Prices just keep going up at the grocery store! I thought it would be a good time to reflect on eating healthy and frugally, since sometimes it seems that the two are mutually exclusive. When you add on other dietary requirements or preferences like eating gluten free or shopping locally, it can seem downright impossible. I was raised that healthy eating is a priority and worth the expense, but there are ways to be frugal and eat healthy too. For those of us who are gluten-free, we know first-hand that what you put in your body matters! Consider healthy eating to be an investment in your future health.
FRUGAL GROCERY SHOPPING
1. Set your budget. I shop at a few different places for my groceries. I set a total budget and one for each place I shop. Paying with cash will help keep your budget in line.
2. Evaluate where you shop. For many of us, this may not just be about what is cheapest, but what is local. I try and balance my desire to buy what is local and organic with what is cheapest. If you are trying to eat healthy, your grocery list will likely consist of whole foods. You are not going to find a lot of coupons for these types of items. I ruled out playing the Grocery Game for this reason. I simply did not want to cut coupons when most coupons consist of items I couldn’t or shouldn’t buy. I also avoid my local grocery stores like Food Lion, Lowes, and Harris Teeter unless they are having an unbeatable sale on something I need, i.e. pantry sale. I find that shopping at SuperTarget or Walmart is always cheapest. I might be able to find a sale on a particular item at the other stores, but will then blow the savings on another item. Normal everyday items are always cheaper at these stores , so I buy as much off my list at SuperTarget as possible.
Price Check from just last week: Reduced Fat Feta Cheese was $5.69 at Lowe’s Grocery Store and $1.77 at SuperTarget.
I have a great SuperTarget in my area that carries a lot of organic foods and items like grass-fed beef, EnviroKidz Cereals, flax meal, and agave nectar at great prices.
Walmart is farther away and not worth the frustration for me. For us gluten-free folks, it is great that they clearly label their Great Value brand with allergy information.
Costco and similar warehouse type stores are not worth it for me either. Produce can be bought far cheaper at the Farmer’s market or Target. Paper towels and the like can be bought for about the same price if you wait for them to go on sale and stock up.
3. Do a Weekly Menu Plan. Try to limit your trips to the store with a well-thought out grocery list based around a weekly menu.
This is how I plan my menu!
- Find out what is on sale before you plan your menu. I always go to the online Weekly Ad at SuperTarget to get coupons and find out what is on sale for the week. If you shop at a local grocery store, you probably get their ad in the mail every week.
- Clean out your refrigerator and pantry. Not only will you make room for this week’s groceries, but the inventory you take will help you plan your menu. For example, if your bell pepper will only last another day or two, you might consider making a stir-fry early in the week. Note the items that need to be replaced and those that will need to be replaced in the near future.
- Note the items you bought at the Farmer’s Market or received through your CSA subscription. When the Farmer’s Market is in season in North Carolina, I try and go on Saturday and plan my menu on Sunday evening.
- Write down your budget for each store at the top of your grocery list. I have one for SuperTarget, one for Whole Foods, and possibly one for the Farmer’s Market or Amazon.
- When planning your menu, pay attention to what meals require vegetables/fruit that may go bad and plan those meals for early in the week. Rely on vegetables and fruits for the latter part of the week that will keep a long time, like sweet potatoes. Another frugal option is to buy frozen vegetables for the last part of the week.
- Write down your menu ideas for each day. Cookbooks, online recipes, and the Gluten Free Menu Swap are good places to start. I have started bookmarking favorite recipes on Del.icio.us to make meal planning faster. I look for recipes all week rather than all at once. You might also find great success with a six week meal rotation.
- Make sure that when you write down the meal idea, write your grocery list at the same time. Write a ballpark figure of what something costs and which brand you want to buy or whether you need to check the gluten-free status of the item. This way, if you are coming close to your budget you will know to plan lower cost meals rather than finding out at the end of your planning.
- Once you have dinners done, plan ideas for breakfast and lunch too. My husband and I find that if we double a dinner recipe and eat the meal again for lunch our food bill is lower.
- Leave room in your budget in case you find a good deal. If something goes on sale, you want to be able to take advantage of it without breaking the budget.
- Keeping track of prices will help you plan your menu within your budget.
4. Don’t shop for specialty gluten-free items every week. Most of the time I find that it is much cheaper to stock up on gluten free flour at Bob’s Red Mill or Amazon than to buy it in the store at Whole Foods. FYI, I also plan to buy my agave nectar in the future through Amazon. It seems to be half the price of purchasing it at Whole Foods. My Whole Foods store does not sell any flour in bulk, but maybe your Whole Foods or local health food store does. I stock up on Tinkyada pasta when it goes on sale. I probably spend $25-50 on specialty items per month. I know this is a big range, but I budget for $50! It really depends on what I need to replace in a given month.
5. Learn to make things homemade. Chicken stock is much more healthy and inexpensive if made at home. If you are gluten-free and especially if you are casein-free, it may be very beneficial to invest in an ice cream and yogurt maker. Those alternative milk grocery items add up really fast!
6. Freeze baked goods and homemade bread. Gluten free items get stale rather quickly. Freeze what you won’t use immediately. Frozen muffins, quick breads, and dinners can be eaten during the week. Not only will you save yourself money, but possibly frustration over being gluten-free.
7. Do not go to restaurants. The biggest way to kill a food budget is to eat out. It is also a good way to get “gluten-ed.” If you are eating lunch away from home, brown bag it!
8. Eliminate sodas, bottled water, and juice. Soda is an expensive habit you might pass on to your kids. Tap water is less expensive than buying bottled water. And if you feel like orange juice, eat an orange. These habits are hard to break, but think dental bills!
9. Grow a Few Herbs and Vegetables at Home. Since I use herbs all the time, my little herb garden has been quite a money saver. My husband and I are going to plant a little garden in the backyard too. Frugal Dad created a Square Foot garden for about $40.
10. Don’t buy Non-Grocery Items at the Grocery Store. Don’t buy things like Diapers and Trash Bags at your grocery store, buy them at Target or Walmart. I suppose gigantic sales with triple coupon days could invalidate this one, but I just don’t play that game.
Add your own frugal tips in the comments!
Make sure to check out Gluten Free Cooking School’s 10 Strategies to Lower My Grocery Bill.
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