The first week’s grocery list might be a little more expensive than normal, probably about $100 to $150. I included prices based on what we normally pay for these items at our local grocery without coupons. We don’t know what food you already have. But that’s ok, even if there is a little lost efficiency at the beginning, the added efficiency of making a list and having a plan will win out in the end.
Step 1) Read the whole list
Step 2) Figure out what you already have, and cross that off the list.
Step 3) Check for any coupons if you keep them. You can also check the website if you’re using a chain grocery. Good coupons only require you to buy 1 item and reduce the price to less than the store brand. Otherwise, ignore them until this gets easy to do.
Step 4) Buy store-brand items. Most of the things we’re buying are fairly basic, so there’s no little to no quality advantage from any brand.
Step 5) Bring a pen! As you shop, jot down the prices of what your’e buying. Your running total well help you stay on budget and the act of writing it down will help you memorize the prices.
That’s it. I tend to hit the largest chain grocery nearest to me (it’s a Kroger), but you will probably want to rotate through a few after your first month so you can compare prices. Remember, it costs money to drive a car, even an efficient one. And it costs time. So don’t go too far out of your way. You should spend less than 40 minutes in the store.
Avoid labels that say “Organic” or “Natural” because they are meaningless. Yes, this even at most specialty natural groceries. I like the concept of Organic food, but the labeling law has made these labels useless. If you really want it, your best bet is a local CSA program or a USDA Certified Organic label. It actually does a decent job of describing what you expect “organic” to mean, but it’s not always easy to find. But, in any case, you can look for these labels next month when you have extra budget.
Portions below assume 4 adults. That is, at least, where 1 adult eats 2000 calories a day. For more expensive/easily spoiled items, I included the calculation I used so you can adjust. A small child eats about 75% of what an adult eats. A child going through puberty may be as much as 125% of what an adult eats. Adjust accordingly, or you’ll either waste food, overeat, or have to make a second trip to the grocery about halfway through the week.
Buying all of the optional items will put you over budget. The idea was to produce this plan that could work for people newly adjusting to a SNAP (US food stamps) budget. If you are not actually on food stamps, or if you are and feel that you can indulge, then that’s up to you. The biggest warning here is the bread. The cheapest grocery store bread costs about twice as much as making it yourself. And these plans call for a lot of it, so you’re talking about more than $1 per person per week in savings by making your own. Store bought bread is listed as “optional” to discourage you from buying it.
Here’s the list:
Fresh Produce ($17):
- Broccoli or Green Beans ($2)
- Carrots* -get the bigger bag, these last forever in the fridge ($4)
- Celery* ($2)
- Russet Potatoes (10lb bag)* ($4)
- Onions* ($3)
- Bananas $2 (bunch of 8)
*When these items are sold in a pre-weighed bag, it’s usually a better deal. The store is required to include AT LEAST the amount listed on the bag, and may include slightly more because it’s easier to give you some extra than to try and make it exact. This is the “baker’s dozen” problem. Use the store’s scales to compare prices to the price per pound for loose items, if you want.
Meat ($59 for 4 people):
- 4-5lbs Beef Chuck Roast ($15 at $3.50 per lb and 1lb per person)
- 2 Large-ish Chicken fryers to roast ($10 at $1.20 per lb and 1lb per person)
- 8lbs Pork Shoulder “Boston Butt” Roast ($16 at $2 per lb and 2lbs per person)
- Bacon ($6 at $3 per lb and 0.5lb per person)
- 3lb Deli meat (ham or turkey) at $4 per lb and 0.75lb per person ($12)
- Optional: Second breakfast meat for the weekend ($3)
- Whole Milk, at least 1.5 quarts per person – that’s a glass a day ($6 at $3 per gallon)
- Eggs, about a dozen per person ($8 at $2 per dozen)
- Butter ($4)
- Cheddar Cheese - buy the block ($10 at $2.50 per lb and 0.5lbs per person)
- 10 lbs All Purpose White Flour ($4)
- 2lbs Yeast ($10) – You might have to order it online. It’s $1 per ounce at our grocery, but it should be less than a third of that.
- Table Salt ($0.75)
- Pepper ($1)
- Baking Soda ($0.75)
- White Sugar ($2)
- Baking Powder ($2)
- Brown Sugar ($2)
- Vegetable Oil ($3)
- Egg Noodles ($1.50)
- Mayonnaise ($2)
- Peas ($2)
- Optional: Bread – ($2-$4)
- Optional: Coffee/Tea ($5)
- Optional: Generic Breakfast Cereal ($3)
- Optional: Peanut butter ($3)
- Chocolate Chips ($2)
- Pancake Syrup ($2)
- Jam ($2)
By my estimates, that’s $144.00 for your first trip if you buy everything. If we spent that much each week, we’d be over budget. But by the time the 4th week rolls around, you’ll have extra to cover it. Also, most people won’t need to buy everything, because you probably already have some sugar, flour, oil, salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. And if you compare it to the USDA chart‘s thriftiest plan (what SNAP is based on), you’re still within budget for a family of 4, two of which are small children. This is enough food to feed 4 adults for a week. Again, small children eat about 75% of what an adult eats. My family eats on about $85 a week on this diet, and $100 a week for a meatier diet. The chart above says we should spend roughly $550 per month, or $137.50 per week. Those additional savings are from being able to recognize sales, being able to better estimate our consumption, and from having already stocked pantry from previous frugal weeks. (For example, that much yeast will last at least 2-3 months and the peanut butter should last more than a month.) There is going to be at several multi-month costs each week during the first 4 weeks. So if you like the savings you’re seeing now, just wait until next month.