Monday, April 6, 2009

Grocery Shopping on a Budget, Part II

A few months back I posted about how our household was starting to really pay attention to our grocery shopping habits, and mentioned a few tips that I was using to do so. I was first inspired by Bobbi's post about the subject, and took her advice to heart. When we first started going to the store with a calculator in hand, adding up every single thing we put into our buggy, I was skeptical.

But that first trip when we managed to get a week's worth of groceries for $68.54, I knew I was hooked! It felt great to plan out everything for the week and then shop for the exact items that we needed to make those meals. It was even better to only spend $30 something for my half of the weekly groceries! A few people have mentioned to me that they need more help in this area, so I figured I would update you all on our process of trying to eat healthier than ever, on a STRICT budget.

Yesterday after my mom and brother left (thanks for all of the congratulations on Saturday's PR at the 10k btw!) I went on my 12 miler and then Matt and I headed to Publix for our weekly fix. We love Publix because it is clean, well organized, has great branded items, and is way cheaper than Harris Teeter (my true love).

Here is what we brought home (sorry for the blurry pics, am borrowing my moms camera (yay no more iPhone pics!) and I still don't know all the settings):
  • 1 bag of Publix yellow onions (these are only $3 a bag, versus buying three loose onions for the same price. They're smaller onions but still a better deal)
  • 1 can Publix brand tomato sauce (I like to make my own, but this whole jar is less than $2 so we can't pass up that deal! We still usually add veggies to the sauce)
  • 1 cantaloupe (was on sale for $2.50)
  • 1 large vanilla 0% Chobani Greek yogurt
  • 1 container Publix brand whipped butter (Unsalted whipped butter has half the fat and calories as the real thing, plus you can read all the ingredients as opposed to the Smart Balance Light I have been using. Read up more here at Healthy Eats about the real butter vs. margarine debate. But I do still like SBL as a margarine or butter substitute. The whipped was considerably cheaper.)
  • 1 box Publix brand whole wheat waffles
  • 1 bag Publix whole carrots
  • 1 carton of 8th Continent Light Soymilk (was on sale for 2 for $5, plus they had coupons for $1 off so this was only $1.50!)
  • 1 bag of oranges (only $2 for the whole bag!)
  • About 5 yellow squash (they were out of zucchini, usually we buy a mix of both)
  • 1 Simply Apple Juice (expensive, but oh so good)
  • 1 loaf Publix bakery Italian 9 Grain Bread (I don't like this bread, it's like white bread with grains! I use wraps for most of my sandwiches)

  • 1 bunch green bananas
  • 2 green apples for Matt
  • 3 pink apples for me (already had some more at home, usually buy at least 5)
  • 3 mangoes (these were on sale for $1 each so we bought 3!)
  • 1 package Athenos Red Pepper Hummus (wanted to see how this stood up to my home made version)
  • 1 avocado (ugh, $2.99 each!)
  • 1 package of Publix Mexi Shredded Cheese for Matt (I usually try to get 2% or fat free, but this is cheaper and I don't eat it so I don't mind too much)
  • 1 package of Publix American Cheese for Matt (same goes for this one)
  • 1 head of broccoli (I think I inadvertantly got the more expensive kind)
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 bag of red grapes
  • 1 bag of Publix frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts (this will usually last us 2 weeks)
  • 1 bags of Birds Eye frozen mixed veggies (thought they were on sale, they weren't but were still only $1.89 a bag. Much better than SteamFresh!)
Our grand total was $69.45!! That was pretty good considering our past few weeks have been more expensive.

But to be fair, we also had the following things at home already:
1/2 pint strawberries, a few apples and a plum, some bananas, potatoes (sweet and regular), brown rice, Matt had some yogurt, a few cheese sticks, tortilla chips and 1/2 jar salsa, Publix brand dried plums AKA prunes for my work snacks, salad lettuce and spinach, cereal and oatmeal, 1/2 jar Publix All Natural PB, 1/2 acorn squash, leftover roasted chicken and about 3 Flat Out wraps. We were pretty stocked because we made two trips last week in preparation for company. But we do usually keep most of these items on hand, and there are a few things that last us for two weeks or more (like my prunes, cheese sticks, Matt's yogurt, frozen meats).

What we forgot to buy:
frozen Tilapia or some other fish, portobellos, and a few tomatoes.

Although we made a list this week, we didn't plan out each meal, which may hurt us in the long run. But we did have a few meals in our head that we were preparing for, such as:
  • My version of healthy eggplant parm (will show up here soon! so good!)
  • Marinated chicken (usually portobellos for me, which last for two meals) and veggies with brown rice or potatoes
  • Pasta with grilled chicken and veggies
  • Chicken stir fry
That's a lot of chicken! We usually mix it up with some stuffed peppers using ground turkey breast or some baked fish but like I said, we forgot a few things so it looks like it will be chicken and veggies this week!

Some healthy staples that I keep stocked:
  • Brown rice (quick or regular, I use regular b/c it's cheaper)
  • Canned No Salt Added Diced Tomatoes (you can easily throw these in any meal)
  • Canned No Salt Added Tomato Sauce
  • No Salt Added Tomato Paste (if you can find it)
  • Whole wheat pasta (we usually have angel hair and rotini)
  • Onions
  • Garlic (I used the minced kind b/c I get annoyed having to chop it up, but fresh is always better!)
  • Fresh home grown herbs (My balcony herb garden should pop up here soon!)
  • Quick Cooking Oats
  • Low Sodium Bouillion Cubes (chicken, veggie or beef are usual suspects. Hard to find veggie low sodium)
  • Whole wheat or spinach wraps
  • Frozen whole wheat or All Natural waffles
  • Natural honey or agave nectar (I can't afford agave w/o a TJ's)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Balsamic and Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Low Fat or Multi-Grain Saltines (these make a quick and healthy snack, or addition to salads)
  • All Natural or Homemade PB for me, cheapest regular PB for Matt
  • Whole Wheat Breadcrumbs (you can easily make these yourself as well)
Some tips that I use for shopping smart:
  • Always buy store brand if the ingredients are comparable (usually are) and not full of fillers and chemicals. Sometimes you have to opt for the more expensive brand to get what you want (i.e. we are watching our sodium intake, and sometimes store brand items don't offer No Salt Added or Low Sodium). I love Publix because most of their branded items are all natural or have a simple list of ingredients! But if you don't have a Publix, skip down to number three...
  • Buy in bulk if possible: We don't shop at Costco or Sams Club, but we do try to buy things in bulk like grains and some bagged produce. I don't usually buy the bagged apples because I don't think the quality is as good as picking your own.
  • Shop at Trader Joe's!! Unfortunately, we do not have on here in Chas so I have to make the smartest decisions with what I have. I sometimes pick up things at Whole Foods that are cheaper (like 365 brand quinoa which is $2 versus $5 at Publix, bulk bin items, Greek Yogurt, and Tofu and other similar items) but I tend to limit my trips there because I know I will spend too much! (There is rumor that that may be trying to get a TJ's here!)
  • Be flexible with your list, and shop for what is on sale when possible. For example, I had plums on my list for this week but when I saw the cantaloupe on sale I picked one of those up instead. I do the same with most of my produce as well as frozen items.
  • Spend more time on the outer edges of the store, rather than in the aisles. This will force you to put more healthy, fresh items (such as dairy, produce and lean meats) versus packaged processed food items into your cart. I usually do fruits and veggies first, that way I know how much more I have to spend on other items. That way I put priority on the produce!
  • Take a calculator and task the boy with adding up items as you throw into cart! Seems silly, but REALLY works! We actually surprised ourselves yesterday and came in a little cheaper than what we had calculated.
  • Don't buy things that you don't need just because they are on sale. Also, if something is marked 2 for $5, you don't have to buy 2 to get that price. A lot of people get confused with this, but usually most stores will give you the discount price on each unit, no matter how many you buy.
  • Plan out your weekly meals and snacks, look at what you already have, and buy accordingly. Try to stick to your list and avoid impulse buys.
  • DO NOT go to the grocery store hungry. This always results in a higher bill.
  • Shop at your local Farmer's Market if in season. I try to buy local as much as possible, and usually Farmer's Market food is much more affordable and boosts the local economy! I am pumped that ours is about to open.
Another long post! I think that about sums it up for me and how we shop healthy and frugal. This week I will make sure to highlight a few of the meals that we made with these ingredients so you guys can get a better idea of the full process.

Do you guys have any tips that I missed? I would love to learn how to tailor this process even more! We are not always perfect at grocery shopping, and sometimes I do make a trip to buy some ice cream, or something expensive I like that Matt won't let me buy...but I try to seriously limit those! What is your grocery store weakness??? Mine is definitely too much fruit! (But can you really ever have too much???)

I have today off running to rest & recover, and will likely be doing some yoga/stretching tonight. My legs are so sore from this weekend! Tomorrow I will most likely be heading to the track for a nice speed workout, then Wednesday I will run an easy 8-10, then my 6 mile hill workout on Thursday. I will be off Friday to rest up for my LAST long run of my training schedule of 20+ miles.


WHO WILL BE WATCHING THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP TONIGHT?? I'll give you one guess who I am rooting for! Go HEELS baby! Unfortunately, Matt has a lot of school work to do tonight so I think we will be watching at home! I wish we could be watching it on Franklin Street like we did back when we won in 2005, but as long as I can see the game I'm happy. Maybe I can convince him to go out...

Here is the sunset from our balcony last night. Love, love, LOVE it here in the Lowcountry :)

Happy Monday!

**Edited to add that, yes, I know the Heels last won in 2005, my sophomore year there, not 2003 the year I graduated high school. I am not a bad fan, just a simple typo. Don't start throwing 'maters just yet.


  1. These are wonderful tips!! Thank you so much for taking the time to make such a thorough and informative post, it is fantastic :)

  2. I haven't comparison shopped in HT and Publix, we just always go to the Teet because it's right by our house and Publix is a few miles away. But if it is really that much cheaper I'll make the switch. I'm so torn with chicken breasts between buying the bulk store bags or buying organic. I love to get organic ones, but they are SO much more. We need to do better about planning our meals, but it's tough because of our work schedules we're often only home for dinner together a couple nights a week. You've motivated me to start doing better in this department!

  3. Yes, I am definitely printing and saving this post because we still haven't managed to reign in the spending. Oh, and since I just caught up-- you rock! What a speedy 10k! Congratulations!

  4. Great tips!! Thanks:) I will be rooting for the Tarheels tonight also!!

  5. FoodsThatFit: Thanks for stopping by and for the compliments! I have some more tips I left off that I'm saving for the next installment...

    Amanda: I personally think that Publix is way cheaper than the Teet. In NC I only shopped at HT, and when I came down here I couldn't believe how much cheaper it was! My only gripe is that they don't have all of the selection that HT does, but their prices are generally lower and their store brand items are fantastic. PLUS, we have NEVER had a bad experience there as far as their staff goes. They are all super friendly! (At least the one near us on Folly Rd.)

    tfh: Thanks and thanks! Wow! I am glad someone thinks this was useful :)

    Niki: GO HEELS! I can't think about anything else! Sorry Memphis is out though!

  6. And just so no one calls me out for being a bad Heels fan, we actually won the championship title back in 2005, not '03.

  7. what a great post! This is something that I was raised with but the fiancé wasn't so I end up struggling to conserve his food spending. Maybe the calculator trick will work!