My husband and I like good, quality food. We love to support local businesses and buy sustainably as much as possible. We sort of figured that choice meant that our grocery bill would always be higher than the average because we didn’t want to settle on the quality of our food. Because of that, we never really looked closely at our spending when it came to food – it was more or less a free pass.

However, about a year ago, I started to realize just how much that free spending was really costing us, and I decided it was time to tighten the purse strings – at least a little bit.

Coffee and work lunches

Enter in my very first monthly tracking challenge (December 2016). In order to get a handle on just my lunch and coffee expenses, I decided to ease into the whole thing and give myself a budget of $150 for the month. Looking back, I can’t believe I thought of that as “cutting back,” as now I haven’t bought lunch out even once in the last 3+ months.

Regardless, I knew I was spending more than that $150 by some degree, so it was definitely a reduction. I probably averaged about $12-$15/day during the week, so about $250-$300/month, though I can’t be sure since I wasn’t actually tracking our spending at that time (and that was just ME – my husband was spending a bit on lunches as well, but I was definitely the one who was spending the majority of it).

I’m a sucker for coffee shops.

That first month, I spent $87 through careful tracking and starting to get back into the habit of packing lunches again. By July when I first started this blog, I’d guessed that number to be down to maybe $20 or $30 a month. And now, as I said above, that number is more or less at zero.

That was only one small part of our monthly food bill though, and not anywhere near the large part. I had yet to tackle the elephant in the room – our grocery shopping bill.

Grocery shopping

A prerequisite of mine when we were house hunting seven years ago was that we be within walking distance of a grocery store so we didn’t have to drive to get our groceries. In theory, this should have been the frugal answer to grocery shopping – no waste of gas, and we could only take home what we could carry, so no wasted food.

Unfortunately, that’s not at all how it worked. Living within a short walk of the grocery store meant that we went shopping five or six days a week. Whenever we couldn’t think of what to have to dinner, we’d head over to the grocery store to get all of the ingredients for a meal (if we weren’t just ordering take out instead). This meant no bulk shopping, and oftentimes, buying partially prepped meals (like preseasoned meats and premade bread products like naan or pizza crust).Walking to the grocery store

While these meals were cheaper than ordering delivery or going out for eat, it was easy to spend $30 on a home cooked meal, without enough for leftovers. And on days we did have leftovers, we didn’t often get to them before they went bad.

Food waste is a serious problem in this county, and we were contributing our fair share. Not only did this mean we were wasting money on food we didn’t eat, but worse, we tossing out perfectly good ingredients that had used a lot of water and energy to get to our home in the first place. Not very green at all.

No Spend November

I keep talking again and again about how powerful the “no” spend November challenge has been for our finances, but again, this was the game changer when it came to our grocery budget. At the point I made the decision to track every penny, I actually didn’t know how much we spent on groceries. If I did, I’m not sure I would have set our limit at $1500 for anything outside of the mortgage and daycare payments.

Since the month’s challenge was simply to spend as little money as possible (and to have as many zero spend days as we could), I ended doing somewhat of a modified pantry challenge. While I didn’t actually restrict our grocery shopping trips, I simply went to the store as infrequently as possible. Almost daily trips turned into once a week or even less, and I got creative using the food we already had in the pantry and freezer.

Cooking and baking from scratch

This was the point where I also started trying my hand at baking. If we didn’t have a baked good on hand, I just made it from scratch instead of going to the store. And now, I’m totally hooked. Not only is it way cheaper, but, unsurprisingly, from scratch baked goods are way better than anything you can buy at the grocery store.

Lumpy but delicious

Not only was I starting to bake from scratch, I was cooking from scratch in general. The preseasoned pork loin for $8.99 was no longer enticing because I could marinate my own for a quarter of the price.

Another awesome side effect of my newfound focus on from scratch cooking with real foods is the decrease in trash that we produce each week. We have the second smallest size garbage can, and it is no longer full on garbage day. Soon we may even downsize to the smallest trash option. It’s a small savings, but the bigger bonus to me is knowing how much less waste we are accumulating through our day to day lives.

The monthly bill

So, what did our numbers look like prior to this shift in thinking? For reference, the USDA guide for a family of 3 (couple plus one child 2-3YO) ranges from $596.60 – $959.60. I used to look at those numbers and wonder how people possibly landed at the thrifty, or even low cost range of these numbers. I had all kind of excuses as to why they weren’t reasonable for us (high cost of living area, organic and local produce, etc).

Remember, these numbers below are after I had kicked my daily lunch and coffee habit, or they would look even worse.

July 2017

  • Groceries: $1,258.19
  • Restaurants: $693.36
  • Fast Food: $75.58
  • Total: $2,027.13

January 2018*

  • Groceries: $462.37
  • Restaurants: $406.95
  • Fast Food: $19.48
  • Total: $888.80

*You can take a look at our full spending breakdown here.

Honestly, the difference in these numbers is staggering to me. It’s hard to believe that we spent an average of over TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS on food and drink every month. We ate well, but it’s not like we were eating steak and lobster and $50 bottles for wine with every meal. There was really no reason for us to be spending that much, especially because I would argue that we eat better now than we did then, because so much of what we eat is now made from scratch.

What’s not even reflected in these two month snapshots is our large garden that is most productive around July, which would argue that our bill would have been even higher had I compared to January 2016. But there’s only so much beating up I can do to myself, and I think this is bad enough 😉 I’m looking forward to what our grocery bill looks like in the summer months this year with the garden in full swing.

Nothing better than homegrown tomatoes

We still buy beer and wine (though less, and some of it is boxed), and we don’t deprive ourselves of any food we really want because of price. We’re just mindful of what we buy, make sure to eat all of the leftovers, and cook the meals from scratch instead of paying for short cuts. Our son also loves cooking and baking with us, and I’m hoping that love will stick with him and treat him well as he gets older and one day moves out on his own.

You’ll also notice that restaurants are still solidly in our monthly spending, and while we spend less now, that number hasn’t dropped so dramatically. What’s changed is how that spending happens.

Instead of picking up dinner any random weeknight we don’t feel like cooking, our restaurant meals are almost exclusively when we are traveling or spending time with friends. We get value out of those meals, so we will continue to spend our money there. The goal is not to spend as little as humanly possible, as it’s obvious that we could cut that number in half or even to zero, but instead to make sure our money goes where it matters, not just what’s easiest that night.

There’s something that seems so fancy about a ball of dough waiting to rise

Looking back to our food purchases just seven months ago, I’m not sure how I considered ourselves “frugal ” then, because I had no real basis for tracking. The only reason we still felt frugal was that in comparison to others around us, we spent less money on “things,” though I’d argue our food bills were likely as high or higher than many. We did save a percentage of our incomes every month that was considerably higher than the national average and had no consumer debt, so we had tricked ourselves into complacency and just let money run out of our bank accounts every month without nearly enough to show for it.

Life is better than it was six months ago, because we have such control over our spending now. The big chunk of savings we now see every month feels so much better than a few premade meals ever did.

78 thoughts on “We Cut Our Grocery Budget By 63% And Eat Better Than Ever

  1. Great job in reducing your grocery costs!

    I just had a food conversation with my daycare provider. I asked how she does it all – buying food to feed her family of 6, and some are grown teenagers! Finding time to grocery shop, etc. She pays $10 for her groceries to be delivered. She only lives a couple blocks from the store and could easily run there, but – she views she’s going to buy MORE physically at the store (a couple bags of chips for those teenage boys!) than she does having them delivered. She makes the list, orders online – yeah, they sometimes substitute an item or two if it wasn’t avail, but saves time and money in the long run.

    Plus – she has a few helping toddlers like my kiddo to unpack and food prep when the grocery man comes 😉

    She still does Walmart or Target or Amazon for most toiletry/household things, but good grocery food wise – it works out.

    Ps. I’m totally drooling over that cup of coffee….oh how I miss coffee shops too! lol!

    1. The grocery delivery option does make a lot of sense. I’m a weirdo though and actually LIKE grocery shopping, so I’ll probably not go that route (even if it could save us a bit more money).

      And why is the coffee shop draw sooooo strong?? Other things get easier to resist with time, but there’s just something about someone else making a nice cup of coffee that never gets old.

      1. I’ve heard that from quite a few people, and I can totally see why it would help. I just don’t want to give up my grocery trips 🙂

  2. The reduction in numbers is amazing! Congrats!

    Have you tried making your own home made condiments? While these don’t tend to be expensive for how long it lasts, home made tastes SO much better. Not to mention healthier.

    I’m hoping to get a spot at a community garden this year. I signed up for the wait list so fingers crossed! If I don’t I may have to change my mind and do pot gardens again. It didn’t go so great last year due to unexpected construction and I suspect this may happen again this year.

    1. I’ve made relish in the past, and it’s honestly the only kind I’ve ever liked. I want to try my hand at hot sauce at some point, but we get soooo many as gifts that we’d have to run out before it made sense to make my own. Ha.

      Good luck on getting a spot!! Community gardens are the best.

    1. Ha yeah it’s kind of ridiculous how much money can be spent in coffee shops. However, the coffee shops were definitely not the biggest culprit when it came to our food spending! I probably would have done better to leave the coffee alone and focus on the rest to start with.

  3. You’ve done great!

    I have wondered if there would come a point when the grocery delivery felt worth it for the time and energy saved but it’s one of the shopping items that I really enjoy doing it. confession: also I just don’t trust someone else selecting my produce! PiC and I are weird that way. Plus I think our meal planning is better and I’m more invested in the cooking process when I’ve had time to mull over the raw ingredients.

    1. Glad I’m not the only weirdo who thinks grocery delivery could save more money but won’t do it because I want to be the one to do our grocery shopping. Plus, I couldn’t pick up the 99¢ “blemished” produce bags then! Just got another 4 bell peppers for 99¢ this weekend – and not even green ones.

  4. That’s an amazing change in 6 months! I like the thought around how you are now more mindful and intentional with how you are spending your food budget. Less food waste is a great side effect too. I have noticed that we have way less food waste now that we plan out our meals and I take leftovers for lunch more frequently.

    1. I just can’t get over how much food/packaging we used to waste. Even though we compost any food it’s still way inferior to just not creating the waste in the first place.

      1. You guys don’t even want to see how much waste my family creates. (I am super embarrassed to even share it.) I’m really considering composting. The problems are by black thumbs.

      2. Ah, our city has weekly pickup for compost, so we just set it out at the curb every week just like trash and recycling 🙂

  5. That’s a huge cut! Great work. Food is such a big area of discretionary spending and one that, if budgeted well, can really ramp up your savings. I know it was one of the biggest areas of wasted spending for us. We are trying REALLY hard to get it under control. We will be doing a quarterly update next month, I am excited to see the difference.

    1. You’re so right that food is “discretionary” spending – obviously you need to eat, but the base level of necessity is so much lower than we give it credit for.

  6. Wow that’s an amazing change! One thing I’d ask though is how much more time do you spend on prepping your food?

    It seemed like in the past you may have opted for quicker meals (ie premarinated meat) while now you make most food from scratch which would take a lot more time.

    Do you miss whatever it is you’d do with that extra time in the past? Or do you not really notice as you have the little guy helping you out now?

    Just curious 🙂

    1. That last question is really what it comes down to – since I have to be doing SOMETHING with him anyway (he doesn’t play by himself for very long), we may as well be productive and be making food together. I’m also getting faster at putting meals together as I’m doing it more frequently. Plus our roommate cooks once a week on average 🙂

  7. Great job on attacking your restaurant and grocery spending. It’s a matter of getting into that habit of bringing your own lunches to work and cutting down your visits to the grocery store.
    It can be tempting to go to the grocery store a lot since you live by one. My work is nearby a Whole Food’s and Trader Joe’s and while WF is avoidable because of their high prices TJs is not. There was a period of time when I went there 4 times a week and spend a lot just because it was so close to my work. So I made it a goal to go there on Fridays only and buy any groceries that we really need. I stayed committed to it and it’s working. Our grocery bill at TJs has reduced and minimize the ‘wants’ spending.

    1. Being close to the store seems like such the frugal answer… until it’s not. Glad you’re figuring it out as well! Food is such a hard part of spending.

  8. What an amazing reduction in your spending!! Great job! I especially love that you’re still buying organic options but just really focusing on eating everything you have. We’ve focused on doing this more and it really helps. Like you, I’ve started making my own bread and it’s sooo much better than store bought. I’m envious that you can walk to your store (even though that is sometimes problematic for spending!). Ours is 20 min away!

    1. Yeah, it’s not worth it to me to spend less by just buying inferior products. Our health/the health of the environment is worth more important than a few more dollars saved. When the grocery store is that far away you have extra incentive to make do with what you have at the house!

  9. I think learning how to bake has really saved our family a ton of money. We don’t buy celebration cakes any more, and once I found the world’s easiest/best pizza dough that you can also use to make rolls, we stopped ordering pizza. I think for us the biggest limitation is time to cook, but we are trying to be better about meal planning.

    1. Meal planning is definitely next up on my list of things to work on as it’s something I’ve never been good at. And homemade pizza dough is so freaking good.

  10. Okay, you need to teach me your ways like right now! I am so in awe of those numbers! Food is by far our biggest expense and I’ve been trying to be more mindful of it and cut it back. I’m gonna use some of these tips and hopefully eventually get to where you guys are now #goals!
    Also, I too live within walking distance of a store so I’m trying to resist the temptation. Less trips, more money like you said!

    1. Basically the one thing I focused on above all was not going to the grocery store for as long as possible. Wouldn’t work for everyone, but for us it has REALLY helped because it forces us to get creative with what we already have at the house.

  11. Wow the reduction of your cost of groceries is amazing! Great job!

    I live walking distance to a grocery store too but somehow I’m still too lazy to go more than 1-2 times per week to get groceries!

    1. Thank you! It was definitely a long time coming, but we seem to be getting into a groove now.

  12. Great job! Sometimes I think people brush off the effect of bringing lunch to work as something that really doesn’t help much but in fact it does. Of course, it matters what your bringing to work..

    When it comes to actual shopping I’ve been a Trader Joe’s guy for the past 10 years but lately I’ve been going to Aldi more and more since I now have one near me. They don’t have everything and they have WAY too much junk food and frankenfoods, but the good stuff they do have is darn cheap.

  13. We have an opposite but equal problem-the grocery is 40 minutes away and I don’t want to waste time and gas with excess trips, so when I do go, I buy everything in the store and some of the produce always goes bad at the end. And leftovers get hidden by all that leafy produce and they go bad, too. We have reined in our food spending, but reducing waste is an ongoing process!

    1. Reducing waste and making sure to eat our leftovers was definitely a long process, and we still aren’t perfect. Freezing any leftovers I can’t immediately take to work has helped a lot.

  14. Wow! You really got your grocery budget down. That is amazing! We have also cut back on the number of trips to the store and that has helped us tremendously to not buy so many impulse purchases.

    1. Thank you! I knew we used to spend a lot on food but didn’t quite realize how much that actually was. Somehow impulse food purchases didn’t feel the same as other kinds of impulse purchases.

      1. Impulse purchases are what got us too. That and going to the store hungry and purchasing way too much!

  15. Your veggies look awesome! We don’t have the space/sun for a garden at our current home, but I think that I will be able to fit one into the yard at our new home. Unfortunately, it will probably have to wait a few years until the babies are older and don’t require me for every little thing they need all day long.
    Until then, our new home is going to be right down the street from a farmer’s market that has some great homegrown produce. We bought some peppers from a guy there last year to can, and he actually gave us a discount because we bought so many. That’s not going to happen at the grocery store, that’s for sure!
    BTW, that grocery cutback number IS staggering. Great job!

    1. We had time to set up the garden pre kid, so the first few summers of his life was mostly perennials we’d planted in previous years (outside of some tomatoes and a few other annuals). I definitely did some planting by head lamp after bedtime though haha

  16. Great job! Limiting those trips to the grocery store definitely helps. We have done so much better since last fall when I started keeping track of our expenses. But feeding three older kids does cost money!

    1. Thank you – I’m finding that to be so true. Thankfully I only have one kiddo and husband to feed right now (plus occasionally the roommate). Three older hungry kids go through a lot I’m sure!

  17. Again I’m impressed. I was told once that when you go shopping stay out of the isles. The good stuff is around the edges – meat, veggies, dairy. Only venture into the isles if you NEED a specific thing? We have also learned that cooking from scratch doesn’t really take much more time. We now have parties where the guests cook with us – make pasta from scratch etc. Keep up the good work.

    1. I’ve definitely noticed how much less I venture into the center of the store these days. The idea of having a cooking party sounds so fun! I’m going to have to use that one.

  18. Wow, that’s a huge difference. Great job! That’s about how much we spend on groceries too. You can eat very well on that budget. We live close to Safeway so we drop by to pick up a few things as needed. We load up at WinCo every couple of weeks, though. That seems to work pretty well for us.

    1. Thank you! We finally have a WinCo close-ish to our house, but I haven’t been in yet. I did quite a bit of shopping there in college in Oregon though!

  19. Woah, congrats on those numbers!

    I do a similar thing where I’m at the grocery store buying one-five items multiple times a week (so convenient that it’s right next to barre!) and where I don’t really have a grocery budget or track that spending too closely. I know there’s some waste there, but I’m not worried about it. I eat TONS of leftovers (why the hell would I ever make something that didn’t result in at least two meals?? People who don’t eat leftovers baffle me!) and it hovers around $150/month. $200 if I’ve stocked up at Costco or bought too many treats, whoops. Perhaps when I’m debt-free and can really max the savings rate I’ll start looking at that a bit more closely.

    Also homegrown tomatoes are the best! One day I’ll be able to able to grow my own instead of visiting my parents every few months and bumming lots off of them when I go in the summer 😉

    1. I’m impressed that you keep your food budget so low without having to track too closely. We are just naturally spendy at the grocery store I guess. And yes, homegrown tomatoes (and blueberries) cannot even be compared to the grocery store variety.

    1. I hadn’t looked at it until the last six months or so, and at that point we were off the charts on the high side! Yikes.

  20. if you learn to work with dried beans it will save you big bucks and you can jam the leftovers into a tortilla with almost anything a couple of days later. meal prep does get much faster with repetition.

    1. We do cook some with dried beans already. The biggest problem we currently have with bulk buying beans/rice/flour/etc is a small house with a small kitchen. We really have no good spot to store large quantities of nonperishable food items.

  21. OMG, I STRUGGLE with this!! We’re 2 adults and our grocery bill is typically $1200 to $1500 (includes wine, don’t judge lol). I’m pretty anal about what I eat – low carb, few packaged goods, kinda paleo(ish)… I know I could get better at it if I tried, but I have’t hunkered down on that yet.

    1. I hear you there!! I don’t even want to know what our number looked like at its worst. Good wine + craft beer sure adds up quick.

  22. Bravo! You did an amazing job! I need to look long and hard at our food spending, but it’s really hard with two teenagers who play competitive sports and eat ALL THE THINGS. I’m honestly scared to nail down what we’ve been spending.

    1. I’m definitely a little nervous for when our son becomes a teenager because he already almost eats like an adult at 3 years old 😂

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  24. WOW! Soooo impressed at how much you cut back on your food budget overall, Angela!
    Our food budget is the only thing that we’ve done well at over the years. We have 3 sons in late 20s still living with us, so they all contribute to the food/groceries, hence my careful budget. Our groceries budget is $230 AUD/week for 5 adults & our cat (Av Aussie groceries cost for 4 adults in 2016 was $330/wk). I order online & it’s delivered free due to our larger purchases. I regularly have a “no spend week” to use up pantry items. My hubby goes to the food market to buy fresh fruit & veggies 2 Sundays/month at hugely reduced prices. We have 2-3 no meat meals per week & usually a “leftovers” night from the freezer most weeks. We buy things like: rice, beans, lentils, quinoa etc in bulk as they last a while. Our big food splurge is to have Atlantic Salmon every couple of weeks. Soooo enjoyed it tonight & worth splurging on it, as it’s delicious & very healthy! Hubby brews his own beer & whisky, so that saves a lot of money too. It’s a fun hobby for him & our sons too. Last year we had a great veggie garden, but this year some sort of critter….. possibly a rabbit…. ate almost everything!! Sob sob! We missed the tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis & chillies this year! Thankfully it didn’t eat the herbs! I’d love to grow blueberries & was interested to hear that you do…. I’ll need to look into that.
    We’re currently slightly over budget, but another no spend week will hopefully bring that down especially as a pantry is currently extra full of bulk dried items like rice, lentils, beans, quinoa etc. Phew….. I wrote a ton! This is an area we’ve honed over the years. Biggest tip to reduce the cost is NOT to let my beloved hubby do the shopping!! He always comes home with “treats” we don’t need! Ha ha! Blessings. Kerryn

    1. What a disappointment about your garden!! We had that happen with our potatoes last year – some rodent had dug holes all through both raised beds and ate almost all of the potatoes. We didn’t realize it until we went to dig them up and it was SO disappointing!!

      Blueberries grow so well in our area, and once they’re planted, they take very little effort. Just a little pruning in the spring, some coffee grounds for fertilizer, and water maybe once a week in the driest months. Otherwise, just pick and eat!

  25. Very disappointing about the potatoes! GRR!
    Great tips about growing blueberries. Thanks! Definitely going to look into it, as I have them in my smoothie most days. Blessings. Kerryn

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