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grocery shopping

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Budgeting Post-Baby: Grocery Shopping and Saving

June 12, 2015

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I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one area of our spending that was a little out of control was our grocery and food budget. Grocery shopping is somewhat of a hobby for me when I have the free time and I love testing and trying out new products, so although we had a budget, I rarely stuck with it each month.

We’ve waffled between various different grocery stores over the years: Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Cub Foods, etc. My husband had been trying to convince me to check out Aldi ever since he shopped there in college, but I was always more than a little hesitant.

When we re-examined our budget, we decided that spending around $300/month on groceries was a reasonable amount to spend, cutting back from the $400/month we were budgeting previously. To some that may seem high and others that may seem low, but for us it was a pretty comfortable number. We take all our lunches from home and rarely do take-out during the week, so that’s a lot of meals for $300. Side note: Dining out and entertainment are a separate item in our budget.

When my grocery budget got cut, I knew I needed to get creative. I’m not a good coupon-clipper, especially now that time is precious with a little one around the house. So a few weeks ago I finally bit the bullet and made the trek to Aldi with my hubby and baby in tow.

First Impressions 
I was really shocked by the prices. Like, seriously in awe of how cheap some of the food was. I had a few experiences with Aldi while in college, but I was blown away by how much less everything costs. One of my prior assumptions about Aldi was that everything was really poor quality, but the way they keep their prices down (like bringing food in on pallets, not hiring people to stock the shelves, making you return your own cart and bag your own groceries) is passed along in cost-savings to the consumer. It’s not a “fun” grocery shopping experience, but it certainly does make for a cheaper bill!

After browsing the store, I was also surprised by the number of healthy, high-quality products they had available. There were plenty of items branded under their “Simply Nature” line that were organic, gluten-free, non GMO, etc. Not really what I expected from a store like Aldi. Additionally, the produce was, for the most part, really great.

Things We Love at Aldi
-Veggies/Produce
-Dark chocolate
-Cereal
-Tortilla chips and crackers (especially the black bean and corn variety)
-Plan and flavored Greek yogurt (their house brand tastes just like some major national brands)
-Milk and shredded cheese
-Grains and Bread (quinoa/rice blends, bread, sandwich thins and wraps, oats)
-Baking staples like brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, etc.
-Nuts and trail mix (their walnuts and almonds are great!)
-Sparkling water (they frequently have LaCroix, my favorite)
-Canned items like beans, crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes

Things We Buy Elsewhere
-Chocolate chips (I was not impressed with the quality of their chocolate chips at all)
-Fresh berries (their fresh berries have never looked great when we’ve been there)
-Meat (we don’t buy much meat because we get beef free from Joe’s parents, but we buy our chicken, deli turkey and the like at other stores)
-Peanut butter (I prefer brands that are made with just peanuts and salt, nothing else)
-Salad dressing (Aldi only has a limited selection of basics, like ranch and honey mustard)

Things We Buy in Bulk (Costco)
-Diapers and formula
-Toilet paper
-Olive oil
-Baby wipes
-Keurig pods
-Frozen salmon and chicken breasts

Thus far, it’s been entirely possible to shop at Aldi for a majority of our grocery needs and save a bunch of money in the process. Our weekly grocery trip runs between $60 and $75 dollars each week, and any money that we don’t spend for the month can go toward fun things (like coffee!) or saving for something else.

Other Tips for Saving
-When I do go to other stores like Target for groceries, I make sure to check out my Ibotta app to see if there are any items I can get cash back on. It’s a quick and easy way to get a little more cash in your pocket.
-I also check sites like Coupons.com for any printable coupons and Target’s online coupons as well. I don’t clip a ton of coupons, but I check a couple sites that are easy to navigate.
-Meal planning is an absolute necessity in order to eat well on a budget. I find that if I don’t plan ahead I end up spending so much more at the grocery store because I just toss things in the cart without a plan.
-Make some of your snacks! My husband snacks a lot, so to save money I have been making snacks and treats for the week on Sunday afternoons. I’ll make a batch of whole wheat banana muffins, protein bites (with oats, PB, honey and protein powder), and chop up some veggies for dipping in hummus.
-Every now and again, make it a practice to eat down your freezer. If you’re anything like us, you probably have a ton of food sitting around in your freezer just waiting to be used at mealtime. Although some of our freezer meals are less than glamorous, I feel good knowing I’m not letting food go to waste and I’m saving money in the process.

Madison

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Money-Saving Grocery Shopping Tips

September 25, 2014

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I mentioned in my September goals that we’ve been taking a closer look at our budget and finding new ways to save. One of the easiest ways I’ve found to save money in our monthly budget is to save while grocery shopping. Since eating healthy is extremely important to our family, I’m not willing to buy cheap food just to save a few dollars, but when I can find ways to save without sacrificing on quality, I’m all in.

Lately I’ve implemented a new routine for grocery shopping and saving money. Each week Joe and I have a budget of $100 to spend on groceries; however, groceries are lumped into a larger category that includes eating out and entertainment, so if I can save money on groceries it leaves room for more fun date nights and trips to Starbucks. Oh, and saving, too!

We usually shop for most of our groceries at Target, since there is a large, nice Super Target near our house. I’ve really been impressed with the increased number of organic and natural items offered under the Target house label, and the produce is almost always good quality. Occasionally I make a trip to Costco (about 2x/month) or Whole Foods to shop from their bulk bins and buy certain cuts of meat or specialty items I can’t find elsewhere.

1. Before I grocery shop, I sit down and make a list of what we have going on for the week, this includes nights we have plans to eat out, when we’ll be home later than usual, etc.

2. After I’ve looked at our week, I will plan what meals we’re going to have. This includes browsing my Pinterest board for inspiration and digging into the archives for old favorites. Sometimes Joe has a specific request, but usually he’s fine with anything I make. I also leave room for one night I label “pantry raid” that means we’ll eat leftovers, eggs and toast, mac and cheese, etc.

3. Once I’ve nailed down what we’re going to eat, I make my grocery list. Then, I go to Target.com and search through their coupons to see if they have coupons for anything on my grocery list. They almost always have a coupon for eggs, milk and a few other staples. Lately they’ve also found coupons for money off fruit and vegetable purchases, which I love! Searching only one coupon site saves time, since I’m not keen to browse 5 or 6 different sites. I just don’t have that kind of time!

4. After I’ve found coupons on Target.com, I go to my Ibotta app. This is a new app that I can’t recommend enough. It gives you cash back via Paypal just for buying groceries! They also have a referral program, so when you refer a friend, you get more money in your account. When you download the free app, you can select your favorite stores and search for deals. For example, this week I got $3 back for buying bread (any brand) eggs (any brand) Justin’s nut butter and Greek yogurt. I appreciate that the products they have listed are often either non-brand specific or higher in quality, including many natural and organic items.

When I first heard about this app, I thought it was too good to be true, but it’s the real deal. Many times to “unlock” a deal, you simply answer a question about how often you eat or purchase a product, or learn a quick fact about the product for which the coupon is offered. I love it! To sign up, download the Ibotta app from the app store.

 

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5. Finally, I check my Target Cartwheel app, cross-referencing what’s already on my grocery list with what discounts are available on Cartwheel. The app gives small discounts for buying certain products (usually 5 to 10%) listed. It’s not a lot, but it’s quick and it adds up.

When I’m making my list I also note now much of a Cartwheel discount I’ll get on the product. That way when I’m at the store I can compare and make sure that buy that specific brand associated with the Cartwheel discount actually makes financial sense. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t! For example, last week there was a 20% discount for a particular brand of beans but even with the cartwheel discount it was still cheaper to buy the house brand without a discount.

I think that about sums up how I’ve been shopping and saving lately. It’s amazing how many little things add up to really big things, which I love. Plus, saving money feels like a game or challenge to me, which keeps it fun instead of cumbersome.

How do you save while grocery shopping? Anything I’m missing from this list? I would love to hear!
Madison

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My Favorite Healthy Items to Buy at Costco

June 13, 2014

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Every 3 weeks or so I make a trip to Costco to stock up on a select few products that we go through in larger quantities. Since there are only two of us, it’s important that we choose wisely what we buy at Costco. That means it either needs to 1) have a long shelf life or 2) be able to be frozen and thawed. This doesn’t include fresh produce, which I still purchase from time to time.

If you’ve ever been overwhelmed at Costco and not sure where to start, I thought I would compile a list of the healthy foods we love to buy there. Since Joe and I try to eat as much organic as makes sense financially, I’ve included a lot of organic items in my list. I find that Costco is one of the best places to find reasonably-priced organic food.

Dairy
Cage-free, organic brown eggs (2 dozen)
-Organic Whole Milk (three 1/2 gallon containers that last for weeks!)
-Greek yogurt case of 15 (we usually just buy Joe’s fruit-flavored Greek yogurt at Costco)
-Organic butter (It comes in a 2-pack and butter can be frozen and thawed, giving it longer shelf life)
-Almond milk

Refrigerated Misc. 
Pre-packaged guacamole (they have a couple different types, and we go through it quick in our house!)
-Hummus (lots of varieties to choose from)

Dry Items 
Old-Fashioned Oats (two VERY large bags, we keep the bags downstairs and refill a canister for our pantry to save space)
Kirkland Signature Natural Creamy Peanut Butter (two very large jars, the pb only contains peanuts and salt)
Nut’N Better Natural Almond Butter (two regular-sized jars, contains only almonds and salt)
-Organic TruRoots Quinoa (4 lb bag)
-Cinnamon (we go through a lot of cinnamon so it makes sense to buy the big Costco container)
-Chia Seeds (they usually have great prices on large bags of chia seeds)

Frozen
Trident Seafoods Wild Alaskan Salmon Burgers (these are so easy to throw in the oven straight from frozen for a quick meal!)
-Wild alaskan salmon or other wild frozen fish filets (we rotate between salmon and halibut most times)
-Frozen organic mixed berries (a very large bag for a very reasonable price compared with traditional grocery stores)

Fresh Produce
This is a hard category because the bags of produce are very large so we sort of have to pick and choose each time we go what we’re going to buy. These are just a few of our regular picks:
-Organic Hearts of Romaine Lettuce (a bag of 6 heads of lettuce)
-Berries (I always have good luck with the quality of their berries)
-Avocados (usually they come in a bag of 5 or 6 avocados)
-Broccoli florets
-Green beans (they usually come in a 2-bag pack and we go through them very fast in the summer)

Other
-Bread (I don’t eat much bread, but Joe has a lot of sandwiches for lunch. We buy a 2-loaf pack and keep one in the freezer)
-Nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc. – They store well in the freezer)
-Food Should Taste Good multi-grain tortilla chips (one very large bag, we eat them with dinner and for snacking)
-Beer and wine! (Okay, not really healthy, but they do have great prices so we shop there when we have larger parties)

Are you a Costco shopper? It’s one of my favorite places to stock up, but I try to avoid it at all costs during the peak weekend hours. What items would you add to this list? 

Madison

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Grocery Shopping at Whole Foods (without breaking the bank)

October 19, 2013

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Once upon a time, not all that long ago, I used to go into Whole Foods strictly to browse or pick up a specialty item for a recipe I was making. I would look at all the people doing their weekly grocery shopping, carts piled high, and wondering how on earth they could afford to shop exclusively at Whole Foods. I wondered what types of jobs they had that afforded them the luxury of shopping at the mecca of natural and organic items, sure that people on a budget, like me, could never swing such a thing.

Until one week, I decided to treat myself and give shopping at Whole Foods a try, just for a week and nothing more. I didn’t go crazy and still paid attention to value, but I was totally shocked when my purchases only ended up being a little bit more than my weekly trip to Target. If, without even trying, I could only spend about $20 dollars more, I figured that with a little bit of planning, I could shop at Whole Foods every week and still stick within our grocery and food budget for the month.

For the past month and a half, Joe and I have been (almost) exclusively shopping at Whole Foods for our groceries each week, and sticking to a budget all the while. I’ve always thought that eating as much organic and non GMO produce is important, but recently I felt the pull to put my money where my mouth was. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t sticklers about it by any means, but when possible, I like the idea of making small changes for better health and long term wellness, and I think trying to eat more organic is one of those steps.

This week I documented the grocery shopping process to show you what works for us, and how we stay on budget. Typically we spend $100/week on groceries. We typically eat out once during the week (usually Friday night or Saturday night) and we pack all of our lunches and eat breakfast at home every morning. I also try to limit my trips to Starbucks and use gift cards most of the time. In light of that, I think $100/week is pretty reasonable. I should also note that Joe’s parents have always supplied us with all the free beef we could ever want or need, so that makes it easy for us to stay on budget as well as entertain.

So how have we managed to stay on budget? Here’s a look:

1. Menu Plan: Similar to my friend Clara, I like to take inventory of what I already have in the pantry (usually we have plenty of pasta, grains, broth, rice, tortillas, etc.) before I plan out my meals for the week so I can utilize what we already have. After I look at what is in the pantry, I start browsing magazines and cookbooks for recipes to try. I don’t cook from a recipe every day of the week, but I’ve been aiming lately to cook two recipes that are new to me, just to make sure I don’t get into a rut. This week, I selected a recipe for black bean and roasted pepper soup from Bon Appetit and tea-poached salmon with broccoli from the Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook, one of the most used books in my house. Here’s this week’s menu:

Saturday: Dinner with Joe’s family
Sunday: Spaghetti with Meatballs and Roasted Kale
Monday: Homemade Pizza and Romaine Salad with Chopped Peppers
Tuesday: Black Bean Soup (from Bon Appetit)
Wednesday: Channa Masala over Rice
Thursday: Tea Poached Salmon with Broccoli
Friday: Dinner at Chipotle

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2. Make a List (and stick to it!): I am the first to tell you that Whole Foods sucks me in with all their fun specialty items. For this reason, I make a list and stick to it. Before making my list, I look at their website and see what is on special that week. In this case, salmon was on sale for $8.99/lb (!!) and the coffee pictured below was buy one get one free, so I made a point to find a recipe for salmon this week instead of something with chicken and stocked up on coffee. I know that if I make a good list, I don’t need to add extra items to my cart along the way since I already have everything I need accounted for.

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3. Don’t Get Too Attached: When I go shopping, I’m not attached to any one brand. Although I love certain brands of Greek yogurt, and Joe has his favorites, too, I am willing to switch to a different brand in favor of saving money. The Brown Cow brand of Greek yogurt isn’t the type Joe usually eats, but it was on sale for $1/each this week, so I made the switch. It’s also pretty fun to try new brands I might not otherwise be inclined to try.

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3. Make the Whole Foods 365 Brand Your Friend: It’s not news that generic brands are a good value, but this holds true for Whole Foods as well. Their 365 brand is fantastic and almost always cheaper than the brand name items in the store. Almost everything on my grocery list has a 365 equivalent, including canned tomatoes, beans, condiments, pastas and sauces. Plus, the items are organic!

Grains
4. Shop the Bulk Bins: We go through a lot of oatmeal and oat bran throughout the week. Joe eats oatmeal for breakfast every morning and I have a bowl of oat bran, so buying these items in the bulk section at Whole Foods saves us a lot of money. It’s actually cheaper than traditional grocery store brands. I just transfer them to plastic storage containers when I get home for ease and freshness. Additionally, I like to buy items like nuts, seeds and specialty flours (like this almond flour) in small quantities.

Produce_`

5. Be Willing to Pay a Little More: This sounds a little contrary to everything I’ve been talking about, but when you are shopping at Whole Foods, you have to accept that produce which is organic and oftentimes non GMO is going to be a little bit pricier. This is where planning out meals comes in handy. I can spend a little extra on organic broccoli knowing that it’s not going to get tossed at the end of the week because it went bad and we didn’t have time to eat it. Also, be aware of the items it doesn’t make sense to buy organic. Items like bananas and oranges, where the peel is removed and discarded, don’t make a lot of sense to buy organic. In that case, buy conventional and save some money.

What’s your grocery shopping strategy? Anything I missed in this list that you think readers need to know?
Madison

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