How to buy groceries – and save some money in the process

How to buy groceries: a new approach

As I said in my last post, we got to get our spending in order.

First I have to point out that our spending has not been flashy. We have never been to one of the Disneys, we don’t have a fancy TV (or any TV), and a 10 year old car would feel extravagant to us.

Instead it has been a combination of low income and nickel-ing and dime-ing.

Groceries and stuff

Even something as concrete as groceries. I have never put a dollar figure to grocery spending. I am incredibly frugal when it comes to grocery shopping, but without any boundaries.

How to buy groceries - grocery aisle


I go to a store and find a good deal, and buy a million of them. I have a really bad habit of buying produce with the best of intentions and then allowing it to turn into a science experiment.

When I get these great deals, I am not planful with them. I don’t come up with recipes to use up the ingredients and they often get shoved to the back. So this has been a huge drain on the income. Not a lot goes to waste (besides the produce), but there is a lot of overspent money.

Thrifting is a similar experience. We go to thrift shops to save money and we do save a ton of money. For instance, I got a Ninja Professional blender for $25 a few weeks ago! But so many visits end up with multiple things-a $5 deal ends up costing $35 or $50 when all is said and done.

Sure many of the things are useful and/or used, but we definitely end up with more than we need. And spend more than we should. It is like getting a giant DQ Blizzard in order to get some calcium when a glass of milk would be much more efficient.

I may talk more about thrifting in a later post, but right now the strategy is simply avoidance.

A new approach

The Dude has created A Budget. We tried YNAB and find the system very confusing. The premise is great but even after watching the videos, I could not get the hang of it. We have more than one bank account and getting them to balance was a nightmare. So now we have a very simple Google Sheets budget. He is doing a new budget every two weeks because that is how often I get paid. Categories across the top:

Date Income Expense Amount Net Remaining Credit Cards Due Date Adjusted Minimum


And then we fill in each thing (including 1/2 of the rent). Under “Expenses” there is a big lump sum for cards, and then he breaks out each card under the blue section. We do a new tab for each pay period. We are starting our second tab at the end of this week. 🙂 Right now there are zero dollars allocated for anything fun, so that is difficult. But temporary.

Groceries-the old way

This is the most major change as far as I am concerned:

Groceries $200.00


That is our grocery budget for 2 weeks. I can’t say what our grocery costs used to be, but much more than that. We would start with a basic list and then go to Grocery Outlet and get anything they had on our list, plus whatever else was a good deal or something we forgot about. Then would go to WinCo or Fred Meyer to round out the list.

And then an occasional trip to Costco (once a month, maybe), which was $100-$200 on its own. When we would go to Grocery Outlet, it would rarely be less than $100. But we didn’t go every week because there isn’t one super convenient to us. So sometimes we would just go to WinCo or Fred Meyer for the bulk of the shopping.

Regardless, there was a store that would have at least $100 of our money every week. And if that were it, fine. No difference between then and now, right?  Ah, but there was always at least one more store per week. Because Grocery Outlet doesn’t carry everything, or we were shopping at FM but I knew the meat would be cheaper at WinCo, or whatever. And that trip was around $50.

So we would spend at least $150 a week. But there are 5 of us, so that is not too bad, right? Well, remember the monthly trip to Costco at $100-$200? Let’s average that at 150 a month, which is about $35 a week, and throw in the cost of membership at $60 a year, which brings us to $36 a week and we can round that to $40 a week because of the food court that gets us to buy something every time. So adding $40 a week puts our weekly grocery costs at $190 a week.

That is about $5.50 per person per day. Still not too bad right? Unfortunately, we haven’t added in the “quick stops” during the week. “Oh, we are out of ****, can you stop at the store and pick it up?” “Oh, I didn’t pack lunch.

I will go to Grocery Outlet to grab something for lunch because it will be much cheaper than a restaurant.” And while I am there, I pick up $30 of groceries. And then sometimes I want to go to the liquidation place and spend $100 there…

Groceries-the new way

We have $100 a week for groceries. That is it. Right now, Costco is not in the plan. When The Dude starts working, we will bump the figure up to $125 a week. We will decide if we want to put that $25 towards Costco or not once we reach that point.

I am going to make a Costco list at the end of this post. I will figure out if Costco is truly worth it for what we buy there. We do also have a Cash and Carry (no longer its name), so I also need to price compare there.

How have I managed to shrink our budget to $100 a week? Very carefully! Note: I just finished shopping for Week 2, so I don’t yet know if this will be a shining success story or not. However, so far so good. We have stuck to this budget. Here is what I am doing:

I have created a Google sheet for the shopping list. I also have a Google sheet for meal planning, which I will discuss in a later post. I love Google sheets because I can share them with others, the updated version is always available on my phone, and I can automate calculations.

I browse the Fred Meyer and Safeway ads online and “clip” all the digital coupons that are relevant to me. I add the things that are on sale. If anyone is interested in my Google Sheet shopping list and how it helps me track spending and stay on budget, let me know and I will write it up in a separate post.

Currently, I am shopping at Safeway, FM, Chucks (local shop-huge local produce section, amazing prices), and Grocery Outlet. When trying to plan carefully before shopping, it is hard to add Grocery Outlet or WinCo because neither have prices listed online. We go to Grocery Outlet first and price check. If it is cheaper there than we have listed, we buy it there. We could do that with WinCo as well, but it is so overwhelming in there.

The other important step: no shopping in the meantime. If we are out of something, that is it for the week. Add it to the list for next week. I am making a small exception this week. Eggs are on sale 74 cents a dozen and I bought 2 dozen. They are already almost gone and I just bought them 2 days ago. I am going to buy more and get a bag of soy flour to use as an egg substitute for baking.

At the end of the week’s shopping, I had only spent $88, so I have so wiggle room. But in general, it is a one and done experience.

We are also avoiding non-home meals right now. There is an occasional stop at Wendy’s if we are truly desperate, but we are trying to plan ahead to avoid the need.


End note:

What do we buy at Costco?

Butter, ground beef, maple syrup, agave, shredded cheese, tuna, laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, coffee, ketchup, cereal, sometimes milk, paper towels, toilet paper, juice (bottled and sometimes frozen OJ), frozen burgers (beef, salmon, pollock, turkey), bacon, Kodiak pancake mix, flour, sugar, frozen chicken breasts.