Grocery Geek: Finding the Right Food Sources

Finding affordable sources of the foods you want makes all the difference in how you spend and in how you eat.

For some reason, getting the produce box each week is like opening a Christmas present. Especially now that summer is in full swing. So fun! And my mind just whirls with what to do with it. There are so many options!

In case you missed it, last week I shared some tips for making the most of your produce box or CSA share. Slowly, but surely, I’ve been working on ways to use all this up in ways that we enjoy before it goes to waste.

In some ways it’s like a dream come true. A little over a year ago I was bemoaning the fact that I lived in the bread basket of the country and couldn’t find farm fresh produce at a price we could afford. And Eureka! I’ve found it.

It’s all about sourcing.

What I’ve realized about this budget eating + healthy food + good tastes conundrum is that it’s all about sourcing. If you find a great source of the thing that you’re looking for at the price you can swallow, that makes all the difference! To your eating pleasure, to your budget, to your grocery geekiness.

These sources of great deals and good food vary by region and by the stores and sales in our various locale. For some folks, Aldi is their go-to source for great food prices. Aldi only goes as far west as Texas. For others, Trader Joe’s is where it’s at. For someone else it’s a cool grocery store that triples coupons on a regular basis.

We all gotta just go with it.

I love hearing about how people make it work for where they live. I know how it feels when you find just the right place for you. I danced a happy dance with Renee on her vacation when she found such great produce prices in Montreal, something that’s hard to do in her regular Canadian home. And though I have no intention of following suit, I love it that Connie is milking her own goats and making frozen yogurt from it! I totally “get” Anne’s initial struggle to raise her family’s grocery budget.

I know what it is to struggle to find good deals, to struggle to find room in the budget to buy more of what you want. I have not forgotten what it is to be deep in debt. And I’m saddened when I hear of folks struggling to make the ends of the months meet. I remember those days all too well.

So what do we do? We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Even if it’s just about groceries.

It’s kind of where real life is.

And then we swap stories and tips so that we can help each other find the right food sources for our family.

When I posted my very first grocery geek post in 2008 on my personal blog, it was, quite honestly, to brag about the great deals I got and all the free stuff that coupons scored me.

These days I’m simply sharing my grocery purchases to give a real life look into how one family of 8 makes it work for about $800/month. Our budget might be different than yours, but I hope that you can see examples of stockpiling or ways and places to shop in order to feed your family good cheap eats.

My learning curve is straight up on feeding my family whole foods on a thrifty budget. But, it’s a pretty tasty adventure. And I will not go quietly.

The Pantry Challenge, week 3

The Pantry Challenge continues. I’ve not been “hardcore” this month because I knew we didn’t have a ton of stuff to begin with. I’m buying just the basics to make the weeks doable and then drawing on what we already have.

That said, I’m not sure we’ll be able to use up all the little bits in the freezer by the end of the month, so I may need to carry this little adventure into next month.

I’ve actually added stuff to the freezer what with the produce box and all, so at the very least we’ll do some stock rotation.

Here’s my weekly grocery update, in case you were wondering:

Ralphs

I spent $8 at Ralphs on milk, eggs, marked down organic bananas, and tortillas. Prices went this way:

milk $2.55/gallon
bananas $0.29/pound
eggs $1.50/dozen
tortillas $2

And yes, I did exercise great restraint. There were all kinds of markdown stickers all over the place.

Total spent $8

Trader Joe’s

A few days later, I stopped at Trader Joe’s for a few more basics. We’d already gone through quite a few eggs. And the milk supply was dwindling. I decided to stock up on their Harvest Bread. At $2 a loaf, with no soy or hfcs, it’s a good deal for store bread. And it made a few lunches a lot easier!

milk $2.79
eggs $1.49
bread $1.99/loaf
crackers $1.99 and $2.29
sunflower oil $3.99
organic yogurt $2.99
sunbutter $4.99
ricecakes $2.49

Total spent $35

Abundant Harvest Organics

The produce box held a veritable cornucopia of goodness this week: tomatoes, basil, radishes, lettuce, peppers, melon, potatoes, onions, nectarines, summer squash, corn, plums, eggplant, and green beans.

Even though it’s all beautiful and yummy, I put next week’s box on vacation to save some coin and help us catch up. I might need to buy a few things at the end of the month, but certainly not forty-dollars’ worth. I’m thinking that three weeks on and 1 week off may work really well for us.

Total spent $42 (delivery included)

Target

I didn’t plan to shop groceries at Target but I had a high value meat coupon to redeem and couldn’t find the product anywhere else. So, while I was there on a school shopping trip with some of the kids I checked out their market area.

Lo and behold! Not only did they have the pork tenderloin I was looking for, but they also had marked down their pork shoulders that were too close to the pull date. I got three large roasts for $4 each! It worked out to just a little over a dollar a pound for all this meat. You just can’t say no to that.

I’ve found lots of great meat deals like this at Target before. I need to keep that in mind in the future. I don’t go there that often, but when I do, I need to check the meat.

Total spent = $13

This week’s expenses totalled $98. Slowly the number is creeping down in the month. We have lots of food still to carry us into next month. It’s just darn sales and creativity that are tempting me.

I know we have milk to buy next week and probably some veg, but we should be able to keep it under $600 for the month which is yielding us a $200 savings for this pantry challenge.

If it weren’t for school starting in a week, I’d say let the challenge continue. But, I’m teaching SIX KIDS this year and I’m going to need to buy some things to make things easier if I can — or go batty.

Total spent month to date = $497

How about you?

If you’ve got a great food source in your neck of the woods, please tell us about it in the comments. Be sure to share your general region, the name of the store/source, and how it benefits you. We want to help each other find the right food sources so we can all have good cheap eats.

Would you rather subscribe by RSS?
Read Newer Post
Read Older Post

Comments

  1. Christine says:

    Jessica:

    How is the quality of meat at Target? I’ve never tried it.

    • Jessica says:

      @Christine, they have major name brands, like Hormel, for most things. And there beef is fantastic. Sutton and Dodge is the brand and we’ve really liked what I’ve bought there.

  2. I do the majority of my shopping at 4 different stores. I go to Aldi about once every 2 weeks. We also have a store called Price-Rite which has a lot of amazing deals. I buy a lot of staples between those two places. I get most of my meat and produce at a local chain called Stew Leonards. They sell “naked” meats and with their sales rotation, I almost never pay full price. I shop at Costco for baking supplies and some of our produce. We eat very little processed food (about the most processing we do is boxed pasta and flour) which is a bit more expensive but I’ve also found it makes for much simpler dinners which does save us money.

  3. Jessica S says:

    Jealous! We don’t have a Target locally that has the extended food section and I have been hard pressed to find great mark down meat deals in the last few months.. Pork shoulder/butt is awesome for BBQ~! Toss a frozen butt into the crock pot early in the morning with a few shakes of Worchestershire, some fresh or jarred garlic, S&P and aabout a cup of water.. crank to high and let it work.. Mid afternoon skim any loose fat off the liquid and shred with a few forks.. pour your favorite BBQ on and serve on Buns with a salad/veg on the side!

  4. Wow Jessica, thanks for the link! How true, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep – even if it is “just” about groceries. Because here’s the thing – groceries and food are a huge part of our lives. So the decisions and time we spend around that facet of our life is also huge. The large number of food blogs and saving money on food blogs just goes to show that.

    Anyway, I appreciate you rejoicing with me for my Montreal finds. I’m now home in the woods and the produce is more expensive but the living is cheaper. And my farm panier (basket) is amazing. I appreciate every little blessing that comes my way in saving money on food.

  5. I’m so envious of your prices on organics. Our milk is TWICE that here :(
    Our Target has just added grocery items, so I’m interested to see what we get there!

  6. Melissa says:

    Love these updates and appreciate the tip on Target – I never even thought about looking at their meat section! On a related note, I would love to hear your thoughts on sources for meat. We’ve been blessed enough to purchase some of our beef in bulk from a local grass-fed source, and would like to do more of this in the future. However, it is significantly more expensive. What are your thoughts on clean sources of meat?

    • Jessica says:

      I would love to have grass-fed beef! But, the closest I can get it for is about $7 — IN BULK. I just can’t do that. So, I’m taking it in baby steps, as with all things. I buy organic ground beef at Costco and use it sparingly. Otherwise, I buy conventional at Trader Joe’s or Costco because they don’t have pink slime. I would love to change our meat and chicken, but it’s cost prohibitive at the moment. It’s all about sourcing! So, I have to find the right source.

      (Currently taking recommendations for Southern California sources! Hint, hint.)

  7. I want to thank you for showing all the groceries that you buy and listing the prices.Not many bloggers do that any more because it takes a lot of time. The Frugal Girl used to do it every Saturday but stopped because it took too much time.
    Seeing all the healthy food that you buy inspires me to eat better.
    Thanks!
    Alana

    • Jessica says:

      @Alana, it doesn’t take any more time than other posts, and I’m glad to know that it’s helpful to folks. I think that it sparks a lot of good conversation.

  8. Do you have any ideas where to get bulk organic flour? We bake all our breads from scratch and I know I could save if I bought in bulk, but I just don’t know where to look or how to even store quite a bit of flour at once.

  9. I’ve recently looked into farmer’s markets for produce and ended up bringing home 50 pounds for just under $19:

    http://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2012/07/counting-crumbs-a-sunken-ship-and-50lbs-of-produce/

    I think “sourcing” is a good term. It’s kinda like the drugstore game – picking/choosing what to buy and where – but minus the headache and coupons, lol. You just have to figure out WHAT you want, and then WHERE you get the best deal for it, and sometimes you have to compromise. Baby steps are key. If you try to overhaul every item in the house at the same time, you’ll go nuts!

  10. Being a fulltime working mom of five with a two hour commute everyday, I find it very challenging to implement all the great money saving suggestions I read on these blogs. I do however work very hard to buy things on special, and stockpile when possible. The stores I use the most are Food Basics and No Frills, in Ontario. We have a Walmart, but I don’t find their prices that great. I also use Costco, but the deals here are not near as good as in the US and they hardly stock any organic foods. We recently got a side of organic beef from a local farmer for $4.50 a pound which seemed very reasonable and we got to pick the cuts we wanted. My only worry about buy this much meat is my little guy likes to go into the upright freezer looking for popsicles, and leaves the door open. I have lost the key otherwise I would lock it. We have lost a few things due to this, but I worry all the time that one day I may not catch it in time and lose the whole freezer of meat. Sorry for the long post

  11. I agree completely. Sourcing is key!
    We used to live on the east coast and had a much harder time than we do now – I found a regular grocery store to be quite hard to shop well. Now we mostly use Aldi and TJ’s. I had no idea Aldi only went as far west as Texas, which might have an impact on where we go next. It helps that there’s a TJ’s (also my abbreviation for Thomas Jefferson) 2 blocks away – hubby went this morning for our off-week grocery trip. We used to go to the small Mexican fruit and veggie market near our old place – total score on spices.

  12. I’m LOVING the summertime produce from AHO. The nectarines this week…delicious! But I usually try to stick to every other week to keep costs down, although in the summer it’s hard not to get a box of goodness every week. :)

  13. I wish food prices here in New Zealand were as low as what you post. Here I’m lucky to spend less than $300 each week & that budget won’t include any organic foods. I buy very little processed foods & make most of what we eat from scratch. With a box of brownie mix costing over $6, I have little choice. I really appreciate your blog & others like it that use real foods, not prepared mixes in their recipes. The new recipes I’ve found on the net have helped us not to feel like we are scrimping. Today’s shopping added up to $264.37 & I’ll still need to pick up a bit of milk mid-week. I was able to get quite a bit of marked down meat, so that should last us much of the month hopefully. And as it’s mid-winter here, we’ll be eating a lot of soups & fresh homemade breads. Some great deals (for us) I found today were:

    3kg frozen chicken for $14.99
    500g butter $3.50
    whole cauliflower $4.49
    Whole cabbage $3.29
    bananas $1.99/kg

    As we have two teenage boys at home who are very active in sports we go through a bit of food. Homecooked meals go so much further than prepacked processed foods. Thanks again for the great ideas & recipes.

    Regards,
    Deb (homeschooler for 10 years)

Share Your Thoughts

*