Monday, August 20, 2012

My system: Eat good, save money.

I'm a dietetics major. I'm also a poor "starving" college student. I get a lot of questions about how much I spend on groceries each month, how I shop, how I eat healthy on a budget, etc etc etc.

So, I'm going to let you in on some of my secrets.

First, I pricematch at Walmart. I know there's a lot of people out there who think walmart is the devil, but it's pretty good friends with my budget. First, most things are cheaper there to being with; yogurt, eggs, coconut water, ketchup, those kinds of staples. And then you can pricematch on top of that. Clint eats cereal every morning and he eats a lot of it. When cereal is $3.00 or more a box, that gets pricey! We get the good stuff like Honey Bunches of Oats not the diabetes inducing cereal like Marshmallow Mateys. I never buy cereal over $2 and try to go even lower. I often get it for $1.50. We also never buy milk for over $1.50 instead of almost $3. Just doing that alone saves us a ton! We pricematch a lot of other staples like that as well.

So, yes, I do a lot of shopping at walmart and sometimes I shop at those ritzy stores like frys and safeway. I also shop at Costco. They have great prices on organic and this is where we buy a lot of our organic foods. We can't really afford to eat all organic, but I like to as much as possible, especially when there's not a big price difference. Love their organic stuff!
 Except for when one of the stores has meat for sale (Except I wont buy meat at food city or Walmart-gross), I buy all our meat at Costco. They have pretty good prices and it's pretty good quality. We end up eating a lot of frozen meat because we buy a lot at once. You should probably know that freezing destroys B12, but other than that your meat will nutritionally be the same. Freezing is worse on fruits and vegetables than meat because of the antioxidants. We also buy a lot less expensive meats like chicken breast, talapia loins, etc. We've never even bought steak or any cut of meat aside from ground beef!! Some day, my friends! When we're rich and hungry ;)

One of the most important things is, you have to have a plan! It's awesome if you can get tortillas for half price, but not if you end up throwing away 3/4s of them because the go bad before you use them. Also, if bell peppers look especially delicious at the store and you buy four of them but have no plan to use them, they will probably end up going bad. Might as well throw away yo dolla billz kids! You have to have a plan for things when you buy them if you don't want to waste them.
 How I do meal planning is I look through my pinterest board of recipes (sometimes I dust of le ol cookbook as well) and then I move recipes I want to cook soon onto my meal planning board. (I try to grocery shop only about every week and a half- how long the produce and milk will last us.) When I go to make the grocery list and to find the recipes to cook, all my recipes are in one place instead of spending forever looking through my infinite board of FOOD! Also, don't judge my current not so healthy recipes. I'm growing a baby and she NEEDS pot roast, okay?!

Double dip. Look for recipes that have a lot of the same ingredients, especially if it's not something you normally buy. For example, if you find a recipe that only calls for 3 red potatoes but they're only sold in a 5lb bag, try to find another recipe to use them so you're not wasting the rest of the bag.

Substitute for less expensive things. For example, one of the recipes I have in my meal planning board is cashew chicken. Instead of buying a can of cashews for like $4 and not eating the rest of them, I'll just use peanuts. The flavor of peanuts will still go well with the dish and I just saved $4. It's not always ideal, but the changes add up!

Avoid recipes with a lot of obscure ingredients. I'm all about trying something new, but you have to do it gradually if you don't want to sacrifice your budget. If I find a recipe that calls for 3 or more things I don't already have (I'm not talking the bulk of the recipe like pasta, chicken, produce, etc), then I look for something else. If you have to buy a lot of things you don't normally cook with like paprika, corn meal, worstershire sauce, and rice vinegar, that recipe is getting really expensive on your monthly budget (that would be an interesting recipe, eh!).

Plan your meals by what's on sale. I look through the ads before I decide what recipes I want to cook. If there's a killer deal for zucchini, awesome! I can try that zucchini recipe I've been wanting to try. (sidenote: the thought of zucchini right now makes me want to vomit. I actually accidently typed "wanting to die" instead of "wanting to try". That, my friends, is a freudian slip!)

It's hard for me to believe when people they say they can't eat healthy because it's too expensive. Your Red Barron pizza is $5 while I can make enough spaghetti (with onions, carrots, bell pepper, zucchini, basil, etc) to last us a week for that price! And you know what? Mine is more delicious! Organic raw sugar might be expensive, but produce really isn't that expensive. (sidenote- "raw" sugar still undergoes over 60% of the process as does regular sugar). At least half of what we buy  every grocery trip is produce and it should be that way nutritionally. I wish I could shake everyone and tell them how important fruits and vegetables are! And NO, taking a multi vitamin is not the same! Sorry, I'll stop.  

Have you heard of Bountiful Baskets? It's a pretty cool thing. You order your basket by Wednesday at midnight and go to pick it up Saturday morning. It's $15 for a conventional basket and $25 for an organic one. It's a LOT of produce and it's local. What's so great about local? It's likely the smaller farmers don't have to use pesticides or genetic modification as harshly, which both decrease your nutrition. The food also doesn't have to travel as long which means you get it closer to the time it was picked and it stays good longer! And it's always nice to support local farmers and our economy in the US.
 We got a conventional basket last week and it contained: a melon, 3 heads of broccoli, 8 peaches, very big bag of cherries, 2 bunches of kale, celery, 2 huge heads of romain lettuce, mangos, 4 bell peppers, the most delicious giant tomatoes I've ever tasted and I'm sure some other things I'm forgetting. That's pretty good for super fresh local super delicious produce.

I know you've just been wanting to talk numbers. How much do we really spend a month? Using the tools above and a few others up my sleeve that take too long to mention, we usually spend about $125 on groceries. You should probably know that we eat GOOD. Clint and I both eat a lot, we like to eat healthy, and we love to have home cooked meals and have them (or leftovers) almost every night and often for lunches too. We also spend little to no money eating out so it's not like we're paying for several meals a month (or week or day!) and putting it in a different area of the budget. I would say that's pretty darn good.

p.s. all the pictures here are things on my current meal planning board. I try to add a side of veggies and fruits if there's not enough in the recipe already. However with my newly acquired palate, no promises.
Also, when I make certain things, like that soup, I'll usually make a double recipe and freeze the rest to use for lunches and whatnot later. That saves some money too, but it's mostly just so I don't have to cook as much :)


Mikelle Jade {The Honeypie Archives} said...

Wow! Alexis you are amazing. Only $125 on groceries a month? I think we spent like $200, I was feeling pretty good about that, and I don't think we eat nearly as good. I agree with the double dipping thing, except I remember one week we had like an Italian week and by Wednesday Matt was like "I need something without cheese or bread!"

I need to get better at freezing leftovers. Matt grew up in a huge household, so there never were leftovers.. so he is not a leftover fan at all. I need to convert him!

I think these are great tips-- you are such a good/cute wife! Clint is lucky. It's amazing you are still cooking while pregnant, I pretty much gave up because I was so exhausted, and the smells bothered me :)

I have never tried price matching at walmart, but maybe I will once we are settled in our new home. I'm not a huge fan of WalMart, but if it really is that much cheaper, maybe I will try it!

Amber and Scott said...

WOW this is great! I love it!

We spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars each month on groceries. I am a very good cook but I HATE meal planning and also only live a block from Safeway and 2 blocks from Whole Foods. We also belong to a CSA and get produce every week from a farm (like your baskets thing, only it all comes from one farm). I know I spend too much on groceries but I am almost entirely unwilling to compromise on organic stuff. The worst part? I'm vegan -- so I really SHOULD NOT be spending that much on groceries! Gah! I have a very healthy appetite and I love to cook all the time so things get out of control quickly ;)

Courtney B said...

I didn't know you could price match milk at walmart!! I HATE how expensive milk is... especially since we're drinking more than ever. (Eric is working out like crazy, which means he's drinking protein shakes like crazy. And I'm just eating cereal like crazy, which means I'm pregnant and crazy.)
I don't know how you keep it at $125! We don't even have to buy our red meat (Eric's family has cows and gives us meat) and I bet we spend $250-350 a month. It's that dang milk... I need to start price matching that!
I've actually only started price matching in the last couple months, it's the best thing ever! But I'm still learning how I can save $$!

Courtney B said...

P.S. Where can I find the recipe for the cashew chicken? It's screaming my name right now!! It's going on the menu this week! (But really, I need the recipe!)

Autumn said...

Thanks for sharing these tips...they sound amazing! :)

Kristalyn said...

Perfect timing for me to review this! I don't have access to my favorite low-cost produce store anymore so I need to reassess and make it work with what I do have!

Keep up the good work! I love the little nutrition tips and facts thrown in there! Awesome! :)

Shalyn said...

Alexis! This is so SO good! I have read a lot of tips about meal planning and yours just might be the best! I especially love the meal board idea on Pinterest- I am always going through hundreds of recipes to find one I like!

jenn (+ will) said...

that is an amazing budget! good for you! we buy tons of meat and fresh produce. dairy too and very few carbs. i always look at price per ounce, and pick from things that are on sale. but i am not as good as you! you're awesome! and it feels like we eat the same stuff over & over. then on the weekends we blow it and go out to eat, and go out for treats too :(