’t get great joy from it. Ugh, I hate crab, so much work to get a bite.
I’m not a huge fan of salmon either (unless it’s sushi grade). I found it on sale a few times for $5 per lb with clearance but I’d skip it. Not my thing.
The shrimps in chain grocery stores are just sad, dead and ugly. Ugh!!! I use to buy discounted shrimp for Thai coconut curry when we lived near Pike Place in downtown Seattle. Now we’re stuck with the crap at Safeway/Albertsons and I rather avoid it altogether.
Why no fruit?
‘CAUSE IM AN ADULT!!! There’s always fruit in the house. It’s ONLY gala apples, bananas, and oranges though. Fruit is my dad’s job and he gets the big 3 for really cheap at this latin grocer near our house. Not the greatest quality for $1/lb but hey, I don’t have to eat it! I hate fruit. You can’t make me digest fruit. I only like melons, grapes…and that’s it. Maybe honey crisps apples (but holy crap they’re expensive!!! It’s $6 per lb around here!!!)
Say no to fruit! Fruit is murder!!! They’re the ovary babies of trees!
There was a sushi coupon in the mail for $5 off orders of $25 last week. This is grocery store sushi believe it or not! But steps above the bad stuff at Safeway and Albertsons. It’s like a mini Japanese stall in the center of a grocer. They give these coupons out a few times a year! I always wait for them to mail me a coupon. I also had a 20% off gift card with a balance of $35 left on the grocery card so I bought a bunch of sushi like I usually do. It was delicious! All for $20 dollars after coupon (FYI – Seattle sushi is expensive, this is the best deal I can get in these parts…I’m sure other coastal cities can get it cheaper.)
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I use to be kind of bad at grocery shopping before my dad came and I started noticing what he was doing differently. Now whenever I go shopping, I know there will always be a saving grace (at least 90%) of the time for me. Something will be on clearance or tagged with a 50% discount if I just look close enough. Maybe the universe is good to me but, realistically, logically, it’s not that. It’s practice, restraint, timing, and going in with an open mind.
I will and always will blow money on food happily – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be reckless about it. I’m still going to be money savvy when I can. It doesn’t have anything to do with smarts. If you’re struggling with the food bill, you just need training and restraint, young grasshopper. You make your own luck, catching my drift?
Since I finally figured how (I hope) to poll, here’s the same exact question from our Financial Illiteracy post. This is now open to EVERYBODY to vote, not just Twitter users. I’m curious to see if I could replicate the data. Let’s do it for science!